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Daily Archives: June 19, 2007

Truck bomb kills more than 60 in Baghdad

 Image A massive truck bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the centre of the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing more than 60 people, security and hospital officials said.
The bomb ripped through the capital as 10,000 US and Iraqi troops launched a major air and ground assault on Al-Qaeda strongholds in the restive Diyala province, the biggest such operation seen in the violence-ridden area.
The explosion, the deadliest in Iraq since mid- April and the latest in a wave of tit-for-tat attacks against Sunni and Shiite mosques, spared the green dome of Al- Kholani mosque in the Sinak area but destroyed its main prayer hall.

Bullets and bikinis in north Lebanon

 Image Nagib Khazzaka*

Girls in bikinis sunbathe on the beach by Tripoli, Lebanon's second and Sunni-dominated city, while barely 15 kilometres (10 miles) further north a battle rages between the army and Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda.
"I've come here with my parents to stay in our seaside bungalow to swim, sunbathe, have fun with my friends and forget the war," says Sarah as she takes in the sun in a pink two-piece swimsuit.
She spends her holiday time adorning one of the numerous seaside resorts around Tripoli, the main city of the north.

This 16-year-old schoolgirl, daughter of a senior official from a conservative Sunni family, says she wants to live a Western lifestyle while being free to mix among her own circle.
"The Islamists tried to carry out a coup d'etat in Tripoli and impose Islamic Sharia (law). We are practising Muslims but like most Tripolitans we reject fanaticism," she said.
Her friend Rania is a blonde, blue-eyed, Muslim girl, not an unusual sight in Tripoli where crusaders entered between the 11th and 13th centuries, leaving historic evidence like the citadel of Saint Giles whose ruins still perch on a hilltop today.
"We were afraid when some Islamists infiltrated Tripoli — supported by Fatah al-Islam hidden in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp — and started to open fire on security forces," she confessed.
She said she wanted the army to achieve a "crushing victory" against the extremists "who want to indoctrinate by force the Sunnis in a holy war against Christians and Shiites," two other major elements of Lebanese society.
The distant noise of shelling coming from Nahr al-Bared does not stop Sarah, Rania and their Christian friend Josette, from plunging into the waters of the small bay which washes the shore of the seaside complex.
Tripoli, a port city with avenues lined with palm trees and acacias, has a modern ambiance with its multi-storey buildings overlooking the sea. It is famous for its oriental patisseries, fish restaurants which serve alcohol, and its cabinetmakers.
Home to some 400,000 people, of whom about five percent are Christians compared with 20 percent at the start of the civil war in 1975, the city is also graced by medieval souks (markets) from the Mamelouk era of the 13th to 16th centuries.
Earlier this month during the national day of mourning decreed after the killing of anti-Syrian Sunni MP Walid Eido, practically all Tripoli's shops closed for business.
This murder, like that in February 2005 of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is blamed by many on Syria, which is seen as hostile to Lebanon's independence and the power behind militant extremists like Fatah al-Islam.
"Tripoli, which has suffered from 29 years of Syrian presence, has expressed its allegiance to the moderate Sunni movement of the Hariris despite the growth of Islamic fundamentalist networks in its entrails," said a Tripoli historian who asked not to be named.
Syria withdrew its troops in April 2005 amid popular opposition and international pressure after the killing of Hariri and 22 other people in a massive seafront bomb blast in Beirut.
Now, says the historian, "extremist ideas are hatching" among the poor and in intellectual circles due to "anti-Sunni" US policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
Tripoli's beaches may resemble other Mediterranean resorts, but further inside the city bearded men in traditional dress, accompanied by women in the all-enveloping "niqab" or in Islamic headscarves, are common sights.