December 29/2013

Bible Quotation for today/The World's Hatred
John 15/18-26: "If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If people persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours too.  But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who sent me. They would not have been guilty of sin if I had not come and spoken to them; as it is, they no longer have any excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father also.  They would not have been guilty of sin if I had not done among them the things that no one else ever did; as it is, they have seen what I did, and they hate both me and my Father.  This, however, was bound to happen so that what is written in their Law may come true: ‘They hated me for no reason at all.’“The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me.  And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 29/13

Russia-Syria Offshore Gas Deal Injects New Factor into Peace Talks/Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/December 29/13

Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring/Lori Plotkin Boghardt/Washington Institute/December 29/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 29/13

Lebanese Related News

Mourners Converge on al-Amin Mosque as Family Prepares to Bury Shatah

Lebanon to refer Shatah’s killing to Judicial Council

Teen wounded in Beirut car bombing dies

Chaar, 16, Passes Away after Sustaining Severe Injuries in Head

Beirut bombing death toll rises to seven

Syria opposition blames regime for Beirut bombing

Man killed in south Lebanon car accident

Politicians condemn Shatah killing

World mourns Shatah, condemn attack

Report: Starco Bomb Car Stolen from Shouf, Taken to Ain el-Hilweh

Tripoli mourns native son

Syria Opposition Blames Regime for Beirut Bombing

A voice of moderation martyred

Hariri Says Coalition May Ask for 'March 14 Cabinet' after Shatah's Murder

Blast prompts tourists to vacate hotels

Beirut Stock Exchange unrattled by assassination

Palestinian Factions Slam Haphazard Accusations

Hollande Urges Lebanese to Stick to Election Calendar

Analysts: Lebanon 'Microcosm of Regional Conflicts'

Soaid Says March 14 Rejects to Join Government with Hizbullah

Army Denies Divulging Info on Probe into Shatah Murder

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Syrian forces kill 25 in Aleppo barrel-bomb attack: activists
One killed as Islamist students and police clash in Cairo

Bahrain's Shiite opposition says its chief arrested

Kerry to Mideast next week for peace talks: Palestinians
Assad sends message to Pope Francis: Vatican -

Removal of chemical arms from Syria delayed: watchdog

US prepares to pay Netanyahu back for Iran campaign, using Palestinian issue as bludgeo

EU Condemns Attack on Iran Exile Camp in Iraq


Lebanon to refer Shatah’s killing to Judicial Council

December 28, 2013/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Lebanon will refer Friday’s assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah to the Justice Council, officials said over the weekend, as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for the formation of an inclusive Cabinet to end the political impasse. The move to refer Shatah’s case was announced following a session of the Higher Defense Council Saturday chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace in the wake of the assassination. “The council was briefed by the caretaker justice minister and acting state prosecutor on the preliminary investigation [into Shatah’s killing] and asked the caretaker justice minister to make the needed legal preparations to refer explosions which occurred recently to the Justice Council,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir, the secretary general of the Higher Defense Council, told reporters after the session. “The council stressed its will to go ahead with confronting all terrorist attempts against Lebanon,” he said. Kheir added that the council was briefed by heads of security agencies on the information available on Shatah’s assassination along with additional information on previous attacks. “The council stressed the need for security forces to coordinate and continue to take measures on the ground along with intelligence efforts to thwart attempts to commit such crimes in order to preserve order and protect people, establishments and public and private property,” Kheir said. He added that the council made the appropriate decisions and issued the relevant instructions while keeping its decisions secret in line with law. The death toll from the Friday blast that killed Shatah, his bodyguard, and four others rose to seven Saturday after a teenager seriously wounded in the attack succumbed to his wounds Saturday morning, a security source said.  Shatah, a former finance minister, was seen as a moderate figure in the March 14 coalition and the Sunni community. The explosion was the latest among a serious of bomb attacks that have targeted several areas across the country throughout the year, killing and wounding hundreds. Mikati, who proclaimed Sunday a day of mourning, said that the referral would take place under exceptional decrees issued by him and Sleiman. Crimes targeting the state’s security are referred to the Justice Council. Its decisions cannot be appealed.
Speaking to reporters after attending the meeting of the Higher Defense Council, Mikati called on politicians to avoid bickering and trading accusations. “Restoring confidence between Lebanese factions has become a pressing priority because if the current schism lingers along with conditions and counter-conditions, this will lead us all to death,” he warned. Mikati reiterated calls for resuming National Dialogue, forming an inclusive government and adhering to the dissociation policy from the war in neighboring Syria. “Our actual wager is on the wisdom of Lebanese leaders and their awareness of the dangers of the phase and their efforts to prevent flare-up through toning down political rhetoric,” Mikati said. Meanwhile, senior politicians flocked to Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in Downtown Beirut for the second day to pay condolences to Shatah’s family.
Among those paying their respects were Sleiman, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and a delegation of MPs from MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc. Speaking to reporters after paying his condolences, Siniora reiterated the March 14’s call for the formation of a non-partisan government to address the pressing needs of the Lebanese and referring divisive issues to the National Dialogue table.
“There are several issues such as Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, its arms and other things that should be referred to the [National] Dialogue table,” Siniora said. “It is true that we reached no result in Dialogue since it was launched in 2006 as we agreed on several issues but none have been implemented,” Siniora said. He explained that Hezbollah reneged on its support for the Baabda Declaration agreed upon by rival political factions during a Dialogue session in June 2012. The pact calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly in Syria. However, earlier in the year, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah acknowledged fighters from his group were in Syria fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels. “But despite this, we believe that we should adopt the path of Dialogue. Our approach is peaceful and political rather than violent in the first place,” Siniora said. For his part, Jumblatt highlighted the need to adhere to Dialogue in order to avoid strife in the country. “We stress the path of moderation and Dialogue regardless of difficulties and the pain of his [Shatah’s] great loss,” he said. “We have no other choice, or else we will all fall in the trap set by the game of nations, or that of fighting like what is happening in Iraq, Syria and other Arab countries,” Jumblatt said.

Teen wounded in Beirut car bombing dies
December 28, 2013/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: A secondary school student seriously wounded in the Beirut car bombing that targeted former Minister Mohammad Shatah died Saturday morning, a security source said.
The source identified the teen as Mohammad Shaar. Social media sites circulated a photo of Shaar and three of his friends taken shortly before the explosion. Posing for a group selfie, the teens can be seen meters from the rigged golden Honda CRV used in the attack. Shaar and his friends Omar Bikdash, Rabih Youssef and Ahmad Moghrabi, all secondary school students, were at a park nearby enjoying a sunny Friday morning at the time of the explosion. Moghrabi, Youssef and Bikdash survived the blast while Shaar was transferred to the American University of Beirut Medical Center after suffering serious head wounds. Friends of Shaar spent Friday night at AUBMC praying for their friend’s well-being. With Shaar’s tragic passing away, the death toll from the bombing rose to seven, the security source said. Shatah, his bodyguard, and four other people died on the day of the explosion. Seventy people were also wounded in the blast. Shatah had been headed to a meeting of the March 14 coalition that was under way at the Downtown Beirut residence of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
His assassination was seen as a major blow to moderation within the Sunni community in Lebanon and escalated tensions in an already volatile country divided over the crisis in Syria.
The scene of a massive reconstruction project after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War, the area targeted by the explosion is a luxurious residential and commercial district and includes several upscale hotels. Friday’s was the first explosion to target the heart of Beirut Downtown since its renovation.

Beirut bombing death toll rises to seven

December 28, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The death toll from Friday’s car bombing in Beirut that claimed the life of former Minister Mohammad Shatah rose to seven, a security source said over the weekend.
Mohammad Shaar, a bystander, died Saturday after being critically wounded in the explosion in the Downtown Beirut area a day earlier, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
The explosion in the morning hours of Friday targeted Shatah as he drove to a meeting of the March 14 coalition that was underway at former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Downtown Beirut residence. Shatah’s bodyguard was also killed in the blast. The assassination of Shatah was seen as a major blow to moderation within the Sunni community in Lebanon and escalated tensions in an already volatile country divided over the crisis in Syria.

Politicians from across the political spectrum strongly condemn Shatah assassination
December 28, 2013/By Rayane Abou Jaoude, Dana Khraiche The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians condemned Friday the car bomb that killed former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah in Downtown Beirut and praised the Future Movement senior adviser as a moderate statesman. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri hinted that Hezbollah was behind the assassination of his senior aide, saying the killing was another message to the March 14 coalition.
“Those who assassinated Mohammad Shatah are the ones who assassinated Rafik Hariri; they are the ones who want to assassinate Lebanon,” Hariri said in a statement hours after a car bomb killed Shatah.
“The suspects, as far as we’re concerned, and even as far as others are concerned, are trying to avoid facing international justice [in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon]; they are the ones opening the window of evil and chaos to Lebanon and the Lebanese, and they are igniting regional fires,” he added. Hariri also said the perpetrators would not stop until they had dragged the country into strife.
Describing Shatah as a friend, Hariri said the veteran diplomat’s journey was an inspiration. A bomb exploded as Shatah’s car drove through Downtown Beirut for a scheduled meeting of the Hariri-led March 14 coalition.
Five other people were also killed and scores more wounded in the blast near Starco.
The March 14 group received condolences at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque in Beirut Friday.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probe former minister Shatah’s assassination.
“We demand and affirm the need to refer this crime to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” Siniora said, reading a statement drafted by the March 14 coalition at former PM Saad Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut.
Siniora hinted that the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon stood behind the assassination. Addressing the Lebanese, he said that Shatah was “killed this morning at the hands of the murderer you know.”
“The murderer is the same one, killing the Syrians and the Lebanese. The murderer is the same in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and all over Lebanon,” said a tearful Siniora. “The murderer is the same, with his Lebanese allies, in Deraa, Aleppo, Damascus and all over Syria.” For its part, Hezbollah called the assassination of Shatah “heinous” and urged the Lebanese to be “rational.”
“Hezbollah believes this heinous crime comes within the framework of a series of crimes and bombings aimed at sabotaging the country,” the party said in a statement.
Separately, President Michel Sleiman denounced this “terrorist crime that claimed the life of former minister Mohammad Shatah, this moderate, pro-dialogue figure.”“This cowardly act, regardless of what messages it carries or who it is directed at, will only boost the Lebanese determination to foster peace, stability and dialogue in the face of terrorists who resort to killings, bombings and sabotage as a means to prove their presence,” Sleiman said in a statement. The president called a meeting of the Higher Defense Council for Saturday. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati voiced similar condemnation.
“We condemn this assassination, which targeted a respected, moderate political and academic figure who believed in dialogue, the language of reason and logic and the right to difference of opinion,” Mikati said in a statement. “We also condemn all acts of violence and murder that lead to nothing but more tragedies, devastation and damage to the homeland,” he added.
Mikati decided to cut short his holiday in London and a close source said he would return home Friday.
For his part, speaker Nabih Berri said the killing was aimed at preventing the restoration of the country and inflicting strife among its people.
“Once again terrorism has struck Lebanon and the future of Lebanon and not only the Future Movement through the assassination of Mohammad Shatah,” Berri said, adding that it also came at a time when efforts are intensifying to form a government. Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said that the car bombing was aimed at inciting strife in the country, and described Shatah as “a role model who never hesitated to help others and work together toward reaching national interest.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel visited the bomb site and denounced the attack, offering condolences for Shatah’s death.
Former head of the Internal Security Forces Gen. Ashraf Rifi said the Lebanese would be defiant in their resilience. “We send a clear message: This criminality will not break our resilience, we will keep moving and achieving everything we have set together with the Lebanese people on a journey to retrieve this country from the mouth of the dragon.”
Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh stressed that the main target of the explosion was “civil peace in Lebanon” and it was necessary to exercise restraint to avoid full-blown strife.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri also condemned the assassination of Shatah and said that “the one behind this heinous crime is the same one responsible for the assassination of [Rafik Hariri] and the rest of the martyrs.”
She added: “Today’s assassination is a bloody message targeting the vision and approach of Rafik Hariri represented by Saad Hariri.”
Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea noted that the assassination of Shatah “cannot be dealt with as an individual crime” but a crime carried out by professionals, one of a series of assassinations targeting March 14 officials. “Did Mohammad Shatah bother them [the perpetrators] that much? Is this how they fight takfiris, they who pretend to weep over the victims of takfiris?” he said.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel described Shatah as the symbol of moderation in the country, saying that “his targeting is the targeting of the essence of March 14.”
Head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun also condemned the car bomb, and warned against making “random accusations” so as not to “pour oil over the fire.”
Meanwhile, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Shatah’s assassination served as a serious message to all moderates. Jumblatt added that yet again “terrorism did not discriminate in its targets.”
For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said that “with Shatah’s assassination, Lebanon has lost a face of moderation.”


Report: Starco Bomb Car Stolen from Shouf, Taken to Ain el-Hilweh
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 December 2013/The olive green Honda CRV used in the assassination of former minister Mohammed Shatah was stolen in early 2013 from the town of Rmeileh in the Shouf district, a media report citing preliminary investigations said on Friday. “During the ongoing investigations, it turned out that a black Honda CRV belonging to Internal Security Forces Warrant Officer Elie F. was stolen from the Shouf coast area before it was seized by the Lebanese army at one of its checkpoints at the entrance of the (Palestinian) Ain el-Hilweh camp only several days after the theft of the first (olive green) car,” As Safir newspaper quoted sources involved in the investigation as saying. The sources said “Ahmed A., aka Abu al-Daoud, was driving the black car and confessed during interrogation that he stole the olive green CRV that targeted Shatah's convoy in collaboration with a man called Moussa M. and another called Mohammed S. and nicknamed Mohammed al-Sarii,” adding that the car was carrying a license plate with the number 177647/S.
“This (olive green) car entered the Ain el-Hilweh camp some time ago and was given to a man nicknamed Talal al-Ordoni,” the sources quoted Abu al-Daoud as saying.
The sources noted that Moussa M. and Mohammed al-Sarii were members of the Fatah al-Islam who receive their orders from the group's top official Haitham al-Shaabi.
“Foreign inmate Morshed Abdul Rahman, who is jailed at the central Roumieh prison over the case of the two cars, confirmed to interrogators that Moussa M. and Mohammed al-Sarii took the car to the Ain el-Hilweh camp and that they are members of Fatah al-Islam,” the sources added. But later on Friday, Munir al-Maqdah, a military commander of the Palestinian Fatah Movement, said the three men mentioned in the report are not members of Fatah al-Islam but rather of the Fatah Movement. "Talal al-Ordoni is a Fatah colonel, Mohammed al-Sarii is a 15-year-old football player ... and Mohammed Saleh was briefly detained (by Lebanese security forces) for two hours today," Maqdah told LBCI television. "This issue poses a threat to the Palestinian camps and we won't provide political cover for anyone," he noted. Maqdah revealed that the three men were "jointly interrogated with Roumieh prison inmates and they denied any involvement in taking the car to the Ain el-Hilweh camp." In response to a question, Maqdah confirmed that Haitham al-Shaabi is present at the al-Tawari neighborhood in Ain el-Hilweh, describing him as "one of the remnants of Jund al-Sham." Shatah -- a former finance minister and an adviser to ex-Premier Saad Hariri -- was killed in a powerful car bombing in the Starco area in central Beirut as he was heading to a March 14 meeting at the Center House.Several people were killed and dozens others were also wounded in the attack.

Syria's Assad sends message to Pope Francis, Vatican says

December 28, 2013 /Daily Star/VATICAN CITY: Syrian President Bashar Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents. The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope's secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
"The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government," a statement said. Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the civil war in Syria, the latest on Christmas Day. Syria's civil war between forces loyal to Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple him has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011.


Hariri Says Coalition May Ask for 'March 14 Cabinet' after Shatah's Murder
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 December 2013/Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Saad Hariri warned late Friday that the March 14 alliance could impose tougher conditions on the form of the new government after the assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah. In remarks to LBCI TV station, the former prime minister said: “We were asking for a neutral cabinet, but now we could call for … (the formation of) a government (made up) of March 14” figures. Shatah, who was Hariri's adviser, was killed in a car bombing in downtown Beirut on Friday. Premier-designate Tammam Salam has so far failed to form a new cabinet over conditions and counter-conditions set by the rival parties. The March 14 alliance is sticking to its demand for a neutral cabinet, while the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp is calling for a national unity cabinet based on the 9-9-6 formula.
“We are not afraid of anyone,” Hariri said. He said in a statement that the ones who are running away from international justice and refusing to appear before the international tribunal were behind Shatah's assassination.
Hariri said those responsible are "the same ones who are opening the doors of evil and chaos into Lebanon" and "brought regional fires to our country," in a clear reference to Hizbullah's armed intervention in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. But Hizbullah strongly denounced Shatah's assassination, saying it serves "the enemies of Lebanon." Hariri made other remarks to Future TV, describing the former finance minister as a “moderate.”
He remained steadfast to continue in the path of the March 14 alliance, which was formed after the massive suicide bombing in 2005 in downtown Beirut — some four blocks from the site of the explosion — that killed Hariri's father, Rafik, also a former prime minister. “We will not give up our principles,” the Mustaqbal movement leader told Future. “They killed us and will continue to murder us. But we won't stop … because our faith in Lebanon is huge,” he said. Hariri urged his supporters to be “patient and wise” to rebuild the Lebanon they dream of.

Russia-Syria Offshore Gas Deal Injects New Factor into Peace Talks
Simon Henderson/Washington Institute
The announcement of the agreement, just weeks before scheduled peace negotiations in Switzerland, will be seen as an expression of extra diplomatic support for Damascus by Moscow and of gratitude by the Assad regime to an ally. A December 25 accord signed between Syria and Russia allows for exploration and drilling in an area off the Syrian coast. If oil or natural gas is discovered, the state-controlled Russian group Soyuzneftegaz will have a controlling interest for twenty-five years. Reports do not mention how much the company paid for the license, nor whether any competing bids were made. The Syria news agency said Soyuzneftegaz would invest $15 million for surveying costs and another $75 million for initial drilling.
This concession is the first to be signed for offshore areas of Syria's Mediterranean coast. The country's existing onshore oil and gas fields are in the Euphrates River basin, are small-scale in Middle East terms, and are currently controlled by rebels opposing the Assad regime. Exports of any of Syria's oil and gas resources are banned by the UN Security Council.
Although a major show of Russian support for the existing government in Syria, the deal does not indicate any sudden change in the Assad regime's economic fortunes. Even if oil or natural gas is discovered in commercial quantities, production could begin only after several years. The opposition Syrian National Council has condemned the deal.
Prospects for Discovery
Energy analysts expect that both natural gas and oil could be discovered in this area of the eastern Mediterranean, which forms the northern part of the Levant Basin where in 2010 the U.S. Geological Survey predicted that as much as 1.7 billion barrels and 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas could be recovered.
Around 35 tcf of gas has been found off the coast of Israel and another 5 tcf off Cyprus's coast. Offshore drilling for oil in Israel will begin next year. Earlier this month, Noble Energy, the U.S. company leading a consortium with Israeli companies, announced the expectation of finding around 1.5 billion barrels of oil and gas liquids in a field below the seabed in Israel's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and a similar figure for a field in the Cypriot EEZ.
Effect on Regional Tensions
Aside from introducing a new factor into the politics of Syrian peace negotiations, the deal could exacerbate already strained regional tensions relating to offshore natural gas. Israel and Lebanon have made conflicting claims over the location of their offshore maritime boundary. And earlier this month, a Turkish survey vessel, escorted by a Turkish navy frigate, was carrying out seismic work in the Mediterranean, south of the island of Cyprus, in an area regarded by Nicosia as belonging to its EEZ.
The new Russia-Syria agreement is reported to relate to the 845-square-mile area of ocean that is part of the larger Block 2, an area lying roughly between the Syrian ports of Banias and Tartus. Syria has not reached maritime border agreements with its neighbors -- Cyprus, Turkey, and Lebanon -- but Block 2 does not border, to the south, what Lebanon may regard as its waters and is not adjacent to the Turkish coast in the north. However, the area may conflict with Turkish claims around Cyprus, which Ankara does not regard as having anything more than territorial waters stretching twelve nautical miles from the coast.
Russian involvement in offshore energy developments in Syria will likely be regarded by Washington as unhelpful. U.S. policy has been to encourage energy developments in waters off the coast of Israel, the Gaza Strip (where an unexploited gas field is owned by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority), Cyprus, and Lebanon. Washington has used considerable diplomacy to smooth over potential disputes, though offshore exploration in Lebanon, until now the most contentious issue, has been delayed by a lack of internal political agreement in Beirut.
Though ostensibly technical and commercial, Moscow's involvement in Syria's offshore energy activities will not be regarded as benign. Apart from possibly making the resolution of the Syrian civil war more difficult, these activities fulfill a particular vested interest for Russia. Natural gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, large in regional terms though small on an international scale, still have the ability to undermine Russia's dominant position as a natural gas supplier to Western Europe.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Gulf and Energy Policy Program.

Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring
Lori Plotkin Boghardt/Washington Institute
The kingdom is codifying current legal practices that do not distinguish between terrorists and nonviolent activists.
King Abdullah is expected to decree a new "penal system for crimes of terrorism and its financing" in the coming days. This comes on the heels of amendments to the country's criminal procedure law earlier this month.
The terrorism crimes legislation passed December 16 by the Saudi cabinet defines terrorism as "disturbing public order," "endangering national unity," and "defaming the state or its status," among other endeavors. A criminal procedure law change that came into effect December 6 legalizes indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or trial.
Together, the new regulations will tighten the legal framework for the kingdom's approaches to terrorism, nonviolent dissent, and other activity deemed offensive to the government. To date, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and judges sentence defendants according to their own interpretations of Islamic law based on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad's teachings, as noted in a Human Rights Watch report released December 18. King Fahd decreed a criminal procedure law in 2001, but judges do not consistently adhere to its provisions. A Specialized Criminal Court has tried both terrorism and peaceful expression cases since it was established in 2008.
The popular Arab uprisings that began three years ago this December also inspired some Saudis to demonstrate on their own streets for change -- which is not allowed in the kingdom. Public protests were held in early 2011 by nationals calling for the release or trial of relatives detained for long periods without charge; by Saudi Shiites demanding social and political reforms; by teachers and unemployed university graduates desiring improved labor conditions; and by women asking for driving rights.
The terrorism crimes legislation passed by the cabinet on December 16 was originally drafted in early 2011 in this context. In July of that year, the draft law was leaked to Amnesty International, which criticized its contents, leading to public criticism and mockery of the draft by local human rights campaigners. The Saudi leadership blocked Amnesty International's website and shelved the draft. A change in the legal length of detention without charge or trial, from six months to an indefinite period, was also part of the 2011 draft.
This time around, in apparent recognition of the previous criticisms, the Saudi minister of culture and information, Abdel Aziz Khoja, identified first among the "most prominent features" of the new 2013 terrorism legislation "the principle of balance...between the risks…from such crimes, and the protection of human rights being preserved…by Islamic law."
The new legislation can be expected to support existing state policies against political dissent, perceived nonconformance with religious values through activities such as women's driving, and terrorism itself. It may also support wider and tougher action. Targets of the new laws may include:
Women's driving rights campaigners. These campaigners have been charged recently with "disturbing public order," which would be a terrorism crime according to the new legislation passed by the cabinet.
Shiite protestors in the Eastern Province. These protestors have been charged with "terrorism" and "instigating unrest," among other charges.
Muslim Brotherhood associates and supporters. Some such figures have shown increased political activity following the ouster of former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi.
Terrorists and terrorism financiers. This includes those linked to the 2003-2008 al-Qaeda campaign in the kingdom, such as the Saudis sentenced last month for the December 2004 attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah.
Demonstrators protesting the long-term detention of prisoners without charge or trial. The new amendment to the criminal procedure law that legalizes indefinite detention would help legitimize targeting the demonstrators for security action. Prisoners themselves who have been detained for long periods. The new criminal procedure amendment would help legitimize these prisoners' detention.
Human rights and other civil society activists. These activists have been charged with "breaking allegiance with the ruler" and "attempting to distort the reputation of the kingdom," among other charges.
The penalties for committing the newly defined terrorism crimes, to be issued at a later date according to the Ministry of Interior, will likely represent a tactic of intimidation more than an actual change in policy, given judges' history of not adhering to the existing criminal procedure code. The 2011 draft law imposed a minimum prison term of five years for promoting so-called terrorism acts verbally or in writing; ten years for belonging to a "terrorist" organization; and twenty-five years for establishing, leading, organizing, or administrating such an organization.
The new legislation has deeply disappointed human rights activists and other Saudis calling for reform from inside and outside the kingdom. At the same time, many of the kingdom's nationals likely perceive the terrorism crimes law as helping secure society and preserve conservative Saudi values. Activist campaigns like those for human rights and women's driving rights have not garnered major support on the streets from Saudis, who feel strong loyalty to the king. Likewise, the new amendment legalizing indefinite detention probably is not viewed unfavorably by many inside the kingdom. Saudis typically associate longtime detainees without trial with the deadly al-Qaeda campaign that took place across the country during the previous decade. This is the case even though nonviolent activists have also suffered from prolonged periods in prison without charge or trial.
The human rights campaign, for one, is growing in the kingdom. It is aided by the country's large young adult population connected on social media and the thousands of young Saudis returning home from U.S. university studies after Washington reopened the door to Saudi students in 2005. These factors are likely to have an impact on popular responses to Saudi government practices toward calls for reform in the near term.
This month's legislative developments in Saudi Arabia are a testament to the domestic pressures the royal family continues to feel three years into the Arab Spring. President Obama has made it clear that Saudi stability is a Middle East policy priority. At the same time, the kingdom's muddying of the waters between terrorism and nonviolent expression once again brings into sharp relief important differences on political, social, and religious rights between the United States and its strategic partner. Private discussions with the Saudi leadership regarding the issue -- perhaps including rewards for progress -- remain important to our own and longer-term Saudi interests.
**Lori Plotkin Boghardt is a fellow in Gulf politics at The Washington Institute.

US prepares to pay Netanyahu back for Iran campaign, using Palestinian issue as bludgeo

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis /December 28, 2013/The Obama administration is preparing to settle scores with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for his campaign against US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran, by holding him to blame for the impasse in Israel-Palestinian negotiations. This will ignore the uniform assessments by US and Israeli intelligence analysts that it is the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas who is holding out against all Secretary of State John Kerry’s Herculean efforts for a peace accord with Israel, say debkafile’s Washington and Jerusalem sources. Abbas (Abu Mazen) is sure that he can get more from the international community by diplomatic manipulation and effective propaganda. He believes he holds enough cards and leverage to manage without having to reach terms for deals with the US or Israel. He is only playing along with the Americans and Israelis for one purpose – not to lose US and other Western financial assistance. Earlier this month, the European Union said it would discontinue the $1 billion annual contribution to the Palestinian Authority if a peace accord with Israel was not signed within a year. Abbas appreciates that the Europeans would follow the American lead for an aid cutoff.
The US-EU aid packages totaling $1.5 billion account for nearly all of the PA’s regular revenue. The most up-to-date intelligence data reaching Washington and Jerusalem confirm that if Abbas were to find an alternative source of income, he would grab it and drop out of the peace negotiations like a shot.
But the Obama administration and Netanyahu government alike are ignoring these assessments and pressing on with the talks, mindful of the end-of-April deadline set for reaching the finishing line.
This gap between reality and wishful thinking provides fertile ground for groundless speculation, such as the conjecture which drags the long-serving Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard into the equation in the form of a rumor that Washington may consider releasing him as a reward for Israel’s consent to release certain convicted Palestinian terrorists, including Israeli Arab citizens.
Another such rumor is that the US will put before the parties next month a final plan for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
According to debkafile’s Washington sources, Kerry refuses to be discouraged by Abbas’s evasions and has indeed drafted a non-binding five-page working paper, which is not a plan. He will put it before Netnayahu and Abbas early next month without asking for any commitments for or against the outline.
Both will be invited to record their reservations and comments. This will supply the fodder for extending the negotiations for several more months after the first six-month period expires.
Sitting on Netanyahu’s desk too, according to our sources, is a confidential report on the Obama administration’s plans for personal retribution for the offensive he pursued against the signing of an accord to provide Iran with legitimacy for its nuclear program. Washington plans to get back at the Israeli prime minister by pinning on him – not Abbas - the blame for the inevitable impasse in the talks with the Palestinians. He will be depicted as a political failure who heads a dysfunctional government and a serial denier of peace. This smear campaign will be conducted internationally and in Israel, by rallying Israel’s foes abroad and Netanyahu’s political enemies at home.
debkafile has heard from a high-placed source in Jeruslem that these plans are viewed in Jerusalem as “highly problematical.” They see Israeli and American media and other personalities recruited for a personal, political vendetta against the prime minister at a level well outside acceptable bounds - even when governments disagree. Netanyahu is well aware that the Palestinian question is not the issue. He knows he is facing the music – politically and personally - from the Obama administration for his effort to sway the US Congress against the policy of US rapprochement with a regime in Tehran which is dedicated to Israel’s extinction. Administration sources explain that Netanyahu will be receiving a dose of his own medicine and this is legitimate. So, as John Kerry prepares to pay his 12th or 13th visit to Israel and Ramallah, Netanyahu faces three dilemmas:
1. Iran keeps on bragging that the Geneva accord brought its nuclear program and right to enrich uranium nternational acceptance, while at the same time flouting its provisions right and left. Cutting-edge centrifuges have been installed for speeding the enrichment of uranium close to weapons-grade, and the construction of the heavy water reactor in Arak continues apace. The Iranians are capitalizing on the failure of the Geneva conference to set a date for the onset of the interim six-month period for further negotiations, and using the time to further their military nuclear projects. The Geneva accord was designed to disqualify the military option for ending Iran’s chase after nuclear weapons. So what happens now? 2. The level of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis is expected by all intelligence branches to escalate. However, the Israeli government and military are tied hand and foot by the formality of ongoing US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians. Although they know exactly who is pulling the wires behind the current violence, the Israeli military can’t strike at its heart. And so Israeli officials and military spokesmen are resorting to euphemist depictions, such as “popular, disorganized violence, to avoid action.
3. The US campaign of deprecation against the Israeli government and its head has begun. How to deal with it?