1. The present report is my eighth semi-annual report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004). It provides an update on progress in the implementation of the resolution, and highlights areas of concern that continue to impede efforts to strengthen Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.
2. Over the past six months, Lebanon has experienced both the ruinous effects of sectarian violence and hope and optimism.
3. On 6 May 2008 the Lebanese Cabinet declared Hizbullah's secure communication network separate from the State's system "illegal and unconstitutional" and announced the dismissal of the chief of security of the Beirut International Airport. In protest, Hizbullah closed all roads leading to and from Beirut airport and other principal roads in parts of the capital. Hizbullah stated that its actions would continue until the Government rescinded both decisions. Later that day, there were exchanges of fire between members of the opposition and pro-Government forces throughout several districts of Beirut. Pro-Government groups closed the main border crossing between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. The violence, which on occasion included the use of heavy weaponry, escalated and spread to other parts of the country. This brought the country to an effective standstill. Hostilities continued until 14 May and led to 69 fatalities and more than 180 wounded. During the clashes, many alleged human rights violations were registered, including illegal detention and ill-treatment, civilian deaths, instances of summary execution, destruction of private property, and attacks on the media and freedom of expression.
4. On 11 May, the League of Arab States convened an emergency meeting. It decided to dispatch a delegation to Beirut, and condemned the use of armed violence to achieve political objectives. On 14 May, a Ministerial Committee of Arab Foreign Ministers headed by the Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasseim Al-Thani, and by the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa, travelled to Lebanon. The Committee held discussions with the parties aimed at ending the crisis. On 15 May, the Cabinet rescinded its decisions of 6 May. Shortly afterwards, the Arab Committee announced an inter-Lebanese understanding that called for calm on the streets and the withdrawal of all armed elements. The agreement also called for a Lebanese National Dialogue to begin the following day in Doha, aiming to seek consensus on the issues of a national unity government and certain aspects of a new electoral law, thereby making possible the election of a President of the Republic.
5. Lebanese political leaders travelled to Doha on 16 May. Through intense efforts led by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, his Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Lebanese leaders reached a comprehensive political understanding on 21 May, leading to the election of General Michel Sleiman as President of Lebanon on 25 May. On the eve of the election, the long-standing protests outside the Prime Minister's office were brought to an end.
6. On 11 July President Sleiman issued a decree forming the seventieth Lebanese Cabinet. On 12 August, the new Cabinet and its policy statement received an overwhelming vote of confidence from Parliament.
7. At the invitation of President Bashar Al-Assad, on 13 and 14 August President Sleiman visited the Syrian Arab Republic, where a series of agreements were reached of significant relevance to the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004). On 15 October, the Foreign Ministers of Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic signed in Damascus a memorandum establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
8. Despite the reconciliation agreement reached in Doha, over the reporting period there have been violent clashes leading to fatalities, in particular in and around the northern city of Tripoli. In particular, on 13 August, an improvised explosive device was detonated at a bus stop frequently used by Lebanese Army soldiers in Tripoli, killing 15 people, including 10 soldiers.
9. On 10 September, Saleh Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic party, was killed in a car bomb in Baysur. This was the first political assassination in the country since the reconciliation accord reached in Doha.
10. On 16 September President Sleiman convened at Baabda Palace the first session of the National Dialogue pursuant to the Doha agreement to discuss the reinforcement of the State's authority throughout the country, and a national defence strategy. The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States attended the meeting. In parallel, a series of reconciliation efforts were undertaken by Lebanese political parties.
11. On 29 September, a new terrorist attack targeted the Lebanese Armed Forces in the city of Tripoli, killing six people, including four soldiers; 32 people were injured, 18 of them soldiers.
II. Implementation of resolution 1559 (2004)
12. Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004) in September 2004, several of its provisions have now been implemented. In my second semi-annual report, of 26 October 2005 (S/2005/673), I was able to certify that free and credible parliamentary elections had been held early in 2005. The same conclusion applied to the withdrawal of Syrian troops, military assets and the military intelligence apparatus from Lebanon. During the current reporting period, a President of the Republic was finally elected, consistent with the provisions of the resolution, thus reviving the constitutional institutions of the country. In addition, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic have engaged in high-level talks on matters of relevance to Lebanon's sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity, such as the establishment of diplomatic relations and the delineation of an international boundary between the two countries, as strongly encouraged by the Security Council in its resolution 1680 (2006). I am therefore glad to report on major strides towards the full implementation of the requirements of resolution 1559 (2004).
13. Meanwhile, the clashes that occurred in May 2008 and the several security incidents throughout the reporting period, in particular in northern Lebanon, continue to emphasize the threats posed by the presence of militias to the stability of the country, and the need for the Government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to exercise the monopoly on the use of force throughout Lebanon. Resolution 1559 (2004) thus remains to be implemented in full.
14. Over the past six months, my representatives and I have remained in regular and close contacts with all parties in Lebanon, as well as with relevant regional and international players.