December 20/2013


Bible Quotation for today/Warning against Boasting
James 04/13-17: "Now listen to me, you that say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.”  You don't even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears.  What you should say is this: “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.”  But now you are proud, and you boast; all such boasting is wrong.  So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 20/13

The Political Incubator and the Iranian Project/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/December 20/13

Hezbollah is caught in an Al-Qaeda vise/By Michael Young The Daily Star/December 20/13

Some in Iran resist warm relations with the West/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star/December 20/13

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War/Jeffrey White/Washington Institute/December 20/13

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 20/13

Lebanese Related News

STL Prosecutor Office: Circumstantial Evidence is 'Enough' to Start 'Transparent' Trial

Hezbollah: March 14 on same footing as terrorists

Two Hezbollah members dead after Baalbek bomb

Baabda Officials Deny Ties with Hizbullah Severed

Loyalty to Resistance Accuses March 14 of 'Partnership with Terrorists'

Lebanon Army arrests 5 in hunt for Sidon attackers

Prosecutor charges firm over Beirut tunnel flooding

Obama Vows to Veto Any New Iran Sanctions Passed by Congress

Lebanon Army arrests six Syrians for illegal crossing

Investigations into Roumieh finalized: Qortbawi

President, politicians warn of Islamist threat

East Lebanon university evacuated after bomb threat

New pharmaceutical plant opens in the Chouf

Iran nuclear talks return to Geneva

Lebanese soldier's relatives say killer is 'worthy of recognition'
Nine Rockets Fired from Syria Fall between al-Qaa, Ras Baalbek

CDR to Temporarily Resolve Ashrafiyeh-Dekwaneh Bridge Problem

Salam in Talks with Rival Blocs, Seeks Formation of Cabinet ahead of February

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Pope to make first Holy Land trip in May: Israeli paper

Pope Francis drawing crowds four times larger than predecessor

Iran nuclear talks return to Geneva

US senators vote to promote Iran sanctions

Netanyahu to Chinese FM: World must deprive Iran of nuclear capabilities

Peres to Chinese FM: Peace is Israel's greatest desire, Iran is the greatest problem
Liberman: Israel 'serious' in its intention to reach agreement with Palestinians

US adds al-Qaida-linked Palestinian to list of terrorists
Canada Welcomes UN Resolution on Human Rights Situation in Iran
Nobody can stop Assad from running again: Syria

Egypt court rulings pave way for Shafik return

South Sudan civil war fears grow as rebels reject talks

Russia rebukes Assad for speaking out on new term

Suicide bombers kill 36 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq

Brahimi Urges Release of Syrian Women's Rights Activists

U.N. Probe: Syria Disappearances a Crime against Humanity


Hezbollah: March 14 on same footing as terrorists

December 19, 2013/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s bloc accused its rivals in the March 14 coalition Thursday of providing a safe haven to to takfiri groups that have carried out suicide attacks in the country.  “[Attacks against the Army] are dangerous terrorist developments, the implementation of which is based on the March 14 group’s suspicious embrace of takfiri terrorists, who represent a serious threat to all Lebanese, as well as to national security, civil peace and coexistence,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.  “The March 14 employs cheap political means to justify terrorist aggressions on Lebanon, by outlining deceptive pretexts [for terrorist acts], providing a safe haven for the attackers and adopting a fiery rhetoric, which makes the group a partner for the terrorists, causing their fake slogans about state building to collapse,” the statement, read by MP Hasan Fadlallah, said. Lebanon has been rocked by car bombs and suicide attacks in various parts of the country since the summer. Earlier this week, the Army said two suicide bombers attacked soldiers, killing an officer. The March 14 coalition has blasted Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting in Syria and said the resistance group’s interference brought takfiris to Lebanon. The parliamentary bloc also noted that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has spared the country from “waves of car bombs and suicide attacks that could have been more in number,” saying the party sensed the takfiri threat early on and confronted it on the Lebanese border with Syria.  Responding to the March 14 coalition, the bloc said: “Those who want to consider this confrontation as provoking the suicide attacks are fooling the Lebanese and are employing these attacks to settle political accounts with Hezbollah at the expense of Lebanon.” “It is now everyone's duty to be part of a national plan to protect the country and the people from takfiri terrorism and Israeli terrorism,” the statement said. The bloc also defended Iran against Future Movement’s allegations that its policy was to support regimes that “kill their people” and to divide Muslims in order to “cover up their aggressions against Arabs.” The Future Movement’s attack on Tehran came in response to Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s claims that Saudi intelligence was behind the Iranian Embassy bombing last month. “[Accusations against Iran] aim to cover up the involvement of their regional and international bosses in the Lebanese crisis, the [March 14's] orders to disrupt Cabinet formation and reject dialogue, their incitement against the resistance and their involvement in supporting takfiri terrorists and their suicide attacks on the Iranian Embassy,” Hezbollah said. The bloc urged the March 14 group, which it said was overwhelmed with efforts to change the balance of power in Lebanon, to reevaluate its stance and learn from previous experiences particularly in Syria “where betting on takfiri groups only destroyed Syria and complicated the possibility of reaching a political solution.”

Two Hezbollah members dead after Baalbek bomb

December 19, 2013/By Rakan al-Fakih/The Daily Star
HERMEL, Lebanon: Two Hezbollah members succumbed to injuries sustained in a car bomb attack that targeted the group’s training camp in Baalbek the day before, a security source told The Daily Star Wednesday. The source, who requested to remain anonymous, said that two other Hezbollah personnel were wounded in the explosion. The attack occurred at dawn Tuesday. Images of the site showed four burned-out vehicles, their frames mangled, strewn across a barren area near the Bekaa Valley village of Sbouba. Hezbollah remained tight-lipped Wednesday on the number of casualties suffered, adding nothing to the party’s Al-Manar TV interview about the incident the day before. Al-Manar’s report said a man stepped out of the rigged vehicle as soon as members of a Hezbollah convoy approached a rotation post. The car then detonated, the report said, adding that there were casualties, but conflicting reports have emerged regarding the exact sequence and nature of the events. Numerous Hezbollah camps are located in the area and the road where the attack occurred is frequently used by the party’s vehicles, indicating that extensive surveillance preceded the attack. Later in the day, two soldiers and a civilian were wounded after rockets slammed into Hermel. Hezbollah has been targeted on several occasions over its military role in Syria. The group announced in May it was fighting alongside Syrian regime troops. Meanwhile, a source close to President Michel Sleiman told The Daily Star that the president telephoned Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad to check on those wounded in the explosion. Sleiman’s ties with Hezbollah have cooled recently. Earlier this month, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of standing behind a twin suicide bombing that targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last month.The following day, Sleiman said no “reckless” accusations without evidence should be made against Saudi Arabia, saying such actions could ruin the historical ties between the two countries. For his part, Ali Hujeiri, the mayor of the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal, dismissed media reports that a rigged car entered Lebanon from Syria via the town. “If they have proof that anyone from Arsal is involved, let the state arrest him,” Hujeiri told the Central News Agency. “We always try to calm the situation down in the town. But every time a period of calm passes, they make accusations against us again, almost every time with no documents or evidence,” Hujeiri said. “Let them leave Arsal alone.” Nasrallah and other March 8 figures argue that most rigged cars that have been used in attacks in Lebanon were prepared in the rebel-held Qalamoun Mountains and entered Lebanon via Arsal. Dozens of Lebanese were killed and wounded in explosions which rocked the Beirut southern suburbs, Tripoli and the Iranian Embassy in recent months. Arsal’s residents are supportive of Syrian rebels. The town hosts thousands of Syrian refugees as well. Separately, a judicial source told The Daily Star that a military committee was still interrogating the soldier who shot dead an Israeli officer on the Lebanese-Israeli border in Ras Naqoura Sunday evening. The Army has said the border shooting was an individual action taken by the soldier. UNIFIL, following a tripartite meeting Monday in Naqoura with representatives from the Lebanese and Israeli armies, also said the Lebanese soldier had acted alone. For its part, the U.N. Security Council condemned the border shooting that led to the killing of the Israeli soldier and raised tensions between the two enemy countries.

Hezbollah is caught in an Al-Qaeda vise

December 19, 2013/By Michael Young The Daily Star
Lebanon has entered a new phase of instability as attacks against Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army have occurred in rapid succession in recent days. Understanding what is happening may help us better predict what to expect in the future.The Army has been targeted in recent days at the Awali checkpoint and in Majdalyoun, around Sidon, while a car bomb blew up near a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, before a rocket barrage was directed at Hermel Tuesday. Accounts have differed as to what precisely happened in the three bombings, but a source in the Sidon Consultative Gathering told the daily An-Nahar that nothing in the attacks against the Army suggested they were suicide operations. Those behind the bombings targeting Hezbollah were probably not the same ones who attacked the Army, despite the media’s tendency to see them as part of the same package. Officials have suggested the Sidon attacks were carried out by followers of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. Given their amateurishness, that may well be true.
But the car bomb in the Bekaa, near the village of Sbouba, was a different matter. The large quantity of explosives used and the fact that the blast occurred near a Hezbollah base, which must have been under observation for some time, indicated a level of professionalism similar to the one evident in the bombings at the Iranian Embassy in October. It also implied that those behind the attacks sought to hit high-value military sites of the party, not just provoke carnage among Shiite civilians. If so, we can identify three categories of actions in recent months: small-scale attacks against the Army, indiscriminate bomb attacks against civilians, and more professionally prepared attacks against Hezbollah and Iranian objectives.
The first could possibly be a sign of greater militancy by Lebanese Sunni Salafist groups, in Sidon and probably Tripoli. They are angry at the Army’s assault against Assir’s mosque in Abra last June and feel that its repeated arrest of Salafists reflects an implicit alliance with Hezbollah and animus toward the Sunni community. The attacks against civilians have been a straightforward terror weapon against (until now) Shiites, to show that there is a price to be paid for Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. The third type of attack, against political and military targets, may point to an effort to shape the political and military environment in specific ways. The Sbouba attack could have been linked to the party’s ongoing campaign in the Qalamoun area of Syria; the blast at the Iranian Embassy was an obvious political message that the Iranians, despite the presence of Hezbollah, are vulnerable in Lebanon. One thing is increasingly clear: Such operations are taking place in a wider context of Al-Qaeda’s reaffirming itself regionally, especially in a swathe of territory stretching from Iraq to Syria and now extending increasingly to Lebanon. This has been characterized by the effort of Al-Qaeda franchises to seize territory and systematically eliminate all those, including Sunnis, who might stand in their way.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which is active in Syria, is an extension of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, so their actions in Syria and Iraq must be viewed as part of a coordinated strategy. In Syria, ISIS and the Nusra Front have, from the start, been concerned less with fighting the regime of Bashar Assad than with carving out spaces in areas under the control of the Syrian rebels and the Kurdish community. This territory, particularly Syrian oil fields, has provided them with a steady source of income, therefore leverage over other rebel groups.
In an effort to consolidate an alternative Islamist alliance to Al-Qaeda, the Saudis formed the so-called Islamic Front in November, made up of seven Salafist rebel groups. Its ambition of creating an Islamic state in Syria worries Western states, which believe no transitional political project is feasible if it ignores the fears of Syria’s minorities. However, in a sign of the confusion permeating American and British policy on Syria, the Obama administration and the Cameron government have just suspended aid to Syrian groups they had been supporting, guaranteeing their further marginalization.
President Bashar Assad must be delighted. Reports this week indicate that the Syrian National Coalition has been told by Western governments that the Montreux conference in January should not lead to the removal of the Syrian president, for fear that jihadists would exploit the ensuing vacuum. The SNC had said that it would not attend the conference unless it led to a transition away from Assad, so what this will mean for its participation remains unclear. Ultimately the political mess in Syria benefits both Assad and Al-Qaeda in the medium term. The paradox is that Hezbollah, the Assad regime and the United States are all, implicitly, on the same side – which is precisely the conclusion the Assad regime wanted everyone to reach when it allowed the jihadists to thrive.
The only problem is that Hezbollah now finds itself transformed into cannon fodder in a battle against Al-Qaeda, when its initial goal was merely to defend Assad rule. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has claimed that his party’s aim is to fight the “takfiris.” However, far more effective forces than his have failed to triumph over Al-Qaeda. The only success came when the United States collaborated with the Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq to push the jihadists onto the defensive.
Hezbollah doesn’t have that capacity. The party has imported the Syrian war to Lebanon, even if it is not the only one to do so. Its hubris has been a curse to the country, and will remain so for some time.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.


Lebanese soldier's relatives say killer is 'worthy of recognition'
In interview with Al Arabiya, cousin of wayward soldier reveals more details of shooter's life, says relative should be commended, returned to his family
Roi Kais Published: 12.19.13/ ynetnews/Hanifa al-Hassan, cousin of the Lebanese soldier who shot and killed IDF Master Sergeant Shlomi Cohen on the Lebanese border, demanded the authorities in Beirut to release her family member. During an Al Arabiya's morning interview on Thursday, al-Hassan said that "family members are astonished that he has been detained instead of being given national recognition." The shooter's family member, who resides in Australia, told the interviewer that the soldier, Hassan Ibrahim, married in 2010 and has three children, the last of which was born five days before the incident at the border. Al-Hassan complained that "he is detained at the Lebanese Defense Ministry since the incident and has not returned to his wife, two girls, and his little boy." Al Arabiya published photographs of the Lebanese sniper, taken from the Facebook accounts of his relatives. According to the report, the shooter is a 27-year-old resident of Halba in northern Lebanon. His cousin also said he has been serving in the Lebanese military for 10 years. The soldier's brother-in-law, Ahmed Al-Halbi, also opined on his relative's situation. He said: "(He) contacts us sporadically on the phone, I intend to visit him this morning and then we'll know more about his condition." Master Sergeant Shlomi Cohen, an Afula resident, was shot to death while driving an IDF vehicle near the outpost at Rosh HaNikra. An IDF investigation uncovered he was driving in an unarmored vehicle on a road exposed to the Lebanese firing line.

The Political Incubator and the Iranian Project

By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Recently, a short news report in one of Lebanon’s leading newspapers asked: “Who is trying to implicate Hezbollah in a confrontation with Israel?” The question gives the impression that Hezbollah now sees confrontation with Israel as a “problem,” although it really was its principal excuse to keep its arms when all other parties of the Lebanese War of 1975–1990 gave up theirs.During that war, the Lebanese factions firmly believed that they were armed in self-defense in a conflict which seemed for a long time like a “war of extermination.” Later on, they laid down their arms because they saw the objective of reconstructing the country was far more important than destroying it. An understanding over the priorities was reached in the Saudi city of Taif, and manifested itself in the National Reconciliation Accord, rebuilding the state and its institutions, and directing all efforts towards reconstructing Lebanon after 15 years of destruction and displacement.
Of course, then Israelis was occupying a large part of South Lebanon, and the Lebanese as a whole agreed that the “resistance” could keep the arms to “resist” that occupation. They even loved the arms at the time, and they loved the “resistance” too. Thus, those who strove to build the country and those who fought to liberate the land coexisted, and everyone thought—for a while—that their objectives were shared and their vision was one. Unfortunately, however, the Lebanese and non-Lebanese alike quickly realized the facts that came to mind every once in a while, and then disappeared of or hidden.
They discovered that some of the sponsors of the Taif Agreement only wanted to implement it in a way that serves their interests. This is exactly as they did when they intervened in the early 1970s on the pretext of reconciling and bringing the Lebanese together, only to be seen later agitating against and sabotaging every chance of the Lebanese reaching an understanding. In fact, they were behind many political assassinations, eliminating leaders and figures capable of making brave decisions at important junctures, and stopping the country’s slide to the abyss. The objective of these sponsors was to expedite the slide and turn Lebanon into a “failed state,” with both the international and Arab communities calling for it to be placed under their trusteeship.
Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, yet Hezbollah refused to disarm on the pretext that the withdrawal was incomplete as it did not include the Sheba’a Farms and Kfar Shuba hills, which had been occupied since 1967. Again, despite Lebanon’s requests to Syria to inform the United Nations that the farms and the hills were in fact “Lebanese,” Syria refused all requests, insisting instead on a complete demarcation of the border, beginning from North Lebanon. In the meantime, relations between Damascus and former Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, who had become the most powerful Sunni leader in Lebanon, deteriorated. Damascus succeeded in removing him from the premiership and tried hard to defeat him in the general elections. Hariri not only won, but also achieved an unprecedented landslide victory.
In February 2005, after Damascus had managed to extend “for half a term” for its close friend, President Émile Lahoud, Hariri was assassinated. The assassination was not, in reality, aimed against a person, but rather at eliminating a national political phenomenon with significant regional dimensions. It was truly an exceptional juncture, which awakened many Lebanese and Arabs from their slumber, as well as revived a mass Islamic–Christian alliance, which had been virtually banned under the Damascus hegemony. The crime that caused that popular uprising also created an internal and international climate that forced the Syrian regime to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.
Once again, and within a short time, the Lebanese woke up to another reality: Syrian control of Lebanon’s security was just a prelude to a bigger, more serious problem. The Syrian military withdrawal left Lebanon under the guardianship of a more powerful and effective alternative, which was also more capable of infiltrating the Lebanese political scene. This was Hezbollah, a religious party-cum-militia founded by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s, which also sponsored and trained its members. During the “resistance” period, the “party” did not have to declare its true political role as the Syrian presence was capable of fulfilling it. However, the withdrawal forced the party to assume its prepared role.
Following the Israeli and Syrian withdrawals, Hezbollah was no longer a resistance movement, instead it has become an armed political power making alliances and enemies, funding and protecting its followers, and imposing the appointment of its cronies on the state—even ones from other sects as part of its plan to infiltrate them. This was made possible thanks to the fact that it was the only political organization with arms and money described as “clean” money by one of its leaders. Furthermore, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the party’s secretary-general, once replied to critics of his links to Tehran by declaring that he was proud to be a “soldier in the army of the Vali-ye Faqih,” i.e., the spiritual and political leader of Iran.
On two occasions—in 2006 when he caused a confrontation with Israel, and then when he attacked Beirut and Jebel in 2008 and the toppling of Hariri’s government (breaking a promise to preserve it)—the party proved it was bigger than the Lebanese state, and that it did not adhere to its constitutional institutions. Finally, the Syrian revolution of 2011 ended all doubts about the nature of the party and its regional role as it was fighting in support of the Damascus regime, along with other Middle Eastern Shi’ite factions, with the blessing of Tehran.
Lebanon is currently facing dangerous challenges over the coming few months weeks, including the repercussions of the Syrian crisis and the upcoming presidential elections. However, it facing these challenges while unable to form a government as well as being increasingly under threat of terrorism.
Some Lebanese sectarian groups have in recent weeks cast doubts, albeit not openly so far, about the impartiality of the army regarding the movement of insurgents across the Syrian border, pointing to its firmness against Sunni fundamentalists while totally disregarding Hezbollah military activities. As for Hezbollah, it continues to claim it holds the banner of “resistance” and is engaged in fighting “Takfirists.”
After the events in Sidon, in Southern Lebanon last week, many condemned the attack on the army. This is actually the right ethical response, but those who seem to belittle the deep anger boiling mainly in Sunni quarters are wrong. Hatred has reached a point where some Sunni areas in Lebanon have become incubators of militant fundamentalism, just like they did in Syria and Iraq, and never by choice.
To conclude, allowing Iran’s hegemony project to continue unabated under the banner of “resistance” may push the region into the unknown.
**Eyad Abu Shakra: is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

Prosecutor charges firm over Beirut tunnel flooding

December 19, 2013 /The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Lebanon's financial prosecutor charged Thursday a private company with negligence and sabotage in the case of the Beirut highway flooding. Judge Ali Ibrahim charged Mechanical and Engineering Equipment and Systems (MEES) with negligence and sabotage after failing to carry out water drainage maintenance in the tunnel connecting Beirut to the airport. The charge came hours after caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi gave his testimony in the case before Ibrahim. "We discussed all the issues raised by [caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi] Aridi during his news conference and I presented all the documents I have,” Safadi said after giving his testimony. “I answered all the questions,” he added. Safadi also said he will not be summoned for questioning for a second time in the case. Ibrahim launched an investigation into the case earlier this month after the tunnel flooded due to heavy rainfall, trapping citizens in their vehicles for several hours. Aridi resigned Monday after giving his testimony to Ibrahim in the flooding case. Aridi had blamed Safadi for the flooding, saying the caretaker finance minister refused to approve Public Works and Transportation Ministry funding to perform drainage maintenance in an attempt to pressure Aridi into endorsing illegal construction. Safadi denied such allegations saying that they are part of a political campaign against him. The prosecutor has also taken the testimony of officials from two private contracting companies, South for Reconstruction and Middle East Airport Services [MEAS], regarding the road flooding. The questioning focused on whether the firms ignored or renewed contracts with the Public Works Ministry in 2013 to clean out the storm drains.

Nobody can stop Assad from running again: Syria

December 19, 2013 /Daily Star/DAMASCUS: The Syrian government said Thursday that nobody can prevent the country's embattled President Bashar al-Assad from running for re-election next year. "Nobody has the right to interfere and say he must run or he should not run," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP, shortly after Russia criticized statements that he wanted to seek another term. "President Assad in my opinion should be a candidate but he will decide when the time comes for him to decide," he said. "I shall ask the opposition: why a Syrian national does not have the right to be a candidate? Who can prevent him? Any Syrian national can be candidate," said Muqdad. "The ballot boxes will decide who will lead Syria... President Assad enjoys a big majority while (France's) President (Francois) Hollande has only 15 percent support of the French people," he argued. Russia earlier on Thursday issued a rare criticism of its ally Assad over the 2014 presidential election. "Exchanging such rhetorical statements just makes the atmosphere heavier and does not make the situation calmer," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russia's Interfax news agency. Bogdanov said Assad and all parties should steer clear of stoking tensions ahead of peace talks planned to take place in Switzerland in January aimed at ending the conflict raging in Syria since 2011. "We believe that ahead of the peace talks there should be no statements which someone may not like and can cause emotions and a reaction in response," he added. While the opposition insists on Assad's ouster, three years into an armed conflict that has cost more than 125,000 lives, the Syrian regime has repeatedly said he would run in 2014 polls. Assad himself said in a television interview in October: "I don't see any reason why I shouldn't run in the next election."

South Sudan civil war fears grow as rebels reject talks

December 19, 2013/By Waakhe Simon Wudu/Daily Star
JUBA: South Sudan rebels battling government forces rejected peace efforts Thursday as the region scrambled to prevent the world's youngest state from collapsing only two years after its birth. Troops loyal to fugitive former vice president Riek Machar seized the town of Bor late Wednesday, army spokesman Philip Aguer said, as fighting continued in eastern Jonglei state. President Salva Kiir has blamed the bloodshed on a coup bid by his perennial rival Machar, who says the alleged overthrow was a fabrication to cover up a regime purge. Kiir has said he was ready to "sit down" but Machar, who was sacked by the president in July, rejected the offer. In an interview with RFI radio Thursday, Machar said he had appealed to the ruling party and army "to remove Salva Kiir from the leadership of the country."  Some 450 people had been killed in the capital Juba since battles broke out on Sunday, including around 100 soldiers, Aguer said.  AFP reporters said the city was calm on Thursday. Human Rights Watch said witnesses had reported horrific cases of both soldiers and rebels executing people based on their ethnicity, warning it could lead to "revenge attacks and more violence."  The battles have raised concerns of ethnic conflict, with Kiir coming from the majority Dinka people and Machar from the Nuer.
Soldiers in Juba "asked individuals about their ethnicity before killing or releasing them", or identified them from traditional facial scarring, HRW said. However, the government insists the clashes are over power and politics, noting that both sides include leaders from different tribes. "We condemn in strongest possible terms attempts to depict (the) coup as ethnic strife," a government statement Thursday read, noting that of the 11 key figures arrested since fighting began -- many former powerful minsters -- only two were Nuer. The United Nations peacekeeping mission said it was sheltering civilians in six state capitals, including Juba and Bor, as well as in Bentiu, the main town of the crucial petroleum-producing state of Unity. At least five oil workers were killed in Unity when attackers stormed their compound late on Wednesday, a company official said.
Oil production forms over 95 percent of South Sudan's fledgling economy. Foreigners were being evacuated from the troubled country, with the United States and Britain sending in flights for their citizens, and others fleeing overland south to Uganda. Long lines of aid workers and expatriates began crowding Juba's airport on Wednesday waiting to board the first flight they could out of the country, with delays after an aircraft that crash landed -- with no casualties -- blocked the runway for several hours. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has warned fighting could spread. "There is a risk of this violence spreading to other states, and we have already seen some signs of this," Ban said, adding the crisis "urgently needs to be dealt with through political dialogue." There were fears that the poor and unstable nation, which broke free from Sudan in 2011, could slide back into all-out conflict.
"The scenario many feared but dared not contemplate looks frighteningly possible: South Sudan, the world's newest state, is now arguably on the cusp of a civil war," the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank warned.
Top ministers from four regional countries flew in Thursday to try to launch peace efforts. Kenya's Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed told AFP she was working with diplomats from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda, calling the crisis a "regional issue." All are members of a regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose members played key roles in pushing forward the 2005 deal that ended Sudan's two-decades long civil war with the south. The capture of Bor raises ugly ghosts from South Sudan's past. The town, which lies some 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Juba, is the capital of the state of Jonglei, one of the most volatile regions in the young nation. Machar, who fought on both sides during Sudan's 1983-2005 civil war, has been accused of leading a brutal massacre in Bor in 1991.
Powerful military commander Peter Gadet -- who rebelled in 2011 but then rejoined the army -- has also mutinied again, launching attacks in Jonglei in support of Machar.
"They are fighting in the bush," said Aguer. Jok Madut Jok, a former government minister and academic now running Juba's Sudd Institute think tank, warned that while the capital was now calm there had been "ghastly acts of revenge... stoking what might escalate into tragic acts of ethnic cleansing."

Pope Francis drawing crowds four times larger than predecessor
By Philip Pullella/VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - More than two million people have flocked to Pope Francis' general audiences in St. Peter's Square since his election in March, four times the number that Pope Benedict drew in all of 2012. The Vatican said on Wednesday it had issued 1,548,500 tickets for the 30 Wednesday general audiences Francis has held since his election on March 13 as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years. But it said the actual number was "much larger" because no tickets are needed for the rear section of the square and surrounding streets, which accommodate overflow. That area, which fits at least 20,000, is regularly filled during Francis' audiences. The Vatican did not issue comparative figures on Wednesday but figures released on January 4 showed that 447,000 tickets were issued for the 43 general audiences held by former Pope Benedict in all of 2012. The pope, who last week was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year, has drawn people to the Vatican because of his outgoing, simple and friendly style. Benedict was more reserved and far less spontaneous. Francis has forsaken many of the trappings used by his predecessors. He has given up the spacious papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace for a small apartment in a guest house and is driven in a regular car instead of the papal limousine. Francis has also proven to be hugely popular because of his statements urging the Church to be closer to the poor and to be more merciful and less condemning. The crowds at Francis' general audiences have often topped 100,000, forcing police to close off the main boulevard leading to the Vatican to accommodate more people. The Vatican newspaper said Francis telephoned Benedict to exchange Christmas greetings. Benedict is living in a former convent on the Vatican grounds and has the title Pope Emeritus. Tickets to audiences and all other papal events are issued for free by the Vatican's Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and usually distributed through parishes and Church institutions. (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Some in Iran resist warm relations with the West
December 19, 2013/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star
Hossein Shariatmadari’s business card identifies him as the “Supreme Leader’s Representative” at Kayhan, Iran’s leading conservative newspaper. Listening to his unwavering advocacy of Iran’s revolutionary politics, you realize just how hard it will be to reach the nuclear agreement that many Iranians I talked with here seem to want. Shariatmadari says frankly that he doesn’t believe in compromise with the West. “The identity of both sides is involved in this conflict,” says the stern editor. “It didn’t ‘just happen.’ It is structural. The problem will be solved when one side gives up its identity, only then.” The Kayhan editor is using his powerful voice to resist the deal being negotiated by President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He says bluntly that he doesn’t think Iran should have signed the six-month freeze negotiated last month in Geneva, and argues that Zarif misled Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when he said the deal guaranteed Iran’s right to enrichment of uranium. “This gentleman [Zarif] did not tell the truth,” he asserts. Can hard-liners such as Shariatmadari and the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps block a deal? An Iranian banker may have been right when he told me that “Zarif has the backing of 90 percent of the people” to negotiate an agreement that removes economic sanctions and eases Iran’s isolation. But the vanguard represented by Shariatmadari and the Revolutionary Guard may hold the commanding heights.
The power of the Revolutionary Guard is a crucial variable. Rouhani told me in an interview in New York this past September that he thinks security organizations such as the IRGC should have less power in Iran, and he made that argument to Iranians in June’s presidential election. But when I asked Shariatmadari about Rouhani’s critique, he dismissed it as “election propaganda.” Tehran this week seemed a country caught somewhere between Pyongyang and Los Angeles. It’s a sprawling city with sophisticated, outgoing people. The slogans of the 1979 Islamic Revolution are fading on the walls, literally.
But the radical roots of the regime are still intact. And Shariatmadari speaks for the vanguard that has internalized the message of a massive mural on Karim Khan Zand Boulevard, near his office, that shows founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini with the words: “We will never put down the flag you raised.” A visit here makes clear that in the nuclear negotiations, Iran is facing, as Shariatmadari says, an internal struggle over its identity. That’s evident in the public sniping between Zarif and his critics, including the Revolutionary Guard chief, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. The Iranian leadership may be allowing this debate to heighten its leverage in negotiations – to encourage concessions to sympathetic moderates who are battling hard-liners. But it’s not just for show: You can feel the underlying tension in ordinary conversation. The public’s support for Rouhani stems in part from national fatigue after eight years of inflammatory former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He seemed to delight in shocking the West with his anti-Israel diatribes, but for many Iranians he was an embarrassment. A half-dozen people I talked to here said the Ahmadinejad years are remembered for bad economic policies and corrupt favoritism for the power elite.
The public gave Rouhani a 51 percent majority in a six-candidate field, and if he ran again, he would do far better, argues Saeed Laylaz, a prominent economic journalist, in an interview at his apartment in northwest Tehran. “We support him unconditionally,” he says, but there’s no polling data that confirm that support. As for the supreme leader, Laylaz expresses a view I also heard from others that “Khamenei is behind Rouhani because otherwise the system will collapse.”The public yearning to escape the drabness of the Islamic Republic is evident in small things. One Iranian tells me about the new fad of traveling to Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, and paying $100 a ticket, to hear pop-music stars who can’t come to Iran. There’s also a boom in low-cost travel to less restrictive societies. Dubai and Istanbul, which used to be favorites, have gotten so expensive that Iranians out for a good time are turning to cheap flights to Yerevan in Armenia and Tbilisi in Georgia. Shariatmadari thinks these Western temptations are poisonous. He’s suspicious even of President Barack Obama’s phone call to Rouhani in September, which he saw as an attempt to demean Iran. I ask if Rouhani should have hung up. “We believe in politeness,” he says with a rare smile.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Canada Welcomes UN Resolution on Human Rights Situation in Iran
December 18, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:
“Today, the Canada-led resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
“Canada welcomes this clear demonstration of support for the people of Iran and their desire for meaningful human rights reforms.
“Through the adoption of this resolution, the international community has signalled the importance of improving human rights in the country and reinforced the expectations of Iranians looking to the new president to fulfill his commitments and address serious human rights violations.
“This resolution bolsters the tireless efforts of those inside Iran who continue to work toward ensuring that pervasive violations of human rights in Iran are effectively addressed. It reminds victims of human rights violations that they have not been forgotten by the international community.
“Real change in Iran requires that concrete actions—not merely token gestures—be made to protect human rights. As a vigorous defender of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law around the world, Canada will continue to hold Iran accountable and encourage it to uphold its obligations and to respect the fundamental rights of its people.”
A backgrounder follows.
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Backgrounder - UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran
Canada has consistently taken a prominent position on the global stage as a diligent, vocal promoter of human rights and as a strong defender of those whose human rights are under threat.
This has been particularly noticeable at the United Nations General Assembly, where Canada—for the 11th consecutive year—is once again the lead sponsor, in solidarity with a large cross-regional group of countries, of a resolution drawing attention to the human rights situation in Iran. This year’s resolution reflects the changing circumstances in Iran with the election of President Hassan Rouhani and welcomes positive gestures regarding the human rights situation in the country. It outlines ongoing and grave human rights violations and continues to encourage Iran to live up to its domestic and international human rights obligations.
This year’s resolution was co-sponsored by a record 47 countries. The Third Committee of the General Assembly approved the resolution on November 19, 2013, with 83 countries supporting the resolution and 36 countries voting against. It was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly plenary session on December 18, 2013, with 86 countries voting in support and 36 countries voting against.
Serious and systematic human rights abuses are ongoing in Iran. These include a deeply entrenched disregard for the rule of law and due process, as well as the targeting of journalists, labour rights activists, ethnic and religious minority communities and their defenders by state institutions. Women and girls face serious restrictions and inequality in law and in practice, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are persecuted. So far in 2013, Iran has executed over 500 people, often for non-violent crimes, including drug offences.
Through this resolution, the international community continues to encourage meaningful and lasting human rights reform in Iran. This includes calling for concrete action to address the most serious human rights violations in Iran, such as the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities and discrimination against women.

Peres to Chinese FM: Peace is Israel's greatest desire, Iran is the greatest problem
By GREER FAY CASHMAN 12/19/2013/J.Post/Israel faces not only grave threats but also great opportunities, President Shimon Peres said Thursday to visiting Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi, adding that peace is Israel’s greatest desire, and “Iran is the greatest problem”.The chance for peace must not be ignored despite the threat of a nuclear Iran, Peres stated. Like China, he said, Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to Iran's disputed nuclear issue rather than the use of military means. Peres insisted that peace and stability could be brought about through a united stand by the global community. Diplomatic pressure must be maintained to ensure that sanctions remain effective said Peres, adding that Iran must be forced to comply with the inspections and limitations that the international community demands.
The president called on China, as a major world power, to help the Iranian people to divorce themselves from the policies of threats and hostilities so as to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities and serving as a center of hostility. Reiterating what he has stated many times before, Peres insisted that Israel does not view the Iranian people as its enemy. “Our enemies are the policies and ideology driving the current Iranian regime,” he said Then turning to the subject of negotiations with the Palestinians, Peres said that while efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions are at a crucial junction, Israel also stands at the crossroads in the effort for peace which is its greatest desire. He expressed appreciation for “China’s constructive support” in efforts to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and said that Wang’s visit and his clear support for peace strengthens the work towards a peaceful solution. “The alternative to peace and a two state solution is ongoing conflict,” said Peres.
Peres welcomed Wang's declaration that China wants to be a giving land and not a taking land. Peres voiced his belief that China has something to contribute to the Middle East. “China is the greatest model in recent history of how millions and millions of people escaped poverty with their own hands and their own minds. The Middle East can and should learn from your experience,” he said.
Peres, who has a very strong affinity for China, recalled that as Foreign Minister some twenty years ago, he had begun to build relations between the two countries – relations that has “brought sweet fruit and continue to develop”. As a student of Chinese history and a watcher of Chinese policy, Peres concluded, “for me China is a great hope and not a great danger.’China strongly supports Israel’s desire for peace, said Wang. Quoting Peres, he said that the president had told him that peace needs to be made through taking initiatives. It will not happen on its own or by waiting. He credited Peres with being one of the founders of the friendship between Israel and China and noted that Peres is still the Honarary President of the Israel-China Friendship Council. He also commended Peres for being a strong advocate for and facilitator of peace in the region whose efforts are applauded by the international community and appreciated by China. With regard to Iran, Wang said that all the parties concerned must comply with the interim agreement. Before taking his leave he said that Peres as a friend of the Chinese. People would always be welcome in China. Whether it was the decision of his translator Ms Zhang, or Chinese policy per se, in every reference to the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Wang spoke of "Palestine" and not the Palestinian Authority.

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War
Jeffrey White/Washington Institute
Victory is not assured for the regime, but trends are moving in its favor.
It has become commonplace to say that "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.
The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and "game changers" could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible -- and that is what the regime is counting on.
Strategic Principles
The regime fights its war under three broad strategic principles. The first entails using whatever level of violence it believes is necessary to defeat the armed opposition and break the will of its civilian supporters. No doubt, this process has involved incremental but continuous escalation to higher levels of violence in the face of increasing armed opposition. This principle, in effect since the beginning of the armed uprising, accounts for the regime's steady escalation in weapons used, including chemical weapons, and in attacks on the civilian population. In line with its targeting of armed rebels and their civilian supporters alike, the regime -- after seizing an area formerly under rebel control -- kills armed rebels and also engages in what are essentially reprisal attacks on area civilians: executions, looting, the burning of homes and businesses. Each town taken by the regime serves as an example for the next town.
The regime's second principle is to exploit diplomacy to prevent effective support for the rebels while also avoiding political isolation. With the assistance of its allies, especially Russia and its UN Security Council veto, the regime has successfully fended off every diplomatic threat from the West and other opponents of the regime. It has played along with various ceasefire initiatives as long as they did not impede its military operations, and when cornered on its chemical weapons use, it defused the threat of U.S. military action without relinquishing the heft of its ability to wage war as it wishes. Syrian officials may well travel to Geneva, but, as their spokesmen have declared, they will not be there to surrender the keys to Damascus -- but rather both to keep the rebels' backers entangled in fruitless negotiations and to deepen divisions among the rebels.
The third regime principle is to keep telling its story. In the regime's narrative, its forces are winning a war against "terrorists" and the regime remains strong and cohesive. Using all available media, domestic and foreign, to further this narrative, the regime has increasingly succeeded in advancing perceptions of a growing terrorist threat in Syria and focusing attention on its own battlefield victories.
Regime Objectives
The regime's goals are to reduce armed opposition to a manageable terrorism problem, eliminate serious political opposition inside Syria, and ultimately restore regime control throughout the country. Although never indicating a willingness to settle for less, the regime may be compelled to do so, given the scope of the rebellion and its own resource limitations. Still, the regime is fighting to maintain at least a hold or influence in all provinces. This is quite different from fighting for a rump state, although the regime's strategy and operations certainly could support that objective as well. In the collective mind of regime members, Syria should be one and indivisible -- and theirs.
Whatever overconfidence the regime may project, certain political and military conditions are necessary for it to triumph. Political conditions include continued diplomatic support from its allies, continued divisions among the rebels, and the continued absence of a consensus among Western and allied states on forcefully dealing with the regime. Military conditions for regime success include maintenance of the military alliance with its partners Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah; growth in the size and effectiveness of the regime's irregular forces (the National Defense Forces, or NDF); the continued ability of regime regular forces to provide critical firepower for operations; and the avoidance of direct foreign intervention or significant foreign military support to the rebels. While there are no guarantees, most if not all of these conditions seem likely to be met for the foreseeable future.
In implementing its strategy for the war, the regime faces serious constraints, beginning with the limited size of its forces relative to the rebel forces and the geographic scope of the rebellion. It must pick its battles, fighting aggressively in some places and just holding on in others. A second, related concern has been the loss of regular forces through attrition and defection, resulting in an increased reliance, even dependence, on irregular and allied forces. Related to the regular forces' decline is a third constraint: that on the amount of air, ground, and missile firepower that the regime can employ in a given period. Here, the regime's decision to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles has effectively capped its escalation of force. Fourth, the regime appears to have problems sustaining offensive operations. Even in successful efforts such as in Homs in spring 2013 and al-Safira in Aleppo province in the fall, regime forces seem to have failed to fully wrap up operations. The fifth major constraint is the need to avoid antagonizing its allies, whose critical support means the regime must listen to them on the conduct of the war. This was one of the major reasons the regime accepted the deal to eliminate its chemical weapons.
Operational Implementation
Within its constraints, the regime can conduct effective, if not yet decisive, operations that advance its strategic goals. It has combined battle and wide-ranging maneuver to achieve important victories and has been willing to engage in narrowly focused attrition-type operations, grinding down the rebels. Regime forces have developed tactical methods involving the heavy use of firepower, siege, joint air, ground, and missile forces, and combined operations with allied forces to overcome stubborn rebel resistance. Indeed, force limitations compel the regime to sequence operations. Key units of regime regulars (Fourth Division of the Republican Guard) and allied forces (Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiites) are probably shifted from one operation or battlefield to another. Regime decisions over which battles to focus on, as discussed earlier, help account for its successes and failures -- and correspondingly the successes and failures of the rebels.
Battlefield trends favor the regime, even if the outcome of every battle does not. In particular, four important operations in which the regime has invested considerable effort and resources have yielded a measure of success: in Homs in spring 2013, in southern Aleppo province in the fall, in the southern Damascus suburbs also in the fall, and in the Qalamoun region north and northeast of Damascus beginning in late November. In each of these operations, the regime has effectively applied its warfighting concepts, even while sustaining casualties against often stubborn rebel resistance. The rebels have yet to find a successful formula for responding to these kinds of operations. Relatedly, the slow pace of regime operations can probably be attributed at least as much to the limitations of regime forces as to rebel effectiveness.
Game Changers
Despite present trends, a regime victory is not certain, and a number of game changers could halt or reverse its progress. First, the rebels could achieve effective coordination between their political and military components, allowing for an integrated approach to the war and development of a national strategy for fighting it. Second, and relatedly, the rebels could establish effective command and control that would allow for integration and coordination of forces and their logistics, helping them confront the regime's operations. Third, the rebels could receive enhanced military assistance: weapons, ammunition, training, intelligence, and advice. And fourth, some form of direct foreign intervention could reduce the regime's advantages and effectiveness.
The prospect for each of these options, however, appears dim at the moment. An improvement in the rebels' capability would thus likely have to emerge largely from their own political and military resources. And probably the most important achievement for the rebels would be unity of effort, which under current circumstances would most likely be under an Islamist banner.
For all the reasons outlined here, assertions that "there is no military solution" to the Syrian conflict should be viewed with caution. While the regime is not certain to win the kind of victory it seeks, and may have to settle for less, the war is now moving in its favor and prospects for a reversal do not look good.
Barring a sudden collapse of the armed resistance, which for the Islamist core seems unlikely, the regime will only slowly defeat rebel forces and recover territory. But the regime is implacable and its allies are steadfast.
Regarding Geneva, the regime's approach to the war suggests that it will not negotiate seriously with the rebels. And given its increasing success on the battlefield, the continued support of its allies, and a divided and feckless opposition, there is no reason why it should.
**Jeffrey White is a Defense Fellow at The Washington Institute and a former senior defense intelligence officer.