Lebanese MPs stage sit-in to protest blockade

Lebanese legislators carrying mattresses at the Parliament House in Beirut on Saturday, in preparation for a sit-in against Israel's air and sea blockade on Lebanon. (AP)
BEIRUT (3 September 2006) - LEBANESE Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday led an open-ended, round-the-clock sit-in in parliament aimed at lifting Israel's seven-week-old air and sea blockade of the country.

Some 100 deputies of the 128-member house took part in the protest at the parliament building in central Beirut, which opened with a minute's silence in memory of the estimated 1,200 Lebanese killed in the conflict.

Three offices on the third floor of Parliament, in addition to the national dialogue conference room, have been equipped with cots to receive MPs.

No Canadian MPS have spoken out in support of the mass action of their fellow parliamentarians.

Israel defies international efforts to end its blockade

UN chief Kofi Annan had urged Israel on Wednesday to end its crippling blockade that has been in force since July 13 as the Zionist state launched it assault on Lebanon. The United Nations then informed the Lebanese authorities that the weekly Sunday Israeli Cabinet meeting would consider lifting the blockade.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert canceled the Cabinet session Sunday, claiming he was preoccupied with a tour of schools.

Israel imposed a blanket air and sea blockade on Lebanon following the July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers inside Lebanon by Hizbullah fighters, a blockade it has maintained despite the halt to hostilities on August 14 following the passage of Resolution 1701.

Under maritime law, a naval sea blockade constitutes an act of war.

Sit-in termed "national and unifying"

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said Berri's statement and call was "national and unifying," adding that it held a vision of how to strengthen Lebanon's victory over Israel and thwart all attempts to destroy "this great achievement."

On Monday - as the MPs' open-ended sit-in to protest Israel's eight-week blockade entered its third day - Berri called on governments around the world to pressure Israel to lift the blockade of Lebanon, as the Lebanese government decided to file a complaint about the siege with the UN Security Council. In a parliamentary session Monday morning, Berri urged MPs to file the complaint without calling on the Security Council to convene.

Later on in the day, Lebanon's Cabinet agreed unanimously to issue an official complaint regarding the siege.

MPS hold US "morally and politically responsible"

Information Minister Aridi said the government was delaying a call for the Security Council to convene because of the US position in support of the siege.

"We hold the US administration morally and politically responsible for the blockade and its consequences," Aridi said.

Berri urged fellow Arab countries to defy the air and sea blockade by sending boats to Lebanon without seeking authorization from Israel.

The international community, Berri said, should "take all necessary measures to lift the Israeli blockade which constitutes an extension of Israel's terrorist war."

The speaker said that there was no difference now between Parliament's role and that of the government. "The sit-in is starting to echo in the Arab world and internationally," he said. Berri said that the last offer Lebanon got from the international community was "the possibility of discussing the opening of the airport immediately and then the seaports five or six days later." He said that the tentative plan resulted from calls with the foreign ministers of Germany, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Sunday evening.

Israeli impunity

The blockade, in force since the war erupted on July 12, was "not only being imposed on Lebanon but also the United Nations and (Security Council) Resolution 1701", he said, referring to the cease-fire resolution.

Berri, who called for the sit-in during a massive rally in the southern port city of Tyre to remember Iman Moussa Sadr and two of his companions who went missing in 1979, "as of Saturday until Israel lifts its [almost 50-day] air, sea and land blockade of the country." He told reporters that the sit-in would continue "night and day until the lifting of the blockade."

Berri was the highest ranking official to visit the war-torn south since hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel ended three weeks ago.

He condemned the United States for its support for Israel and said the situation between Israel and Lebanon would have been different if the UN's interim force was in control of the disputed Shebba Farms region.

Democratic Gathering MP Akram Chehayeb called on Lebanese expatriates to protest in front of the parliaments of the countries where they live and wave Lebanese flags.

Chehayeb said Lebanon was losing $50 million daily due to the siege.

March 14 Forces MP Boutros Harb called for "strengthening the role of the Foreign Ministry to seek support for Lebanon."

Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kenaan said Parliament should come up with its own reading of UN Resolution 1701.

Defense Minister Elias Murr said in an interview published Monday in the Russian Daily Kommersant that UN resolution 1701 favoured Israel's interests over Lebanon's.

"This resolution actually oppresses Lebanon, it defends Israel's interests. Israel sees Lebanon as a rival and does not want it to develop economically. The economic blockade of Lebanon you see now is in some sense the result of this resolution," he said.

Airliner lands in Beirut despite siege

Meanwhile, a Qatar Airways flight landed at Beirut's Rafik Hariri's International Airport on Monday, breaking an eight-week old Israeli air and sea blockade on the country. Flight QR 422 left the Qatari capital, Doha, with 140 passengers on board and landed in the Lebanese capital in the afternoon. The plane left Beirut again one hour later and touched down in Doha. The airline plans to operate the flights daily, a spokesman for the company said earlier in Doha.

The flight was reportedly the first to enter Lebanon's airspace without first getting clearance from Israel. The plane arrived as a response to Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri's plea to Arab countries to break Israel's siege by flying in their planes.

But Qatar Airways' regional manager denied Israeli claims that the plane got authorization from Israel to land in Beirut.

"We operated this flight after we got authorization from the Lebanese government and we don't care about any other authorization," Marwan Habr told reporters after the plane landed.

As the plane touched down, passengers including Lebanese, Qatari and foreign nationals applauded, flashed victory signs and waived Lebanese flags as they exited the jet.

A cheerful crowd holding "welcome home" banners and balloons and flowers was there to greet them.

"I am overwhelmed to be on the first plane that broke the Israeli blockade," said Iziz Hassoun, who fled to Qatar during the war.

Marwa Qabbani, a Lebanese living in Qatar, said she left her husband and children to be on board the plane.

"I was scared and I was hesitant, but I love my country and I had to come back for it at any cost," Qabbani said.

Israel's war on Lebanon destroyed large sections of its infrastructure, but runways at Beirut's international airport have been repaired.

Since the end of the conflict on Aug. 14 only two airlines, Royal Jordanian Airlines and Middle East Airlines, have been allowed by Israel to operate limited international flights to and from Beirut through Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Jordan Airlines is operating three flights a day to Beirut, whereas MEA is operating 80 flights a week, down from 130 flights before the war.

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