June 26/2013

Bible Quotation for today/Servants of the New Covenant
02 Corinthians03/14/18: "Does this sound as if we were again boasting about ourselves? Could it be that, like some other people, we need letters of recommendation to you or from you?  You yourselves are the letter we have, written on our hearts for everyone to know and read.  It is clear that Christ himself wrote this letter and sent it by us. It is written, not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, and not on stone tablets but on human hearts.  We say this because we have confidence in God through Christ.  There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work. The capacity we have comes from God;  it is he who made us capable of serving the new covenant, which consists not of a written law but of the Spirit. The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life. The Law was carved in letters on stone tablets, and God's glory appeared when it was given. Even though the brightness on Moses' face was fading, it was so strong that the people of Israel could not keep their eyes fixed on him. If the Law, which brings death when it is in force, came with such glory,  how much greater is the glory that belongs to the activity of the Spirit!  The system which brings condemnation was glorious; how much more glorious is the activity which brings salvation!  We may say that because of the far brighter glory now the glory that was so bright in the past is gone.  For if there was glory in that which lasted for a while, how much more glory is there in that which lasts forever! Because we have this hope, we are very bold.  We are not like Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the people of Israel would not see the brightness fade and disappear.  Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ.  Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds.  But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.” Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom.  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory."

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources 

The rise and fall of Sheikh Ahmad Assir/By Niamh Fleming-Farrell/The Daily Star/June 26/13
Iranian Terrorism Under 'Moderate' Presidents/Matthew Levitt/Washington Institute/June 26/13
Syria and the secret decisions/By: Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Alawsat/June 26/13

A new chance for Syria/By: Abdullah Al-Otaibi/Asharq Alawsat/June 26/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 26/13
Iran secretly building in Port Sudan military supply base for Syria, Hizballah
Mission accomplished, Assir on the run
Saudi says "cannot be silent" at Iran, Hezbollah role in Syria
U.S. Reminds Citizens of Travel Warning to Lebanon over Security Fears
U.N. Says Syria Conflict Makes 'Impact' on Lebanon
Presidency: Calls for Jihad against Army are Useless
Qahwaji Inspects Army Units in Sidon as Manhunt Launched for Asir
Aoun Says Extending Qahwaji's Term Not Price for Army Sacrifices: Sidon Clashes Result of Mustaqbal Neglect

Bahia Hariri: We Don't Want the Resistance Brigades in Sidon
Mustaqbal Says Unacceptable to Overlook Hizbullah 'Armed Activities' in Sidon
Former PM, Saad Hariri: We Will Remain with Army, Every Outlaw Must be Dealt with in Same Manner
Army Intelligence Tasked with Interrogating Sidon Fighting Suspects
March 14 Demands Formation of New Govt. that Respects Baabda Declaration
Army Contains Fierce Clashes between Families in al-Laylaki
Britain Expresses its Concern over Sidon Clashes
Army Command Denies Reports on Qahwaji's Resignation over Sidon Clashes
Saniora from Sidon: Law Should Be Imposed on All Sides without Discrimination

Charbel: Arrest Warrants Will Be Issued against All Who Made Statements of Incitement against Army
Nail Bomb Blast on Masnaa Main Road
Fadel Shaker: Crooner Turned Fugitive Militant
Lebanese Army halts southern Beirut clashes
Lebanese Army raids homes in hunt for Assir supporters
Eight arrested over Egypt Shiite killings

Brahimi: Doubtful Syria Peace Conference Will Happen in July
Syria Battles Rage in Damascus, Aleppo, Says NGO
U.N.: Kerry, Lavrov to Meet on Syria Next Week
Saudis Press Kerry for Hard Line on Syria
Wounded Syrians Taken into Israel for Medical Care
Taliban Attack Afghan Presidential Palace, CIA Office
Qatar Emir Abdicates in Favor of Son, Praises People's Loyalty


The rise and fall of Sheikh Ahmad Assir
June 25, 2013/By Niamh Fleming-Farrell
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Two years ago, the name Sheikh Ahmad Assir would likely have meant little to most Lebanese. A year ago, he’d have been recognizable, his beard and his antics – from bike riding to popular dance performances – providing an amusing backdrop to an increasingly firebrand rhetoric which attracted young Sunni extremists into his fold. Today, as he purportedly holes up in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, Assir is almost universally condemned in Lebanon as the man who in less than 24 hours brought war to Sidon. Born 45 years ago to a Sunni father and Shiite mother, Assir became a full-time preacher in the southern port city of Sidon in 1989.
Preaching from the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque, which today is more commonly referred to as Assir’s mosque, the Salafist sheikh’s fiery sermons pronouncing his support for the Syrian uprising and condemning Hezbollah’s arms and Iran’s influence in Lebanon increasingly drew national attention.
Some analysts claim the sheikh’s sudden popular ascent was partially a result of a Sunni leadership vacuum created when former Prime Minister Saad Hariri departed the country after he lost the premiership in 2011.
In March 2012, Assir’s address to an anti-Assad rally in Downtown Beirut was preceded by a performance by singer Fadel Shaker – who later retired his vocal cords to follow the religious teachings of the sheikh. On Monday, the once notorious figure on the glitzy Beirut celebrity scene was among those on a wanted list of Assir’s followers.
Shaker was not the first singer Assir drew to his Salafist path; the sheikh reportedly also convinced his father, who was a folk singer, to quit his profession and become more religious.
Along with rallies to support the Syrian revolution, Assir also led a month-long protest last summer in opposition to Hezbollah’s arms. The sit-in blocked Sidon’s coastal highway and scuffles between Assir’s group and its opponents were regular occurrences.
Although Assir told the media he had no appetite for fame, his antics frequently made headlines. He was photographed enjoying ice cream, borrowing children’s bicycles, taking a seaside dip and catching bouquets. A mid-winter skiing excursion to Faraya with dozens of his followers prompted a standoff with Christian locals and a media field day as the sheikh frolicked in the snow.
In his earlier interviews, Assir reportedly emphasized his opposition to armed sectarian violence, but by late August 2012 the sheikh’s discourse had become more militant.
Railing against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Assir said: “We announce to the prime minister and all Lebanese that we will resort to one escalation after the other until the last moment of our lives and until [all] arms come under the jurisdiction of the state.”
By November reports abounded that Assir was forming a military wing after two of his bodyguards were killed in a shootout with Hezbollah and he called on his followers to take up weapons against the party. Since then he has been increasingly caught on camera armed with weapons he previously preached should only be wielded by the state.
In a YouTube video posted Sunday, Assir vocalized his opposition to the Lebanese Army. “To all our partisans, we are being attacked by the Army, which is Iranian and Shiite ... I call on all partisans to block roads and all honorable Sunni and non-Sunni [soldiers] to quit the Army,” Assir said. Assir is the eldest of five children. He has been religious since childhood and reportedly capable of memorizing and reciting the Quran since age 7. The young Assir went on to study Shariah at the University of Shariah run by Dar al-Fatwa in Beirut.
Assir has two wives, both of whom wear the full-face veil.
Assir’s sister Nohad told AFP he once supported Hezbollah’s fight against Israel, “but he left when he saw the truth” about the Shiite movement.

Mission accomplished, Assir on the run
June 25, 2013/By Mohammed Zaatari, Thomas El Basha
The Daily Star/ABRA, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army is set to pursue firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir, who fled before commandos seized Monday a complex he controls, security sources said. The soldiers took control of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and the surrounding compound in the Sidon suburb of Abra shortly after Assir fled the premises to an unknown destination, security sources said. Some media reports said he fled to the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh. Addressing the Army, commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said the military saved Lebanon from strife. “You have accomplished a difficult and delicate mission and you have triumphed with your heads held high because you saved your country from strife,” he said in a statement.
At 5 p.m. Monday, the Lebanese Army solidified its control of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and continued to sweep the surrounding area. Fighting erupted Sunday after armed supporters of Assir attacked a military checkpoint near the Abra complex, killing three soldiers and wounding several others. At least 17 soldiers and over 40 gunmen were killed in ensuing clashes that raged for 25 hours between the military and Assir’s fighters. Sources also reported two civilian casualties.
Nearly 100 Army personnel, 60 Assir supporters and over 50 civilians were wounded in the fighting. Kahwagi highlighted that the Army was a “unified entity” that did not assault “a particular sect or a place of worship or a religious figure.” “The Army does not take sides or belong to a particular sect,” he said.
In line with arrest warrants issued by Lebanon’s military prosecutor against Assir and 123 of his followers, Army intelligence and other security agencies were exerting all efforts to track down Assir, security sources told The Daily Star. The warrants included the names of Assir’s brother, and former singer Fadl Shaker, who gave up his singing career to follow the controversial sheikh, the source added. A video widely circulated on the Internet showed Shaker boasting that he had killed two soldiers.
In his statement, Kahwagi said the military would not “keep silent” in the face of any attacks against it and urged the Lebanese to stand united behind the Army in a bid to prevent attempts to turn Lebanese regions into armed zones of lawlessness. “We’re still open to dialogue initiatives that aim to solve security problems wherever they may occur and absorb attempts by some to sow strife,” he added. The state-run National News Agency reported that one of those killed in the fighting was Abu Abd Shmandar, Shaker’s brother.
One security source said Assir fled the complex at around 10 a.m., shortly before the Army stormed the premises, which the military gradually gained control over throughout the day. Sixty-five gunmen, including several non-Lebanese nationals, either surrendered or were captured by Army units during the raid on the complex, the sources said. The raid on the compound at noon came after an attempt by a group of Salafi preachers to mediate a truce reached a dead end, with the Army determined to continue its operations until Assir was captured and his followers crushed, the sources said.
The Army allowed ambulances to transport the corpses of Assir fighters to local hospitals. According to sources, four Hezbollah fighters were killed and transported to Al-Rai Hospital in Sidon, while 15 were wounded and moved into one of Sidon’s hospitals. Others occupied some apartments in Abra, Assir’s stronghold.
The sources said Hezbollah’s participation in the battle “was clear from day one,” as dozens of party cadres spread through the hills overlooking Abra, with some stationed near the Hariri family home in Majdalyoun.Masked men loyal to Assir and Hezbollah chased each other through the night, occasionally firing RPGs that struck civilian cars parked in the neighborhoods, the sources said.
Hundreds of residents in Abra were forced to spend the night holed up in a safe corner of their homes, in stairwells or inside shops. The Army accused some of the gunmen of using places of worship for protection and civilians as “human shields” and urged them to give themselves up.
A meeting of senior officials headed by President Michel Sleiman Monday backed Army efforts to restore security in Sidon and prevent the spread of paramilitary groups.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Tuesday would be a national day of mourning, during which all business would stop for one hour between noon and 1 p.m. Security sources said one of the two civilian fatalities occurred in the Taamir area near Ain al-Hilweh, where militants attacked Army positions early Monday in an attempt to relieve the pressure on Abra. Two soldiers were also wounded in that area.
A truce was secured in Taamir at around 1:30 p.m, after fighting that lasted through the night, robbing residents of their sleep. Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, contacted Speaker Nabih Berri and stressed the need to keep the Palestinian refugee camps neutral amid the events in Sidon, Berri’s office told The Daily Star.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told President Michel Sleiman in a telephone call that the refugee groups would not get involved in local issues, saying the Palestinian Authority supports “the steps taken by the Lebanese state to prevent strife and maintain security and stability.” The fighting, which the Army said was reminiscent of events preceding Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, highlighted the increasing impact of the conflict in Syria on its small neighbor. Tensions have spiked in parts of the country, particularly the northern city of Tripoli, as a result of the clashes in Sidon. There was an armed presence in Tripoli Monday afternoon, with a number of gunmen opening fire in several neighborhoods and the Downtown district. Dozens of demonstrators also gathered at Al-Nour Square, raising black flags and shouting slogans in support of the radical sheikh. In Beirut, Assir supporters burned tires in the neighborhood of Shatila.

Saudi says "cannot be silent" at Iran, Hezbollah role in Syria

June 25, 2013/Daily Star /JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia regards the involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria's civil war as dangerous and believes the rebels must be offered military aid to defend themselves, the kingdom's foreign minister said on Tuesday. Speaking at a news conference with U.S. Secretary John Kerry in Jeddah, Prince Saud al-Faisal added that Saudi Arabia "cannot be silent" about Iranian intervention and called for a resolution to ban arms flows to the Syrian government. "The kingdom calls for issuing an unequivocal international resolution to halt the provision of arms to the Syrian regime and states the illegitimacy of the regime," Prince Saud said. Kerry has returned to the Middle East after a two-day visit to India, and will continue efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition and revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. In Jeddah, Kerry is holding discussions with Prince Saud and Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who coordinates the kingdom's efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The discussions include Washington's plans for providing direct military support to General Salim Idriss of the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of Syria's main civilian opposition group.
Prince Saud said the world's top oil exporter "cannot be silent" at the intervention of Iran and Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict and renewed calls to arm the opposition and bar weapons sales to President Bashar al-Assad.
"The most dangerous development is the foreign participation, represented by Hezbollah and other militias supported by the forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard," said. "There is no logic that allows Russia to publicly arm the Syrian regime and the foreign forces that support it," he added. U.S President Barack Obama has said he will arm the rebels but has not disclosed what type of assistance he will provide. Kerry is trying to ensure that the aid to the rebels is properly coordinated among the allies, in part out of concern that weapons could end up in the hands of extremist groups. A meeting between Kerry and European and Arab counterparts in Doha last week agreed to increase support for Syria's rebels although there was no consensus among the foreign ministers over providing arms, with Germany and Italy strongly opposed to the move. More than 93,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which began as a popular protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad but has descended into a civil war with sectarian overtones.
Nearly 1.7 million refugees have fled into neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, where clashes between armed groups supporting opposing sides in Syria have fuelled fears of a lapse back into sectarian civil war.
Saudi Arabia has become more actively involved in the Syrian crisis in recent months, expanding the flow of weapons to the rebels to include anti-aircraft missiles.

U.S. Reminds Citizens of Travel Warning to Lebanon over Security Fears
Naharnet/The U.S. Department of State reiterated on Tuesday to its citizens the travel warning advisory to Lebanon over safety and security concerns. “In light of recent escalating sectarian clashes within Lebanon and spillover violence from Syria... We urge all U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of safety and security concerns,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. The Embassy said that U.S. citizens currently in Lebanon “should understand that they accept the risks,” noting that it has a “limited ability to reach all areas in the country.” “The Embassy cannot guarantee that its employees will be able to render assistance to U.S. citizens in all areas of the country... They will be responsible for arranging their own travel out of Lebanon,” the statement stated. It warned the U.S. citizens that they “should be aware that the embassy doesn't offer protection services to individuals who feel unsafe.”In April, the Department of State issued the first travel warning over the potential spontaneous upsurge in violence as the Lebanese government is not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country if violence erupts. The Embassy urged the U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lebanon to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir engaged in a two-day battle with the Lebanese army on Sunday, killing sixteen troops, among them two officers.
Virtually unknown until two years ago, Asir has capitalized on Sunni resentment against the Hizbullah's intervention alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces against the mainly Sunni rebels. According to the army, the clashes erupted after Asir supporters attacked a checkpoint "for no reason".

Presidency: Calls for Jihad against Army are Useless

Naharnet /The presidency hailed on Tuesday the efforts of the Lebanese army in containing the clashes in the southern city of Sidon.It said in a statement: “The calls for the soldiers to defect and others to wage jihad against the army will not yield their desired results.”The army was granted political cover as soon as the clashes broke out, it added. “President Michel Suleiman had called on soldiers to ignore political disputes that are taking place for political gain at the expense of the officers' lives,” it continued. “The army has soldiers that are willing to make sacrifices regardless of how great they may be,” stressed the presidency statement. “Lebanon is strong because it enjoys a brave military leadership that commits to political decisions,” it said. Suleiman offered his condolences to the families of the victims of the Sidon clashes, expressing his support to Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji. At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in two days of clashes with the armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon.More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.


Qahwaji Inspects Army Units in Sidon as Manhunt Launched for Asir
Naharnet/Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji inspected on Tuesday military units in the southern city of Sidon as security forces launched a major manhunt for radical Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.
In the coastal city meanwhile, the army worked to consolidate its control, after troops overran Asir's headquarters on Monday afternoon. Soldiers evacuated civilians trapped in their homes since the fighting with Asir's supporters began on Sunday afternoon, and detonated explosives abandoned by Asir's supporters as they fled on Monday. The 24 hours of clashes were the worst to hit Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict in neighboring Syria, which has inflamed sectarian tensions in the country, sparking sporadic fighting. A day of mourning was announced for the 17 soldiers killed in the fighting, and the government held a moment of silence. Qahwaji left Sidon without making any statement. The streets around Asir's complex were packed with people who came to inspect their homes and shops, many of which were damaged during the fighting. Lebanese commandos patrolled streets littered with burnt-out cars and others riddled with bullets. Speculation was rife as to the whereabouts of Asir, the radical cleric known for his opposition to Hizbullah, and his antagonism to the army.
A day earlier, the Lebanese judiciary issued a detention order for Asir and 123 of his followers, and on Tuesday, Lebanon's military and security bodies were all mobilized to search for him, a security source said.
"There are several hypotheses on his whereabouts," the source told Agence France Presse. "Some say he is disguised as a woman and that he has traveled to Tripoli (in northern Lebanon). Others say he may have fled to Syria." "It is also possible he is hiding in (the southern Palestinian refugee camp of) Ain el-Hilweh," he added, referring to a Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon. A military source said the army had arrested "dozens of people suspected of loyalty" to Asir as they captured his headquarters on Monday night.Journalists who toured the complex, which includes a mosque, several office building and apartment blocks, saw abandoned weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, as well as fatigues. The complex in Abra, on the eastern outskirts of Sidon, is a residential area and dozens of civilians were trapped by the fighting, which left several apartments in the area burned out. The violence began on Sunday evening, when Asir's supporters opened fire on an army checkpoint, reportedly after a car carrying his backers was stopped.
The clashes quickly spread, with his supporters and the army exchanging gun and mortar fire, terrifying local residents. The fighting was condemned by figures across Lebanon's political spectrum, including Sunni leaders who distanced themselves from Asir. The controversial cleric was virtually unknown until the beginning of the Syrian conflict, but gained prominence for his criticism of Hizbullah and its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He slammed the group for sending fighters to Syria to battle the Sunni-led uprising alongside regime troops, and encouraged his own followers to join rebel forces there.
The conflict has exacerbated sectarian tensions in Lebanon, particularly between Shiites who back the Syrian regime, and Sunnis who favor the uprising.
Asir has also called for Hizbullah to be disarmed, a popular cause with many Lebanese who resent the group's power, and criticized the army which he claims turns a blind eye to the group's armory.
Last week, his supporters clashed with Hizbullah backers in the Abra neighborhood, in fighting that left one civilian dead. Sunni leaders on Monday urged the army to work "fairly and thoroughly" to disarm all groups in Lebanon." The law "needs to apply to all Lebanese equally. The state's institutions are responsible for all Lebanese... without distinction," they said.
Source/Agence France PresseNaharnet

Former PM, Saad Hariri: We Will Remain with Army, Every Outlaw Must be Dealt with in Same Manner

Naharnet/Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday stressed that al-Mustaqbal movement “will remain with the army,” saying the military institution did the right thing by confronting Islamist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.
“The army offered major sacrifices and we must all embrace it,” Hariri said in an interview on Future TV. “We in the al-Mustaqbal movement will remain with the army, no matter what they are saying and no matter how much they try and our project will remain the state,” he stressed. “Let no one try to remove us from this path and we will remain firm and steadfast in this direction,” he went on to say. Hariri revealed that he has been communicating with Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji “amid this difficult situation” and saluted President Michel Suleiman “who followed up continuously on matters,” noting that “his sovereign stances protect Lebanon and the Lebanese.” “The main problem in Lebanon is the proliferation of weapons in the hands of armed groups and this problem will lead to confrontations in the country,” Hariri pointed out. “We will continue to say that arms are the main problem in the country,” he added. Addressing protesters who took to the streets in solidarity with al-Asir, Hariri said: “Some people are seeking problems and when they block the roads they are blocking their own roads and this is not a solution.” “The solution is not in forming groups such as Asir's group to confront the state,” he stressed. “Perhaps the method (of dealing with al-Asir) was harsh but anything against the state must be dealt with in the same manner and no one is bigger than his country, and if anyone believes the opposite, a day will come and they will ask the state for help and protection,” Hariri noted. “Today, the army made major sacrifices and it's about time we extended the the mandate of the army commander and to do something for the army instead of only praising it,” he said. He called on Sidon's residents to be “patient,” hoping the southern city will restore its position.
Sixteen troops were killed and more than 50 wounded in clashes between the army and gunmen loyal to Islamist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir on Sunday and Monday.
A source close to Asir said at least five of his supporters had also been killed. On Monday afternoon, the army stormed Asir's security zone in the Sidon suburb of Abra and arrested a number of gunmen as the Islamist cleric fled to an unknown destination. Abra's clashes erupted when al-Asir's supporters surrounded an army checkpoint in the area, where a vehicle transporting other supporters of the cleric had been stopped. After the armed men attacked the troops with gunfire, the army fired back. Abra is home to a mosque where Asir used to lead the main weekly prayers on Fridays. The sheikh had claimed that Hizbullah uses apartments in Abra to keep him under surveillance. He also said the Lebanese army has provided cover to Hizbullah, whose members are fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops against rebels.

Aoun Says Extending Qahwaji's Term Not Price for Army Sacrifices: Sidon Clashes Result of Mustaqbal Neglect
Naharnet /Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun stressed on Tuesday that extending the term of the Army Commander must not be the price for the troops' sacrifice in the clashes of the southern city of Sidon.
"The army's sacrifice must not be a price for extending Army Commander Gen. Jean Qahwaji's term especially that we are against extension in general,” Aoun said after the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc, in response to former premier Saad Hariri's suggestion. He added: “We do not want to manipulate the military institution's law.”“Hariri must ease the cabinet's formation first then we will see who will lead the army.”Aoun continued: “We are the ones who should give our opinion regarding the army's chief as per the appointments' traditions and because we are the representatives of Christians in the cabinet.”At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in the clashes with the armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon in the past two days. More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.The FPM leader held politicians, al-Mustaqbal Movement and “unqualified members” in the army's intelligence responsible for Sidon's clashes. “Those afraid of a confrontation to avoid sedition will eventually get into a clash because the power of the attacker will increase.”“There is an obvious laziness in dealing with the security of the state and if the Asir phenomenon was dealt with earlier, it would have ended peacefully,” Aoun stated, noting that Sidon's incident is linked to other “countries and to locals who financed financed it.”“Politicians and al-Mustaqbal Movement's neglect have lead to this situation, just like what happened in (the northern city of) Akkar.” He called for probing “those responsible for the clashes.” “We want a high-level judicial investigation with the arrested and the suspects,” he said. “We fully condemn the attackers and they must be tried and jailed according to judicial laws.”Aoun explained that there was is a “programmed ambush in the Security Zone” in (the Sidon neighborhood of) Abra that is filled with shells and traps.
He stressed: “The killing of army troops was intentional.”“If I were an investigative judge, I would have summoned the Interior Minister and asked him whose powers are larger than the state's.”
Aoun hailed the army's achievement in Sidon's clashes: “After all what happened, there is a positive thing that came out of the incidence which is the high spirit of the army. The battle was important in the spirit that the army gained.”“The army's fight will prevent many from dealing with the military institution,” he pointed out. Aoun pointed out that there are calls for “Sunnis to defect from the army”. “But we thank the wise men who understood the depth of this case and instead, encouraged the army's stance and defended the military institution.” The Christian leader denied accusing President Michel Suleiman of being a traitor following his note to the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council on Syria's attacks on Lebanese territories. “We could say he was mistaken, but not a traitor,” Aoun explained.

Bahia Hariri: We Don't Want the Resistance Brigades in Sidon
Naharnet/Sidon MP Bahia Hariri on Tuesday said the southern port city rejects “the presence of the Resistance Brigades” -- a group affiliated with Hizbullah. "We do not want the presence of the Resistance Brigades in Sidon, period,” Hariri stressed in various interviews reported by the state-run National News Agency. She explained: “We are not against anyone and Hizbullah's weapons are debatable on the national level, but the Resistance Brigades has no place in the city.”"We all resist Israel but we will not allow demarcation lines between the people.”The al-Mustaqbal MP said Sidon is open to people of all religious factions: “The city welcomes Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Palestinians and Syrians. This is the view of the people I represent and I know it is the opinion of everyone who has affections towards Sidon.”Hariri described the latest clashes in the city as a “dangerous thing.”"If we do not know how to deal with people, things will go back to being scattered,” she warned. “We quickly want a security plan that reassures people. We want the army to be at a single distance from everyone.” Hariri continued: “We want to be protected by the state and the army to take control of our security. We do not want any other kind of security.” "I will strive to make this happen this through my official post.”At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in the clashes with the armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon in the past two days. More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official.
Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.

Lebanese Army halts southern Beirut clashes

June 25, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: An Army force intervened Tuesday to halt three days of clashes between members of two rival clans in Beirut’s southern suburbs, security sources said.Troops, backed by military vehicles, fanned out in the Lailaki neighborhood which has been the scene of fighting since Sunday between members of the Zeaiter clan and the Hajoula clan that terrorized residents in the densely-populated area. Troops sealed off the area and began chasing the gunmen. No casualties were reported in these clashes during which the two sides traded machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the sources said. According to the sources, the fighting was triggered by a personal dispute between the Zeaiter and Hajoula families over a car parking lot and illegal drug deals. Also, the fighting had its roots in an old vendetta. The Army move came after residents in Lailaki appealed to the military and security forces to intervene to evacuate them after fierce clashes renewed Tuesday. Residents also appealed to civil defense personnel to intervene to put out a fire raging in one of the buildings.

Lebanese Army raids homes in hunt for Assir supporters

June 25, 2013/By Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star/ABRA, Lebanon: Lebanese troops raided apartments Tuesday searching for militants loyal to Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir in and around Sidon, south Lebanon, as life began to return to normal after two days of fierce gunbattles between the military and Assir fighters. During the raids a grenade was tossed at a Lebanese Army patrol vehicle followed by gunfire. There were no reports of casualties. By midday, the Army's hunt expanded to cover Sidon's old quarter. No arrests have been made so far, but the Army confiscated weapons found during the raids. Assir’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from Assir's complex as the Army destroyed unexploded ordnance from the fighting. Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, during a tour of the beleaguered suburb of Arba Tuesday, said there is zero-tolerance for the presence of gunmen. “From today on armed presence is not acceptable,” Charbel told reporters outside the destroyed complex that served as Assir’s headquarters before the Army seized it Monday. A security source said troops would not retrieve bodies of some dead fighters because they were lying face-down, possibly indicating that the corpses were wired to explode by Assir supporters before they left the scene of the fighting. The same method was used in the 2007 war between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
The Sidon battle broke out Sunday afternoon shortly after loyalists of the militant sheikh attacked a military checkpoint in Abra with rocket-propelled grenades, killing three soldiers. At least 17 soldiers and over 40 gunmen were killed in clashes that raged for hours as the Army moved to take control of Assir's compound in Abra, a suburb of Sidon. Sources also reported two civilian casualties.The wounded included nearly 100 troops, 60 Assir supporters and over 50 civilians. State Prosecutor Saqr Saqr asked the Lebanese Army to begin an investigation into the deadly Sidon incident. Acting police chief Brig. Gen. Roger Salem also discussed the situation in Abra with police officers at the Sidon Serail. A security source told The Daily Star that police agreed to increase patrols across Sidon and into Abra in support of the Lebanese Army’s efforts to restore security and stability.

Qatar Emir Abdicates in Favor of Son, Praises People's Loyalty
Naharnet /Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani abdicated in favor of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim, on Tuesday, in a first for the Arab world.
"I announce handing the rule over to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani," the 61-year-old emir said in a televised speech, adding the decision opened the way for a "young leadership.”“I am sure you will support him as you have done to me,” he said. “A new generation should now come to power for having innovative ideas,” he said. Sheikh Hamad thanked all his advisers and the armed forces, and praised “the loyalty of the people.”
Sheikh Hamad, who used Qatar's immense gas wealth to drive its modernization and transform it into a major player in world diplomacy, came to power in a coup in which he overthrew his own father Sheikh Khalifa in June 1995.The 61-year-old emir is the first ruler to voluntarily cede power in the Arab world, where autocratic rulers held power uncontested for decades until the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Tamim, born in 1980, is the second son of the emir and his second wife Sheikha Mozah and has been groomed for years to take the helm of the super-rich Western ally.
The British-educated Tamim is deputy commander of the armed forces and head of the National Olympic Committee. He also chairs the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee in charge of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Diplomats said that over the past three years the emir has increasingly transferred military and security responsibilities to Tamim, who like his father went to the British military academy Sandhurst.
Source/Agence France Presse

Army Command Denies Reports on Qahwaji's Resignation over Sidon Clashes
Naharnet /The Army Command denied on Tuesday media reports that its commander General Jean Qahwaji had submitted his resignation over the clashes in the southern city of Sidon. It denied that Qahwaji would have handed President Michel Suleiman the resignation if the army was prevented from storming the security zone under the control of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir's armed supporters in Sidon. The Army Command said: “The president has voiced his complete trust in the military institution and its leadership.”“He voiced his complete support for all the security measures that the army will take to confront assaults by the gunmen,” it stressed. Earlier on Tuesday, Qahwaji visited the scenes of the clashes that took place between the army and al-Asir's supporters in Sidon, hailing the army for its sacrifices and commitment to serve the country. He also called on the soldiers to maintain the security measures aimed at protecting the people and restoring stability in the city. Qahwaji also offered his condolences to the families of the victims of the two-day clashes. At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in clashes with the armed supporters of al-Asir in Sidon. More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.

Saniora from Sidon: Law Should Be Imposed on All Sides without Discrimination
Naharnet/Head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora slammed on Tuesday the clashes that took place in the southern city of Sidon, hailing the army in containing them and restoring peace. He hoped that the “law would be imposed without discrimination.” He made his remarks from the area of Abra in Sidon that witnessed clashes between the army and armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir. The MP hoped that the way the army tackled the situation in Sidon would be applied to all security zones in Lebanon. He made his remark in an indirect reference to Hizbullah. Moreover, Saniora demanded that the case of Sidon apartments occupied by gunmen be resolved. The phenomenon of security zones should be eliminated in all other regions in Lebanon, he explained. “We expect the army to deal with all sides equally,” he said. Asked by reporters about the smuggling of arms in the city, Saniora replied: “This issue should be addressed by the security agencies, not lawmakers.”At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in clashes with the armed supporters of al-Asir in Sidon.
More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric. Clashes had broken out between al-Asir's supporters and members of the Resistance Brigades that are affiliated with Hizbullah a few days before the Sidon unrest erupted. Al-Asir had made a call at the time that the apartments allegedly occupied by the Hizbullah gunmen be evacuated.

Mustaqbal Says Unacceptable to Overlook Hizbullah 'Armed Activities' in Sidon
Naharnet/The Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc on Tuesday stressed that “it is not acceptable anymore to turn a blind eye to the “armed activities of Hizbullah and associates” in Sidon, after the army managed to overrun Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir's security zone following fierce clashes that left 16 troops and at least 20 gunmen dead. “We offer condolences to the Lebanese people and the residents of the city of Sidon and the surrounding areas,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting. “We condemn any attack on the army, for any reason and whichever side it may come from, because the army is the shield of the country and the attack that targeted it is a rejected criminal act that cannot be tolerated,” it added. The army said the clashes erupted after Asir's gunmen attacked one of its checkpoints “for no reason” and “in cold blood.” The bloc called for “pursuing and punishing the perpetrators,” stressing the need to “quickly implement a comprehensive security plan and to put an end to the armed activities of Hizbullah and its associates.”“We call for continuing to impose the law on all violators and in all regions and the army must use one standard and principle in dealing with all parties as the law must not only be imposed on one region without another because balance and justice are the pillars of stability,” it noted. “It is not acceptable anymore to turn a blind eye to the armed activities by Hizbullah and its associates and the city will not remain silent anymore over any attack on the dignity of its residents,” the bloc added. Slain premier “Rafik Hariri's supporters had been and will always be on the side of the state and its institutions and with the army during all bitter experiences, and these supporters have the right to ask the army to endorse one standard, not double standards,” said the bloc. It raised a number of questions concerning alleged armed activities by gunmen loyal to Hizbullah during the clashes. “Who are the armed elements who fired on Rafik Hariri's house in Majdelyoun and why did the Resistance Brigades deploy in Abra. Why did the Brigades publicly erect military checkpoints, why did they ask for IDs and why did they search the cars of civilians? Why did Hizbullah members deploy on the Mar Elias Hill that overlooks Sidon?” said the bloc. “Civil society institutions are awaiting clear answers and the implementation of a comprehensive plan in the city,” it added.

U.N. Says Syria Conflict Makes 'Impact' on Lebanon
Naharnet/The United Nations on Tuesday highlighted the impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon as it called for support for the country's armed forces and other key institutions. U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon and U.N.-Arab League envoy Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi have stressed support for President Michel Suleiman and key state institutions as the 27-month-old Syria war increasingly spills over the border. A battle between the army and followers of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in the southern city of Sidon was "a stern reminder to all of the risks of the conflict in Syria spreading across the border," Brahimi said Tuesday in Geneva. At least 17 troops were killed in the battle and the army has launched a manhunt for al-Assir. Brahimi said at least 50 people were killed in all in the worst clashes in the country since the start of the Syrian war in March 2011. "Lebanon is a country that has a balance of power inside the country and the effects of the Syrian conflict right now obviously are having some kind of an impact there," said deputy U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
In a statement released by his office on Monday, Ban said he "stresses that all in Lebanon should fully respect the authority of the state and its institutions under the leadership of President Suleiman, in particular the Lebanese Armed Forces whose role is essential to protect all Lebanese."Ban is following events in Lebanon with "deep concern," added the statement which condemned the attacks on the army. "The secretary general reminds all concerned in Lebanon of their responsibility to avoid conflict and uphold the principles of mutual respect and coexistence in order to preserve Lebanon's national unity."Suleiman has called on Hizbullah to end its role in the Syria war. Hizbullah has taken the side of President Bashar Assad and played a key role in taking the town of Qusayr.Source/Agence France Presse

Britain Expresses its Concern over Sidon Clashes
Naharnet/Britain expressed on Tuesday its concern over the clashes that took place in the southern city of Sidon over the past two days. Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said that he is very worried with the violence in Sidon and the death of a number of Lebanese soldiers in the unrest. He offered his condolences to the families of the victims, stressing Britain's support for the army and its efforts to maintain peace in Lebanon.
He urged all sides in Lebanon to support the armed forces in the country and commit to the policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict. In addition, Burt called on Lebanese powers to reach an agreement over the formation of a new government that can help successfully help Lebanon overcome the current challenges it is facing. At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in clashes with the armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon. More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official.Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.

Army Intelligence Tasked with Interrogating Sidon Fighting Suspects
Naharnet /State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr tasked the Lebanese army intelligence on Tuesday with investigating the deadly clashes in the southern city of Sidon. Saqr also gave the military intelligence command the right to question suspects whose number, according to the state-run National News Agency, has reached 40.The two-days of clashes took place between the army and followers of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir. The gunbattles that left at least 17 soldiers dead erupted after an army checkpoint arrested one of the cleric's followers. On Monday, Saqr issued search and investigation warrants against al-Asir and 123 others including his brother and singer-turned Salafist Fadel Shaker. The armed men used machineguns and Rocket Propelled Grenades in their assault on the army. Snipers allied with al-Asir also took over rooftops, terrorizing civilians. The army helped many residents to evacuate from the heavily populated neighborhood of Abra around al-Asir's Bilal bin Rabah Mosque. Saqr visited the area on Tuesday similar to other separate visits made by Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji and caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. After soldiers took over the mosque compound where the fighting had been concentrated on Monday, TV footage showed large amounts of arms and ammunition stashed in the basement. Despite the arrest of 40 of his followers, there was no sign of Asir, a 45-year-old who supports the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Few had heard of him until last year, when he began agitating for Hizbullah to disarm.

Charbel: Arrest Warrants Will Be Issued against All Who Made Statements of Incitement against Army
Naharnet /Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel stressed on Tuesday that arrest warrants will be issued against all gunmen involved in the clashes in the southern city of Sidon, vowing that justice will take its course in this issue. Charbel said: “Arrest warrants will be issued against individuals who attacked the army and made statements of incitement against it.” He made his remarks after a sub-security council meeting at the Sidon Serail to tackle the clashes that rocked the city on Sunday and Monday. “The security agencies must preserve the army's accomplishment of restoring peace in Sidon,” he continued. “I hope that all sides, including political leaders, would cooperate in order to maintain the peace,” declared the minister. “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain,” vowed Charbel. In addition, he noted that the army's accomplishment in Sidon has left its mark throughout the areas that witnessed tensions, remarking that calm has been restored in the northern city of Tripoli. He credited the Internal Security Forces and various security agencies for regaining calm in Lebanon. “We hope that this calm will continue and that all sides will derive lessons from the recent clashes,” he stated. He then headed to the Abra area in Sidon where the main battles between the army and Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir took place. He hoped before reporters at Abra that the heated political rhetoric in Lebanon would subside in light of the clashes. At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in two days of clashes with the armed supporters of the cleric in the southern city.More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric. Tensions were high in Beirut and Tripoli over the clashes that took place on Sunday and Monday, but calm has since been restored.

Nail Bomb Blast on Masnaa Main Road
Naharnet/A roadside bomb exploded at dawn Tuesday on the Masnaa main road in the eastern Bekaa valley, without causing casualties, the state-run National News Agency reported. The 150-gram bomb, which contained nails, was planted on the side of the road at al-Akramiyeh junction. The army drew a dragnet around the area and launched an investigation. Earlier this month, a roadside explosion in Taanayel damaged a van that was heading to the Masnaa border crossing on its way to Syria. Reports had said that the van was transporting Hizbullah fighters.

March 14 Demands Formation of New Govt. that Respects Baabda Declaration

Naharnet/The March 14 camp held an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday in order to condemn the two-day clashes that took place in the southern city of Sidon, demanding the formation of a new government. Mustaqbal bloc leader MP Fouad Saniora said: “In light of the clashes, we stress the need to form a new cabinet that adheres to the Baabda Declaration and the memorandum we presented to President Michel Suleiman.”
The meeting was also an occasion to demonstrate the unity of the camp, he added in a brief statement. The meeting, held at the Center House in downtown Beirut, included deputy Speaker Farid Makari, MPs Butros Harb, Robert Ghanem, Georges Adwan, Nohad al-Mashnouq, Dory Shamoun, Marwan Hamadeh, Fouad al-Saad, Nadim Gemayel, Jean Oghassabian, and Antoine Zahra, former MPs Nayla Mouawad and Samir Franjieh, March 14 General Secretariat coordinator Fares Soaid, National Bloc leader Carlos Edde, and Independence Movement leader Michel Mouawad. On June 18, a delegation from the March 14 alliance handed Suleiman a memo that calls for Hizbullah's “immediate” pullout from Syria and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the border with the war-torn country. The memo hinted that the March 14 alliance will not accept the participation of Hizbullah in the new cabinet that Premier-designate Tammam Salam is seeking to form. In June 2012, a national dialogue session approved the Baabda Declaration that demands that Lebanon disassociate itself from regional conflicts.
At least 16 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in two days of clashes with the armed supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon. More than 20 of al-Asir's supporters were killed, according to a security official. Dozens of them were also arrested, but there was no sign of the cleric.

Army Contains Fierce Clashes between Families in al-Laylaki
Naharnet/Heavy clashes renewed on Tuesday afternoon between two families in Beirut's southern suburbs, but the army intervened and managed to contain the fighting. “Clashes fiercely renewed between the families of Zoaiter and Hjoula in the Beirut southern suburb of al-Laylaki,” state-run National News Agency reported earlier. “Residents urged the army and security forces to intervene and rescue them due to the intensity of gunfire,” it said.
Media reports said machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) were used in the gunbattle. In an interview with LBCI television, one of the residents said: “People were wounded and our houses are burning and we urge the army commander to send a force to the area, which is a Lebanese region that no one is caring about.” The Lebanese Red Cross, however, announced that no one was killed or wounded after its medics scoured the area in the wake of the clashes. The fighting sparked fear among the citizens as dozens of them made appeals to security forces, the TV network said. “Army units have encircled the al-Laylaki region and started pursuing the shooters,” it added. LBCI explained that the fighting had “nothing to do with politics, as it erupted over living issues and disputes over buildings and money.”“The army arrested two people in al-Laylaki neighborhood and some residents fled the area,” LBCI reported later. Clashes between the two families first erupted on Sunday and renewed on Monday.

Fadel Shaker: Crooner Turned Fugitive Militant
Naharnet /Once adored by women for his warm voice and good looks, crooner Fadel Shaker followed an unlikely path to become an Islamist militant now on the run with fellow fugitive Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir. The pair are now being sought in a nationwide manhunt after clashes between Asir and his Salafist supporters and the military in the southern city of Sidon that left 17 soldiers dead. Though he grew to become one of the Arab world's most famous singers, Shaker suffered through a miserable childhood of poverty, which a onetime musician friend says helped lead him down a dark path later in life. Now in his mid-forties, Shaker was born to a Palestinian mother and Lebanese father in the country's biggest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain al-Helweh. Born Fadel Shmandur, he began his career as a popular wedding singer who performed from the rooftops of the camp, an over-crowded and hopeless place. "He has a beautiful voice. Hearing him live was even more beautiful than a recording," a former friend of Shaker's told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.
"But he has always been naive and gullible. The more of a star he became, the further he strayed from the people who really loved him. He constantly ended up in bad company," said the friend, who lost touch with him some years ago. In his prime, Shaker sang love songs that were instant region-wide hits. He released his first album in the late nineties, and continued to perform until 2011.
"He is a very sensitive, extremely reserved person," said Shaker's friend. "When his Palestinian wife left him, he would cry on stage as he sang, thinking of her. He is very emotional." Shaker's immense popularity was boosted by the fact he was also a defender of Palestinian rights, and was granted honorary Palestinian citizenship by President Mahmoud Abbas. Shaker also opened a restaurant in Sidon and pondered swapping his music career for a less hectic life, closer to his three children. "I knew he would leave music one day, but I would never have thought he would join Asir. It's such a shame, he has such talent. I feel sorry for him," his friend told AFP. Shaker's brother had long been a strict Muslim, and he tried for years to convince him to leave music. But it wasn't until after the outbreak of an uprising in Syria against President Bashar Assad that Shaker became convinced that singing is haram, or forbidden in Islam. Shaker soon became the best-known face of Asir's small movement of openly sectarian, Sunni radicals and praised the cleric as "the lion of the Sunnis".
He grew a beard and became a highlight of Asir's rallies, helping attract attention to the phenomenon of Sunni radicalism in the small Mediterranean country.
Performing during a television interview earlier this year, Shaker swapped his love songs for a chant about jihad and death. Sitting by Asir, Shaker smiled and sang as sweetly as ever: "God gave me the gift and invited me to join the jihad... Mother, don't cry for me... Death does not frighten me, and my wish is to become a martyr."His latest media appearance came in an amateur video in which he boasts: "We got rid of two of your swine, of your dogs... God is great." The video went viral, with many alleging Shaker referred to killing army troops. Others said the footage referred to earlier clashes between Asir supporters and pro-Hizbullah fighters. Judicial authorities issued a detention order for Asir and 123 of his supporters, including Shaker, whose brother was killed in weekend clashes with the army in Sidon. "Fadel's story makes me sad, but in a way I am not surprised. He has always been easy to manipulate," his friend told AFP. "These people have used him. Without him, no one would have heard of them."Source/Agence France Presse

Taliban Attack Afghan Presidential Palace, CIA Office
Naharnet/Taliban gunmen and bombers using fake NATO identification attacked an entrance to the Afghan presidential palace in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday, just a week after insurgent leaders opened an office in Qatar for peace talks. A nearby building known to house a CIA base also came under attack as explosions and gunfire erupted for more than an hour in an area close to heavily secured Western embassies and ministry buildings. Three Afghan security guards and all four assailants were killed, officials said. It was one of the most brazen assaults on the city since President Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped assassination in April 2008 when the Taliban attacked an annual military parade. The three guards were killed close to the Ariana hotel building, used as a CIA base since about 2002, but officials said neither the palace nor the CIA property were breached. Two four-wheel-drive cars using fake badges from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) tried to pass through a checkpoint to access the sprawling palace grounds at about 6:30 am (02:00 GMT).
"The first vehicle was checked and let in, and as the second car tried to get in the guards became suspicious and tried to prevent it," Mohammad Daud Amin, the Kabul deputy police chief, told Agence France Presse.
"The clash started and the cars were detonated. All the attackers were killed." Police said the cars had been fitted with radio antennae to make them look like ISAF vehicles and that the four attackers were also wearing military uniforms. The car bombs detonated near the CIA base inside the first of several layers of outer checkpoints, but a government official told AFP that the militants had not entered the palace grounds. The challenge of securing peace in Afghanistan as NATO troops exit next year was underlined when a bomb killed eight women and one child travelling to celebrate a wedding in the southern province of Kandahar. Karzai, who lives in the palace, was due to hold a press event in Kabul on Tuesday morning. Officials confirmed that he was in the building at the time of the attack but not in danger. All roads to the palace are permanently closed off, with multiple rings of heavy security around the complex keeping people far away. "A big group of attackers have struck against the CIA office as the main target and also the palace and the defence ministry nearby," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP. The last major attack in Kabul was on June 11 when the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb outside the Supreme Court that killed at least 15 civilians.
Tuesday's attack came during a visit to Kabul by U.S. envoy James Dobbins after a diplomatic spat over the Taliban's new office in Qatar, whose creation is meant to be a first step towards a peace deal to end 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan. The Qatar office used the formal name of "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan" from the rebels' 1996-2001 government, and flew the white Taliban flag, displaying the trappings of power in a way that infuriated Karzai. The president broke off Afghan-U.S. talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014.
He has refused to send representatives to Qatar, but pressure is growing for a ceasefire and eventually a peace settlement ahead of the NATO withdrawal and a presidential election due in April.
About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them from the U.S., are due to exit by the end of 2014, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces a week ago.
When in power, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic law that banned television, music and cinema, stopped girls from going to school and forced woman to wear the all-covering burqa.
They were ousted in 2001 for sheltering al-Qaida in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but launched a resilient and bloody insurgency against U.S.-led NATO troops and the U.S.-backed Afghan government. Dobbins on Monday said the United States was "waiting to hear" whether the militants were committed to peace talks after opening the Qatar office. "It doesn't seem like an entirely spurious effort on their part but whether they are prepared to participate... we just don't know,' he told reporters. Source/Agence France Presse

Eight arrested over Egypt Shiite killings

June 25, 2013/Daily Star/CAIRO: Security forces have arrested eight people in connection with the brutal killing of four Egyptian Shiites in a village south of Cairo, officials said on Tuesday. "Security efforts have been increased to find the rest of the perpetrators after they fled their homes," a security official told the national MENA news agency. On Sunday, four Egyptian Shiite Muslims were killed when they were attacked by a hostile mob in the village of Abu Mussalem in the Giza province. A house where the minority Shiites were meeting was surrounded by residents who told them to get out. When they refused, a crowd of several hundred people stormed the building and killed four Shiites and injured several others. The attack came after weeks of toxic anti-Shiite rhetoric in the Egyptian media and from Sunni Islamist leaders. The office of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the cabinet both condemned the attack against "Egyptian citizens" without mentioning the term "Shiite", highlighting criticisms by rights groups of the lack of religious freedom in Egypt. Shiites are estimated as a tiny fraction of Egypt's population of 84-million, most of them Sunni Muslim. Shiism is dominant in Iraq and Iran, a regional rival to Egypt, Lebanon and the conservative Gulf monarchies. Sunnis have traditionally opposed Shiism, which teaches that many of the Prophet Mohammed's companions revered by Sunnis were corrupt and usurped power from his rightful successor and cousin, Ali.

Iran secretly building in Port Sudan military supply base for Syria, Hizballah

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 25, 2013/A logistics base for handling tanks, missile systems, self-propelled artillery and other heavy weaponry bound for Syria and Hizballah is secretly under construction in a section of Port Sudan which Omar al Bashir has leased to Tehran, DEBKAfile reports exclusively from its military sources. Iranian Revolutionary Guards engineers in civilian dress are overseeing the hundreds of Sudanese workmen laboring flat out to build Iran’s second Red Sea base after Assab in southern Eritrea. As a safeguard against an Israeli strike, the new Iranian facility abuts directly on Port Sudan's oil exporting installations, through which South Sudan, Israel’s ally, exports its oil, the new republic’s only source of revenue which also pays for its purchases of Israeli arms. To give the military port a civilian aspect and suggest that Iranian warships no longer visit the port, Tehran has switched to commercial cargo vessels and oil tankers for delivering weapons for its Syrian and Hizballah allies through Port Sudan. Still, Western intelligence sources watching the work are certain that the new Iranian facility is a military port in every sense of the word. It is similar to the Russian naval base built at the Syrian port of Tartus, except for being twice as large and capable of accommodating Iran’s largest war ships as well as submarines. Tehran is taking advantage of the strong military and intelligence ties it has developed with Sudan’s ruler Bashir for streamlining the weapons supply route to its embattled allies. The Iranian section of the port has a fence with watchtowers and will soon acquire air defense systems. It is guarded by Revolutionary Guards sentries wearing civilian clothes and Sudanese soldiers. The new facility will enable Iran to transfer larger shipments of heavier weapons than the air corridor used until now to drop military equipment for the Syrian and Hizballah armies. The light and medium hardware will continue to be delivered by air, but the sea route for the heavy stuff will be cut in half by the large weapons depot the Iranians are building at the Sudanese Red Sea port. This will make it possible to ship items to their destination from the Red Sea through Suez and on to the Mediterranean to meet needs arising urgently from war crises in Syria or potential conflicts with Israel. Neither the US, Egypt or Israel has so far interfered with Iranian arms freighters navigating the Suez Canal on their way to Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah. The Israeli Air Force has in the past struck four weapons convoys or targets in the Port Sudan area – two each in 2009 and in 2012.

Iranian Terrorism Under 'Moderate' Presidents

Matthew Levitt/Washington Institute/June 25, 2013
The Islamic Republic's history suggests that the new president-elect will have neither the inclination nor the authority to curb the regime's sponsorship of terrorism.
Hassan Rouhani's victory in Iran's presidential election has been widely heralded as a protest vote against the hardliners and a window of opportunity for diplomatic breakthrough with Western powers. But such assumptions beg the question: just how much moderation should be expected from a "moderate" Iranian president, particularly with regard to state sponsorship of terrorism? Past precedent suggests that expectations should be tempered.
Rouhani is not the first Iranian "moderate" to win the presidency. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, elected in 1989, was frequently described as a moderate as well. According to U.S. intelligence, however, he oversaw a long string of terrorist plots during his eight years in office.
The CIA linked Rafsanjani to terrorist plots as early as 1985, when he was serving as speaker of parliament. In a February 15, 1985, memo, the agency assessed that "Iranian-sponsored terrorism is the greatest threat to US personnel and facilities in the Middle East...Iranian-backed attacks increased by 30 percent in 1984, and the numbers killed in Iranian-sponsored attacks outpace fatalities in strikes by all other terrorist sponsors. Senior Iranian leaders such as Ayatollah Montazeri,...Prime Minister [Mir Hossein Mousavi], and Consultative Assembly speaker Rafsanjani are implicated in Iranian terrorism."
In August 1990, the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence authored a more in-depth assessment titled "Iranian Support for Terrorism: Rafsanjani's Report Card." According to the agency, the regime's sponsorship of terrorist activities had continued unabated since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini the previous June: "Although Rafsanjani has sought to improve relations with some Western nations since directly assuming the presidency last August, events of the past year prove that Tehran continues to view the selective use of terrorism as a legitimate tool." Iranian terrorist attacks targeting "enemies of the regime" over the previous year "were probably approved in advance by President Rafsanjani and other senior leaders," the report assessed, but "the planning and implementation of these operations are...probably managed by other senior officials, most of whom are Rafsanjani's appointees or allies." The CIA concluded that "Rafsanjani and [Supreme Leader] Khamenei would closely monitor and approve planning for an attack against the US or Western interests."
Looking forward, CIA analysts assessed in 1990 that "Rafsanjani and other Iranian leaders will continue selectively using terrorism as a foreign policy tool to intimidate regime opponents, punish enemies of Islam, and influence Western political decisions." Two years later, such assessments appeared prescient. In 1992, the CIA recorded a long list of Iranian terrorist activities, from attacks targeting Israeli, Saudi, and American officials in Turkey, to plots targeting Jewish emigres from the former Soviet Union and antiregime dissidents abroad. Most spectacular, however, were the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires (conducted with help from the regime's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah) and the public assassination of four Iranian dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin that same year.
Germany's highest criminal court would later reject claims that the Mykonos attack was executed by "mavericks," concluding in a 1997 ruling that "the assassination [was] put into action much more through the powers in Iran." By identifying Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader himself as the orchestrators of the plot, the court found that "Iranian powers not only allow terrorist attacks abroad...they themselves set in action such attacks." Whenever the regime encountered political opposition, the court determined, its solution was simply to have the opponents "liquidated."
Iran and Hezbollah soon struck again in Argentina. According to local investigators, a subgroup of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (the Committee for Special Operations) made the final decision to approve the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. That meeting reportedly included Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Also present were Iranian intelligence agents Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Asghari, who had firsthand knowledge of Argentina and advised the committee about target selection, the local logistical and intelligence support networks that could be used to facilitate the attack, and the country's political and security environment at the time.
Seventeen years ago this week, Iranian agents teamed up with Lebanese and Saudi Hezbollah operatives to bomb the Khobar Towers military housing complex in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. The bombing, the largest nonnuclear explosion then on record (it was felt twenty miles away in Bahrain), killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and wounded 372 more, along with numerous Saudi civilians and other nationals.
The Khobar plot took place while Rafsanjani was president and Rouhani was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Following a massive FBI investigation, a U.S. federal court eventually indicted thirteen members of the Iranian-sponsored Saudi Hezbollah and an unidentified Lebanese Hezbollah operative referred to as John Doe.
Intelligence, forensics, and statements by detained suspects all pointed to Iran. According to FBI director Louis Freeh, "The bombers admitted they had been trained by the Iranian external security service (IRGC) in the Beka Valley, and received their passports at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, along with $250,000 cash for the operation from IRGC Gen. Ahmad Sharifi." Freeh would later testify that "the attack was planned, funded and sponsored by senior leadership in the government of the Republic of Iran, that the IRGC principally had the responsibility of putting that plan into operation," and that it was implemented "with the use of the Saudi Hezbollah organization and its members."
In May 1997, Muhammad Khatami was elected as Iran's fifth president after running on a distinctly reformist platform. Supporters of Iranian radicalism, included Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, had strongly supported Khatami's more overtly revolutionary opponent, Ali Akbar Nateq Nuri.
In a December 1997 memo, the CIA asserted that Hezbollah leaders were shocked by Khatami's victory and "scrambled to ensure that his election would not diminish Iran's support" for the group. Their concerns would prove unfounded, however -- when Nasrallah visited Tehran in October 1997, Khatami and other officials pledged their continued support, emphasizing that the regime had not changed its position regarding the group or its operations against Israel. According to the CIA memo, Khatami "probably joins other Iranian leaders who maintain that support to Hezbollah is an essential aspect of Tehran's effort to promote itself as leader of the Muslim world and champion of the oppressed."More important, the CIA assessed that Khatami would have been unable to withdraw Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah even if he had wanted to. As the memo put it, Khatami "probably does not have the authority to make such a change without the approval of Khamenei, who has long been one of the group's foremost supporters."
The fact that the least radical candidate won Iran's latest presidential election has many observers excited about the prospect of more moderate policymaking in Tehran. Yet regardless of how Rouhani's election might affect the nuclear impasse, the Islamic Republic's history indicates that "moderate" or "reformist" presidents do not translate into moderation of Iran's terrorism sponsorship. Even if Rouhani were inclined to curb such policies, there is no evidence that he has the authority to do so without the Supreme Leader's approval, which seems highly unlikely at present.
**Matthew Levitt directs the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.

A new chance for Syria
Abdullah Al-Otaibi/Asharq Alawsat
The White House has at long last announced a significant change in its stance towards the Syrian crisis by announcing that it will provide “military aid” and will “arm the opposition.” The White House also announced its conviction that “the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons” and that “the US will defend its interests in the region” and that it “will try to come to an understanding with its allies in the G8.”
Each of these carefully selected phrases means something important. Discussions within the US administration have moved from a stage of providing arms to one of imposing no-fly zones and even bombarding the airbases and air defenses of the Assad regime. US secretary of state John Kerry seems enthusiastic about such ideas, which, even if rejected by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, clearly shows that the US administration has passed through a long stage of hesitation for good.
As for defending US interests in the region and reaching an understanding with American allies in the G8 and in the region, this step is a notable indication that the US has taken a different tone with Russia, which maintains its stubborn stance.
Despite French foreign minister Laurent Fabius’s reserved attitude towards arming the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), “French diplomatic sources said there is a [political decision] that the demands made last week by the FSA’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Selim Idris, to acquire sophisticated weapons for the opposition must all be met,” reported Asharq al-Awsat last Friday
This American–French–British maneuver has already been to be put into action, as manifested by a statement from Major General Idris that the Syrian opposition troops have already acquired “sophisticated arms” that should “change the situation on the ground.”
So, now we are face–to–face with a significant change in the Syrian crisis. The question to be raised here is: Why did the American stance change? Was Russia wrong in its reading of the American policy? Has Russia gone to extremes before the US could adopt its stance? What were the developments in Syrian that prompted the US to change its stance?
These all are questions that need to be answered and analyzed. The change in the American stance has multiple causes: the Russian persistence, overt Iranian infiltration, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, and Houthi fighters. Meanwhile, the US began to feel that its allies in the region are becoming skeptical about its policies and about whether the long-term alliances they entered into with it are of any use.
These states began to declare their stances and policies and are acting in accordance with their interests to confront the Iranian infiltration on all fronts. Anyone who observes the statements and movements of Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, can easily deduce that from the outset, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf tates were always determined to back the Syrian people in their bitter struggle against the Russian–Iranian axis.
Without doubt, the rules of the game in the Syrian crisis will change, and this change will be contingent upon the size of change in terms of quantity and quality as well as the actual implementation of the phrases “military aid” and “armament” the current US administration is using.
Following the announcement of the US stance, a seemingly big change occurred in the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt compared to its previous attitude towards the Syrian people, when the Brotherhood told the Russians that their stances were identical, and told the Iranians the same thing.
In fact, such a stance was intended to satisfy the Brotherhood’s overwhelming desire to please the US and Western states. Furthermore, such a stance was adopted shortly before the eruption of large-scale anti-government protests, which the opposition is mobilizing on June 30. In fact, the Brotherhood did not change its stance in a deliberate manner; rather, it moved from the stage of siding with the regime and Iran to a stage of trying to one-up the states that advocated for the Syrian people from the outset.
For its part, the Islamic Republic of Iran followed a familiar pattern: installing a hardline president to make the highest gains possible, and then bargain for a moderate president to make other gains and rectify the mistakes made by the previous incumbent. Iran, led by the supreme guide, had to install—not elect—a new president, whom they see as a “reformer” and a “moderate,” and this president is Hassan Rouhani. It seems that his hard mission will be prettying up Iran’s policies following eight hard years under former President Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei—policies that led only to antagonizing the rest of the world, particularly Iran’s Arab neighbors.
The Doha Conference of the Friends of Syria was supposed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s at the beginning of a new stage of the Syrian crisis, and to listen to what states like Turkey and Jordan require to sustain the assistance to Syrian refugees. Countries in the region that are friendly to the Syrian people must do their utmost to allay America’s chronic fears of a long war, such as the ones it fought in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Towards this end, these countries must provide precise mechanisms to prevent any arms from falling into the hands of terrorists who are deemed enemies of the whole world.
In his view of the future of the American power, Zbigniew Brzezinski predicted that the “most dangerous scenario is represented in the emergence of a larger alliance between China and Russia, and perhaps Iran, to act against the American hegemony, an alliance that is motivated not by ideology, but by common discontent.” The Syrian people are unfortunate that the reflections of such an alliance are seen on their own soil and in a manner that jeopardizes their lives, and is at the expense of their blood and future, regardless of the future of American power.
In fact, the change in international stances and in the Western policies towards the situation within Syria, the unlimited support offered by moderate Arab states and the new balance of powers seen on the ground between the FSA and the regime’s army and Iran’s militias, must all push the Syrian opposition to be unified. This must also push the opposition to stand firm and shoulder the historical responsibilities for a political solution to be negotiated later on. Such a solution, when reached, will be the fruit of a long struggle of a nation that suffered some of the the most dreadful crimes in this current century. The Syrian opposition must be prepared to adopt a moderate internal discourse that guarantees that extremism will not prevail. Finally, Henry Kissinger once wrote in his memoirs an expression that came true, which reads “If history is to teach us something: There is no peace without balance, and there is no justice without moderation.”

yria and the secret decisions
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Alawsat
The foreign ministers of the Friends of Syria group recently ratified a plan in Doha to provide sophisticated military aid to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The decision hopes to redress the imbalance of power on the ground, and compel Bashar Al-Assad to respond to peace efforts. However, the participants of the Doha conference did not give details of the aid they decided to supply.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, said after the conference that the meeting “made secret decisions on practical ways to change the status quo on the ground in Syria.” The problem with the secrecy of the decisions is that it raises the level of expectation, and provides Assad and his allies with the opportunity to mislead public opinion, especially among their existing supporters.
Since the eruption of the revolution, Assad has been trying to paint the revolution as a sectarian struggle. He, unfortunately, has been successful, not only with some people in Syria, or the Shi’ites, but also the West, which is hostile to the Al-Nusra Front, for example, while its reaction to the intervention by Iran and Hezbollah, and the use of chemical weapons, was cool, even frustrating.
It is now clear that Iran and Assad, joined by Tehran loyalists in Baghdad, have for long used the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and have managed to convince many westerners that all Sunnis were terrorists. This is clear in the reactions of the West towards Assad, Iran and Hezbollah’s crimes in Syria.
Therefore, it is difficult to accept the notion of ‘secret decisions’ in a media war which touches religions, sects, and differing movements. The danger of the secrecy of the decisions is that it raises the level of expectation, without providing a shred of evidence, especially since the Syrians have grown weary of promises for the last two years. The West, especially France and Britain, have made statement after statement without doing something tangible, while Iranian and Russian shipments were being sent to Assad, until the matter reached the open intervention by Hezbollah.
What the Friends of Syria, and the opposition, must realize is that the war is not only on the ground, it is also in the media. This is something which was recognized by Iran and by Bashar Al-Assad, whose regime picked up on every tiny issue it could to damage the revolution. The simplest example of this is the video of a man eating the heart of a dead Syrian soldier. We are not even sure of the veracity of the video, especially that Assad’s lies are never-ending, but we saw how the Russian president talked about it, and the Iranian foreign minister.
Now, after all that, the Doha conference gives us “secret decisions,” and what will happen now is that the Assad regime and Iran, also joined by Russia, will explain these secret decisions as they wished, and damage the image of the Friends of Syria in the media, and then exploit it diplomatically. The Friends of Syria will then find themselves on the defensive.
The fact is that the ability and effectiveness of the FSA will become clearer from what happens on the ground, and this will not be a secret. What is worrying is giving Assad and his allies excuses to damage the reputation of the revolution and the rebels, and all we have to do now is watch how Assad and his allies exploit the phrase “secret decisions.