December 16/2013


Bible Quotation for today/Jesus Goes to the Temple

Mark 11/15-18: " When they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive out all those who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the stools of those who sold pigeons,  and he would not let anyone carry anything through the Temple courtyards.  He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!” The chief priests and the teachers of the Law heard of this, so they began looking for some way to kill Jesus. They were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.  When evening came, Jesus and his disciples left the city">


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 16/13

DEBKAfile/US explores ties with Syrian Islamist rebels, possibly Assad too - for a lineup to fight al Qaeda/December 16/13

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 16/13
Lebanese Related News

Lebanese sniper kills IDF soldier near border

Shooting on Border with Israel amid Conflicting Reports on Death of Israeli Soldier
Lebanese Soldier, 4 Gunmen Dead as Attacks Involving Suicide Bomber Target Army Checkpoints in Sidon

March 14 Calls for Reconciliation in Tripoli as Saniora Says Syria Leading Sunnis to Extremism
Report: Suleiman Committed to Constitution in Forming New Govt.

Sleiman, Jumblatt discuss Cabinet formation

Suleiman Heads to Paris to Receive Medical Treatment on Eye

Report: Hariri May Make Testimony at STL Trial in January

Beirut Municipality lights Christmas tree
March 14 calls for reconciliation in Tripoli

March 14 Calls for Reconciliation in Tripoli as Saniora Says Syria Leading Sunnis to Extremism

Lebanon minister blasts Syrian envoy, regime

Beirut Municipality lights Christmas tree

Fire kills child at Syrian refugee settlement in Tyre
Lebanese Order of physicians deplores attack on doctor

Al-Rahi Urges Officials to Take 'Bold' Steps to Stage Presidential Elections

Flames on Sidon-Tyre Highway

Child Dies in Fire at Syrian Refugee Camp in Tyre

Report: Hariri May Make Testimony at STL Trial in January

Report: Suleiman Committed to Constitution in Forming New Govt.

Protesters Rally outside Turkish Embassy in Solidarity with Two Bishops, Maalula Nuns

Christmas Tree Lit in Tripoli, Rifi Says Plot to 'Distort City Image' Defeated

Arslan Hits Back at Suleiman: Cabinet Not Only of Concern to Him, But Rather to All Lebanese

 Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran will continue nuclear talks with West despite tightened US sanctions, Zarif says
Iran committed to continuing nuclear talks: foreign minister

Minister says Iran will continue nuclear talks
Syria air raids kill 22 in Aleppo: Activists

France: Syria's Moderate Opposition in 'Serious Difficulty'

Syria rebel commander freezes to death: activists

Prominent Shiite cleric backs fighting in Syria

Gaza flooding drives 40,000 from their homes

South Africa buries 'greatest son' Mandela

Islamists asked to vote in Egypt constitution poll

Kerry Says U.S. Aid to FSA May be Resumed 'Very Quickly'
Kerry: US has not abandoned ex-FBI agent missing in Iran
Mandela Laid to Rest at State Funeral


Lebanese sniper kills IDF soldier near border

By YAAKOV LAPPIN 12/15/2013/J.Post/IDF suspects Lebanese soldier acting alone opened fire; 6 to 7 shots fired at Israeli soldier in the vicinity of the border; Lebanese soldiers on alert, as IDF investigates; Israel informs UN Interim Force in Lebanon of incident.A Lebanese army sniper killed an Israeli soldier near the border fence near Rosh Hanikra on Sunday night. An initial IDF assessment, based on data from lookout positions on the border, found shots were fired by a soldier from the Lebanese Armed Forces who apparently was acting alone.Gunshots fired in the direction of IDF troops on Lebanon borderSix to seven shots were fired at the IDF soldier who was standing on a road adjacent to the electronic border fence with Lebanon. "We are sending messages to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon regarding the severity of this incident. There is no indication that an infiltration into our territory occurred," an army source said. "The IDF is prepared in the North," he warned. The shooting occurred at around 9 p.m., and immediately afterwards, Lebanese soldiers were seen gathering on their side of the border. The IDF has launched an investigation into the cross-border shooting.

Shooting on Border with Israel amid Conflicting Reports on Death of Israeli Soldier
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 December 2013/A Lebanese soldier opened fire Sunday at an Israeli vehicle in the Naqoura border area amid conflicting reports about the death of an Israeli soldier and the incident's circumstances. “A Lebanese army force opened fire at an Israeli unit on the border, near the Naqoura crossing,” Lebanon's National News Agency reported. Lebanese TV networks, including al-Manar, and Arab televisions, including Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, said a Lebanese soldier was killed in the shooting. Al-Manar said an Israeli force tried to infiltrate Lebanese territory in Naqoura, sparking a clash with the Lebanese army. The TV network said a single soldier opened fire and that “contact with him was lost.” A military source told MTV that “there are no clashes between the Lebanese army and Israeli army and the situation is under control." Quoting its correspondent in Jerusalem, MTV said "a Lebanese soldier opened fire at a civilian car that was on the Israeli side of the border, killing an Israeli navy officer who was in it." Later on Sunday, NNA said the Lebanese and Israeli armies were both on alert on the border and that an Israeli surveillance drone was flying at low altitude over Ras al-Naqoura.  The Israeli army said a Lebanese soldier opened fire on a civilian Israeli vehicle across the border. A military statement made no mention of casualties but said the incident occurred near the Mediterranean border crossing at Rosh Hanikra. Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper said that according to a prelimunary Israeli army assessment, the shots were fired by "a soldier form the Lebanese Armed Forces who apparently was acting alone." "Six to seven shots were fired at a vehicle, which was located on a road adjacent to the electronic border fence with Lebanon," the newspaper said. "We are sending messages to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) regarding the severity of this incident. There is no indication that an infiltration into our territory occurred," it quoted an Israeli army source as saying. "The IDF is prepared in the North," he warned. According to the newspaper, the shooting occurred at around 9:00 p.m. and "immediately afterwards, Lebanese soldiers were seen gathering on their side of the border." "The IDF has launched an investigation into the cross-border shooting," it said. Yedioth Ahronoth, another Israeli daily, said the army was probing the border incident “which may have been criminally motivated” and that “Air Force planes are searching the area for infiltrators.”


Lebanese Soldier, 4 Gunmen Dead as Attacks Involving Suicide Bomber Target Army Checkpoints in Sidon
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 December 2013/Near-simultaneous attacks on two army checkpoints in Sidon – one of them involving a suicide bomber – left a soldier and four gunmen dead on Sunday evening. In the first attack, an unidentified attacker hurled a hand grenade at an army checkpoint on Sidon's northern entrance in the al-Awwali area, prompting troops to retaliate, which left a gunman dead and a soldier wounded. According to LBCI television, the army scoured the groves that lie near the al-Awwali checkpoint and closed the road for a while. MTV and Future TV said two soldiers were injured in the incident. Soon after the army intensified its patrols in the area, another attack targeted one of its checkpoints in the Sidon suburb of Majdelyoun. State-run National News Agency said three gunmen attacked the checkpoint at the Majdelyoun-Bqosta intersection, noting that one of them blew himself up while the other two were killed by troops. Al-Manar and al-Mayadeen TV stations said a soldier was killed in the attack. Meanwhile, military sources confirmed to LBCI “the martyrdom of the First Sergeant Samer Rizk in the attack on the Majdelyoun checkpoint,” adding that “the four assailants are of Lebanese and Palestinian nationalities.” “After a bomb technician examined the bodies in Majdelyoun, it turned out that one of them was wearing a suicide vest,” Future TV said. Later on Sunday, the TV network said “the army has reopened the road in the al-Awwali area and is staging armored patrols” across Sidon.


March 14 Calls for Reconciliation in Tripoli as Saniora Says Syria Leading Sunnis to Extremism
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 December 2013/The March 14 camp announced on Sunday the Tripoli Declaration, which calls for national reconciliation in the city. It said: “The reconciliation should be held after calm has been restored in Tripoli.”It made the announcement during a March 14 conference on “Coexistence in the North is a Joint National Responsibility” held in the northern city of Tripoli. “The North has suffered at the hands of the Syrian regime through its local pawns that are backed by Iran,” the conferees added. They demanded that those linked to the bombings and violence in the city be brought to justice. They also called on the security forces and army to deal firmly and fairly with any attempt to create unrest. “Trust must be restored between the people and the state through bringing to justice all those who have wronged the city,” they declared, while highlighting the need to combat poverty in Tripoli. The conferees agreed to the formation of a committee to follow up on the decisions of the conference and make sure that they are being implemented. Earlier on Sunday, head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora accused the Syrian regime of seeking to lead Lebanon's Sunnis towards extremism, but stressed that it will fail in its plot. He declared at the opening of the conference: “The Sunnis will not fall victim to the regime's plot to create strife and division in Lebanon.”“Lebanon's Sunni's have always been moderate and they have always respected the state,” he stressed. He accused the Syrian regime of leading them towards extremism in order to target the state's institutions, especially the army. “The regime wants the Lebanese people to yield to it, but they will not surrender because Lebanon is stronger than the plots being devised against it,” added Saniora.
“The conspiracy against Lebanon will fail because the people's will to live will persevere,” he continued. “We are committed to a Lebanon of coexistence, freedom, and democracy,” he said.
Lebanon will not succumb to Persian, American, or European plans, he remarked. Moreover, the head of the Mustaqbal bloc noted that Lebanon was victorious against the Syrian regime in the past and it will not surrender to it or extremism. “We reject extremism displayed by any power. We reject extremism demonstrated by some Christians, some Shiites, and some Sunnis,” he declared. He therefore demanded the formation of a government that does not consist of political party figures, the withdrawal of Hizbullah fighters from Syria, and the deployment of the army along the border with Syria. Tripoli had been plagued by numerous rounds of clashes between the rival Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods. They have gained in intensity since the eruption of the unrest in Syria in March 2011. The clashes have been linked to the conflict in Syria, with Bab al-Tabbaneh supporting Syrian rebels and Jabal Mohsen backing the Syrian regime.

Sleiman heads to Paris for medical follow up
December 15, 2013/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman headed Sunday to the French capital, in what a Baabda Palace source said was for a follow up medical treatment. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sleiman would undergo a follow up eye treatment after having had similar prior treatment

March 14 calls for national reconciliation in Tripoli

December 15, 2013/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition called Sunday for national reconciliation in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city that has been caught up in repeated rounds of violence directly linked to the war raging in neighboring Syria.
“There should be a national reconciliation in Tripoli similar to what happened in Mount Lebanon,” the group said after holding an expanded meeting of its members in the northern city, referring to the historic reconciliation between the Druze and Christians communities in Mount Lebanon. The city has seen frequent deadly clashes between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, primarily between the Sunni-dominated neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and the majority Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen.  In August, car bombs outside two Tripoli mosques also killed 47 people and wounded scores more. Suspects in the attack include members from a local pro-Assad party based in Jabal Mohsen. The conference, organized by March 14 under the title “Coexistence in the North is a Joint National Responsibility,” was held in the presence of around 200 prominent religious and political figures.The grouping noted that the reconciliation should take place after security was restored in the restive city and compensation was paid out to the victims of violence.
They also urged security forces to deal firmly with perpetrators in the city and demanded that those with links to August bombings and violence there be brought to justice.
“Trust must be restored between the people and the state through bringing to justice all those who have wronged the city,” the March 14 said in its statement. The March 14 also called for a comprehensive plan to address poverty in Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest city, and for ensuring development and job opportunities there.  Speaking during the conference, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora blamed Assad’s regime for the recurring strife in Tripoli and reiterated his call on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria and return to the political fold. Siniora also called for establishing stronger ties between Iran and its Arab neighbors following the recent nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. “I will say it frankly in my name and that of [former Prime Minister] Saad Hariri and the entire March 14 that the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are one family,” he said, referring to the Tripoli neighborhoods that have fought one another in increasing frequency since the uprising in Syria. “It is well known who is running the schemes to divide them [the rival neighborhoods] and he [Assad] is running them from Aleppo and Homs and Hama,” Siniora added.  Siniora, who heads the Future parliamentary bloc, said the intermittent clashes in Tripoli had left “great wounds in the city,” adding that residents would not succumb to plots hatched by the Damascus regime.
“The Syrian regime wants to create strife in Lebanon and it wants to lead Sunnis toward extremism against the country's institutions, especially the Army,” he said. “The residents of Tripoli will not succumb to the Syrian regime's plot,” he said. Siniora also reiterated his call on Hezbollah to end its military role in Syria and return to the logic of the rule of the state. “ Hezbollah should return to Lebanon at all levels and end its involvement in Syria and stop being a side in the battle when Tehran asks it to,” Siniora said. “The party [Hezbollah] is bringing everyday to the Lebanese and the Shiite sect the body of a young man who should be living with his family instead of being killed by a regime that kills innocent people,” the Future official added. The former prime minister also reiterated his support for a recent nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers and called for reorganizing ties between Tehran and Arab states. “We welcomed the nuclear deal between Iran and the [P5 1] world powers. Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear enrichment,” he said, adding that the same conditions should be applied to Israel.
“We also support Iran in opening up to Arab countries as a demonstration of the good neighbors policy and to a halt to the exporting of the principle of Wilayat al-Faqih,” Siniora said. “Arab countries should also restore confidence with Iran and the doors are wide open for reorganizing Arab-Iranian ties,” he said. Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal last month to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in a first step toward resolving a dangerous decade-old standoff. Siniora also said that his party rejected extremism of all kinds. “We reject the fanaticism and [narrow-mindedness] of some Christians, we also reject Shiite extremism coming from Tehran through the Wilayat al-Faqih policy ... we also reject the extremism of some Sunnis who adopt the Takfiri [jihadist] approach and violence,” he said.


Beirut Municipality lights Christmas tree

December 15, 2013/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Beirut Municipality kicked off over the weekend the holiday season with the lighting of the Christmas tree in the capital’s Downtown area. The tree was lit Saturday afternoon at Martyrs’ Square facing the Mohammad al-Amine Mosque. Beirut Governor Nassif Qaloush hailed the efforts of the municipality in lighting up the tree despite the bad weather conditions in the country. He also expressed his best wishes for both the Christmas and New Year holidays.


 Lebanon News Rai calls for electing new ‘suitable’ president

December 15, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai called Sunday for electing a new president capable of facing the current challenges in Lebanon. “Fear not the hard work and relentless pursuit at the domestic, regional and international levels to prepare the presidential election within the constitutional deadline,” Rai said, addressing officials during his weekly Sunday sermon. “Let us look together for a president who is suitable for the current phase we are going through at all its internal, regional and international dimensions.” The term of President Michel Sleiman ends in May 2014. The Maronite leader also urged officials to take decisive measures and form a new Cabinet and approve a new electoral law. “Do not be afraid of taking bold and heroic steps to take Lebanon out of its political crisis by first forming a strong and effective Cabinet that is capable of finding a new electoral law that is convenient for the nation and the citizens,” he said. The Cabinet formation process has been stalled for over eight months due to differences between political rivals. Rai also hailed efforts by civil society and humanitarian groups and individuals to help the Syrian refugees who fled violence in their country but criticized the international community for their “carelessness” toward refugees. “We regret the carelessness of big and rich countries over the innocent victims,” he said. “Instead of fulfilling their commitments toward refugees, the leaders of these countries are evading their responsibilities,” he added.


Lebanese Order of physicians deplores attack on doctor

December 14, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Order of Physicians in Tripoli condemned Saturday an attack on a doctor in a north Lebanon clinic the day before, saying the organization will file a lawsuit against the assailants. In a statement, the LOP in Tripoli, north Lebanon, said it "deplores the attack on the doctor who was beaten up by two men and a patient .... when he was getting ready to treat the patient."
Head of the LOP Eli Habib said “the order of physicians will file a lawsuit against the perpetrators regardless of who they are or who protects them.” "We are fed up of asking security agencies to protect us and we will take escalatory and peaceful measures such as refraining from receiving patients to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” Habib added. Unidentified assailants beat up a doctor Friday and ransacked a nonprofit clinic owned by Kataeb General-Secretary Michel Khoury in the north Lebanon town of Shekka. The attackers then fled in a Peugeot with tinted windows, a security source said. Doctor Emil Mansour told investigators the attackers were relatives of a patient he was treating, the source said, citing Mansour's testimony. Mansour said the men beat him up after he recommended that their relative be admitted to a hospital because he could not continue treating the patient at the clinic, the source added.


Report: Hariri May Make Testimony at STL Trial in January
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 December/The Special Tribunal for Lebanon trial is set to witness “prominent developments,” a March 14 MP linked to the trial told the Saudi daily al-Riyadh on Sunday. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri may make an appearance at the trial to issue a testimony in the assassination of his father, former PM Rafik Hariri, on February 14, 2005. The trial kicks off at The Hague on January 16, 2014. It will commence at 9:30 CET with opening statements by the Prosecutor, the Legal Representatives of the Victims participating in the proceedings, as well as opening statements, if any, for the Defense. The STL Trial Chamber also announced that there will be a Pre-Trial Conference starting at 10:30a.m. CET on January 9, 2014. The STL was set up to tackle the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 2011, it indicted four Hizbullah members,Mustafa Amin Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra, were indicted in the attack. A fifth Hizbullah suspect, Hassan Habib Merhi, was indicted in 2013. Earlier in December, STL spokesman Marten Youssef said that joining the cases of Ayyash et al. and Merhi is up to the international judges. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the STL, describing it as an American-Israeli product bent on destroying the party. He has vowed never to cooperate with the tribunal, saying that the suspects, who remain at large, will never be found.

Iran committed to continuing nuclear talks: foreign minister
Reuters – DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will continue nuclear negotiations with world powers despite "unsuitable actions" which led to it halting technical talks in Vienna, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday.
The United States on Thursday blacklisted additional companies and people under existing sanctions intended to prevent Iran from obtaining the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for electricity generation and medical purposes only. Iran's negotiators on Friday interrupted talks in Vienna on how to implement a nuclear agreement because, its officials said, the U.S. decision was against the spirit of the deal.
"In the last few days unsuitable actions have been taken on the part of Americans which we have responded to in an appropriate manner," Zarif said in a posting on his Facebook page. "We will continue with negotiations in Geneva with seriousness and we will certainly show a correct, measured and targeted response to any unsuitable action," he said. The development has highlighted potential obstacles negotiators face in pressing ahead with efforts to resolve a decade-old dispute between the Islamic Republic and the West. U.S. officials have said the blacklisting move showed that the Geneva deal would not interfere with their policy of economic embargoes designed to curb entities suspected of supporting Iran's nuclear program. Some U.S. lawmakers are pushing for further sanctions to be imposed against Iran but President Barack Obama has campaigned for Congress to hold off on new measures to provide space for the diplomatic process. (Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Report: Suleiman Committed to Constitution in Forming New Govt.
Naharnet Newsdesk 15 December 2013/Consultations to form a new government are ongoing and they will continue until it is formed, stressed President Michel Suleiman's sources to the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah daily on Sunday.
They added that the president is committed to the constitution in forming a new cabinet. The sources made their remarks in response to March 8 camp accusations that Suleiman is seeking to take an unconstitutional course to achieve his goal. The sources added: “Suleiman aims for the formation of a government that includes different political powers and which also respects the Baabda Declaration that states that Lebanon should steer away from regional disputes.”“Suleiman will exercise his full privileges with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam in order to form a cabinet at the appropriate time because he refuses to leave the country in a political vacuum,” they continued. He also refuses to have the caretaker cabinet assume his role should the presidential elections, set for spring 2014, fail to be held. Suleiman's six-year term ends in May 2014, but there are fears that differences between the rival March 8 and 14 alliances would lead to a further clash among the MPs and prevent them from heading to parliament to elect a new president. The 60-day constitutional deadline for the election of a new president starts on March 25. Earlier this week, Suleiman had suggestion the formation of a government that can hold the presidential elections, regardless if it does not enjoy parliament's confidence. Some March 8 officials criticized Suleiman's suggestion, with Hizbullah deputy Secretary General Sehikh Naim Qassem deeming it unconstitutional.

Question: "How do I know which of God's promises are for me?" There are literally hundreds of promises in the Bible. How can we know which promises apply to us, which promises we can claim? To frame this question another way, how can one tell the difference between general promises and specific promises? A general promise is one that is given by the Holy Spirit to every believer in every age. When the author penned the promise, he set no limitations on time period or recipient.
An example of a general promise is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This promise is based on the forgiving nature of God and is available to all believers everywhere. Another example of a general promise is Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This promise is made to all believers who, refusing to worry, bring their requests to God (v. 8). Other examples of general promises include Psalm 1:3; 27:10; 31:24; John 4:13-14 (note the word “whoever”); and Revelation 3:20.
A specific promise is one that is made to specific individuals on specific occasions. The context of the promise will usually make clear who the recipient is. For example, the promise of 1 Kings 9:5 is very specific: “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever.” The preceding and following verses make it clear that the Lord is speaking only to King Solomon.
Luke 2:35 contains another specific promise: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This prophecy/promise was directed to Mary and was fulfilled in her lifetime. While a specific promise is not made to all believers generally, the Holy Spirit can still use a specific promise to guide or encourage any of His children. For example, the promise of Isaiah 54:10 was written with Israel in mind, but the Holy Spirit has used these words to comfort many Christians today: “my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.”
As he was led to take the gospel to the Gentiles, the apostle Paul claimed the promise of Isaiah: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Isaiah’s promise was originally meant for the Messiah, but in it Paul found guidance from the Lord for his own life. When claiming a promise from Scripture, we should keep the following principles in mind:
1) Promises are often conditional. Look for the word “if” in the context.
2) God gives us promises to help us better submit to His will and trust Him. A promise does not make God bend to our will.
3) Do not assume to know precisely when, where, or how the promise will be fulfilled in your life.

Prominent Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, backs fighting in Syria

December 15, 2013/By Qassim Abdul-Zahra/Daily Star
BAGHDAD: A leading Shiite Muslim cleric widely followed by Iraqi militants has issued the first public religious edict permitting Shiites to fight in Syria's civil war alongside President Bashar Assad's forces.
The fatwa by Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, one of the mentors of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, comes as thousands of Shiite fighters mostly from Iraq and Lebanon play a major role in the battles.
The call likely will increase the sectarian tones of the war, which pits overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels against members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The situation has worsened with the influx of thousands of Shiite and Sunni foreign fighters.
Al-Haeri is based in the holy city of Qom, Iran's religious capital. Among his followers are many fighters with the feared Shiite militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or Band of the Righteous, an Iranian-backed group that repeatedly attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and says it is sending fighters to Syria. That militia is headed by white-turbaned Shiite cleric Qais al-Khazali, who spent years in U.S. detention but was released after he was handed over to the Iraqi government. Many Shiite gunmen already fight around the holy shrine of Sayida Zeinab just south of Syria's capital, Damascus. The shrine is named after the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter and is popular with Iranian worshippers and tourists. Asked by a follower whether it is legitimate to travel to Syria to fight, al-Haeri replied: "The battle in Syria is not for the defense of the shrine of Sayida Zeinab but it is a battle of infidels against Islam and Islam should be defended.""Fighting in Syria is legitimate and those who die are martyrs," al-Haeri said in comments posted on his official website. An official at his office confirmed that the comments are authentic.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq currently has about 1,000 fighters in Syria and many others were volunteering to go join the battle, said Ashtar al-Kaabi, an Asaib Ahl al-Haq member who organizes sending Shiite fighters from Iraq to Syria. Asked whether the increase is related to al-Haeri's fatwa, al-Kaabi said: "Yes. This fatwa has had wide effect."
Over the past year, jihadi groups have begun playing a bigger role in Syria's war and openly calling for the killing of Shiites and Alawites because of their beliefs. Assad recently said that fighters from more than 80 countries have come to Syria to fight against his forces. The rebels are mainly backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Sunni powerhouses in the Middle East.
The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, claimed recently that Shiite fighters from 14 different factions are fighting alongside government forces in Syria. The coalition said those fighters are brought to Syria with the help of Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though Iran remains Syria's strongest ally.
Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah also openly joined Assad's forces in May after hiding its participation for months. Since then, the group has helped government forces recapture a string of towns and villages near the Lebanese border.

US explores ties with Syrian Islamist rebels, possibly Assad too - for a lineup to fight al Qaeda
DEBKAfile Special Report December 15, 2013/The Obama administration is again doubling back on its Syrian war policy, this time engaging in a secret approach to the Islamic Front, the most powerful force now battling the Assad regime. Recently set up by six Muslim militias with 40-50,000 fighting men, the new front is led by Hassan Aboud Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi and his Ahrar al Sham militia. debkafile’s counter-terrorism forces report that, although its Salafist members aspire to impose Sharia law on Syria, in common with Al Qaeda, they are against its methods of warfare. On Dec. 11, fighters of the Islamic Front seized Free Syrian Army headquarters, the Syrian Military Council, and weapons warehouses, as well as the Bab al-Hawa crossing from northwestern Syria into Turkey. This was a devastating setback for FSA, once the leading rebel force against Bashar Assad, and virtually extinguished the group as an effective fighting force after its recent setbacks. It was bad enough for its commander, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, to flee to Qatar. Despite protestations to the contrary, he is unlikely to return to Syria in the hurry. Announcing the cut-off of “non-lethal assistance to the opposition in northern Syria,” Washington more or less turned its back on the FSA and launched an approach to its vanquisher.
Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria through whom the US has maintained contact with Syrian rebel militias, was dispatched to Turkey to start talks with the Islamist Front leader Al Hamawi. Our Washington sources report that Ambassador Ford’s most urgent task is to hold together the pieces of the Obama administration’s disintegrating position in Syria after the FSA was wiped out. The administration is examining three hard options:
s backed, funded, armed and supplied with intelligence by Saudi Arabia. By beating the FSA, the Front has awarded Riyadh high Syrian points against Washington. However, the Obama administration is deeply committed to joint steps in Syria with Moscow and Tehran, the sequel to the six-power nuclear accord forged in Geneva last month, to which Saudi Arabia is flatly opposed.
President Barack Obama would therefore prefer to ignore the Saudi success in Syria.
2. For the second option, Ambassador Ford was empowered all the same to offer the Islamist Front a seat at Geneva II, the conference on a political solution of the Syrian civil conflict taking place in Montreux on Jan. 22. American military and financial assistance would also be on tap. This would be a bitter pill for the Washington to swallow, since the Islamic Front is led by commanders who quit other militias in protest against US failure to deliver promised arms. 3. The third option would be to heed voices rising now in Washington to start talking to the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and admit that the US and the West fell down badly in underestimating his durability and military edge in the course of the three-year civil war.
Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Baghdad and an eminent influence on US Middle East policy in the past decade, was the first prominent voice to advocate this course: “We need to start talking to the Assad regime again…,” he wrote in an article. “ It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”He was echoed by former CIA and NSA director Adm. Michael Hayden, who said: “The sectarian bloodbath in Syria is such a threat to regional security that a victory for Bashar al-Assad's regime could be the best outcome to hope for.” Talking to the annual Jamestown Foundation conference of terror experts on Dec. 11, Hayden said that a rebel win was not one of the three possible outcomes he foresees for the conflict: "Option three is Assad wins. And I must tell you at the moment, as ugly as it sounds, I'm kind of trending toward option three as the best out of three very, very ugly possible outcomes." Those voices present Robert Ford with his second big challenge, which is not just to bring the Islamic Front to the conference in Montreux, but steer it towards an understanding with Assad for generating a military coalition for saving Syria from Al Qaeda. To this end, the Obama administration will also have to start talking to the Syrian ruler.