Israel’s northern and southern neighbors experienced explosive protests on
Tuesday, further raising tensions in Lebanon and Egypt – and causing
considerable concern in Jerusalem.
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Thousands of anti-government
protesters, some hurling rocks and climbing atop an armored police truck,
clashed with riot police on Tuesday in the center of Cairo, in a
Tunisia-inspired demonstration to demand the end of Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30
years in power.
Three people were killed in confrontations around the
After a day of violence, thousands of demonstrators stood their
ground in downtown Cairo’s vast Tahrir Square, steps away from parliament and
other government buildings.
They promised to camp out overnight, setting
the stage for an even more dramatic confrontation.
Police blasted crowds
with water cannons and set upon them with batons and tear gas in an attempt to
clear demonstrators crying out “Down with Mubarak” – and demanding an end to
Egypt’s grinding poverty, corruption, unemployment and police
Tuesday’s demonstration – the largest Egypt has seen in years –
began peacefully, with police showing unusual restraint in what appeared to be a
calculated strategy by the government to avoid further sullying of the image of
its security apparatus, widely criticized as corrupt and violent.
discontent growing over economic woes, and the toppling of Tunisia’s president
still resonating in the region, Egypt’s government – which normally responds
with swift retribution to any dissent – needed to tread carefully.
crowds filled Tahrir Square – waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags and adopting
the same protest chants that rang out in the streets of Tunis – security
personnel changed tactics and the protest turned violent.
protesters packed the square, the Interior Ministry said.
The sight of
officers beating demonstrators had particular resonance because Tuesday was also
a national holiday honoring the much-feared police.
A policeman was hit
in the head with a rock during the protest and died later in the hospital, an
Interior Ministry official said.
In another demonstration in the city of
Suez, two protesters were killed, he said. One of them had respiratory problems
and died as a result of tear gas inhalation; the other was killed by a
The new head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi,
told MKs that there was no significant threat to Mubarak’s
Speaking before the riots in Egypt escalated on Tuesday, Kohavi
said opposition movements there were not unified, and the Muslim Brotherhood was
not capable of taking power.
Although Kohavi said that Hizbullah did not
want to take control of Lebanon, diplomatic officials highlighted the fear that
the country was en route to becoming “an Iranian satellite.”
course of the day’s bitter protests, thousands of anti- Hizbullah demonstrators
converged at a major Lebanese square in a “day of rage” to denounce the
appointment of Hizbullah-backed candidate Najib Mikati as prime
Protesters attacked a van belonging to Al-Jazeera,
accusing the Arabic satellite station of bias in favor of
Sunnis also demonstrated for a second day across Beirut, and
along the main highway linking the capital with the southern port city of
A senior military official said several armed men fired in the air
in West Beirut, but the army intervened and dispersed them. Soldiers also
clashed with demonstrators in the town of Naameh, south of Beirut, where two
civilians were wounded, security officials said.
Israel’s officials were
carefully monitoring the volatile situations both in Lebanon and Egypt, but
chose not to makeany formal statement lest it be seen as meddling in its neighbors’ affairs –
something that could further inflame the situation.
The US, by contrast,
quickly made its concerns clear regarding Hizbullah’s tightening grip on
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the formation of
a Hizbullah-dominated government would prompt changes in US political and
economic relations with Lebanon.
US officials indicated that cuts or
realignment of military aid to Lebanon were likely if Hizbullah emerged in
control of key parts of the government. Clinton said the US wanted an
independent, sovereign Lebanon and was concerned about “outside
In Jerusalem, one diplomatic official said, “We are gathering
all available information, trying to analyze and make sense of what is going on
and where things are headed.”
Another official said the concern that
Lebanon was on the fast-track to becoming an Iranian satellite under Hizbullah
control “has widespread strategic implications.”
The significance of the
unstable situation in the countries immediately to Israel’s south and north was
expected to be one of the topics of conversation in discussions held on Tuesday
night in Jerusalem between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Quartet envoy
Kohavi said it was by no means clear that Hizbullah wanted to
take over Lebanon. He added that there were assessments that Hizbullah had
learned from Hamas’s experience in Gaza, and understood that complete control
and responsibility for Lebanon would limit its ability to act.
organization wants to impact what is going on in Lebanon, but not control it,”
Kohavi also said that the issuing of indictments by the
international tribunal in the Rafik Hariri assassination case was still some
“six or seven” weeks away. He added that Syria – which has aggressively
intervened in Lebanon – was very actively ensuring that Saad Hariri would not
return to the premiership.
Hizbullah-backed Harvard-educated billionaire
and former premier Najib Mikati was designated on Tuesday to form Lebanon’s next
government – angering Sunnis who protested the rising power of the Shi’ite
militant group by burning tires and torching an Al-Jazeera van.
president appointed Mikati as prime minister-designate after a majority of
lawmakers voted for him. Mikati defeated US-backed Saad Hariri, who was prime
minister from 2009 – until Hizbullah forced the unity government he led to
collapse two weeks ago.
“My hand is extended to all Lebanese, Muslims and
Christians, in order to build and not to destroy,” Mikati said after he was
chosen, striking a conciliatory tone and calling for another unity
The vote caps Hizbullah’s steady rise over the past few
decades from a small group fighting Israel to Lebanon’s most powerful military
and political force.
The shift in the balance of power drew warnings from
the US that its support for Lebanon could be in jeopardy, demonstrating the
risks of international isolation if Hizbullah pushes too far.
bloc has insisted it will not join a government led by a Hizbullah pick, which
could mean months of political deadlock ahead in Lebanon.
leader Hassan Nasrallah said later on Tuesday that neither Mikati nor the
government he will form are going to be controlled by Hizbullah. He urged Mikati
to form a national unity government and called on the Western-backed March 14
coalition to be part of it.
“Refusing to participate in this government
means that you want to govern alone and that you would do anything for the sake
of power,” he said about the Hariri-led coalition.
Because Mikati is a
Sunni, protesters accused him of being a traitor to his sect, and betraying
After it was clear that Mikati won the support of a majority of
lawmakers on Tuesday, Hariri thanked people for their support, but called for
“I understand your emotions...but this rage should not
lead us to what is against our morals, faith and beliefs,” he
Hariri’s Future bloc declared a day of peaceful protests on Tuesday
– but called it a “day of rage” and played on the sectarian dimension of the
conflict.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.