December 15/2013


Bible Quotation for today/The Triumphant Approach to Jerusalem

Luke 19/28-40/: "After Jesus said this, he went on in front of them toward Jerusalem. As he came near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead  with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you; as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master needs it.” They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them.  As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?” “The Master needs it,” they answered,  and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen:  “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!” Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “command your disciples to be quiet!” Jesus answered, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting"


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 15/13

DEBKAfile/Iran returns second space monkey to earth, stages crisis in nuclear talks/December 15/13

Linking the Syrian Conflict to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement/David Schenker/Washington Institute/December 15/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 15/13
Lebanese Related News

Lebanon roads blocked due to heavy snow fall
Salam Shrugs Off Hizbullah Campaign, Says Cabinet Constitutional when Decree Signed
Eyes Turned to Baabda as Suleiman Moves to End Cabinet Crisis

Italy to support Lebanese Army, increase refugee aid
Suleiman, Letta Agree on Support for Lebanon Stability amid Promise for More Refugee Assistance

Lebanese Army Arrests Armed Syrians in Bekaa after Illegal Crossing

Saniora: Hizbullah's Involvement in Syria Impedes Cabinet Formation

Gap Widens between Berri, Saniora over Baabda-Hizbullah Cabinet Dispute
Syria Mortar Shell Hits Outskirts of Akkar Village
Arslan Warns of Violating Coexistence in Any Cabinet Lineup
Spokesman: EU Has No Intention to Interfere in Lebanon's Political Life

STL denies slain ISF chief Wissam al-Hasan linked to Hariri killing

STL President Again Urges Merhi to Appear before Court, Appoint Lawyer
Syria Activists: Talks Ongoing to Free Seized Nuns
Nasrallah to speak at slain commander's memorial
Jumblat, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Locked in Verbal Spat
HRC Acting Chief Inspects Cracked Tripoli Building, Families Provided with Temporary Housing

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Kids give pope birthday cake 3 days early

Final UN report confirms chemical weapons used multiple times in Syria
Ban Says Syria Chemical Attackers Should be Sanctioned
2 Dead, 5 Cops Hurt in Egypt Clashes over Morsi Ouster

Egypt Referendum on Draft Constitution on Jan 14-15

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood turns to sisters in fight against state

Iran arrests man accused of spying for Britain's MI6

Iran, Russia warn US against sanctions blacklist, say nuclear deal in jeopardy

Kerry: Israeli-Palestinian peace deal still possible by April


Kids give pope birthday cake 3 days early
December 14, 2013/Associated Press/VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has received a candle-topped birthday cake three days early - a surprise from children at the Vatican. The pontiff turns 77 on Tuesday. The children presented the treat on Saturday after the pope visited a Vatican dispensary which provides pediatric care. Francis blew out the candles, thanked the youngsters for the cake and promised: "I'll tell you later if it's good or not." At one point, Francis briefly lost his white skull cap to a child he was holding. The pope smiled and put it back on his head. For more than 90 years, the dispensary on the Vatican grounds has been distributing milk, clothing, diapers, toys and even baby carriages to families in need.

Lebanon roads blocked due to heavy snow fall
December 14, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Public Works Ministry personnel and Civil Defense volunteers are working Saturday on reopening vital roads across the country that were blocked as a result of heavy snow fall the night before. In the Bekaa Valley, 40-centimeter of snow covered the mountainous region while the Internal Security Forces said it was working on reopening eight blocked roads in the area. In the eastern town of Zahle, 30-centimeters of snow accumulated on various streets, blocking a number of roads including those connecting Zahle and Dhour Shoueir; Ain el-Tineh and Yanta; and the Deir al-Ashayer road, according to a statement released by the ISF. Snow fell on low altitudes of 500 meters above sea level in south Lebanon particularly in the district of Bint Jbeil where temperatures dropped drastically as a result of the harsh winter storm which hit Lebanon earlier this week. In north Lebanon where only a few roads remained blocked, the temperature settled at a high of minus 4 degrees Celsius and a low of 9 degrees, while in Zahle the temperature reached a high of 2 degrees and a low of minus 2. Rainfall continued in the capital with the temperature settling at a high of 12 degrees Celsius and a low of 7. The winter storm "Alexa," the first this year, is expected to gradually subside over the weekend, making way for sunshine across the country particularly on Sunday. The snowy cold prompted the Education Ministry to close all private and public schools for three days in a row this week. The death toll from the brutal winter storm rose to four Friday, with the passing of a Syrian refugee infant from a preexisting lung infection exacerbated by bad weather conditions. Although the storm did not cause massive flooding or damage to infrastructure as predicted, parts of the agricultural sector sustained losses, and fishermen were unable to head out to sea.


Italy to support Lebanese Army, increase refugee aid
December 14, 2013 /The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban
BEIRUT: Italy will host an international conference to support the Lebanese Army next year, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said Saturday in Beirut, adding that his country will increase funds to help Syrian refugees in host countries especially in Lebanon. During a joint news conference with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Letta also said Italy will increase its assistance to the Lebanese Army in terms of training and military expertise as well as increase its cooperation on the bilateral level. “ Italy will organize a meeting in Rome [for] the international community’s joint support in [helping] the Lebanese armed forces,” Letta told reporters at the Grand Serail following talks with Mikati. Mikati said the conference, which is expected to convene early next year, is aimed at strengthening the Lebanese Army to better carry out its security duties. He added that Italy had promised to take such an initiative during the first meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon, which was convened in September in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting.
The conference to be held in Rome and in close coordination with the U.N. would be a follow-up on the recommendations made by the International Support Group for Lebanon which aimed at supporting Lebanon’s state institutions and its Army as well as help the country better manage the presence of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Letta also announced an additional $50 million in aid for host countries especially Lebanon which he said was under tremendous pressure as a result of the overwhelming number of refugees. He also said that the international community should be more engaged in helping host countries address the rising refugee crisis. Aside from financial support, Letta said Italy organized a rescue mission with five to seven ships to rescue thousands of migrants, mostly Syrians, in the Mediterranean Sea. Letta and Mikati also discussed issues related to Lebanon’s economy and the need to vitalize trade relations. Prior to the news conference, Letta visited the Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh and met with a number of Syrian refugee families. President Michel Sleiman expressed his appreciation Saturday for Italy over its decision to hold the international conference to support the Army, during talks with the Italian PM. According to Sleiman's office, the president also welcomed Italy's readiness to increase its support for the Lebanese Army.
"Sleiman also expressed appreciation over Italy's decision to organize an international conference in Rome to support the Lebanese armed forces in coordination with the United Nations and Lebanon," his office said.
The statement said Letta and Sleiman stressed on the importance of supporting Lebanon’s security agencies given that the agencies "represent the country's unity par excellence and is tasked with preserving security."
The two also affirmed the need for the international community to share such a burden with Lebanon. They also affirmed the need for a continued international support for Lebanon to strengthen stability, support the economy and the armed forces and help the country address the refugee crisis. Letta also met Speaker Nabih Berri later in the day at the latter's residence in Ain el-Tineh where they discussed Italy's contribution to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. Berri expressed gratitude to Letta over his country's participation in UNIFIL and Italy's decision to hold a conference for the Army. "Berri stressed on the importance of strengthening cooperation and investment opportunities in various fields between the countries especially that Italy is one of the top European countries having trade relations with Lebanon," the National News Agency said. The speaker also thanked Italy for the refugee aid, saying that the most important help that could be offered is the Geneva 2 peace talks in order to reach a political solution for the ongoing crisis in Syria. Letta will also visit his country's 1,466-strong contingent in the UNIFIL based on the southern village of Naqoura and meet with the peacekeeping force cheif Gen. Paolo Serra, also an Italian.

Salam Shrugs Off Hizbullah Campaign, Says Cabinet Constitutional when Decree Signed
Naharnet/Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has shrugged off criticism about the non-constitutionality of a de facto government, saying the new cabinet would be constitutional immediately after the president signs the decree. In remarks to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Saturday, Salam said: “Any discussion about a neutral or non neutral cabinet is political.” “The objections to it are also political,” he said. “The constitution gives the cabinet a constitutional status as soon as the president signs its (formation) decree, and whether it gets parliament's vote of confidence or not,” Salam added. He told the daily that new consultations for the formation of the cabinet would be launched if his government failed to get the vote of confidence. “I am still open for discussion and coordination with everyone but they should decide whether they want to protect their interests and their power or the interests of the nation,” Salam said about the rival parties. His remarks came as several members of the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance launched a campaign against President Michel Suleiman over reports he would agree with Salam to form a fait accompli government. Salam has blamed the March 8 and 14 camps and the conditions imposed by them on his failure to come up with a line-up. He was appointed in April. Al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Jean Oghassabian told al-Joumhouria that the media has speculated about a fait accompli government. But it hasn't been translated into deeds, he said. “The reaction of Hizbullah is natural because it resorts to intimidation and threats particularly if the cabinet was formed without its approval,” the lawmaker added. Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad hinted lately that the party would not hand any portfolio to any new minister in a cabinet which “lacks political backing.”The party's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, has also insisted on the formation of a cabinet in which the March 8 and 14 alliances would get nine ministers each and neutrals six ministers.
However, such a government line-up is rejected by the March 14 alliance.

LebanonPoliticsNaim QassemMohammed RaadMichel Suleiman

Eyes Turned to Baabda as Suleiman Moves to End Cabinet Crisis
Naharnet/Baabda palace officials denied that President Michel Suleiman was seeking to form a de facto cabinet along with Premier-designate Tammam Salam but confirmed that he would take action before the end of his term in May next year. In remarks to An Nahar daily published on Saturday, the officials said that Suleiman will take into consideration the regional and local situation before taking any action on the government crisis. It would come at the appropriate time, they said. “Had Suleiman wanted the formation of a fait accompli cabinet, he would have already done so, but he is keen on … exerting all efforts to agree on an all-embracing government which assumes its responsibilities and receives the parliament’s vote of confidence,” the officials, who were not identified, said. They told An Nahar that there are discussions on the constitutionality of the move that Suleiman intends to make, saying the constitution has an article on handing over the authorities of the president to the caretaking cabinet. In response to Hizbullah threats that the party's ministers would not hand the ministries to their successors if there was a de facto cabinet, the officials said the new officials would assume responsibilities without the handing over ceremony. Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad hinted lately that the party would not hand any portfolio to any new minister in a cabinet which “lacks political backing.” Hizbullah has been calling for the formation of a government in which the March 8 and 14 alliances would get nine ministers each and neutrals six ministers. However, such a line-up is rejected by the March 14 alliance. Media reports said the party has launched a campaign against the president over fears that he would form a fait accompli cabinet along with Salam and over accusations that he has entered the Saudi sphere of influence. But the Baabda palace officials denied that such accusations against Suleiman have taken place. “This is a fictions campaign,” they told An Nahar. Suleiman met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati on Friday to discuss the cabinet crisis. Sources told al-Joumhouria that the president and Miqati agreed to give up efforts to hold cabinet sessions, stressing the importance of forming the new cabinet to guarantee the revival of constitutional institutions.


Spokesman: EU Has No Intention to Interfere in Lebanon's Political Life
Naharnet /European Union foreign ministers are expected next week to announce support for President Michel Suleiman, the spokesman of the French foreign ministry said, denying however any intention to “interfere” in Lebanon’s political life. Romain Nadal said that the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday will address several issues, including the threat of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon’s internal stability. The EU member states “will reaffirm their solidarity and their attachment to the country’s stability,” he said. Nadal expected the foreign ministers to announce support for Suleiman and Lebanese authorities, and the dissociation policy that is based on the Baabda Declaration. The ministers will reiterate the EU commitment to Lebanese Armed Forces and providing assistance to Lebanon to confront the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian refugees, he said. The Council will also discuss the constitutional paralysis in Lebanon, he added. But Nadal stressed that the EU “does not have any intention to interfere in Lebanon's political life,” saying “the Lebanese should agree among themselves on the solutions that can provide a better future for them.”His latest remark came after reports that French President Francois Hollande has told his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman that Paris would mediate to guarantee an extension of his six-year mandate. But Suleiman reportedly told him that he rejected the extension and preferred the renewal of his term if the MPs failed to elect a new president before his mandate expires in May 2014.

Suleiman, Letta Agree on Support for Lebanon Stability amid Promise for More Refugee Assistance
Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta agreed on Saturday on the need for the international community to continue its strong support for Lebanon to consolidate its stability as the visiting official promised to increase aid for Syrian refugees in the region. Suleiman and Letta stressed "a strong and coordinated" international support for Lebanon to strengthen its stability, and back its economy and Lebanese Armed Forces, a Baabda Palace statement said. They also called for international support to help Lebanon confront the crisis of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in accordance with the decisions reached by the International Support Group for Lebanon, the statement said. The support group was inaugurated in New York in September on the sidelines of the 68th session of the General Assembly. It undertook to work together to mobilize support for the sovereignty and state institutions of Lebanon and to highlight and promote efforts to assist the country where it was most affected by the Syrian crisis, including in respect of strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces, assistance to refugees, and structural and financial support to the government. Suleiman and Letta agreed that the international community should share the burden of more than 800,000 Syrians, who have fled to Lebanon since the civil war erupted in Syria nearly three years ago, the Baabda statement said. On the support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, both leaders stressed the importance of backing them as entities that reflect the unity of the state and preserve security, it said. Suleiman welcomed Italy's readiness to support the Lebanese army, mainly in training and providing military expertise. He also praised Italy for organizing an international conference in Rome to back the capabilities of the LAF in coordination with the United Nations and Lebanese authorities. After his meeting with Suleiman, Letta held talks with caretaker Premier Najib Miqati at the Grand Serail. He said at a joint press conference with Miqati that Italy supports Lebanese institutions and is committed to help Lebanon confront the burden of Syrian refugees. Letta said Italy was increasing its assistance to the refugees in the region through the U.N. to 50 million dollars. The visiting premier also met with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh before heading to southern Lebanon to inspect Italy's UNIFIL contingent.


Army Arrests Armed Syrians in Bekaa after Illegal Crossing
Naharnet /The Lebanese army has arrested 14 Syrians, some of them armed, after they entered Lebanese territories through illegal crossings, the state-run National News Agency reported Saturday. NNA said the arrests were made in the eastern Bekaa Valley on Thursday and Friday. Some of the suspects carried personal firearms and hand grenades, the agency said. They were temporarily jailed in the Bekaa after the security forces failed to transport them to Beirut over the snowstorm that has blocked major roads. The Lebanese army later said in a communique that it arrested on Friday night three Syrians at the Wadi Hmeid-Arsal area in northeastern Lebanon for entering Lebanese territories illegally. The suspects were in a pick-up truck, it said. The communique added that the army seized from them light arms, ammunition and hand grenades, in addition to wireless communications devices and military gear. Military units have also arrested in the area of al-Dalhamiyeh in Shouf eight people in three different cars for the possession of arms and ammunition. Some of them did not have identification papers, the communique said without specifying their nationalities. Last Sunday, an army communique said a military checkpoint in Wadi Hmeid-Arsal stopped a Kia car carrying no license plates. The car was transporting four Syrian nationals, among them a woman. They were in possession of firearms and a number of hand grenades, the communique said.


Saniora: Hizbullah's Involvement in Syria Impedes Cabinet Formation
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc head MP Fouad Saniora has said that any developments at the level of forming a cabinet have become impossible in light of Hizbullah's deep involvement in the Syrian crisis, reports said on Saturday. Saniora's comments came during a dinner held in honor of President Michel Suleiman at the residence of Deputy Speaker Farid Makari in the presence of caretaker PM Najib Miqati, PM-designate Tammam Salam, several ministers, deputies of al-Mustaqbal and March 14 movement figures. The al-Mustaqbal bloc head pointed to the intimidation campaign against Salam and the pressure against him to respect the conditions set out by Hizbullah and the March 8 coalition in forming a new cabinet. Since his designation in April to line-up a government, Salam has been unable to perform his duties in light of the differences between the March 8 and 14 alliance, and Hizbullah's engagement in the Syrian battle. Moreover, Saniora briefed the attendees on his latest meeting with leader of al-Mustaqbal movement Saad Hariri in Paris, and the discussions that touched on several controversial issues in the country.


Gap Widens between Berri, Saniora over Baabda-Hizbullah Cabinet Dispute
Naharnet/The dialogue between Speaker Nabih Berri and al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Saniora has been affected by the differences between the Baabda presidential palace and Hizbullah, sources said.
Consultations between Berri and Saniora began to be influenced by the “hot wind” affecting the Baabda-Hizbullah ties, sources told al-Liwaa newspaper published on Saturday. They said the speaker, who is also the head of the Amal movement that is allied with Hizbullah, and Saniora are not scheduled to hold a new meeting anytime soon. The sources denied however that the recent accusations made by al-Mustaqbal MPs against Berri were the result of the cold relations between the two officials. Al-Mustaqbal lawmaker Ahmed Fatfat slammed Berri on Friday after the speaker said in remarks to al-Joumhouria daily that under the current circumstances, the only choice left is the formation of a 9-9-6 formula cabinet or a return to the dialogue table. The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, which Amal movement is part of, considers that participation involves only numbers and not sharing in responsibility, Fatfat said. Another al-Mustaqbal MP, Ammar Houri, told al-Liwaa on Saturday that despite claims of frozen ties between Berri and Saniora, “dialogue between them is open.” “It involves other issues and wasn't affected by the dispute on the formation of the cabinet and the 9-9-6 formula,” he said.


Syria Mortar Shell Hits Outskirts of Akkar Village
Naharnet /A mortar shell fired from war-torn Syria hit the banks of Nahr al-Kabir in northern Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday. According to the news agency, the mortar shell hit the Nahr al-Kabir on the outskirts of al-Nura village in the northern district in Akkar. The almost three-year long violence in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon, with cross-border shelling in the north and east. Mortars and shells from the Syrian side regularly crash in Lebanon, causing several casualties. But Lebanese forces have never fired back despite promises of retaliation. Syrian authorities had threatened to attack Lebanese territories if “terrorists” continue to infiltrate the country from Lebanon. Lebanese parties are sharply divided over the developments in Syria despite the dissociation policy that was adopted by the state.


Arslan Warns of Violating Coexistence in Any Cabinet Lineup
Naharnet/Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan warned on Saturday of attempts to lineup a cabinet that violates coexistence, urging the political foes to deal rationally with the formation process to achieve the country's higher interest. “Everyone of us is trying to build a state that better suits his needs, ignoring others and the necessary balance in the country's political life,” Arslan said in a statement. He pointed out that personal interests are dominating those of the country, pointing out that vacuum in state posts doesn't serve Lebanon. Premier-designate Tammam Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties as fears mount that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum the presidential post. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May. Arslan considered that the debate over war-torn Syria doesn't serve any political side as every party is holding onto its convictions and points of view. “The bickering will only have an impact on the people in an attempt to distract them,” the Druze leader said. Lebanese parties are sharply divided over the crisis in Syria as the March 8 alliance continuously expresses its support to Syrian president Bashar Assad, while the March 14 camp backs the popular revolt. Arslan expressed regret over the conditions of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who are struggling to cope with a fierce winter storm that hit by the country. More than 835,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, although the real number is thought to total more than one million. Thousands get by in makeshift camps, in shelters made of little more than plastic sheeting nailed to wooden frames -- a flimsy barrier against fierce winter weather.


STL denies slain ISF chief Wissam al-Hasan linked to Hariri killing
December 14, 2013/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The prosecutor at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon disavowed Friday allegations against former ISF Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hasan that he was involved in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In a statement on the STL’s Twitter account, the prosecutor said Bo Astrom, a former investigator who said Hasan’s absence from Hariri’s convoy on the day he was assassinated was suspicious, had never worked for the STL, and that his views did not represent those of the office of the prosecutor. “The Office of the Prosecutor would like to emphasize that Mr. Bo Astrom has never worked for the Office of the Prosecutor at the STL,” the court said on its Twitter feed. “The personal views expressed recently by Mr. Astrom do not reflect or represent the position of the Prosecutor,” the statement added. Though it was not stated explicitly, the statement confirms that the prosecution does not consider Hasan, who was assassinated in October last year, as a suspect. Bo Astrom, a former investigator at the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission, was a member of the UNIIIC under Detlev Mehlis, its first head. The body probed the assassination of Hariri prior to the establishment of the STL. In an interview by Al-Jadeed TV that was aired Tuesday, Astrom said it was the only occasion that Hasan did not join Hariri’s convoy. Astrom said Hasan told investigators he had to be absent because he had to take an examination at a university. But Astrom said he was not convinced by Hasan’s alibi. He added that Hasan told the person who replaced him in the convoy to take the ill-fated route. The STL is tasked with bringing to justice those involved in the Feb. 14, 2005, attack in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others. Trial is scheduled to begin in January.


STL President Again Urges Merhi to Appear before Court, Appoint Lawyer
Naharnet/Special Tribunal for Lebanon President David Baragwanath on Friday urged the suspect Hassan Habib Merhi anew to appear before the court and appoint a lawyer to represent him. “Seven weeks ago, on October 21, 2013, I invited you to consider whether you are prepared to face the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to answer the charges in the indictment,” Baragwanath said in a written statement addressed to Merhi. “These are very serious charges, including acts of terrorism and murder. I urge you to get legal advice and appoint a lawyer to represent you before the Tribunal,” the judge added. “As an alternative to appearing in person in the Netherlands, you may have the right to participate in hearings by video-conference,” Baragwanath noted, addressing Merhi. On October 21, Baragwanath had announced the confirmation of an indictment accusing Merhi of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, for which four other accused are to be tried in absentia. The trial will begin on January 16, 2014.
“The Lebanese authorities have so far been unable to locate Mr Merhi. I have therefore ordered the service of the indictment in alternative modes, which include public advertisement. If, following such procedures, Mr. Merhi has not been brought under the Tribunal’s authority, the Trial Chamber will be asked to decide whether to initiate proceedings against him in absentia,” Baragwanath said on October 21.
The court had delivered on Oct. 11 posters of Merhi to the Lebanese authorities “for the purpose of public advertisement.”
The confirmed indictment and an arrest warrant were transmitted confidentially to the Lebanese authorities on August 6 so that they could “search for, arrest and transfer the accused to STL custody.”
The Lebanese authorities were given 30 calendar days to carry out this obligation and report back on their efforts by September 5, 2013. On Sep. 6, the Lebanese Prosecutor General submitted his confidential report to the tribunal's president, stating that the accused was not found. Merhi is charged with a number of crimes including "the crime of conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act." He is alleged to have acted in a conspiracy with Hizbullah members Mustafa Amin Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra in relation to the attack on February 14, 2005, all of whom have already been indicted.
The accused Merhi is alleged to have coordinated the preparation of the purported claim of responsibility as part of the preparations for and in furtherance of, the attack, said the STL.
The STL said Merhi is “a supporter of Hizbullah” who was born on December 12, 1965 in Beirut. “He is the son of Habib Merhi and Latifa Abbas,” it added, revealing that he has resided in Burj al-Barajneh and that “he is a citizen of Lebanon.” Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the STL, describing it as an American-Israeli conspiracy against his party. He has vowed never to cooperate with the tribunal, saying that the suspects will never be found.


Syria Activists: Talks Ongoing to Free Seized Nuns
by Naharnet /Two Syrian activists said Saturday that the government is negotiating with rebels to secure the release of a group of nuns seized by opposition fighters. A spokesman for the rebel brigade al-Habib al-Moustafa said that fighters want the Syrian government to release hundreds of imprisoned female activists in exchange for the 12 captive nuns. Spokesman Abu Nidal said he wasn't involved in negotiations, but was relaying information from other fighters. The negotiations were also confirmed by a prominent Syrian opposition activist who requested anonymity, as he was discussing talks conducted by other parties. He said negotiations began immediately after the Greek Orthodox nuns were seized from their convent of Mar Takla north of Damascus on Dec. 6 after rebels overran the area. There was no immediate government comment. Source/Associated Press

Nasrallah to speak at slain commander's memorial
December 14, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah's Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will deliver a speech at the memorial ceremony for assassinated party commander Hassan Hawlo Lakkis on Friday of this week. In a statement, Hezbollah's media office said the memorial service will be held in Beirut's southern suburb at Sayyed al-Shuhada Complex at 2:30 p.m. Hezbollah postponed the memorial ceremony which was scheduled for Sunday in Baalbek because of the snow storm currently lashing Lebanon. Lakkis was gunned down on Dec. 3 outside his home south of Beirut in St. Therese neighborhood. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the assassination and said it “should bear full responsibility and all the consequences of this heinous crime and its repeated targeting of our dear resistance leaders and cadres."


Jumblat, Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Locked in Verbal Spat
Naharnet Newsdesk 14 December 2013/Caretaker Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abou Faour and Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim Ali engaged on Saturday in a war of words days after the diplomat said in a statement that his country “has no ties with Walid Jumblat who was an accomplice in incitement against Syria.” “The resilience of the Syrian regime didn't surprise us as much as the hatred that its leadership has towards the Syrian people didn't surprise us,” Abou Faour said in a statement. He pointed out that “we won't be stunned by it's inevitable downfall or the fate that its murders will have to face.” Abou Faour said that “sooner or later all the Syrian leadership murders will have to face the fate that they deserve in order to achieve justice and to fairness to the sufferings and struggles of the Syrian people.” The caretaker Minister's statement comes days after the Syrian ambassador denied that there are any ties between his country and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat. Ali accused Jumblat of being an accomplice in “incitement against Syria, harboring insurgents and twisting facts.”He also ruled out reports saying that the “doors of Damascus were open for Jumblat's son Taymour,” drawing a retaliatory statement by Jumblat to French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour. Jumblat said in remarks on Friday to the newspaper that he would visit Syria only if the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad collapses and the country is “liberated.” “Neither I nor my son have planned for a single moment to go to Damascus,” the daily quoted him as saying. Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are fighting rebels seeking to topple him. The fighting erupted in early 2011 when Assad launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests and has since evolved into a full-blown civil war that has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives.

Egypt Referendum on Draft Constitution on Jan 14-15
Naharnet/Egypt said Saturday a referendum on a new draft constitution will be held next month, the first step towards elected rule in a country deeply polarized after president Mohammed Morsi's ouster.
"I call upon you to vote in a referendum on the draft revised constitution on January 14 and 15," interim president Adly Mansour said in a speech to the nation, accompanied by high-ranking officials and those who drafted the new charter. The constitutional referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-2014, according to a transition road map outlined by the new military-installed authorities.
The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member panel after the interim authorities suspended the previous version of the charter written under the Islamist Morsi. Egypt's first democratically elected president was ousted by the army on July 3 after massive street protests against his turbulent year-long rule. Morsi's removal caused deep divisions amid a sweeping and deadly government crackdown targeting his supporters that has left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more arrested. Mansour praised the revised draft for its provisions on the "securing of human rights, freedoms and the balancing of powers". "It is a good start on which to build the institutions of a democratic and modern state," he said. Amr Shobaki, a member of the panel that wrote the draft, told AFP Egypt was at a "turning point and its success would mean an end to a transitional phase as right now there are no elected institutions". The revised charter has come under severe criticism from secular movements and rights groups for retaining the powers and privileges of the military. It allows the military to prosecute civilians in some cases, appoint the defense minister and keep its budget beyond civilian scrutiny -- powers held by the legislature, executive and judiciary of most democracies.
"The fact that the draft would give the military a great deal of autonomy raises concerns about whether this institution will be held accountable for violations," Amnesty International said after the draft was published.
"It also casts doubt over whether the government will be able to institute desperately needed reforms to ensure that the military, police and security agencies respect human rights and are subject to independent oversight."
The rights group said that during the military junta's 17-month rule after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, more than 12,000 civilians were tried unfairly by military courts.
However, several political groups have already started low-level campaigning in favor of the new basic law. The Tamarod (rebellion) movement that led the campaign against Morsi's rule is backing the charter.
But Islamists are divided, with the Salafist Al-Nur party in favor and pro-Morsi groups against it. Al-Nur, which had a representative on the panel that drafted the charter, says it will "campaign in favour of it".
The Anti-Coup Alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belongs staunchly opposes the charter and the referendum. The alliance said in a statement earlier in December that it "rejects as a total waste of billions of Egyptian pounds a potentially rigged and certainly unconstitutional referendum to rubber stamp the country's most important document". Egypt's Islamists were also divided over Morsi's ouster, with Al-Nur backing the military in deposing him along with Christian and Muslim religious institutions. The Anti-Coup Alliance has staged near daily pro-Morsi protests since his removal. The now discarded 2012 constitution written under Morsi was drafted by a 100-member panel dominated by his Islamist allies.
Source/Agence France Presse

Ban Says Syria Chemical Attackers Should be Sanctioned
Naharnet/U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called on the international community Friday to sanction those responsible for Syrian chemical weapons attacks documented in a newly released report. The U.N. report, issued Thursday, concluded that such banned arms were used at least five times before Damascus agreed to dismantle its arsenal. "I deplore in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which is an offense against the universal values of humankind," Ban told the United Nations General Assembly. The report did not, however, lay blame for the attacks, as the inspectors' mandate did not allow them to designate a responsible party.
"The international community has a moral and political responsibility to hold accountable those responsible to deter further incidents and ensure that chemical weapons can never reemerge as an instrument of warfare," Ban said.
The U.N. secretary general said he was "encouraged" by progress made in dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal. "The international community continues to expect the Syrian Arab Republic will implement faithfully its obligations to complete the elimination by the first half of 2014," he said. Under an international agreement brokered to avoid U.S. military strikes on the Damascus regime -- which resulted in a landmark Security Council resolution -- Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons have to be out of the country by a December 31 deadline and destroyed by June 30, 2014. Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, who led the U.N. investigation team that compiled the report, reminded reporters that the mandate did not allow him to point any fingers. "These facts could be used by others who have the mandate ... I don't have information that could stand in court," he said.
Attributing the attacks "requires more efforts and resources" such as those of forensic investigators, Sellstrom said. Western and Arab governments, human rights groups and Syrian rebels accuse the regime of carrying out the attacks. Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran blame the rebels. Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, said that "it is up to members states to open up a new chapter on accountability." Samples collected by the investigators, she added, have been stored and are the property of the United Nations. Ban also called on the six states that have not signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention -- which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons -- to do so. Source/Agence France Presse


2 Dead, 5 Cops Hurt in Egypt Clashes over Morsi Ouster
Naharnet /Two young men were killed in clashes Friday between supporters and opponents of Egypt's toppled Islamist president as police used tear gas to disperse protests, officials said. Protesters across the country defied the icy weather brought by a rare winter storm to vent anger over the military's July 3 overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president. A 23-year-old was hit by gunfire in Suez when clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of Morsi, and three policemen were wounded, local officials and medics in the canal city said. Protesters in Suez also torched a police car, security officials said, adding that a similar incident took place in Qena in southern Egypt. In Fayyum, south of the capital, a 19-year-old man was shot dead in clashes and two policemen were wounded by buckshot, local health department officials said.
Tear gas grenades were used against Islamists in several Cairo districts after protesters took to the streets for weekly pro-Morsi demonstrations. Protesters lobbed petrol bombs at police in the capital, the security officials said.
The interior ministry said 54 protesters were arrested nationwide. Such demonstrations are regarded as illegal, since they do not conform to a new law requiring organizers to give three days' notice to police.
Police also intervened in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla to break up clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters. The Islamist Anti-Coup Alliance organizes regular protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement that often set off clashes with security forces and opponents of the deposed president. More than 1,000 people, mainly Morsi supporters, have been killed and thousands of Islamists have been arrested since the military-installed government launched a crackdown in mid-August. Source/Agence France Presse


Off key rhetoric
December 14, 2013/The Daily Star
Christian politicians and clergy in Lebanon have been busy sounding alarm bells left and right. And the “Christians of the Levant,” as some of them have taken to styling themselves of late, are sounding all of the wrong notes.
The Christian presence in this part of the world is the common denominator of this rhetorical offensive. One problem is that these political and religious figures want people to believe there is a single community, “the Christians,” that is being singled out for persecution and oppression. They talk about the targeting and destruction of churches and other holy places, while conveniently forgetting the many mosques and Muslim places of pilgrimage that have been attacked or destroyed in recent years in Arab countries. They could, for example, remember that two mosques in Tripoli were the sites of two of Lebanon’s most horrific terror attacks in recent memory.
If these politicians and clergy wish to cite the example of Iraq, they should list each and every bomb blast or other destructive act targeting Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in that violence-ridden country. If they talk about Syria today, the same applies. And if they talk about takfiri Islam, they should remember that takfiris are by definition dead set against any Muslim who fails to agree with their hard-line views, and are thus deserving of annihilation. And if they want to talk about the reduction of the Christian presence throughout the east, they should do, provided they explain how this phenomenon has remained steady for the last 150 years.
In Lebanon, Christian political parties are worried about several specific items, and one of them is sales of land to non-Christians. This would be a huge problem if it were illegal, but since it is not, there is no valid political or other reason to raise the issue. And these defenders of the Christian presence should also inform the public about all of the instances where Muslims have risen up to prevent Christians from moving into their neighborhoods, villages or towns, to provide a comprehensive picture of the situation.
Officials from some of the country’s Christian parties have been meeting with one another recently in a bid to agree on ways to confront all of these so-called threats. However, their failure to agree and their appetite for engaging in bitter verbal attacks on each other only leave the public with no confidence in the ability of these “leaders” to confront today’s true challenges.
Some of these individuals have gone to the trouble of producing a documentary film warning of how Christians face the prospect of a “final exodus.” If they had been watching the news over the last few years, they would realize that everyone in the Levant – Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Christians, Kurds, Armenians and others – are facing the exact same prospect, whether through emigration or an even worse fate.

Iran returns second space monkey to earth, stages crisis in nuclear talks

DEBKAfile Special Report December 14, 2013/Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced Saturday, Dec. 14, that a monkey had been successfully launched into space and brought back to earth safely aboard a home-made bio-capsule. The mission, dubbed Fargam (Auspicious), was the first to run on liquid fuel, he said, without providing any further technical information. In January, when Iran sent its first monkey into space, American and Israeli strategists were caught by surprise by the technological capability displayed and alarmed by its military connotations. Tehran’s space program, say DEBKAfile’s military sources, demonstrates its missiles’ capability to reach any point on earth.
This is all the more disturbing in the context of the commitment Iran undertook under the interim nuclear accord it signed with the six powers on Nov. 24, to refrain from developing nuclear-capable missiles with ranges beyond 2,000 km. The space launch Saturday virtually nullified that commitment. It was evidently part of a carefully staged action to put the entire Geneva accord on the skids at the first opportunity. The Iranians followed through on it after the White House acted Thursday, Dec. 12, to tighten sanctions by adding new Iranian companies and individuals engaged in the oil industry to the list of targets.
Tehran had repeatedly threatened to break off nuclear negotiations if more sanctions were imposed.
And indeed, Friday, the Iranian delegation abruptly terminated the talks taking place with the six powers in Vienna, announcing they must return home for consultations.
The delegation left unfinished work on the practical applications of the Geneva accord and left before a date was set for the start of the six-month interim period and a freeze on their nuclear program.
Saturday, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of Iran’s national security and foreign policy parliamentary commission, left no doubt that the Geneva track was in crisis.
He explained: “…the nation of Iran and MPs will not retreat on national benefits, the rights of Iran in the nuclear field, and the blood of the martyrs. It expects the nuclear negotiations to strictly defend the interests of the country.”
The Iranian lawmaker went on to say: “Surely the recent actions by the US in adding names of Iranian companies and institutions to the sanctions list is a clear violation of the Geneva nuclear agreement. [American] officials showed that they are not trustworthy.”
This walkout was accompanied by the cancellation of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s speaking tour in the West scheduled for next week.
The course Tehran has embarked on in the last 24 hours has three objectives:
1. To squeeze President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry into implementing the Geneva accord on Iran’s terms. The administration began releasing frozen Iranian assets after the signing in Geneva but neglected to write into the document a date for Iran to start implementing its part of the deal.
This omission has given Tehran additional leverage.
2. The space monkey’s launch symbolized Tehran’s determination to carry on with the military aspects of its nuclear program (which too were left out of the Geneva agreement) and the development of ballistic missiles able to carry nuclear warheads.
3. To show Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that his campaign for harsher sanctions against Iran - and the support it has gained in the US Congress - will lead nowhere. President Obama is given a choice between going back on the new sanctions or forgetting about a negotiated settlement of the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.
Either way, Tehran doesn’t have much to lose. The promise to freeze its nuclear program, for the six months of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement, was left up in the air in Vienna and the Islamic Repubic's legitimate right to continue enrichment has been undersigned by six world powers.
On Friday, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources disclosed how the US and UK gave way to Iran on ballistic missiles able to reach any part of the Middle East.


Iran arrests man accused of spying for Britain's MI6

By REUTERS/12/14/2013/J.Post/Agents say suspect made contact with Britain 11 times in recent months, ins and out of the country; suspect has admitted his guilt.DUBAI - Iranian intelligence authorities have arrested a man on charges of spying for Britain's MI6, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday. The head of the Kerman region's revolutionary court, Dadkhoda Salari, told the agency the suspect made contact with British agents 11 times in recent months, inside and outside the country. According to Salari, the suspect has admitted his guilt and he is currently on trial. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in London said: "We don't comment on intelligence matters." The report, which Reuters could not verify, comes at a time when London and Tehran have been taking steps towards restoring diplomatic relations that were broken off after activists stormed the British embassy in Tehran in November 2011. London announced the appointment of Ajay Sharma as non-resident charge d'affaires in Iran in November, and Sharma made his first visit to Iran in that role this month.
In November, six world powers made a breakthrough deal for Tehran to curb its nuclear program in return for limited sanctions easing. The agreement appeared to face its first major difficulty on Friday with Russia warning that expanding a US sanctions blacklist could seriously complicate the deal's implementation.


Linking the Syrian Conflict to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

David Schenker/Washington Institute
Weekly Standard/December 13, 2013
Middle Easterners fear the White House will return to bad habits by dropping its demands on Syria in order to appease Iran.
Back in 2006, during a particularly low point in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group issued a report in which the central contentious proposition was that "all key issues in the region are inextricably linked." Accordingly, to stem the deterioration in Iraq and "achieve its goals" in the Middle East, the report posited the U.S. would have to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Seven years on, while the conceit linking Iraq to the Arab-Israeli peace process is no longer relevant, the concept of linkage appears to be making a comeback -- this time in the context of Iran and war in Syria. During a recent trip to Lebanon, a concern I heard repeatedly voiced was that if Tehran played ball and signed onto a nuclear deal, the Obama administration might be prepared to acknowledge Iranian interests in Syria and drop its demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down.
The prospect of somehow tying Iran's nuclear file to ceasefire talks in Syria was of great concern to many of the Middle Easterners I spoke to. And for good reason -- linking international efforts to roll back Iran's nuclear program in order to achieve a ceasefire in Syria would be ill advised.
To be sure, Iran and Syria are inexorably connected. For more than three decades, the Shiite theocracy in Tehran and the Alawite regime in Damascus have been strategic partners. And today, Iran is the leading supporter of the Assad regime, providing the weapons, technical assistance, and troops that have enabled Assad to combat the insurgency.
But Iran cannot serve as a productive interlocutor in Syria. Regardless of whether the "first step" nuclear framework agreement with Iran progresses to a full-scale deal, Tehran views the survival of a friendly regime in Damascus to be a priority. Syria is the gateway of Iranian influence in the Levant. If Assad was toppled, he would likely be replaced with a Sunni regime hostile to Iran that would sever the key supply line between Tehran and its Lebanese Shiite militia proxy, Hezbollah.
To date, there is no formal indication that the White House has changed its position on Syria. Indeed, just last month, Secretary of State John Kerry again declared that America "believes that Assad has lost any legitimacy of the governance of Syria and must go."
In the region, however, tough administration statements on Syria no longer inspire confidence. The aborted U.S. military response to the Assad regime's August 21 chemical weapons attack, the reticence -- despite public assurances -- to provide arms to the Syrian opposition, the ubiquitous reports that the administration is supplying intelligence to Hezbollah to protect the organization from attacks, and the optics of the ostensible U.S. rapprochement with Tehran have all taken a toll on American credibility in the Middle East.
Today, for example, Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and elsewhere across the region who support the rebellion in Syria increasingly believe that the Obama administration is no longer committed to ending the Assad regime. Worse, given the predominately Islamist character of the Syrian military opposition, many in the region now suspect that America prefers the devil it knows in Damascus to an unknown and potentially al Qaeda-affiliated alternative.
Meanwhile, there are preliminary signs that the once united Western opposition to an Iranian diplomatic role in the Syrian crisis is starting to wane. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, for example, has advocated Iran's inclusion in the impending Geneva II peace conference on Syria. Likewise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has hinted that Tehran could play a "productive role" in the negotiations -- and has dispatched a diplomat to Iran to discuss cooperation. Even the administration has reportedly been exploring how to partner with Iran to end the war in Syria.
The problem, of course, is that Iran would not play a productive role in Geneva. Instead, it would add -- along with Russia -- another pro-Assad seat at the table, and enable Tehran to leverage its cooperation on the nuclear front to secure a more favorable outcome for its allies in Damascus. At the same time, the "first step" nuclear agreement provides cash-strapped Tehran with an additional $7 billion that can be employed to further assist the embattled Assad regime.
For at least a year, Sunnis have seen Washington's Syria policy as a subset of American policy on Iran. Most recently, this understanding was seemingly confirmed when the strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities was aborted, apparently because Obama didn't want to scuttle prospects for a nuclear deal.
Today in the Middle East, Sunnis are concerned that if the Iranian nuclear issue is linked to the Syria crisis, it would represent a return to 1991 -- when Lebanon was tacitly ceded to Syria in return for then President Hafez Assad's participation in the first Gulf War. In this case, Syria would be handed over to Iran.
No doubt, the region is predisposed to conspiracy theories, but given the administration's equivocating policy on Syria, there is the likelihood that should Iran find itself at the table in Geneva, Syria and Lebanon may be served up as the main course.
**David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.