AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 15 (UPI) — Arab press roundup for Feb. 15: Lebanon’s as-Safir commented Wednesday that the massive demonstration in Beirut Tuesday marking the first anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination showed Hariri continues to have a strong presence in Lebanese memory.

The independent daily said it showed the persistent demand to punish his killers was instrumental in defining Lebanon’s internal policies and relations with Syria. It added the demonstration put an end to the "desperate picture that emerged in the past year depicting the Lebanese are not capable of administering their own affairs without direct external interference."

The mass-circulation paper opined the manifestation was an honest expression of a desire for national unity and brought a new dynamic to move forward in building "an authority of the vast majority, with a well-known agenda, and to work towards completing the disengagement from Syria." It complained that while Sunnis, Christians and Druze showed up, most of the Shiites decided to remain home and watch the demonstration on their television sets, saying they placed themselves "outside the general national context and oppose the idea that Syria’s influence in Lebanon has ended."

The majority of Shiites, it opined, actually believe that al-Qaida killed Hariri for the Israeli and U.S. secret services to frame Syria. "It is hard to speculate if this expression of national unity will make a crack in this distorted Shiite awareness, because this alone can cut the road short towards rebuilding Lebanon," the paper said.

Syria’s al-Thawra lashed out at Lebanese political leaders who addressed Beirut’s demonstration as having exploited Hariri’s assassination anniversary to "vent out poison and incite racist hatred against Syria."

The state-run daily said these politicians were having a "nervous breakdown and are losing their balance after their wretched conspiracies against Lebanon and Syria failed, as they resort to lies and hypocrisy." It complained that their slogans against Lebanon’s national forces and against Syria violate all manners and ethics, insisting they were "only a frustrated and disappointed group whose conspiratorial role was revealed."

The paper described the anti-Syrian politicians as a "gang that tried to play with the minds of the people, but the people were bigger than to be affected with the games drawn up for them in the Israeli and American labyrinths," and accused them of treason for insulting the national symbols and by inciting for the disarmament of Lebanon’s resistance weapons, which it called the "only defense in Lebanon in the face of the Israeli danger that threatens its stability, unity and its genuine Arab role."

Addressing the "hateful mercenaries," the paper said Syria was not Lebanon’s enemy, but Israel, which it insisted was working to take the country back to chaos and civil wars. "The people know you are nothing more than symbols of hatred, which has blinded you from seeing the truth," the paper complained.

London-based al-Hayat said Beirut’s demonstration proved that the "free and lovers of independence in this country are not a minority."

The Saudi-financed daily, distributed in most Arab capitals, said while it was true the Lebanese have been grieving for Rafik Hariri in the past year, Tuesday’s rally brought back hope of renewed liberation. It commented the Lebanese were committed to their vow for independence and continuing the path of Hariri, saying "Lebanon was alive yesterday, thanks to the brave who demonstrated in Freedom Square," including the political leaders.

"Lebanon yesterday showed that it has not died and that it will be an example for its neighbors in democracy and coexistence between Muslims and Christians," the paper opined, adding that while the road may be difficult, terrorism, murder and blackmail will dissolve sooner or later.

It said it was an "expressive coincidence" that the demonstration coincided with the trial of toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his aides in Baghdad. "Saddam Hussein’s regime depended on killing and terrorism, ending in desperation, while the Lebanese people struggle for their freedom and independence," the paper said.

The Jordan Times criticized in its editorial the attempted justification of eight British soldiers filmed while beating up unarmed Iraqi teenagers in Basra.

The English-language daily blasted British media organizations, saying they were more interested in finding excuses for this behavior than in finding the truth. "Even the expression used by some commentators when referring to the soldiers involved in the scandal — ‘bad apples’ — reflects some sort of denial; as if proving that the incident had been an isolated case would make it less horrific," the paper commented. It asked how many similar abuse cases have gone reported and if the British soldiers who beat up the Iraqi youth were too young to discern between right and wrong, "why send them on such a delicate mission?"

The paper, partially owned by the government, insisted there were no excuses for abusive and violent behavior and that no one should try to make any. It stressed that occupation breeds violence "on both sides of the fence," adding the presence of foreign troops in Iraq "has obviously become more and more counterproductive."

The Times warned the gap between the Muslim and western worlds was growing into an "an unbridgeable abyss, and fanaticism and intolerance are gradually gaining ground on both sides." It said the Iran crisis, Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections, the controversy over Danish cartoons disparaging Prophet Mohammad and the video footage of the British soldiers’ "brutality in Iraq" are only widening the gap.

"Honoring its tradition of public liberties and rule of law, Britain, the mother of all parliamentary democracies, must now shed full light on the Basra video case and bring those responsible to justice," the paper demanded.

London-based al-Quds al-Arabi appealed to Iraqi insurgents to release U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, who was abducted on Jan. 7 and her translator killed in Baghdad.

The independent Palestinian-owned daily said the reporter for the Christian Science Monitor was known to have been a professional journalist who understood the region well, unlike other Western correspondents dispatched to the region.

"It’s enough that Carroll decided to leave calm Jordan to go to what has become a hell for journalists and everyone else," the paper insisted. It said many foreign journalists knew nothing of Iraq except their hotels, where they remain under U.S. military protection, and Baghdad airport, adding they cannot be blamed for doing so for their safety.

The daily rejected the kidnapping of any journalist, regardless of nationality, but the abduction of someone like Carroll, whom it said was keen to portray the real picture in Iraq, was even worse. "Therefore, we appeal to the kidnappers to take a brave step and release her because Carroll is not responsible for what the American soldiers or Iraqis do there," the paper said.

"Her killing, God forbid, will not serve the cause whatever it is, but will only harm any cause regardless of its justice."