Lebanon accuses Saudi Arabia of holding its PM hostage

16 Nov 2017   Lebanon

Lebanon’s president on Wednesday accused Saudi Arabia of holding hostage prime minister Saad al-Hariri along with his family – the first time he has explicitly said he was being held – and called this an act of aggression. “We will not accept him remaining a hostage whose reason for detention we do not know,” President Michel Aoun said in a statement. Sponsored Hariri’s abrupt resignation as premier in a statement televised from the Saudi capital Riyadh on Nov. 4 thrust Lebanon to the front of a Middle East contest for power between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Aoun has said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation until he returns to Lebanon to formally submit it and explain his reasons, which Hariri has said he will do […]

Lebanese offshore oil and gas licensing round continues despite political crisis

11 Nov 2017   Lebanon

Lebanon’s Energy Minister on Friday called on companies bidding in its first round of licensing to explore for oil and gas in its Mediterranean waters to begin technical discussions, suggesting the process would continue despite the political crisis. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned in a speech from Saudi Arabia last Saturday and has yet to return to the country, sparking a political crisis. President Aoun has said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation until he returns to the country, while the Lebanese authorities have said they consider the government to still be legitimate. And Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said on Twitter that he signed a document on Friday calling on companies who submitted bids for the offshore license blocks “to negotiate the technical proposals”. Lebanon sits on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big subsea gas fields have […]

Saudi reopens Lebanon front in struggle with Iran

Saudi Arabia has opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran, threatening Tehran’s powerful ally Hezbollah and its home country Lebanon to try to regain the upper hand. A man walks past a banner in the mainly Sunni Beirut neighbourhood of Tariq al-Jadideh in Beirut, Lebanon November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir With Iranian power winning out in Iraq and Syria, and Riyadh bogged down in a war with Iran-allied groups in Yemen, the new Saudi approach could bring lasting political and economic turmoil to a country where Tehran had appeared ascendant. The resignation on Saturday of the Saudi-allied Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, announced from Riyadh and blamed on Iran and Hezbollah, is seen by many as the first step in an unprecedented Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics. “The Saudis appear to have decided that the best way to confront Iran is to […]

Saudi Arabia Says Lebanon Declared War

As expected, Saudi Arabia has cast itself as the victim of external Shia plotting after its internal weekend of chaos which included a missile attack from Yemen, the deaths of two princes and other high officials within a mere 24 hours , and an aggressive crackdown against dissent in the royal family which saw close to a dozen princes placed under house arrest. And as Al Jazeera noted, in this Saudi version of ‘Game of Thrones’, the 32-year-old Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) shows that he is willing to throw the entire region into jeopardy to wear the royal gown. While Saudi Arabia has long blamed Iran for sowing unrest in the region, this evening’s declaration by Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan that Lebanon has “declared war” against the kingdom is truly an historic first. But perhaps the biggest problem is that international media is currently uncritically spreading the […]

Lebanon gets two bids for offshore gas exploration

14 Oct 2017   Lebanon

Lebanese ambitions to draw investors to its offshore reserve potential, notably for natural gas, brought in only two bids, the government reported. Lebanon in January filed a request to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a body that aims to cast light on how countries manage their oil, gas and mineral resources. Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said that, as the country opens itself up to foreign energy investors, accountability was essential. Decrees put forward by the Lebanese government outline a model for revenue sharing, something that derailed previous efforts to court foreign investors. The Lebanese government estimates there are 95 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 750 million barrels of oil in its territorial waters. Khalil said […]

The Natural Gas Giant To Challenge Israel

5 Oct 2017   Israel, Lebanon, Russia

When Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri paid a visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin mid-September , most media coverage revolved around political and military issues. Yet the meeting was part of Mr. Hariri’s charm offensive to attract foreign investors to Lebanon’s offshore zone, a long-cherished glimmer of hope for the heavily indebted country that has suffered from chronical political paralysis for some decades already. After a 29-month deadlock during which Lebanon had no president, the team of Hariri and President Michel Aoun was determined to provide a much-needed boost to end legislative obstructionism and get down to work. Although Lebanon’s offshore licensing round officially began in 2013, the bids of pre-qualified companies are due by October 12, 2017. But is the four-year wait worth it? If, 10 years ago, Lebanese officials mooted the possibility of kick-starting gas imports from Syria under a 25-year term agreement (never materialized, as Syria […]

Solar revolution in Lebanon could offer alternative to power blackouts

9 Aug 2017   Lebanon

For Jil Amine, Lebanon is experiencing a “solar revolution.” “The growth of the technology has been exponential,” said Amine, the United Nations Development Program project manager for the Small Decentralized Renewable Energy Power Generation Project. “The trend that we see going forward over the next half-decade should continue the high percentage growth rate.” For nearly the entire year — other than the rainy winter months — Lebanon is a sun-kissed salient, a resource being harnessed at a rapid rate to provide electricity for commercial and residential consumers. As technology drives prices down, and government subsidies and […]

Will Lebanese Oil And Gas Ignite The Country?

10 Feb 2017   Lebanon

While the Eastern Mediterranean is well known for its major (and underexploited) gas reserves, Lebanon is the latest country in the region to join the oil rush, after Egypt’s fitful entry into the market and Israel’s more straightforward path to exporter status . Seismic surveys in 2013 estimated Lebanon’s offshore fields to hold 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 850 million barrels of oil. On January 27th, the government finally opened the bidding for five offshore blocks in a first licensing round, after a three-year delay brought upon by political instability. The fractious Lebanese government hopes that these energy reserves and the wealth that should come with them will alleviate the country’s notorious power shortages and budget deficits. But, history is littered with examples of fragile countries going completely off the rails because of the warping effects oil has on their economies – will Lebanon follow suit or […]

Lebanon committed to oil, gas transparency

28 Jan 2017   Lebanon

Transparency is a top priority for a Lebanese government looking to bring bidders back to its offshore oil and gas reserves, the energy minister said. Lebanon this week filed a request to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a body that aims to cast light on how countries manage their oil, gas and mineral resources. Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said that, as the country opens itself up to foreign energy investors, accountability was essential. “At the beginning of the new term [of office], transparency is our main focus,” he was quoted by The Daily Star in Lebanon as saying. The effort follows a decision to put five offshore oil and gas blocks up for auction in […]

Lebanon to Auction Energy Rights in Waters Contested by Israel

27 Jan 2017   Lebanon

Lebanon wants to auction energy rights to areas in the Mediterranean Sea contested by neighboring Israel and will invite more companies to qualify for bidding next month. The new bidders can apply Feb. 2 to March 31, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil told reporters at his office in Beirut. The ministry will select license winners by Nov. 15, he said. Lebanon’s cabinet approved two decrees earlier this month allowing the Middle Eastern nation to move ahead with development of its energy assets, ending three years of delays. Five blocks will be available for exploration and development, including areas that lie in waters disputed by Israel. “This is our natural and sovereign right,” Khalil said Thursday. Lebanon has lagged behind Cyprus, Egypt and Israel in developing oil and gas deposits that may lie beneath its share of the Mediterranean. Earlier seismic surveys show the country could hold at least 96 […]

Oil Majors Prepare For Mega Tender In Lebanese Levant Basin

10 Jan 2017   Lebanon

After a four-year wait, the Lebanese cabinet has approved two oil and gas decrees on energy tax provisions and blocking last week – allowing offshore drilling ventures in 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves to begin brewing. A massive licensing round, stalled in 2013 due to a lack of national unity on energy explorations issues, is set to begin in the country in the next few weeks, with the deadline for submitting bids set for mid-2017. “Blocks will be opened according to the study carried out by the Petroleum Administration Committee (PAC), as well as according to the requirements of the Lebanese state,” Cezar Abi Khalil, the country’s Minister of Energy and Water Resources told the NNA, describing the new body that will delve into the extraction issues of national offshore production. Prequalification for Lebanon’s coming round has been closed for over two years now. A total […]

Lebanon To Restart Oil, Gas Licensing Round After Three-Year Delay

6 Jan 2017   Lebanon

Lebanon intends to restart its first oil and gas licensing round after a three-year delay, the energy minister said on Thursday, hoping to kick-start the development of a hydrocarbon industry. In its first sitting since being formed in December, Lebanon’s new cabinet passed two decrees on Wednesday defining the blocks and specifying conditions for production and exploration tenders and contracts. Lebanon will offer five offshore blocks for exploration and production and is to hold another pre-qualification round for companies interested in bidding, Minister of Energy and Water Cesar Abou Khalil told a news conference. Beirut estimates it has 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil offshore, but squabbling between parties has prevented the passage of vital laws needed to develop the sector. […]

Lebanon Set to Join East Mediterranean Race for Oil and Gas

5 Jan 2017   Lebanon

Lebanon approved two measures allowing it to auction its first offshore oil and natural gas rights, ending three years of delays that kept the tiny country from joining a regional race to tap energy wealth in the eastern Mediterranean. The newly formed government headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri passed the two decrees on Wednesday, state-run National News Agency reported, citing Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil. The decrees demarcate energy blocks, establish production-sharing contracts and specify tender protocols. They take effect with no need for additional approval. The cabinet formed ministerial committees to study a petroleum tax draft law and another proposed law governing onshore oil resources, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said in a televised news conference. The cabinet also discussed the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund to manage the oil and gas revenue. Lebanon has lagged behind neighboring Israel, Cyprus and Egypt in developing oil and gas […]

Saudi Arabia Cuts Billions in Aid to Lebanon, Opening Door for Iran

Even as Iran and Saudi Arabia supported opposite sides in a bitter and bloody proxy war in Syria, the two adversaries managed to preserve a tense calm just over the border in Lebanon , where they have long competed for influence. Now, suddenly, it looks as if Saudi Arabia is walking away — leaving Lebanon perhaps more firmly than ever in the grip of Hezbollah and its patron, Iran. Instead of vying behind the scenes to counter Iran, as it has for decades, the kingdom has taken to punishing Lebanon for Hezbollah’s siding with Iran in Syria. It has slashed billions of dollars in aid, ordered Saudi tourists to avoid the Mediterranean nation, and, on Wednesday, declared […]

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Blasts That Killed Dozens in Beirut

13 Nov 2015   Lebanon

A fiery double suicide bombing terrorized a mostly Shiite residential area of southern Beirut on Thursday, ripping through a busy shopping district at rush hour. The Lebanese Health Ministry said at least 43 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded in the worst attack to strike the city in years. The Islamic State extremist group, which controls parts of neighboring Syria , claimed responsibility for the attack. The group portrayed its motives as baldly sectarian, saying it had targeted Shiite Muslims, whom it views as apostates. It mentioned almost as an afterthought that it had targeted Hezbollah , the Shiite militant organization that backs the Syrian government in the civil war raging next door. Hezbollah maintains tight security control in the district that was hit, and the bombing seemed aimed at hurting the group by attacking civilians in an area where it has many […]

Hezbollah throws weight behind protests, deepening crisis

26 Aug 2015   Lebanon

The powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah threw its weight Tuesday behind mass protests calling for the government’s resignation, deepening a crisis that started over piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of the capital but has tapped into a much deeper malaise. The explosion of anger targets the endemic corruption, hapless government and sectarian divisions of a brittle country once torn by civil war and now struggling with a wave of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. A grassroots youth movement calling itself “You Stink” mobilized thousands of people in two rallies over the weekend, and has called for another large protest on Saturday. The Hezbollah announcement of support for the protests is likely to fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group and its allies will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain. Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out […]

Saudi Arabia Sanctions Two Hezbollah Commanders, Alleging Terrorist Activities

28 May 2015   Lebanon, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia sanctioned two top Hezbollah commanders allegedly involved in regional terrorist operations, in a sign of the kingdom’s growing coordination with the U.S. Treasury Department. Riyadh on Wednesday blacklisted Khalil Yusif Harb and Muhammad Qabalan for activities the Saudis alleged were designed to destabilize the kingdom’s close strategic allies in Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned the same Lebanese men in August 2013. Hezbollah is a militia and political party based in Lebanon. “The Saudi government will continue to combat Hezbollah’s terrorist activities with all available tools and will continue to work with partners around the world to make it clear that Hezbollah’s militant and extremist activities should not be tolerated by any nation,” Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior said in a statement. The Treasury Department’s top counterterrorism official praised the action as a sign of increased cooperation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in […]

Syria, Iran condemn Israeli airstrikes

8 Dec 2014   Israel, Lebanon, Syria

 The Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers have condemned Israeli airstrikes on two areas near Damascus, calling it an act of aggression that proves Israel was “in the same trench” with extremist groups fighting the Syrian government. Israeli warplanes bombed the two areas Sunday, striking near Damascus’ international airport as well as outside a town close to the Lebanese border. The Syrian government said the attacks caused material damage. Israel has not commented on the strikes. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem claimed Israel was trying to compensate for losses incurred by Islamic extremist groups in Syria at the hands of the Syrian army. He did not elaborate. He spoke Monday at a joint news conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Israel strikes near the Syrian capital: Syrian TV

8 Dec 2014   Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria

Syrian state television said on Sunday that Israeli jets had bombed areas near Damascus international airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon. An Israeli army spokesman said he would not comment on the “foreign reports”. Israel has struck Syria several times since the start of the three-year conflict, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for their long-time foe Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon. “The Israeli enemy committed aggression against Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, in all of Dimas and near the Damascus International Airport,” state television said, adding that there were no casualties. Residents in Damascus said they heard loud explosions and opposition activists posted photos online of jet streams in the evening sky and fiery explosions. Syria’s army general command said on state television that there were “material losses in some […]

New clashes break out in Lebanese border town

6 Aug 2014   Lebanon

Fighting erupted Wednesday in a Lebanese border town held by Islamic extremists from neighboring Syria after a negotiated truce collapsed overnight. Muslim clerics launched new efforts to broker another cease-fire in what has been the most serious spillover from Syria’s civil war. The initial truce, brokered on Tuesday, was meant to end days of fighting in the eastern town of Arsal and allow for negotiations for the release of captive Lebanese soldiers. According to the Lebanese National News Agency, clashes broke out again after Syrian militants in Arsal opened fire on Lebanese troops early Wednesday and then spread through several fronts across the predominantly Sunni town. Later in the morning, a delegation of Sunni clerics entered the town to try to mediate another ceasefire, said Sheik Raed Hleihel from the Association of Muslim Scholars and a Syrian activist who uses the name Ahmad Alqusair. The two […]

Border Fighting Intensifies Between ISIS and Lebanon

5 Aug 2014   Lebanon

A deadly confrontation worsened on Monday between Lebanon’s armed forces and Islamist insurgents from Syria who seized the border town of Arsal over the weekend in what appeared to be the most serious spillover of the Syrian civil war into Lebanese territory since the conflict began more than three years ago. The Lebanese Army said in a statement that its forces were engaged in fierce battles with the Islamists in Arsal, where witnesses reached by telephone, including the deputy mayor, said shelling had hit the town from multiple directions and thousands of residents had fled. Arsal is also one of the temporary homes for many of the Syrian war refugees who have sought sanctuary in eastern Lebanon, and witnesses said Lebanese Army checkpoints were refusing to let the refugees relocate deeper into the country. Some refugees said they were panicking because they had nowhere to go. […]

Lebanon Set to Delay Oil and Gas License Auction Until 2015

22 Jul 2014   Lebanon

Lebanon is likely to delay again the first auction of oil and natural gas licenses in its coastal waters until 2015 because of political gridlock over decrees needed to start the bidding process, people familiar with the matter said. The nation, which claims it may have as much as 96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 850 million barrels of oil off its coast, repeatedly has delayed the bidding round for the licenses after a cabinet failed to approve two necessary decrees. “The situation is quite complicated. The ministerial committee that was formed to review the decrees has not done much since some members are not happy about the royalties and taxes mentioned in the drafts,” one official familiar with the matter said. “Now no one wants to move forward with any action until the parliament elects a new president and we have a new government, which could […]

Beirut delays offshore energy auction

16 Jul 2014   Lebanon

Lebanon’s government postponed an offshore natural gas auction after rancor erupted Tuesday over the amount of revenue Beirut would get from energy companies. The Lebanese government estimates there are 95 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 750 million barrels of oil in its territorial waters. A committee led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam has only met a few times to discuss offshore prospects since it was formed early this year. A source close to ministerial negotiations for the auction told The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut policymakers “believe that the state should have a bigger royalty and higher taxes from the profits generated by the oil companies once the actual drilling starts.” Royalties of between 5 and 12 percent were seen as too low when compared with other countries. Lebanese Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian is set in August to outline a new date […]

Israeli Warplanes Strike Near the Border of Syria and Lebanon

25 Feb 2014   Israel, Lebanon, Syria

Israeli warplanes launched two raids near the Syrian-Lebanese border late Monday, according to Lebanon ’s National News Agency, raising speculation that Israel might have targeted a weapons convoy to prevent the Syrian government from delivering missiles to its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah . Israel has struck Syria at least three times in the past year, according to United States officials, to prevent sophisticated weapons from reaching Hezbollah amid the chaos of Syria ’s war. Neither Syria nor Hezbollah has retaliated. The potential significance of Monday’s strike depended on whether the raids hit Syrian or Lebanese territory, which was not immediately clear. Analysts said it would be politically harder for Hezbollah to refrain from striking back if Israel, its longtime enemy, had struck inside Lebanon. An Israeli strike inside Lebanon would also represent a further escalation in the regional involvement in — and spillover from — the Syrian […]

Bombs Strike Southern Beirut, Killing at Least Five

19 Feb 2014   Lebanon

Two powerful explosions struck a busy area in southern Beirut near an Iranian cultural center on Wednesday, killing at least five people and wounding dozens in the latest in a series of bomb attacks on civilians here as violence continued to spill over from the war in neighboring Syria. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility, saying that it would continue such attacks until the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah withdrew its forces from Syria, where they are supporting the government’s fight against Syrian rebels and foreign-backed jihadist groups. “We tell our people in Syria that Iran’s party won’t enjoy security in Lebanon until you restore security in Syria,” the group said in a statement posted on its Twitter account. Until Hezbollah pulls out of Syria and Sunni militants are released from Lebanese jails, it said, “We will continue targeting Iran and […]

Minister claims Lebanon faces ‘conspiracy’ over gas fields

14 Feb 2014   Lebanon

As Lebanon’s political leaders and sectarian chieftains squabble over who will control the Energy Ministry and the oil and gas bonanza in the eastern Mediterranean, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil accuses rivals of “conspiring against our oil.” And just to underline the extent of the prize that’s at stake, one of Lebanon’s major banking houses, Bank Audi, reported that on the basis of the 96 trillion cubic feet of gas and 865 million barrels of oil the ministry estimates lies offshore, Lebanon’s energy wealth could exceed $600 billion. The bank said in the report published Thursday it was optimistic about the prospects for the nascent energy industry, even though Lebanon’s been without a functioning government since March 2013, has a $63 billion national debt, and is hovering on the brink of another bout of sectarian bloodletting linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. […]

Lebanon pols battle over energy ministry to control gasfields

1 Feb 2014   Lebanon

As deeply divided Lebanon struggles to form a new government after 10 months of political paralysis, one of the key issues is which faction will control the Energy Ministry and the development of potentially rich offshore gas fields. Indeed, it has become something of a Catch-22 situation that’s blocking progress toward extracting the rich natural gas fields that lie in 2,000 feet under the eastern Mediterranean that could rescue the tiny Mediterranean country from economic collapse. And, like just about everything else in Lebanon, the issue has assumed sectarian overtones with the various sects all wanting to control the financial bonanza that the gas fields, which officials say could hold at least 96 trillion cubic feet, plus 850 million barrels of oil, will bring — if drilling ever starts. Work on the 10 exploration blocks in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone cannot begin until […]

Lebanon’s prospects of gas bonanza slip further away

10 Jan 2014   Lebanon

With Lebanon’s long-awaited auction for exploration licenses in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean postponed because there’s no functioning government, time may be running out for the tiny country to grasp what’s likely to be its last chance for economic salvation as it slips once more toward sectarian savagery. Energy Minister Gebran Bassil was supposed to hold the auction Friday, but on Wednesday he postponed it — for the third time — to April 10 after political rivalries blocked the caretaker government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati from convening to endorse two decrees authorizing the bidding for exploration blocks in Lebanon’s maritime exclusive economic zone. “This is the last time bidding will be delayed,” he declared, although it was far from clear why that should be so since the political paralysis gripping the nation is not expected to end anytime soon. Bassil insisted the auction […]

Lebanon Again Delays Offshore Energy Auction

9 Jan 2014   Lebanon

Lebanon has again delayed its first auction of oil and natural gas licenses in its coastal waters after the government repeatedly failed to vote on decrees needed to start the bidding process, the country’s energy minister said Wednesday. The auction will now be held three months later than scheduled on April 10, instead of this Friday, Gebran Bassil said in a statement, but vowed that the bidding round will go ahead regardless of whether it has government backing. “It is sad for Lebanon to postpone this tender for the third time and this will certainly lead to a lack of trust and a lack of seriousness among the companies,” Mr. Bassil said. Lebanon had twice deferred the licensing round—from Nov. 4 to Dec. 10, and then to Jan. 10—after the cabinet failed to approve two decrees. Mr. Bassil insisted that his ministry was willing to launch the bidding on […]

Saudis’ Grant to Lebanon Is Seen as Message to U.S.

If a wealthy patron were all the Lebanese Army needed to counter the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as the dominant force in the country, the recent $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia might make a decisive difference in the country’s complex political landscape. But the Saudi aid package — nearly twice Lebanon’s $1.7 billion annual defense budget — is earmarked to buy French arms and is unlikely to give the army what it needs most, say supporters and opponents of Hezbollah here. And even if it does, they say, it will take years to make an impact. And while the Saudis are clearly alarmed at Hezbollah’s staying power and its intervention in Syria’s civil war, analysts say the gift announced last week was intended as much to send a message to the United States as to shift the military balance. Yezid Sayigh, a scholar of Arab […]

Hezbollah Upgrades Missile Threat to Israel

3 Jan 2014   Israel, Lebanon

U.S. officials believe members of Hezbollah, the militant group backed by Iran, are smuggling advanced guided-missile systems into Lebanon from Syria piece by piece to evade a secretive Israeli air campaign designed to stop them. The moves illustrate how both Hezbollah and Israel are using Syria’s civil war as cover for what increasingly is seen as a complex and high-stakes race to prepare for another potential conflict—their own—in ways that could alter the region’s military balance. Some components of a powerful antiship missile system have already been moved to Lebanon, according to previously undisclosed intelligence, while other systems that could target Israeli aircraft, ships and bases are being stored in expanded weapons depots under Hezbollah control in Syria, say current and former U.S. officials. Such guided weapons would be a major step up from the “dumb” rockets and missiles Hezbollah now has stockpiled, and could sharply increase the group’s […]

Beirut Bomb Hits Hezbollah Stronghold

3 Jan 2014   Lebanon

A car bomb ripped through a Hezbollah stronghold in a crowded district of southern Beirut on Thursday, days after a blast in another part of the Lebanese capital killed a politician who opposed the Shiite political and militant group. Thursday’s bombing, which killed five people, drew warnings from officials across Lebanon’s divided political spectrum that the country was teetering on the edge of sectarian warfare, threatening the kind of tit-for-tat killings that marked the country’s 1975-90 civil war. Tensions and violence has surged in Lebanon as the country has been pulled into the civil war in neighboring Syria over the past three years. Three bombs have struck Beirut’s southern suburbs—knownbroadly as Dahyeh after the Arabic word for suburb—in the past year, apparently targeting Hezbollah and its supporters. Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to bolster regime troops in their fight against mostly Sunni rebels, a role that became public […]

Hezbollah Moving Long-Range Missiles From Syria to Lebanon, an Analyst Says

3 Jan 2014   Israel, Lebanon

Amid the chaos of Syria ’s civil war, Hezbollah has been moving long-range missiles to Lebanon from bases where it had stored them inside Syria, including long-range Scud D missiles that can strike deep into Israel , according to an Israeli national security analyst. The analyst, Ronen Bergman, who has close contacts with Israeli intelligence officials, said Thursday that despite Israel’s undeclared campaign of airstrikes in Syria to stop new deliveries, most of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles given to Hezbollah by its allies Iran and Syria have been disassembled and moved to Lebanon. American intelligence analysts have also concluded that members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, are smuggling components of advanced Russian-made antiship missile systems piecemeal into Lebanon from war-stricken Syria to avoid an Israeli air campaign, a United States official said Thursday. As many as 12 Russian-made antiship cruise missile systems may now be […]

Saudis Pledge $3 Billion to Support Lebanon’s Army

30 Dec 2013   Lebanon

Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to bolster Lebanon’s armed forces, in a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia’s decadeslong status as Lebanon’s main power broker and security force. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country’s defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon’s 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion. Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy “newer and more modern weapons,” from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called “decades of unsuccessful efforts” to build a credible Lebanese national defense force. As a direct challenge to Hezbollah, the Saudi gift—and the Lebanese president’s acceptance—has potential to change the balance of power in Lebanon and the region. It also threatens to raise sectarian and […]

Beirut bomb kills anti-Assad Lebanese former minister, at least 4 others

27 Dec 2013   Lebanon

Former Lebanese minister Mohammed Shattah, who opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was killed in an explosion that targeted his convoy in Beirut on Friday along with at least four other people, security sources said. Shattah, a Sunni Muslim, was also an opposition figure and an adviser to former prime minister Saad al-Hariri. Sources at the explosion site said Shattah was on his way to attend a meeting when the explosion went off. A Reuters witness at the scene said his car was “totally destroyed. It is a wreck.” The sound of the blast was heard across the city at around 9:40 a.m. (0740 GMT), and a plume of black smoke was seen rising in the downtown business and hotel district. Ambulances could be seen taking victims from the area, a Reuters witness said. A restaurant and a coffee shop were destroyed in the blast, and several cars […]

In Lebanon, minority Alawites wounded in attacks in latest spillover from Syria’s civil war

18 Dec 2013   Lebanon, Syria

One man was dragged from his taxi. Eight others were ordered off a bus on their way home from work. The victims were shot in the legs by masked gunmen, a brutal tactic that officials say has been used on dozens of members of Tripoli’s minority Alawite community in recent months. The intimidation campaign is the latest spillover from neighboring Syria’s long-running civil war, which has been re-created in microcosm in this impoverished port city, Lebanon’s ­second-largest. Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad , a fellow Alawite, have frequently clashed with Sunni residents of nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh, who support the Syrian rebels. The Alawites are a minority Shiite sect. In August, two Sunni mosques were bombed , killing more than 40 people; Alawite leader Ali Eid was charged with aiding one of the suspects. A few days after the […]

Car bomb hits Hezbollah stronghold in east Lebanon

17 Dec 2013   Lebanon

A car bomb struck a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group in eastern Lebanon early on Tuesday, causing a number of casualties, Lebanon’s state-run news agency said. A Lebanese official and the group’s Al-Manar TV confirmed the blast and said it occurred near the remote village of Sbouba in the Baalbek region, but there was no immediate word on the nature of the explosion or the target. The TV station owned by Hezbollah said there were no casualties. The explosion appears to be part of a wave of attacks on Hezbollah strongholds and interests in Lebanon. The group is fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops and has received threats of retaliation from the largely Sunni rebels fighting to topple him. A Lebanese security official confirmed the explosion but said there was no immediate word on the nature of the target or casualties. He […]

Israel Says Soldier Killed by Lebanese Sniper

16 Dec 2013   Israel, Lebanon

An Israeli soldier was killed by a Lebanese army sniper late Sunday as he drove along the border, the Israeli military said, drawing Israeli threats of retaliation. The shooting near Rosh Hanikra raised the possibility of renewed fighting in the volatile area, which has remained mostly quiet since a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah, the guerrilla group that waged the war seven years ago, didn’t appear to be involved in Sunday’s incident. Lebanon’s National News Agency confirmed the shooting by member of the Lebanese army. It wasn’t clear why the soldiers opened fire. The Lebanese army has opened fire in the past after saying Israeli soldiers had tried to infiltrate. Lebanese security officials didn’t immediately comment. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Israel had protested “this outrageous breach of Israel’s sovereignty” with U.N. peacekeeping forces and heightened its state of preparedness. “We will […]

Troops shot on Israel-Lebanon border

16 Dec 2013   Israel, Lebanon

The border has witnessed sporadic violence since the war of 2006 The Israeli army has shot two Lebanese soldiers on the border, hours after an Israeli was killed by a Lebanese army sniper, the Israeli military has said. An Israeli army spokeswoman said Israeli troops opened fire after noticing “suspicious movement”. There is no word on their condition and Lebanon has not yet commented. The shooting came hours after the 31-year-old Israeli soldier was shot dead after his vehicle was hit by up to 10 shots fired from the Lebanese side. The cross-border violence is the most serious since 2010, when an Israeli officer was shot dead by a Lebanese army sniper, sparking clashes in which three Lebanese soldiers were killed.

Lebanon Worries That Housing Will Make Syrian Refugees Stay

11 Dec 2013   Lebanon

The modest shelter housing some Syrian refugees here, a few hundred yards south of the border with Syria , hardly looks objectionable. Made of plywood walls on a concrete foundation of some 250 square feet, with one door, two windows and a corrugated zinc roof, the squat structure is called a “box shelter.” But Lebanon has banned box shelters, regarding them as a threat to this already fragile nation. In the eyes of the Lebanese, the box shelters, made by the Danish Refugee Council, look too permanent and could encourage the Syrians to stay. “The fear of permanence is very embedded in the Lebanese political psyche,” said Makram Malaeb, a manager in the Syrian refugee crisis unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs. “We had Palestinian refugees who were supposed to stay here for a month in 1948, and now they are a population of […]

Beirut seeks bids for LNG import facility

9 Dec 2013   Lebanon

Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said he was soliciting bids for a liquefied natural gas plant to lower the nation’s energy import bill. Bassil, the caretaker minister, launched the solicitation to cut energy costs by $2 billion per year, the Daily Star reported Saturday. “This is a strategic and important subject, and irrespective if we are a caretaker Cabinet, we should not stop pursuing such vital projects,” the minister was quoted as saying. Bassil said the savings would emerge because Lebanon would pay only for the natural gas from a new LNG facility and not the cost of building the facility itself. He said the deadline for bids for the LNG plant is Dec. 23. “We can sign the contracts in the third and fourth quarter of 2014,” the minister said. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March because of differences between […]

Amid growing violence, Lebanon presses on with Med gas auction

6 Dec 2013   Lebanon

As Lebanon stands on the brink of a new spasm of sectarian bloodletting, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil says he plans to go ahead with moves to launch exploration of offshore gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean on Jan. 10. That’s when the Energy Ministry has scheduled an auction in which some 46 international oil companies selected in April will bid to exploration rights on half a dozen offshore blocks, the first step toward exploiting what could be Lebanon’s last chance at finding economic salvation, and possibly political harmony, since independence from France in 1943. But with Lebanon’s fractious religious sects at each other’s throats again, the victims of regional power rivalries as much as their own historical feuding, Lebanon’s prospects of an energy bonanza seem to be slipping away. Bassil told an oil and gas conference in Beirut Wednesday that he was committed […]

Major Hezbollah Figure, Tied to Syrian War, Is Assassinated Near Beirut

5 Dec 2013   Lebanon

Hassane Laqees was a major player in the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah from its inception three decades ago to its current intervention in Syria’s civil war. Over the years, he survived several assassination attempts. But as he parked his car just after midnight on Wednesday near an apartment south of Beirut that he sometimes used, he was shot dead at close range. It was a professional-style killing that signaled a new escalation in the attacks Hezbollah has faced after plunging into the turmoil in neighboring Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Laqees’s death was a significant loss for Hezbollah, analysts said, and any of the group’s primary enemies — Israel, the Syrian insurgents the group is battling, or their backers, such as Saudi Arabia or Lebanese Sunni militants — could have had reason to want him dead. Mr. Laqees was variously described […]

Hezbollah commander killed outside home in Lebanon

4 Dec 2013   Lebanon, Syria

A senior commander for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was gunned down Wednesday outside his home in southern Beirut, security officials said. The Iranian-backed group blamed its arch-enemy Israel for the killing, something officials there quickly denied. Hezbollah immediately announced the death of Hassan al-Laqis and described him as one of the founding members of the group, suggesting he was a high-level commander close to the Shiite party’s leadership. His shooting death comes as Lebanon faces increasing sectarian violence pouring over from the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Hezbollah forces fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops, angering the mainly Sunni rebels seeking to oust him. Hezbollah strongholds have been the target of car bomb attacks and suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last month, killing 23 people. Sunni militant groups have claimed responsibility for those attacks, calling it retaliation for Hezbollah’s […]

Tents, refugees crowd Lebanese valley – just don’t call it a camp

30 Nov 2013   Lebanon

White tents with “The U.N. Refugee Agency” written on them flap in the wind outside the Lebanese mountain town of Arsal. Children run past latrines and water points. In all respects, it is a refugee camp, but you must not call it that, say officials. The site is home to about 350 people who have fled the civil war in neighboring Syria – the first officially U.N.-run plot set up for displaced Syrians in Lebanon, complete with running water, toilets and other services. But in a sign of the extreme sensitivities over refugees in the Mediterranean state, the authorities are doing all they can to play down any suggestion it is a settled facility for long-term residents. “It’s not a camp, it’s a temporary transit site,” said one aid worker showing journalists round the site on Friday. Countries across the region have grown increasingly concerned […]

Hezbollah calls for calm after Iranian embassy bombing

21 Nov 2013   Instability, Lebanon

A Hezbollah leader appealed for calm on Wednesday and an easing of sectarian tensions in Lebanon, a day after twin suicide bombings struck the Iranian embassy in Beirut. “The solution to this confrontation begins politically,” the Shi’ite Muslim group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said on Lebanese radio, calling for unity. “Then there are security and military steps by the (Lebanese) authorities … in addition to attempts to calm the arena and reduce the transmission of sectarian poisons.” He did not specify what security and military steps were needed. The remarks by Qassem, the most senior Hezbollah official to speak publicly about Tuesday’s bombings, suggested a restrained response from Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran and has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah’s military role in Syria has helped to inflame sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the […]

Beirut Bombs Strike at Iran as Assad’s Ally

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A double bombing struck the Iranian Embassy compound in Beirut on Tuesday, in the deadliest assault on Iran’s interests since it emerged as the most forceful backer of the Syrian government against an armed insurgency. The frontal attack struck a symbol of the country’s powerful influence in Lebanon and neighboring Syria. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of Al Qaeda that operates in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed at least 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization, pointed fingers at Israel and Saudi Arabia, and officials said it was unclear who had carried out the attack. Regardless, it was quickly seen as retaliation against Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, for supporting the Syrian government. The double bombing highlighted the risks and costs that Iran faces over Syria, which some analysts have called Iran’s Vietnam. Others say […]

Syrian troops capture key town near Lebanon border

Syrian government troops captured a key town near the Lebanese border from rebels on Tuesday, days after launching a broad offensive in the mountainous western region, state media, activists and the army said. The attack on Qara began Friday morning in what appeared to be an operation aimed at cutting off rebel supply lines to Lebanon. The Qara route is particularly important to rebels entrenched in suburbs around Damascus, and also lies on the main north-south highway linking the capital to government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. State TV reported troops were “in full control,” while the army said in a statement it had captured the town Tuesday morning and that “large numbers of terrorists who took positions in the city were wiped out.” The Syrian government refers to all armed opposition fighters as terrorists. “This achievement aims to strengthen control of supply […]

Lebanon blasts near Iran’s embassy in Beirut

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Iran, Lebanon

 Seven people have been reported killed as explosions struck near the Iranian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Conflicting reports say the blasts could have come from rockets or a car bomb. Several buildings were damaged, eyewitnesses said. Iran is a major backer of the Lebanaese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad. The conflict in Syria has worsened sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The area around the Iranian embassy, in south Beirut, is considered a Hezbollah stronghold. On 15 August, 16 people were killed in a blast in south Beirut. Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in a strategic victory by Syrian government forces in Qusair, close to the border with Lebanon, in early June.

Hezbollah Chief Says His Forces Will Stay in Syria

15 Nov 2013   Lebanon, Syria

LONDON — The head of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group whose armed followers are fighting in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, pledged on Thursday that his forces would remain there as long as necessary. The leader, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke at a Shiite ceremony in his stronghold in southern Beirut, the Lebanese capital, held to observe Ashura, one of the most important holidays on the Shiite religious calendar. It commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Nasrallah’s battle-hardened fighters joined the fray in Syria earlier this year to recapture a border town, and Mr. Assad’s foes say they have also been deployed on other fronts in the south near Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo in the north. “As long as the reasons remain, our presence there will remain,” Mr. Nasrallah told thousands of his followers. “Our fighters, our mujahedeen, are […]