France says 3,000-4,000 Hezbollah are fighting in Syria


France said on Wednesday its intelligence services believed 3-4,000 guerillas from Lebanon's Hezbollah militia fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's army in Syria's civil war.

“As far as Hezbollah militants present in the battlefield, the figures range from 3,000 to 10,000, our estimates are between 3,000 and 4,000,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers.

The United Nations' human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday a dramatic increase in the role of Iran-backed Hezbollah militants backing Syrian government forces was inflaming regional tensions, without giving numbers.

Fabius pointed the finger at Iran for pushing Hezbollah into the Syrian conflict.

“When you have fighters that are really well armed that are prepared to die and they are several thousand that makes a difference,” he said.

[Related: U.S. calls on Hezbollah to pull fighters out of Syria]

Fabius has dismissed any suggestion that Iran could be involved in resolving the Syrian crisis, because of its backing of Assad's government.

“There has been a change on the ground. The involvement of Hezbollah and the fact the Russians have delivered weapons has changed things,” he said. “Even if many elements that are fighting are Syrian, they are being guided by Iranian officials.”

France said on May 23 it hoped an initiative could be agreed by the end of June to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on the EU's list of terrorist organizations, on the grounds the group is importing Syria's war into Lebanon.

Paris has traditionally been cautious about backing steps to sanction Hezbollah, fearing it could destabilize Lebanon and put U.N. peacekeepers at risk, but in recent weeks has said it would consider all options.

Reporting by John Irish; editing by Andrew Roche

Another reporter freed? Nothing new under the Palestinian sun


After almost four months, a BBC correspondent in Gaza, Alan Johnston, has been freed.

Johnston was kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza City on March 12. His captors — members of a radical, shadowy Palestinian group called the Army of Islam — threatened days before his release “to slaughter him like sheep,” and released a video clip in which he appeared with an explosive belt strapped to his body, to be detonated, his captors warned, if there was an attempt to rescue him by force.

Covering Gaza has become more and more dangerous. On Aug. 14, 2006, two journalists working for Fox News — Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig — were abducted by a group nobody had heard of before: the Holy Jihad Brigades. While Johnston’s kidnappers demanded the release of prisoners associated with al Qaeda held in Jordan and the United Kingdom, the people who had abducted the Fox journalists demanded the release of prisoners held by the United States. For a change, Israel wasn’t involved.

Targeting journalists has long been a common practice in the Arab Middle East. When Thomas Friedman was covering Lebanon for UPI in the early 1980s, Western reporters knew that at any given moment they could be either abducted or killed by one of the armed militias of Beirut. “Your newspaper would name a scholarship after you, and that would be the end of it. Any reporter who tells you he wasn’t intimidated or affected by this environment is either crazy or a liar,” wrote Friedman in his book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem.”

After the Israeli pullout from Gaza two years ago, instead of a Palestinian nation-building thrust, the place has become a Beirut-like scene, with a weak (Fatah) central authority and armed militias calling the shots. With Hamas taking over Gaza by force recently, it seems as if some order has been restored. Indeed, by forcing the Army of Islam to release Johnston, Hamas has demonstrated that it is in charge — or at least, the strongest militia in Gaza.

That is precisely the point. The Palestinians don’t have a civil society — they have a web of armed militias fighting each other, sometimes for ideological or religious reasons, and sometimes just for power and even greed. Every Palestinian in Gaza will tell you that the so-called Army of Islam is none other than the Doghmush clan, which simply makes a living out of kidnapping people for ransom.

Furthermore, Hamas itself is an armed militia that has toppled, by force, the lawful government in Gaza. Not to mention the fact that the Palestinian Authority has so many security services in the first place, sometimes conflicting with each other, and definitely not working together to maintain law and order.

Indeed, the Palestinians did go to the ballots, but it was only a facade of democracy: it was actually a contest between armed militias disguised as political parties, with few people really intending to peacefully accept the results of the elections.

When asked this week how the Palestinians could possibly have developed a civil society under Israeli rule, Shlomo Avineri, a world-renowned political scientist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, borrowed a page from the Palestinian history.

Following World War I, he said, when the British established the Mandate over Palestine, they allowed both the Jewish and the Arab (Palestinian) communities to establish their own respective institutions, under the British rule. The Jews right away created a nascent parliament, held elections and started building agencies that handled most public affairs, like education, settlement, etc.

The Arabs, on the other hand, appointed an assembly of notables, who were never elected and who did almost nothing for their public’s good. And, during the Great Arab Revolt (1936-1939), more Arabs were killed by Arabs in the feud between the two Palestinian clans — the Husseinis and the Nashashibis — than in the fight against the British or the Jews. It seems that nothing is really new under the Palestinian sun.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is coming to the Middle East with an ambitious plan to revive the derailed peace process. We are told that his main focus will be the promotion of civil society among the Palestinians. We all keep our fingers crossed.

I only hope that there will still be foreign journalists around to report on accomplishments.

Uri Dromi is director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

This article originally appeared in the Miami Herald.

Jewish Militia: Fact or Ficton?


In Paris on Sept. 28, two-dozen men armed with clubs and wearing motorcycle helmets stormed the Pays de Cocagne bookshop on the Rue Vieille du Temple to the cries of Israel vaincra! (Israel will be victorious.) Six people were slightly injured.

The men disrupted the book-signing event of Alain Soral, the self-proclaimed agitator, anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-Palestinian philosopher and boxer. The men broke windows, knocked over bookshelves and sent fans of the writer running out the back door of the bookshop into a courtyard, some of them bleeding. Neither Soral nor his bodyguard were hurt in the incident.

Witnesses claimed the attackers had tear-gas bombs and that they got away within minutes before the police arrived. A video of the attack is posted on the French Islamic Web site www.oumma.com.

Soral, who is well known for his anti-Zionist opinions, said he had received death threats after a recent controversial appearance on the television station France 2. In that interview, he said that “certain Jews never autocriticize,” hinting that Jews always blame others for their woes.

Soral said Sept. 20, “If you tell a Frenchman, a Zionist Jew, that maybe some of your problems come from you, that maybe you’ve made some mistakes, it’s not systematically everybody else’s fault if no one can stand you anywhere you go, because really, that’s their history [the Jews’] for the last 2,500 years. Everywhere they put their feet in, they get kicked out after 50 years — you have to admit it’s bizarre; everybody’s always wrong except for them.”

For his appearance at the book store signing, he had asked for police protection and it was denied.

The reaction of French Jews to the attack is mixed. French Jews are grappling with a wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes committed by young Arab men to cries of “Allah akbar.” The attack committed by young Jewish men to cries of “Israel vaincra!” has disturbed some but thrilled others.

Paris Mayor Bernard Delano sensibly condemned the assault, saying, “Violence never moves anything forward.” Leaders of the Jewish community were also quick to condemn the assault and called for calm and dialogue over violence.

In contrast, the talk on the Internet in Islamic chat rooms is heated and predictably paranoid. Participants are blaming the attack on an “extreme black-shirt Zionist organization.” They also see the attack as part of a pattern of violence against anyone who speaks out against the “Nazi occupation of Palestine.” The chat room visitors (whose user profiles all place them in their 20s) write in French cyber slang about their outrage at how “the French government is always protecting the Jews, and how the Jews are the biggest threat to world peace.”

“I was there,” posted one participant. “I saw the whole thing. I saw them [the Jews] getting ready minutes before it happened. One guy said to not only go after the men, but to go after the women, too. I called the police, but they took their time. What do you think that means? They’re in on it.”

To these people, Soral is just articulating what they believe: That you can’t say you are against Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite. In other words, it’s getting harder to wear your Jew hatred on your sleeve, like the Nazis did — literally.

I entered a French Islamic Web site using a male Arab name and chatted with JMENfou (slang for I don’t give a s–t) who wrote, “These [Jewish] militias are beating people up all the time, and the police don’t do anything about it. It’s Betar, and they are very good at breaking heads open. They train in Israel. They’re Likud, extreme right wing.”

“Sharon is a murdering piece of filth,” wrote zazoo.

Ahmed332 wrote, “I wish I had been there. I would have remade their skin. They’re always hanging around the universities, looking for a fight. Next time I see one, I’m going to give him a new face.”

On more than a dozen French Islamic Web sites, the chat rooms were abuzz with the same word: Betar. It’s Betar, Betar, Betar, those Zionist extremists who are poisoning all of France.

The unanimous blaming of Betar by the anti-Israel set made me curious. The Web site www.betarfrance.org looks harmless enough, with music and pictures of Begin, Jewish calendar information, Hebrew lessons and organized trips to Israel. There is a fund drive, and there are self-defense lessons indicated by a cartoon character in a judo outfit — a flash animation of a comical little guy swatting at the air.

Deeper reading of the site reveals a Zionist bent, but there is no call for violence, only self-defense. The Betar mission statement is about knowledge of Israel and about how to become a responsible Jew, aimed primarily at boys ages 8 to 18. The site encourages a trip to Israel to express solidarity and pride in the Jewish state.

I found it hard to imagine a group of cute little French boys in kippahs going on a field trip to the Third Arrondissement to beat up people in a bookstore.

I called Betar in Paris to find out what their response was to the sacking of the bookstore. Within minutes, I was given a cellphone number for Arnaud Sayegh, the director of Betar de France.

When I reached Sayegh, he was in Israel. He was a bit defensive at first but no more so than the little cartoon guy on the Betar Web site.

When asked about the violence that took place at the bookstore, he said, “They are always blaming us. We’re used to it. We don’t have a militia. We had nothing to do with this.”

“I always encourage dialogue, but you can see how the way things are right now, that sometimes people think you have to put dialogue on the side,” he continued. “It gets to be too much after a while. Have you heard the way people are talking lately? It’s out of control.”

I asked Sayegh what he thought of Soral.

“He’s a virulent anti-Semite, and things he has said have wounded some people very much,” he responded.

Talking to Sayegh gave me the feeling of talking to a Boy Scout leader, not the leader of a paramilitary Zionist army ready to take arms against anti-Semitism in France. But maybe I was being naive.

Someone e-mailed me a picture of a Betar demonstration. I saw some very big, beefy guys standing around, wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with a big, black fist rising out of a Star of David. It didn’t look to me like it was an incipient Hebrew lesson or tree planting.

I asked some Jewish friends who live in Paris about Betar, and I was told that there is also an older boy’s unit of Betar called Tagar.

“It’s a militia,” said Michael H., a Paris lawyer, “and none of our friends would ever send their kids there. Can you imagine sending your boys for paramilitary training in the middle of Paris?”

In July, when tensions in France between Jews and Muslims were at a boiling point, I interviewed an angry young Jewish man, whom I’ll call David, in the back of his shop in Paris. He told me of the militias and his words were tough.

“We can’t take it anymore,” David said. “The government does nothing. I swear, we are ready. If I see something — if something happens in front of my eyes — I’m going to lose it. I’m going to do something. You see what’s going on? Jews are getting stabbed and they do nothing. It’s going to explode here soon.”

Clearly, the buzz on the street was that a Jewish militia was forming, yet today, all the leaders of the French Jewish community deny the existence of a militia.

In Jewish chat rooms like www.Feujworld.com (Feuj means Jew backwards in Verlan, the argot of the under-30 generation), the bookstore incident is the only topic of conversation.

“What a bunch of dumbasses — taking it out on books! These guys should be given to the courts to deal with” said one chat room participant.

Another warned everybody to “watch out for these guys. They’re face breakers.” But he added, “Soral got what he deserved.”

And still another participant was feeling cocky behind his keyboard in cyberspace: “If I had been there, I would have killed that Soral for what he did. I wouldn’t have just smashed windows.”

What is Feujworld, I asked.

“The center of the world 😉 ” was the reply. “LOL” (laugh out loud).

Kalthoum S., a Muslim who has rejected her faith for feminist reasons, told me that she thinks it is understandable that there are Jewish militias in France.

“It’s fact. There are militias,” she said. “Don’t you know that? So what? Everyone has a right to defend their own apples. It’s all-out war now.”

I have conflicting feelings about “l’affaire du bookstore. First, that Soral is a first-class jerk who is himself a bully and deserved to get punched in the nose. Second, that Soral, despite being intellectually repulsive to me, is a jerk who has every right to express his opinions. And lastly, whoever these tough guys were who raided the bookstore, they had no right to beat up people and destroy property.

I’d like to be thrilled about a Jewish militia breaking up the book-signing of an anti-Semite and breaking heads, but I know it’s wrong, and the Jewish community knows it’s wrong. They’re uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish militia. And that’s because Jews are people of the Book — people of the law. And a militia is by definition extralegal.

Militias are really just vigilantes. The problem is that it’s only when Jews become vigilantes and stand up for themselves and fight back that anti-Semites suddenly develop a distaste for vigilantism. How many of these aggrieved anti-Semites would be just as enraged if the situation were a little different?

Imagine the incident in another way. Imagine a white racist writer signing books for his followers at a Barnes and Noble in Los Angeles. Imagine him saying the same things about African Americans that Soral said about Jews — that their history, black history, for hundreds of years was to always blame others for their problems; that blacks are not capable of autocriticism. Just take Soral’s own words and replace the word “Jew” with the word “black”:

“If you tell a black man, a militant black, that maybe some of your problems come from you, that maybe you’ve made some mistakes, it’s not systematically everybody else’s fault if no one can stand you anywhere you go, because really, that’s their history [the blacks] for the last 2,500 years. Everywhere they put their feet in, they get kicked out after 50 years — you have to admit, it’s bizarre; everybody’s always wrong except for them.”

You have to admit it sounds ugly. And what would you make of his racist fans, who line up for his autographed book?

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a riot. And if there were a riot, who would feel sorry for a bunch of racists who got smacked around a bit? Who would be defending this guy’s right to his opinions? I’ll tell you who: the Ku Klux Klan and maybe a lawyer from the ACLU — probably a Jew.

I can understand why some people are gladdened by rumors of a Jewish militia in Paris. After years of government inaction in response to stabbings, synagogues being destroyed, tombs desecrated and Jewish women and children being beaten up, Jews are fighting back.

I just wish that they would use their muscle to protect a synagogue or an elementary school, not to break the law and storm a bookstore. Israel Vaincra is a good idea, but this is not the way to achieve it.

Carole Raphaelle Davis lives in Los Angeles and Nice, France. She can be reached at cdavis6029@aol.com.

Crossing the Line


Reluctant at first to pronounce outright support for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, extreme right-wing, militia and neo-Nazi groups within the United States entered the post-Sept. 11 period blaming Jews and Israel for the attacks on New York and Washington.

In recent weeks, however, some neo-Nazi front organizations appear to have crossed a line into wartime sedition by openly urging Americans to support Al Qaeda in its campaign of terror against their own country.

Within some Jewish defense agencies, concern is mounting lest domestic efforts to detain other members of Al Qaeda who are still at large could reduce scrutiny upon those who in 1995 helped topple the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City or who — some believe — introduced anthrax into the mail long before most Americans had ever heard of bin Laden.

Perhaps the most brazen call to back bin Laden came from an organization based in Tampa, Fla., calling itself Aryan Action. Before its Web site, www.aryanaction.com, mysteriously disappeared into the ether in mid-November, this self-described conglomeration of "militant white racial activists" urged extreme-right-thinking Americans to support bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. "It’s your choice, Comrades. Either you’re fighting with the jews [sic] against Al Qaeda, or you support Al Qaeda fighting against the jews [sic]. "

Elsewhere on the site, in an editorial called "In Defense of Al Qaeda," a writer calling himself Glorian urged Americans to seek a united front with radical Islam in its war against Jews.

"It would be wise for those of us that want to save our race and wrestle [sic] control of our nations from ZOG [the Zionist Occupational Government] to work with the Arab Muslims. We have a common enemy, and the enemy of an enemy can be a temporary ally of necessity and convenience."

For race-monger monitors like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, such pro-Al Qaeda clarion calls represent a clear and present danger to the American homefront, however peripheral radical right groups may be to the mainstream.

"Our biggest concern," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, "is the possibility that some of these groups may generate copycat attacks. All we need is an Aryan Web site providing instructions on how to wage biological warfare. With 280 million people in this country being called upon to be vigilant, we have to consider this otherwise minuscule part of society that is pleased by the attacks and which hopes the Taliban wins. In World War II, this kind of statement would have been considered seditious."

There are, in fact, two statutes that address the question of sedition in this country — the Sedition Act of 1798, which fell into disrepute at the start of the 19th century for being too broad, and the U.S. Sedition Act of 1918.

The latter, which was appended as an amendment to Section 3 of the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, contains words that appear to support Cooper’s contentions: "Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements, or incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or refusal of duty, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both."

Nevertheless, according to Mark Pitcavage, national director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League, attempts to enforce this statute during World War II did not meet with success. While aliens within the United States who were still citizens of the Axis powers were indeed detained and interned in camps, only Japanese Americans were interned en masse, and no one was successfully convicted on charges of sedition.

"During the Second World War," Pitcavage says, "44 people were arrested on the specific charge of sedition, but the verdict of a mistrial led to their release. There were other arrests, but the charge of sedition left a bad taste in people’s mouths, that much ado had been made about nothing, since the prosecutors could not prove that they had clearly aided Nazi Germany in a quantifiable way. The fact is that our judicial system is predisposed against sedition and seditious conspiracy cases."

Although renewed use of the sedition statutes therefore remains unlikely, no such impediments exist to monitoring extremist groups for criminal activity.

The FBI declined comment on whether its agents were maintaining their vigilance with regard to extreme racist organizations. However, a recent shoot-out between police and a member of the group Christian Identity in Kentucky suggests that state and local authorities have not shifted all scrutiny toward possible Islamic extremists. Still, says Cooper, although prompt response by law enforcement is welcome, the trick now is for law enforcement to head off potential terrorists at the pass.

"In the immediate aftermath of Buford Furrow," he told The Journal, the police were (at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills) 30 seconds after the shootings. Law enforcement did its job. If Americans want law enforcement to be there three minutes before, though, we need a whole new set of rules. At that time there was no talk of additional powers. But now it’s a whole new ballgame, with the new Homeland Security Cabinet post. One part of that department’s responsibility will be to monitor those elements that have dabbled with terrorism domestically."

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