News Round Up (Dec 9, 2005)
Syria Denies Any Secret Contacts With Israel according to SANA
U.N. ends questioning Syrians over Hariri killing
U.N. investigators completed questioning five Syrian officials in Vienna on Wednesday in connection with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri this year.
Mehlis Report Sees Syria as 'Uncooperative', Recommends International Tribunal
An upcoming U.N. report into Rafik Hariri's murder will accuse Syria of violating its commitments by not cooperating with the probe and will recommend the creation of an international court to try the perpetrators, An Nahar reported Thursday.Saniora Requests Arab Help in Demarcating Lebanon-Syria Borders
The report by Detlev Mehlis would not be altered by recent testimonies by senior Syrian officials, who have been questioned in Vienna, diplomats said.
They said the report will include three main elements: Strong evidence that Syria has been uncooperative, thus violating its commitments and pledges; a recommendation for the questioning of Syrian and Lebanese officers and politicians; and the creation of an international court to try suspects in the Hariri murder.
Quoting a diplomatic document, senior U.S. diplomats, said that as a consequence to the Syrian stance, the Security Council might impose sanctions on Syrian officials: the president, members of the Syrian Parliament, the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister. Under the sanctions, Security Council member states will be prohibited from hosting these officials and their assets will be frozen.
In the meantime, Turkey strongly rejected allegations made by a Syrian al-Qaida suspect that he was bribed by the family of Rafik Hariri to give a false testimony in the murder of the former premier.
Saniora praised the help of the Arab, Muslim and international communities in the aftermath of Hariri's assassination, but called for more efforts to help Lebanon "preserve its sovereignty and independence."Algeria prevents one-sided statement of UN Security Council
"Today we request your help in pressuring Israel to withdraw from the Lebanese Shabaa Farms, release all detainees … and halt all land, sea and space violations…"
"We also request your help to accelerate efforts … to demarcate the border with Syria, including the occupied Shabaa Farms in order to solve this mystery which Israel uses as a pretext for its occupation. We also request your support for the international probe and the creation of an international tribunal in the murder of Hariri…"
The US failed to get a statement to the press passed by the UN Security Council which would have condemned the recent bomb assault in Netanya, Israel and would have called on Syria to close the offices of Islamic Jihad. The statement, proposed by US Ambassador John Bolton was opposed by Algeria whose Ambassador, Abdullah Baali said he had suggested a meeting of diplomats to discuss the statement and review it, but John Bolton had refused.
Geagea Says International Probe into Mass Graves Only Way
The Lebanese Bloggers write onKhaddam: Assets And The Truth
Al-Siyasah newspaper released an article today citing sources which claim that the former Syrian President's Deputy, Abdulhalim Khaddam, had all his assets in Syria transferred to the government coffers. Therefore, Khaddam has allegedly lost all his possessions in his country.
This move has come about, as the article claims, due to the Syrian regime's conviction that Khaddam has provided Mehlis and Jacques Chirac with all of what he knows about the Hariri assassination, including who is involved in the planning and execution, by name, on the 6th of September 2005.
Lysandra Ohrstrom writes in the Daily Star about the new problems Americans are having trying to get visas on the border from Lebanon. "American students refused entry to Syria."
Maureen Thomas from England sent me this note about Kamal Labwani, the Syrian opposition member who was recently arrested after returning from the US where he met with high government officials.
I thought you might be interested in the following formal written statement made by our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to Sir Menzies Campbell on 6th December.
Regards, Maureen Thomas
Thank you for your letter of 10 November about the recent arrest of Dr Kamal al-Labwani on his return to Syria.
We share your concern over the recent detention of Dr al-Labwani. It is not acceptable that anyone should be arrested for simply airing his views on foreign platforms.
Dr al-Labwani has been charged with “compromising state prestige” – an offence that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. No trial date has yet been set. He does have access to his defence team who have filed a writ of habeas corpus. Our Embassy in Damascus is in touch with Dr al-Labwani’s defence team.
Our Ambassador in Damascus has raised Dr Labwani’s case with the Syrian authorities, and, in our capacity as the local presidency of the EU, led calls for his early release. We will continue to monitor developments closely and stand ready to take further action.
We already have contacts with a range of groups and individuals pressing for economic and political reform in Syria. We will seek to build a relationship with Dr al-Labwani’s group but are conscious of the benefits and risks that contact will bring to the group.
Ben Williams - Liberal Democrat Whips
Secretary to the Parliamentary Party
Nibras Kazimi writes about the "The Mehlis Mess" on December 6, 2005 claiming that Mehlis' investigation has collapsed. This doesn't seem to be correct as
Michael Young is unusually critical of Hariri in his op-ed: "Number one, or just a fortunate son?" He wants Hariri to come back from his self-imposed exile and face the dangers of uniting Lebanon and taming Hizbullah and Syrian influence in Lebanon.
The new ICG report on Lebanon makes clear that the country is becoming ever more fragmented due to the strains of the Mehlis investigation, conflict with Syria, and impending financial and political reforms. There is a good selection of revealing quotes from the report at Lebanese Bloggers.
Syria: Looking East
5 December 2005
Oxford Business Group
While international media coverage of Syria has lately concentrated on Damascus's alleged involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria itself has been getting on with business - and in particular, the business of oil.
In the past two weeks, international interest in Syria's petroleum sector has grown, with India and China being the leading lights.
While Asia's top two oil consumers have been bitter rivals recently, as their respective state-owned oil companies have competed to gain access to reserves around the world, the two giants have now joined forces to try and gain a major stake in Syria's energy industry.
On November 26, China National Petroleum (CNPC) and India's Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC) announced they would be among the contenders for Petro-Canada's 38% interest in the al-Furat gas and oil venture. Currently operated by Royal Dutch Shell, the venture has 36 fields spread over three concession areas, with a total of 220 wells, accounting for nearly half of Syria's oil output.
In September, Petro-Canada announced it was planning to withdraw from its Syrian operations. A spokesperson for the Canadian corporation told reporters back then that the company was seeking to unload its stake in the ageing fields as falling output was not in line with a strategy to shift to long-life assets.
While CNPC and ONGC may face strong competition in the bidding for the stake in al-Furat, with up to 16 other potential buyers expressing interest in the estimated $1bn asset, the partners in the Chinese-Indian joint venture have both been aggressive in the international marketplace of late. A further boost to the cashed up corporations' chances is Petro-Canada's hopes of a quick sale, with the present owners wanting a deal done before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, another Indian firm, Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC), is also looking to buy into Syria early next year when Damascus opens bids for some as-yet undeveloped blocks.
Syria itself is also working to invest in its own energy industry, moving away from oil to natural gas as a means for electricity generation.
In late November, Damascus was granted a 200m euro loan through the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) for the construction of a gas-fired power station at Deir Azzour. The funding for the plant in the country's east was the second such loan provided to Syria in the past year, with a similar amount being granted by FEMIP in November 2004 for another gas-fired station at Deir Ali.
China's ties with Syria took a further step forwards at the beginning of December when Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Dardari announced that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with CNPC for the construction of a refinery with a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day (bpd).
The licence for the $1.2bn refinery, to be built at Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria, could be issued by the end of the year or soon after, al-Dardari said while on a trip to London to drum up international investment. Damascus was also in talks with Russia about setting up another refinery, with an estimated cost of $2.4bn, the minister said.
According to al-Dardari, Syria was looking to attract some $6bn in private investment this year, with up to 30% being foreign direct investment, most of which will be in the country's energy sector.
Currently, Syria has a production capacity of about 400,000 bpd, with exports accounting for 250,000 bpd, which takes in refined products such as heating oil. However, as indicated by Petro-Canada, its long-term prospects, and its mapped reserves are dwindling.
Despite this, neither India nor China seem deterred in making long-term investments in Syria.
Speaking at a meeting of oil producers from North and Central Asia in New Delhi in late November, India's Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said that China and India were also considering bidding for new exploration blocks, as well as co-operating in the operation of existing fields.
Syria, Russia sign gas deals worth $370M from UPI
Syria's Market Reforms Dent Socialist Model "Officials say $8 billion of Arab, foreign and Syrian immigrant capital had been earmarked for projects since January, more than the country received in the previous decade. ... After 40 years of socialist planning, Syria's economy is opening up. This year, the government eased state planning, privatized state enterprises and opened markets to imports and foreign investment." Reuters: Wed Dec 7
Katherine Zoepf writes in the NY Times about the new boutique hotels which are springing up in old Damascus and Aleppo: A taste of Syria's past in discreet splendor , December 8, 2005