Monday, January 29, 2007

More Balloon Madness...

Spooked Beirutis fear new 'balloon-borne' Israeli plot: Hysteria reaches capital after weekend panic in south

BEIRUT: Renewed panic spread among some Lebanese Monday, as a black balloon with a spider drawn on it landed in the heart of a Beirut neighborhood, a day after Israeli balloons landed in South Lebanon. "It is a terrorist act against our peace of mind," Khaled Qamaryeh, owner of a store in the neighborhood of Salim Salaam, told The Daily Star.

His shop is located just a few meters away from where the balloon landed.

The panic over balloons began over the weekend, when several fluorescent green and orange balloons branded with the Hebrew word Ha'ir (The City) drifted into the South from Israel. Five civilians were allegedly hospitalized with nausea, breathing difficulties and dizziness after coming into contact with the balloons, but tests have thus far turned up no toxic sustances and an Israeli newspaper said they were part of an advertising campaign.

"I didn't go near it as I was worried it may be filled with poison," Qamaryeh said of the balloon found in his neighborhood. "I don't trust the Israelis."

Around 9:30 a.m. on Monday, a handful of residents discovered what they called "an unidentified balloon," near one of the roasteries in the area and immediately called in the Internal Security Forces and the army to investigate its contents.

"The balloon in Salim Salaam did not contain poison or dangerous substance," the head of Internal Security Forces, Ashraf Rifi, told The Daily Star.

Police and forensic experts were sent to the site and quarantined the area as they tested the balloon for dangerous gases or other substances.

"We don't know where the balloon came from, but it is different in color and style from the earlier balloons discovered in the South," said Rifi.

While there is no evidence of poison, Rifi said there is a question over the "timing."

"Israeli balloons never used to drift over to Lebanon, so why now?" he asked. "I believe it is an intentional act by Israel to cause further panic in a country already on edge," he added.

I call bullshi^ on this balloon business. I believe it is an intentional act by some bad actors in Lebanon to cause further panic in a country already on edge...