New Year, Old Hatreds

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07pm EDT

London ( - The goodwill that characterized New Year celebrations in much of the world has been noticeably absent in others, where bloody conflict and hostile rhetoric make it clear the start of the new century will be no more peaceful than the old.

In Lebanon and Egypt, Kashmir and Chechnya, the first days of 2000 have brought more bloodshed, while leaders in Iran, China and India have affirmed that old religious and other hatreds persist.

The Russian Embassy in Beirut was the scene of a rocket-propelled grenade and gunfire attack Monday, in an assault possibly linked to Islamic anger over the continuing Russian bombardment of Muslim Chechnya.

The unidentified attackers were involved in a firefight with Lebanese special forces troops, and early reports says both sides sustained casualties. Over the weekend the Lebanese army clashed with Islamic militants elsewhere in the country, leaving at least nine soldiers and five Islamists dead.

Muslim anger at the Russian campaign is not confined to Lebanon. Palestinians also plan to protest when former President Boris Yeltsin visits Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority self-rule areas to celebrate Orthodox Christmas Wednesday. Meanwhile the assault on Grozny continues.

In another act of terrorism Monday, 12 people were killed and more than 20 hurt when a busy marketplace in the Indian-controlled portion of disputed Kashmir was bombed.

More than 25,000 people have died since 1990 in a separatist uprising by rebels opposed to Indian rule over parts of Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority province in mostly Hindu India.

The old year ended just hours after Kashmiri hijackers freed 155 hostages held captive for a week on an Indian aircraft parked at an Afghan airport.

India accuses neighboring Pakistan of backing the revolt. On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went one step further, saying information now available to his government "makes it clear that [the hijacking] was an integral part of the Pakistan-backed campaign of terrorism."

In Egypt, too, religious tensions spilled over into riots between Muslims and Christian Copts that left at least 16 people dead.

The trouble reportedly followed a dispute between two traders, one Muslim and one Christian. The government accused "criminal elements" of trying to stir up sectarian tensions in several southern Egyptian communities.

Egypt has denied persistent accusations of discrimination against the minority Christian community, made by Coptic organizations abroad

In Beijing, Chinese police detained five Christians trying to meet in a home on New Year's Day to discuss their faith. Reports say the host, Xu Yonghai, was beaten by policemen. He and four others were released after questioning about organizing "illegal" meetings.

Also in China, President Jiang Zemin used the opportunity of a New Year speech to warn old foe Taiwan not to seek independence.

In the speech, which was carried in full in leading newspapers Sunday, Jiang warned that "China will not sit idle and tolerate any act calculated to split China, pursue the so-called 'independence of Taiwan,' or harm the fundamental interests of the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits."

The return to Chinese rule of former Portuguese colony Macau late last year, following Britain's handover of Hong Kong in 1997, has left Taiwan as Beijing's only major unresolved territorial claim. Analysts expect the Chinese to press it home with renewed vigor.

Twentieth century rhetoric was also evident in Tehran as the year changed, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying Israel's destruction was the only way for the region's problems to be solved.

In a speech that also attacked the United States and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Khamenei called for "the annihilation and destruction of the Zionist state."

His sentiments were echoed in Lebanon, where the leader of the Iranian-backed Hizballah militia promised an increase in suicide bombing attacks against Israeli forces, and said peace agreements between Israel and Arab governments would not bring about regional stability

"There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel," said Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. "Peace settlements will not change reality, which is that Israel is the enemy and that it will never be a neighbor or a nation."

Hizballah (the Party of Allah) calls itself the Lebanese "resistance" against Israeli occupation of a narrow buffer zone in south Lebanon. But leaders have said repeatedly that even an Israeli withdrawal would not sway them from the overall Islamist goal - the eradication of Israel.

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