June 28/2013

Bible Quotation for today/Spiritual Treasure in Clay Pots
02 Corinthians04//01-15/:"God in his mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged.  We put aside all secret and shameful deeds; we do not act with deceit, nor do we falsify the word of God. In the full light of truth we live in God's sight and try to commend ourselves to everyone's good conscience.  For if the gospel we preach is hidden, it is hidden only from those who are being lost.  They do not believe, because their minds have been kept in the dark by the evil god of this world. He keeps them from seeing the light shining on them, the light that comes from the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.  For it is not ourselves that we preach; we preach Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  The God who said, “Out of darkness the light shall shine!” is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God's glory shining in the face of Christ. Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us. 8 We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; 9 there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. 10 At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies.  Throughout our lives we are always in danger of death for Jesus' sake, in order that his life may be seen in this mortal body of ours.  This means that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The scripture says, “I spoke because I believed.” In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe.  We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus to life, will also raise us up with Jesus and take us, together with you, into his presence.  All this is for your sake; and as God's grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources 
The Mobs and the Lebanese Spring/By:Abdullah Iskandar/Al Hayat/June 28/13
This Is Not How One Confronts Hezbollah/By: Hassan Haidar/AlHayat/June 28/13
Lebanon’s Sunnis must not be hijacked/June 27, 2013/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/June 28/13

Selective sovereignty and legitimacy are contradictions/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/June 28/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for June 28/13

Kerry Offers Condolences to Suleiman, Reiterates U.S. Support for Army and State
U.S. Looks to Increase Security Assistance to Lebanon to Confront Syria War Spillover
Top State Department Official Visits Lebanon as Burns Postpones Trip

U.S. military chief recommends bolstering Lebanon forces
Britain Issues Travel Advice, Says Situation in Lebanon Could 'Quickly Deteriorate'

Hizbullah Vacates Disputed Apartments in Sidon
Rifi Says Franjieh Arming Jabal Mohsen: Hizbullah Set Up Artillery, Checkpoints in Sidon
Raids Ongoing in Abra amid Reports that Asir Did Not Leave Sidon
Lebanese Army Slams 'Fabricated' Videos of Gunmen, Vows to Resort to Judiciary

Troops Detained for Abusing Asir Supporter as Qahwaji Orders Probe
Report: Lebanese Government Formation Faces Saudi Hurdles

Aoun Slams Hariri's 'Illegal' Efforts to Extend Qahwaji's Term, Vows to Make a Challenge
Four Killed in Damascus Christian Area Suicide Bombing
Lebanese Leaders Inquire about Yazigi's Health after Damascus Blast
8 Syrians Kidnapped in Retaliation for Abduction of al-Tufayli Family Member
Miqati Welcomes Parliamentary Session Aimed at Extending Qahwaji's Term

Joint Leb Parliamentary Committees to Meet Next Thursday to Tackle Wage Scale
Lebanese IM, Charbel Vows Holding Accountable Corrupt Policemen
Lebanon: Saint Paul's Cathedral Receives Hoax Bomb Threat
Dima Sadek: Between objectivity and humanitarianism, I prefer the latter

U.N. Eases Saddam-Era Sanctions against Iraq
Netanyahu Says Peace Intrinsically Linked to Israel Self-Defense

Obama to Honor Slaves, Fete Senegal Stability
Russia evacuates Tartus, also military, diplomatic personnel from Syria. High war alert in Israel

Kerry Offers Condolences to Suleiman, Reiterates U.S. Support for Army and State
Naharnet/U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered condolences to President Michel Suleiman on Thursday for the victims of the Lebanese army who were killed in the Abra clashes, reiterating Washington's support for the military and the state. Kerry praised in a phone call with Suleiman the army which proved to be the sole guarantor of stability and civil peace, a presidential statement said.
He praised the policy adopted by Suleiman to maintain internal stability. The problematic issue of Syrian refugees was one of the issues tackled, taking into consideration the spiking number of refugees heading to Lebanon escaping the bloodshed in Syria, the statement said. Kerry pointed to the necessity to offer special assistance in that regard, in light of the huge burden on the security, social and demographic levels, it said.
Discussions touched on the situation in the region mainly in Syria and the ongoing consultations regarding the Geneva 2 conference to discuss the possible solutions that satisfy both sides of the conflict in Syria, it added.
Eighteen soldiers were killed in two days of battles on Sunday when the Lebanese army clashed with radical Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Asir's armed supporters.

U.S. Looks to Increase Security Assistance to Lebanon to Confront Syria War Spillover
Naharnet/U.S. military commanders have been told to explore ways to increase security assistance to Lebanon and Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Wednesday, as the violence in Syria spills across borders and Iraqis face growing threats from the local al-Qaida offshoot.
Gen. Martin Dempsey said the assistance is aimed at improving the two nations' military capabilities and could include sending in U.S. training teams and accelerating foreign military sales of weapons and equipment to Iraq and Lebanon. Dempsey made the recommendation to U.S. Central Command in recent weeks, according to Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, a spokesman for the Army general. There have been no U.S. military trainers in Iraq since troops left at the end of 2011, as the war there ended. But the U.S. has provided military training and assistance to Lebanon for a number of years.
"Militarily, what we're doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they're prepared to account for the potential spillover effects," Dempsey said during a Pentagon briefing Wednesday. "As you know, we've just taken a decision to leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16s in Jordan as part of the defense of Jordan. We're working with our Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese Armed Forces and Turkey through NATO." He said that as he looked at the challenges being faced by Syria's neighbors, including the re-emergence of al-Qaida in Iraq, he determined that the U.S. should help them build up their military abilities.
He said the assistance would not involve sending U.S. combat troops into Lebanon or Iraq.
The U.S. last week left about a dozen F-16 fighter jets in Jordan, where they will be flying and conducting training operations. The Pentagon also left a Patriot missile battery there, bringing the total number of American forces in Jordan to about 1,000. U.S. officials said the increased show of military might in Jordan was a signal to Syria that it must confine its civil war within its borders. The officials said it is meant to show that the U.S. was committed to its defense relationship with Jordan and that America intended to maintain a strong presence in the region.
Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to provide any additional information about U.S. plans to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, other than to say that the U.S. military has no role so far in that program.
According to officials, the CIA was coordinating the effort to arm the rebel groups.
Source/Associated Press

Top State Department Official Visits Lebanon as Burns Postpones Trip

Naharnet/U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees Anne Richard is scheduled on Thursday to discuss with several Lebanese officials U.S. assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Richard, who arrived in Beirut on Wednesday night from Jordan, said last week that Syria's neighbors are "tremendously generous ... but we need more countries to donate." She did not exclude the idea that the United States could take in some of the most vulnerable Syrians as part of the 70,000 refugees from around the world who will find new homes in the country this year. Richard's visit to Beirut comes as another top State Department official, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, postponed his trip. Burns was expected to meet with President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Caretaker Premier Najib Miqati, PM-designate Tammam Salam, Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat and several March 14 alliance figures on Thursday and Friday. An Nahar had said that Burns will stress the importance of adopting the policy of dissociation from the Syrian war and the rejection of the involvement of any Lebanese party in the crisis. He will also reiterate that the U.S. is committed to support the Lebanese Armed Forces in confronting the challenges that they are facing, it said. The report came as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey said Wednesday that he has recommended increasing security assistance to Lebanon as the violence in Syria spills across borders.He said the assistance is aimed at improving Lebanon's military capabilities and could include sending in U.S. training teams and accelerating foreign military sales of weapons and equipment.


U.S. military chief recommends bolstering Lebanon forces
June 27, 2013/By Phil Stewart/Daily Star
WASHINGTON: The top U.S. military officer said on Wednesday he has recommended bolstering Lebanese forces grappling with the fallout from Syria's civil war by sending in military trainers and accelerating arms sales.
General Martin Dempsey also said he had recommended helping Iraq better deal with the re-emergence of al Qaeda. "We've made a recommendation that as we look at the challenges faced by the Lebanese armed forces, the Iraqi security forces with a re-emerging al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Jordanians, that we would work with them to help them build additional capability," Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon.
A spokesman said Dempsey's recommendations were made "in recent weeks" during internal discussions with the U.S. military's Central Command, as it deliberates how to respond to the growing, regional unrest.
After two years of fighting that has killed more than 100,000 people, Syria's war is dragging its neighbors into a deadly proxy confrontation between Shi'ite Iran supporting President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni Arab Gulf nations backing the Syrian rebels.
Both Iraq and Lebanon have suffered increasing violence at home as the Syrian conflict has escalated.
Dempsey was nominated by President Barack Obama on Wednesday for another two years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He was responding to a question at the news conference about whether Lebanon had asked for military help and whether the U.S. military might go into that country.
"When you say would we send the United States Army or the United States military into Lebanon, I'm talking about teams of trainers, and I'm talking about accelerating foreign military sales for equipment for them," Dempsey said in response. "This is about building their capability, not ours." A spokesman clarified that this would come on top of any ongoing U.S. military support being provided to Lebanon and Iraq. The United States has left about 700 U.S. combat-equipped troops in Jordan after a military drill, which also fears a spillover of the war into its territory and where an estimated half-million Syrian refugees have fled to escape the bloodshed. The Pentagon has also announced that it would leave Patriot missiles and F-16 fighters in Jordan after the same drill, fueling speculation that the United States might be considering a no-fly zone that would prevent the Syrian military from flying its aircraft. Although Obama has not ruled out participating in a no-fly zone, he has appeared skeptical about such a move, and his military commanders, including Dempsey, have been outspoken about the risks involved.
Dempsey, suggesting a no-fly zone may do little to stem the bloodshed, told reporters that Assad's air power was responsible for few of the casualties.
"And if we choose to conduct a no-fly zone, it's essentially an act of war, and I'd like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war," Dempsey said.
He also noted that any U.S. decision to impose a no-fly zone in Syria would require tough decisions about America's military priorities at a time of shrinking budgets and other demanding commitments - including the Afghan war. "We are suffering some readiness shortfalls right now," Dempsey said. "We have resources that are at heightened states of alert in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, in the Gulf, because of potential provocations (by) Iran. Clearly, we still remain very deeply engaged in Afghanistan. He added: "And the question for the nation will be - and for our elected leaders - where will we prioritize our resources? But if that (a no-fly zone) becomes a priority, we can make it happen."

Britain Issues Travel Advice, Says Situation in Lebanon Could 'Quickly Deteriorate'

Naharnet /The British Foreign Ministry issued on Thursday a travel advice, warning its nationals from heading to several areas in the country that witnessed unrest, and saying the situation could deteriorate 'quickly.”
The areas include the northern city of Tripoli, the southern city of Sidon, the eastern town of Arsal, Palestinian refugee camps across the country, Hermel, Baalbek, south of Litani river and Beirut's southern suburbs.
“Following the assassination of the chief of the Intelligence Bureau of the Internal Security Forces, Brigadier General Wissam al-Hasan, in October 2012, violent clashes took place,” the notification issued by the British government said. The statement warned that further violence could take place “which could restrict departure options.”It said that the British government “could have limited abilities to provide assistance with departures.”
“There is a high threat from terrorism,” the statement said.The foreign ministry expressed concern that the “security situation could deteriorate quickly.”The statement could be found on the following link: U.S. Department of State reiterated on Tuesday the travel warning advisory to Lebanon over safety and security concerns.
Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have increased significantly because of the Syrian civil war.Shiite back the regime of President Bashar Assad and Sunnis support the Sunni-led uprising.

Rifi Says Franjieh Arming Jabal Mohsen: Hizbullah Set Up Artillery, Checkpoints in Sidon
Naharnet/Former Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi on Wednesday accused Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh of supporting the mainly Alawite Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen with weapons, criticizing Hizbullah's behavior during the Sidon clashes. “There is nothing called leaders of frontiers and Tripoli's residents will always count on the state and its institutions,” Rifi said in an interview on Future TV.
“Suleiman Franjieh has been backing Jabal Mohsen with weapons when necessary,” he added, claiming that “arms are being sent to Zgharta through the border with Syria before being transported to Jabal Mohsen.”
“No one will attack Jabal Mohsen and we will protect it the same as we're protecting Bab al-Tabbaneh,” he added. Commenting on reports of an alleged military role for Hizbullah during the deadly Sidon clashes, Rifi quoted witnesses as saying that “Hizbullah set up artillery positions near homes and publicly erected checkpoints.” “The casualties among the ranks of the army are bigger than Ahmed al-Asir's ability and I hope the army will conduct a transparent probe,” he added. He accused Hizbullah and its allies of “unacceptable practices against MP Bahia Hariri in Sidon.” The army on Monday managed to overrun Asir's security zone in the Sidon suburb of Abra following fierce two-day clashes that left 17 troops and more than 40 wounded. At least 20 gunmen loyal to the Islamist cleric were also killed in the battle. Clashes erupted afrer a pro-Asir armed group attacked an army checkpoint, killing several troops. Hizbullah MP Hasan Fadlallah clarified Tuesday that his party only defended its positions during the battle against attacks by Asir's group, denying that it played any role in the army's attack on the cleric's fortified security zone.Turning to the Syrian crisis, the ex-ISF chief said “everyone has been implicated militarily in Syria, as Hizbullah sent trained and organized forces while some parties sent random and unorganized groups to Tall Kalakh and other areas,” adding that “everyone who did that committed a strategic mistake.”He urged Hizbullah to reverse its decision because “Iran has changed and the region has changed.”


Lebanese Army Slams 'Fabricated' Videos of Gunmen, Vows to Resort to Judiciary
إNaharnet /The Army command criticized on Thursday “fabricated” videos of gunmen allegedly fighting alongside troops in the southern city Sidon, vowing to take judicial action. “At a time that the Lebanese army was fighting a fierce battle against an armed group that was spreading sedition and meddling with the country's security... A cheap political and media campaign was targeting it,” a communique issued by the army said. It noted that “fabricated” videos, audio tapes and pictures were released concerning the army in the town of Abra and gunmen fighting alongside the troops. “The army command reminds that the intelligence bureau's members wear civilian cloths... Any moral or security violations by any soldier or army unit will be investigated and the appropriate measures will be taken,” the statement said. The army command expressed regret that some local media outlets reached a level of deception that any technical expert could easily detect. It described the matter as a “media scandal,” warning that it will not remain mum over it. “We have the right to refer the matter to the competent judicial authority,” the statement said. The Sidon clashes broke out when supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir attacked the army.  Al-Asir, a 45-year-old cleric, supports the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Several media outlets displayed videos showing gunmen with yellow armbands fighting alongside the army, indicating that Hizbullah took part in the battles. However, Hizbullah denied the matter. Meanwhile, Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji visited on Thursday Caretaker Premier Najib Miqati at the Grand Serail. A statement issued from Miqati's press office said the two men discussed the army's investigation into the videos “that tarnish the image of the military institution.” “The army should deal with all citizens equally,” Miqati said. He also called for distancing the military institution from the political campaigns.
Syria's civil war has been bleeding into Lebanon for the past year, following similar sectarian lines of Sunni and Shiite camps. The military has struggled on multiple fronts in the eastern Bekaa valley and the northern city of Tripoli, where armed factions have fought street battles that often last several days. Few had heard of al-Asir until last year, when he began agitating for Hizbullah to disarm and to clear the apartments near his mosque.
Last year, he set up a protest tent city that closed a main road in Sidon for a month in a sit-in meant to pressure Hizbullah to disarm. Earlier this month, he accused the army of “defending” the apartments owned by the Shiite party. He warned he would resort to a “military option” if his demand to vacate them were not met.


Raids Ongoing in Abra amid Reports that Asir Did Not Leave Sidon
Naharnet/Army raids are ongoing in Abra neighborhood of the southern city of Sidon to look for gunmen who supported Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in his clashes with the military institution, amid reports that the Imam of the Bilal bin Rabah mosque might have never left the city. MTV reported on Wednesday that cautious calm is prevailing in Sidon, except for the sound of detonating explosive devices left in the battlefield.
It added that people coming to inspect their houses are prevented from approaching the area, as the army "has not yet finished its search for explosives and gunmen.""Army patrols are roaming Abra and its surroundings and a checkpoint erected in the area is inspecting all vehicles passing in the neighborhood,” MTV noted."Men arrested during the clashes are being subjected to strict investigation,” the same source pointed out.Al-Manar television revealed that a large number of rocket-propelled grenades were found in al-Asir's security zone, and that “offices, chairs and even water bottles were booby-trapped.”
Regarding al-Asir's fate, security sources told MTV that "the cleric's phone calls are being tracked." "Investigation so far revealed that al-Asir is using an international number and that he is still in Sidon,” MTV announced.
Meanwhile, OTV reported that a Sidon figure was communicating with al-Asir “until the last hours of the battle,” revealing also that a Turkish mediator contacted the cleric and asked him to leave the port city and head to the north, “but no to (the northern city of) Tripoli.”OTV stressed: “Investigation is ongoing and al-Asir did not head to Syria or to Tripoli.”In another report, security sources told LBCI television that "al-Asir was still in he security zone at 7:00 pm on Sunday."They elaborated: “A female neighbor of the cleric told investigators that he (al-Asir) came to the building around 6:00 pm Sunday and accompanied her to the basement where a group of people were hiding.” "Al-Asir stayed with us for an hour and then he left,” she remarked."The siege around the zone was not completed yet on Sunday night, and there is a possibility that the cleric left the block along with 25-40 people during these hours,” the security sources explained.They said, however, that “he might have never left the southern city and its surroundings.”"Despite Palestinians denying that al-Asir has entered (the refugee camp of) Ain el-Helweh, and promising not hide him, we still have doubts that he might be there or in one of the city's mosques,” they said. "And at Sunday night, he might have been transferred to another city.”Al-Asir is being tracked through monitoring phone lines that were in his possession and other lines that he might have access to, the sources informed LBCI."We are also keeping an eye on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.” At least 17 soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in the clashes with the armed supporters of al-Asir in Sidon between Sunday and Monday.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.


Four Killed in Damascus Christian Area Suicide Bombing
Naharnet /..A suicide bomb attack in a Christian area in the heart of the Syrian capital on Thursday killed at least four people, state television said. "A terrorist suicide bombing... in Damascus has left four people dead and several others wounded," the broadcaster said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the toll, adding that the likely target of the bombing was a Shiite Muslim charity located in the Christian neighborhood.
"According to preliminary reports, four people were killed and several others wounded," said the Britain-based Observatory. "The bombing took place close to the Ihsan charity, which is Shiite," watchdog director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse. "I believe the charity was the actual target."Though it began with peaceful protests calling for the fall of President Bashar Assad's regime, Syria's war has grown increasingly sectarian over time.The majority of Syria's rebels -- like the population -- are Sunni Muslim, while Assad belongs to the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Sectarian tensions have grown further in recent months, ever since the entry into Syria's conflict of Lebanon's Hizbullah. Residents of the neighborhood told AFP the police blocked off the road linking the two historical neighborhoods of Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi, where the bombing took place.
An AFP journalist saw a corpse stretched out on the pavement. At least two shops were damaged by the blast, said the correspondent, adding that firefighters, security forces and soldiers were all deployed in the area.
Official television channel Al-Ikhbariya broadcast footage of the body of a man in a white T-shirt, saying it was the remains of the suicide bomber. It also showed body parts strewn across the area.
On October 12, 13 people were killed in an attack in front of a police station in Bab Touma. In addition, the Observatory on Thursday reported shelling in nearby Al-Amin Street, also in old Damascus, without elaborating.
Source./Agence France Presse.


Lebanon: Saint Paul's Cathedral Receives Hoax Bomb Threat
Naharnet/The pastor of Saint Paul's Cathedral in Harissa, Naim Khouriyeh, revealed on Thursday that a priest had received a text message warning that the cathedral will be bombed. Khouriyeh told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that investigations carried out by security forces showed that the threat was a hoax.“It's an individual act that aims at blackmailing” the Cathedral, Kouriyeh added.On Wednesday, the army heavily deployed near the cathedral in Harissa and worshipers were evacuated immediately after the threat.

Report: Government Formation Faces Saudi Hurdles

Naharnet /Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has revealed that his cabinet formation efforts haven't yet made progress as reportedly an envoy of Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat returned from Saudi Arabia empty handed. Salam told several local dailies published Thursday that strong efforts were being exerted in the cabinet formation process despite the lack of a solution so far.
He said he was hoping all the political parties would cooperate with him in his mission. But Salam reiterated that it was up to Speaker Nabih Berri and Jumblat to play a major role in that regard after they promised him to overcome all the obstacles preventing a new government line-up. The PM-designate denied that he had a draft of names that will be given portfolios, saying discussions were still focusing on the first stage of division of seats among the three major parties – the March 8 alliance, the March 14 coalition and the centrists. Salam stressed that he holds onto his decision not to give veto power to any side, saying the representation of the March 8 alliance in the government according to its parliamentary weight leads to the same result. But caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil, who is a Free Patriotic Movement official that is a major component of March 8, denied asking for veto power. “We are demanding to be represented in accordance with our parliamentary weight,” he told As Safir daily. Aoun also told al-Akhbar newspaper that the FPM was asking for six ministers.
Meanwhile, As Safir said that Caretaker Minister Wael Abu Faour, who had visited Saudi Arabia with a call for putting together a government as soon as possible to avert a further deterioration in the security situation, returned to Beirut with several obstacles. The newspaper quoted several other envoys that had visited Riyadh earlier without naming them as saying that the Saudi authorities were mulling keeping the caretaker cabinet led by Najib Miqati until further notice. Other options includes giving veto power to both the March 8 and 14 alliances although such a choice is ruled out given Saudi Arabia's rejection to hand Hizbullah and its March 8 allies more authorities.
A third proposal includes forming a de facto government despite Jumblat's rejection of such a choice over his call for an all-embracing cabinet, the envoys said.
And the final scenario lies in Salam's decision to step down after he gave himself a certain timeframe to form the government, the envoys added.

Miqati Welcomes Parliamentary Session Aimed at Extending Qahwaji's Term
Naharnet /Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati welcomed on Thursday Speaker Nabih Berri's call for a parliamentary session during the first week of July as long as it focuses on the importance of extending the mandate of security leaders.“I am at the forefront of those who welcomed holding the session if its priority is to discuss the extension of security leaders' terms, in particular, Army Chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji,” Miqati said in comments published in As Safir newspaper. He stressed the importance of safeguarding the security situation in the southern city of Sidon, which witnessed two-day clashes between the army and supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.Miqati also called for the swift formation of a new cabinet to safeguard and maintain stability in the country to confront regional and local challenges.
Sidon battles come as the conflict in neighboring Syria raises tensions in Lebanon, with the violence regularly spilling over the border. Eighteen soldiers were killed and 50 were wounded in the unrest. 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 Syrian conflict has also raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon, particularly between Shiite residents who back the regime of President Bashar Assad and Sunni Lebanese who support the Sunni-led uprising. The extension of Qahwaji's term which ends this September when he turns 60 – the maximum age for the post of the army commander – had created a disputed among the political foes. Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun has opposed it and on Tuesday criticized al-Mustaqbal for seeking an extension. Aoun said that since the post was reserved for the Maronite sect, then Christians had the priority before former PM Saad Hariri to give their opinion on it. But Hariri snapped back, saying the army was not owned by one sect.

Aoun Slams Hariri's 'Illegal' Efforts to Extend Qahwaji's Term, Vows to Make a Challenge

Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun totally rejected attempts to extend the tenure army chief General Jean Qahwaji, vowing to challenge it before the Constitutional Council.
Aoun accused in an interview on Thursday former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of exploiting the recent two-day battle in the southern city of Sidon to push forward the extension of Qahwaji's term, considering it “illegal.”
The army fought a battle against Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in the southern town of Abra. Eighteen soldiers were killed, 50 were wounded in the unrest and 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. “I am against any extension... We should respect the law,” Aoun said. He slammed the parliamentary session set for extending the term of security leaders, stressing that his Change and Reform bloc will “vote against it.”On Tuesday, Aoun criticized al-Mustaqbal for seeking an extension. He said that since the post was reserved for the Maronite sect, then Christians had the priority before Hariri to give their opinion on it. But Hariri snapped back, saying the army was not owned by one sect. The Christian leader pointed out to al-Akhbar that there are several officers that are competent enough to be appointed in high posts in the army. “I already began preparing my challenge against the extension,” Aoun said. He noted that if the parliament approved the extension draft-law then all Brig. Generals and Colonels terms would be prolonged for another three years, sarcastically adding that the Lebanese would then have a “group of elderly in the army.”The extension of Qahwaji's term which ends this September when he turns 60 – the maximum age for the post of the army commander – had created a disputed among the political foes. On Wednesday, Speaker Nabih Berri called for a parliamentary session in the first week of July. Asked if he will stand alone in the battle against the extension, the FPM leader slammed the political leaders in the country, saying that “they do whats in their best interest.”“The constitution was drafted to be imposed not violated,” he said. Political leaders that support the extension of Qahwaji's mandate argue that the security situation in the country can't endure any vacancy in military posts. On the differences between the FPM and the March 8 allies, in particular, Hizbullah and AMAL movement, Aoun told al-Akhbar that the rift is with Speaker Nabih Berri. “We can fix it all. I will have to wait and see what happens,” Aoun said. He noted that the continuous sharp differences among allies forces each party to reconsider its options. “I am holding onto the implementation of the law. We will fight and this is what distinguishes us,” Aoun added.

8 Syrians Kidnapped in Retaliation for Abduction of al-Tufayli Family Member

Naharnet/Lebanese men from al-Tufayli family kidnapped eight Syrians in retaliation for the capture of their next of kin in the eastern city of Baalbek, they claimed in a statement released late Wednesday.
“After Faisal Haidar al-Maarrawi from the Syrian town of al-Maarra and his brother Rifaat along with their gang kidnapped our son Mohammed Medhat al-Tufayli, several young men from the family abducted eight Haidar members,” said the statement. Al-Tufayli was kidnapped at noon Wednesday in the outskirts of the town of Nahle, said the state-run National News Agency. The eight Syrians were later abducted while working in livestock grazing in Nahle, it said. Among them were Khaled Haidar, his brother Ahmed, Hussein Haidar, and Mohammed Darwish. There have been several retaliatory kidnappings along sectarian lines in border regions, the result of the spillover of the Syrian war. The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance backs the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the March 14 alliance and mainly Sunnis support the rebels seeking to topple him.

Hizbullah Vacates Disputed Apartments in Sidon

Naharnet/Hizbullah vacated several apartments in the area of Abra in the southern city of Sidon, handing them over to the Lebanese army, three days after gunbattles turned the city into a battle zone.
The apartments, which lie meters from the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque compound in which Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir was a preacher, were one of the main reason for the fierce campaign launched by him against Hizbullah. TV footage showed two apartments burned and damaged. The army and security forces on Tuesday launched a manhunt for Asir after clashes between soldiers and his supporters left around 18 troops dead.
The military consolidated its grip on Sidon after overrunning the cleric's mosque complex late Monday. But Asir remained at large. Syria's civil war has been bleeding into Lebanon for the past year, following similar sectarian lines of Sunni and Shiite camps. The military has struggled on multiple fronts in the eastern Bekaa valley and the northern city of Tripoli, where armed factions have fought street battles that often last several days. Al-Asir, a 45-year-old cleric, 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 and to clear the apartments near his mosque.Last year, he set up a protest tent city that closed a main road in Sidon for a month in a sit-in meant to pressure Hizbullah to disarm. Earlier this month, he accused the army of “defending” the apartments owned by the Shiite party. He warned he would resort to a “military option” if his demand to vacate them were not met.

Netanyahu Says Peace Intrinsically Linked to Israel Self-Defense

Naharnet/Any peace deal with the Palestinians must be based on Israel's ability to defend itself if the agreement breaks down, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said just hours before a visit by Washington's top diplomat.
"Peace rests on security. It is not based on good will or legitimacy as some think. It is based, first and foremost, on our ability to defend ourselves," he said at a ceremony marking the 109th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due back in Jerusalem on Thursday evening on his fifth trip in as many months as he seeks to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to direct negotiations which collapsed nearly three years ago. Ahead of his visit, Netanyahu's rhetoric has taken on a different tone and focused more on the substance of any future talks than on the obstacles to actually starting them.
"Without security, without the army that Herzl called to establish, we cannot defend peace, we cannot defend ourselves if the peace unravels," he said in remarks communicated by his office.
"A basic condition for the existence of peace, for the achievement of it and for preserving it, is security."
Source/Agence France Presse

Obama to Honor Slaves, Fete Senegal Stability

Naharnet/ America's first black president Barack Obama will acknowledge the historic stain of slavery and honor Senegal's democratic resilience in an unstable region Thursday, at the start of an African tour.
Obama stepped off Air Force One into the African night late Wednesday in Dakar to launch a three-nation trip designed to fulfill neglected expectations for his presidency on a continent where he has deep ancestral roots.
But his itinerary, which also takes in South Africa and Tanzania, threatens to be disrupted as life apparently ebbs from Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon who is gravely ill in a Pretoria hospital.
Should Mandela die before Obama lands in South Africa on Friday, aides may be forced to tear up plans to visit Johannesburg and Cape Town. As it stands, the ex-South African president's plight is already overshadowing Obama's trip. On Thursday, Obama will begin his day with talks and a press conference with Senegal President Macky Sall. Then he will discuss the importance of the rule of law at Senegal's Supreme Court.
A 'full circle' moment then beckons as Obama, the son of a Kenyan, and his wife Michelle, the descendent of slaves, will pay a visit to Goree Island, a memorial to Africans swept up in the Atlantic slave trade.
Obama will journey by ferry to the island's Slave House museum, off the Senegal coast, which epitomizes a dark period of American and African history resonating on both sides of the Atlantic to this day.
"There's this link between Obama, an American originating from Africa through his father, and his wife, an African-American originating from Africa through her ancestors," said House of Slaves curator Eloi Coly.
"I think with all these ingredients gathered together, this visit by the Obamas should be very special."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the visit would be an important moment for Obama.
"A visit like this by an American President, any American President, is powerful," he told reporters.
"I think that will be the case when President Obama visits and I'm sure particularly so, given that he is African American."U.S. officials are keen to highlight democracy, in Muslim majority Senegal, on the first leg of a visit focusing on francophone west Africa, the tip of the continent in South Africa, and the democratic west in Tanzania.
Obama will also likely bring up the situation in neighboring Mali, before a U.N. peacekeeping force starts operations in a country where Islamists and radicals have exploited a power vacuum.
The US president's arrival in Africa came at a delicate time as the world prepared to say a farewell to Mandela.
Napilisi Mandela, an elder in Mandela's clan, told AFP that the former South African president was on life support, and South African President Jacob Zuma called off a scheduled trip to Mozambique.
Obama and Mandela met in 2005, when the former South African president was in Washington, and Obama was a newly elected senator, and the two have spoken several times since by telephone.
But the long awaited prospect of a public appearance between the first black presidents of South Africa and the United States is now impossible.
Obama claims a spiritual connection to Africa, but a crush of international crises in his first term thwarted his hopes to travel extensively in the continent. He did manage a short trip to Ghana in 2009.
His tour is designed to highlight Africa's emerging economic potential and growing middle class, as well as youth and health programs, and to emphasize U.S. engagement in a region benefiting from a wave of Chinese investment.
"We are not too late," said Carney, pointing out that although Obama had been kept away, Vice President Joe Biden visited Africa in the first term, and there were also wide ranging diplomatic efforts by the administration on the continent. But there has been disappointment in Africa, after Obama's 2008 election caused euphoria and an expectation that he would put Africa policy at the top of his agenda. There is one glaring missing stop on Obama's itinerary: Kenya. Officials said that the indictment of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, over previous election violence, made it politically impossible for Obama to stop by on this tour.Source/Agence France Presse

Russia evacuates Tartus, also military, diplomatic personnel from Syria. High war alert in Israel
DEBKAfile Video June 26, 2013/Shortly after the DEBKA aired a special video on the Syrian war’s widening circle, Moscow announced Wednesday June 26, that the evacuation which had begun Friday of all military and diplomatic personnel from Syria was now complete, including the Russian naval base at Tartus.
“Russia decided to withdraw its personnel because of the risks from the conflict in Syria, as well as the fear of an incident involving the Russian military that could have larger consequences,” said a defense ministry official in Moscow. He stressed that a 16-ship naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean remains on post and arms shipments, including anti-air weapons, would continue to the Syrian government in keeping with former contracts.
In another sign of an impending escalation in Syria, the Israeli Golan brigade staged Wednesday an unannounced war maneuver on the Golan, attended by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and top army chiefs. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron called the government’s National Security Council into session in Downing Street on Syria. Opposition leader Ed Milliband was invited to attend the meeting, a custom observed only when issues of the highest security importance are discussed.
Earlier Wednesday, DEBKAfile carried the following report in its special video presentation under the heading: Putin and Obama cross swords on Syrian. What Next?
The sullen confrontation between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland last week condemned Syria to five months of escalating, unresolved vicious warfare – that is until the two leaders meet again in September.
For now, tempers are heating up between Washington and Moscow on Syria and other things too, notably the elusive American fugitive Edward Snowden.
US and Israeli intelligence watchers see the Syrian crisis entering seven ominous phases:
1. A five-month bloodbath centering on the battle for Aleppo, a city of 2.2 million inhabitants.
The Syrian army plus allies and the fully-mobilized opposition will hurl all their manpower and weapons into winning the city.
Military experts don’t expect the rebels to hold out against Assad’s forces beyond late August.
2. Neither side has enough manpower or game-changing weaponry for winning the war outright.
That is, unless Presidents Obama or Putin steps in to retilt the balance.
3. The US and Russia are poised for more military intervention in the conflict up until a point just short of a military clash on Syrian soil – or elsewhere in the Middle East. US intelligence analysts have judged Putin ready to go all the way on Syria against the US - no holds barred.
The Russian president is meanwhile deliberately goading Washington and raising temperatures by playing hide-and-seek over the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, charged with espionage for stealing and leaking classified intelligence. At home, he is considered variously as a traitor and a brave whistleblower.
For several hours Snowden vanished between Hong Kong and Moscow – until the Russian president admitted he was holed up in the transit area of Moscow airport and would not be extradited by Russia to the United States.
4. Iran, Hizballah and Iraq will likewise ratchet up their battlefield presence.
5. A violent encounter is building up between Middle East Shiites flocking to Syria to save the Assad regime alongside Russia, and the US-backed Sunni-dominated rebel forces.
It could scuttle the secret US-Iranian negotiating track on its nuclear program, which was buoyed up by the election of the pragmatic Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran.
6. The Geneva-2 Conference for a political solution for the Syrian crisis is dead in the water. Moscow and the US are divided by unbridgeable issues of principle, such whether Bashar Assad should stay or go and Iranian representation.
7. So long as the diplomatic remains stuck in the mud, the prospects of a regional war spreading out of the Syrian conflict are rising. Iran, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon may be dragged in at any moment – if they have not already, like Lebanon.
A small mistake by one of the Syrian warring parties in Syria could, for example, touch off Israeli retaliation and a wholesale spillover of violence.

Lebanon’s Sunnis must not be hijacked
June 27, 2013/By Michael Young/The Daily Star
The Lebanese would do well to think of Prince Saud al-Faisal’s description of Syria as “occupied territory” in the joint news conference he held Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. For if Syria is regarded as “occupied” because of the presence of Iran and Hezbollah there, then what of Lebanon, where both have a decisive say over the country’s affairs?
As a Lebanese parliamentarian astutely put it recently, the deployment of American soldiers, aircraft, and Patriot missiles to Jordan was an American line drawn in the sand at the Hashemite kingdom. But no line is being drawn in Lebanon, except one placing the country on the dark side, as a territory effectively controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its local partners.
Both the Lebanese and Saudis have to inject nuance into this view. Hezbollah is powerful, but as a house of many mansions Lebanon is not a place where anyone can take domination for granted. Hezbollah won a round against Sheikh Ahmad Assir, profiting from his foolish attack on the Army, but the party cannot be reassured when its Sunni foes are bolder and when the Saudis are portraying Iranian influence as equivalent to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
There is some question as to whether the Gulf states seek to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon. Until now, their actions have been relatively restricted in nature, even if they have employed a big hammer against a fragile Lebanese economy.
Lebanese working in the Gulf who are considered close to Hezbollah, or who have given money to the party, are being expelled. The decision of Gulf governments to advise their nationals not to travel to Lebanon has more to do with these states’ fear of seeing citizens kidnapped and used as bargaining chips, than with a desire to undermine the tourism industry.
More worrisome is that the Saudis may consider Lebanon so far gone into the Hezbollah camp, that they will increase their backing of armed Sunni adversaries of the party. The Assir phenomenon shows the dangers of such a strategy. That’s not to say that Riyadh financed the sheikh. But when the Saudis intervene in a situation, they tend to act through Islamist networks, and in the highly charged sectarian context present today, this can lead to a Sunni-Shiite explosion.
Assir’s reference to the Lebanese Army as an “Iranian army,” like his call on Sunnis to desert the armed forces, erased any middle ground filled by the Lebanese state. In Assir’s view there are only Sunnis and Shiites, and the state is an instrument largely in the hands of the Shiites, inviting legitimate Sunni antagonism.
This is not a majority view among Sunnis. After initial hesitation among Sunni politicians to condemn Assir Sunday, for fear of alienating the Sunni street, Saad Hariri clarified matters Monday when he reproached Assir for having formed an armed group. “The Army made major sacrifices and we must all embrace it,” Hariri unambiguously told Future television. “We in the Future movement will remain with the Army, no matter what they are saying ... and our project will remain the state.”
This is a message the Saudis and other Gulf states must take to heart. A civil war in Lebanon will not advance their interests in Syria. On the contrary, it will give Bashar Assad room to pursue his repression at home, allowing him to better argue that efforts to oust him from power are only destabilizing the region. Worse, it will empower militant Islamists, who will go back home to challenge their governments.
What is needed today is a consensual, coordinated course of action that the Lebanese Sunni community can adopt to avert a civil war. If the Sunnis feel more reassured with guidance from their traditional allies such as Saudi Arabia, then so be it. The Saudis are in a good position today to impose their views on the other Gulf states, including Qatar, particularly if they have American backing.
This course of action should do two things: aim to seize the initiative in the Sunni community from the small, radicalized Islamist groups, who have imposed their agenda on mainstream Sunni politicians, especially in places such as Sidon and Tripoli. This can be done in several ways. More funding can be assured so these politicians can help alleviate the difficult economic situation in poorer Sunni neighborhoods, where Islamist groups recruit members. The Gulf states also have to cut off funding to extremists, whose proliferation will only frighten other communities and isolate the Lebanese Sunnis.
The second aim must be to exploit Hezbollah’s willingness to be drawn into the Syrian conflict. This has been reckless and may cost the party dearly. For those Lebanese opposed to Hezbollah, now is the time to begin preparing for the aftermath, if Hezbollah emerges weakened by its Syrian campaign. There is, of course, a possibility that the party will come out strengthened if Assad’s regime ultimately triumphs. But that is not very likely and a war in Lebanon will anyway not make this outcome more palatable. The Sunnis have to be patient and defend their stakes in the Lebanese system, while avoiding brinkmanship that would be a catastrophe for everyone.
Being patient may not excite many people. But even victorious, Assad will face domestic volatility for a long time, and Hezbollah will be affected. The priority in Lebanon has to be civil peace. Maintaining it will allow Hezbollah’s opponents to fight, politically, another day.
*Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.


This Is Not How One Confronts Hezbollah
Hassan Haidar/AlHayat
Thursday 27 June 2013
Ahmed Al-Assir’s group caused security and political mayhem in the region of Saida, where it seemed as if fundamentalists were taking revenge against the army for their own powerlessness to confront Hezbollah directly. But now that the provoked battle had ended and its repercussions have been contained, this must not obscure or dominate the main issue preoccupying all of the Lebanese – namely that of Hezbollah getting implicated in the war in Syria and implicating all of Lebanon with it.
For reasons that are perhaps connected to an old grudge against the army going back to the events of the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp and to their relationship with some of those who fought there and now reside in the Ain Al-Hilwe refugee camp, the fundamentalists of Abra have done a favor for the party they claim to struggle against. Indeed, they have turned into outlaws and their arguments no longer stand. Such arguments had never reached a political level that could have won them supporters across the country, and had remained crowded with base confessional terminology, personalized and tailored to their leader. And instead of Assir trying to leave the army out of the “battle of the security apartments” held by Hezbollah in the region of Saida, he “succeeded” at having the Lebanese unite against him, across the spectrum of their political and sectarian affiliations, with the exception of a small minority whose defense of him made little difference, earning himself and his followers the label of “wanted men”, after the premeditated murder of members of the military.
No matter how true the claims might be about Hezbollah’s influence within the military institution and its different branches, the army remains the only national state institution that has succeeded at protecting itself from the acute division that has struck all other formal bodies of the Lebanese state, despite the difficulty of the task, making of its preservation a national demand.
Sunni Muslims in Lebanon were never favorable to violence, nor did they ever call for it. They stood throughout the civil war alongside the state and its institutions. They rejected and mocked those who tried to forcefully represent them in armed militias that were successively formed, armed, and funded by the Palestinians then by the Syrians. But such formations never met with consensus and remained isolated from their social environment. They thus faded away after the war ended.
This is what Hezbollah understood perfectly well. Since the beginning of the process of rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and political system under the leadership of the late Rafic Hariri, it thus worked in coordination with the Syrians on obstructing the Sunni approach and on besieging its moderate leaderships, in order to prevent them from reviving the unifying state as per the Taif Agreement. It also aimed to maintain political and popular division that would allow it to continue holding the decision to make war and peace without being monitored or held to account in any way.
Hezbollah also worked, always in coordination with Damascus, on encouraging radical Sunni groups and forging various alliances with them, so as to encourage them to eat away at the popularity of the moderates and compete against them in representing their sect. It is within such a framework that the suspicious media coverage obtained by Assir himself falls, when this served and deepened the Sunni “dichotomy”.
Thus, dragging Lebanon into a confrontation like the one that took place in Saida is tantamount to undermining the efforts exerted by all parties – with the exception of Hezbollah – to restore the state’s stature and role, restrict armament to its legitimate institutions, seize all illegal weapons, and integrate them within its framework. As for those who thought that confronting an armed Hezbollah politically requires turning to violence, they fell into what Hezbollah itself seeks. Indeed, a deteriorating security situation provides Hezbollah with a way out of its isolation, after it has alienated itself not just from all other Lebanese constituents, but from all the Arabs as well, in addition to facing increasing restlessness within its own sect.
The fact remains that Hezbollah’s fate is not contingent on its own abilities, as dangerous as they might be, but rather on the fate of those who “invented” it in Damascus and Tehran, where one battle is taking place and another is looming.

The Mobs and the Lebanese Spring
Abdullah Iskandar/Al Hayat
Greater Lebanon is almost one century old, and the components of the Land of the Cedars have not yet managed to agree over a political system rejecting violence in all its forms. Indeed, at one point or another, each of these components used the veto right against the implementation of such a system, and not one decade went by without seeing this right expressed through violence.
In modern systems of governance, it was intended for the state to monopolize violence and the use of weapons, in order to regulate coexistence among the conflicting demands and manage people’s affairs. However, the Lebanese political system was governed by civil violence, which stripped the state of its main specialty and subjected the entire system to the transformations which affected the balance of civil powers. Hence, throughout modern history, the political system failed to find a solution to the crisis among its components or between one of them and the state, while all the settlements and agreements sealed by the political class failed to divest any of the sectarian components of the veto right. Some texts pointed to the disbandment of the militias or the collection of their weapons, but never to the withdrawal of the recognition of their violence. This situation deteriorated with the Taif Accord, which clearly stipulated the right of one civil party to use weapons, i.e. violence, regardless of the justifications used back then to promote the settlement.
This right, granted to the Lebanese Shiites under the headline of the resistance, remained accepted or tolerated for as long as it expressed itself outside the domestic equation and did not affect the shares of the other components in the institutions of the weak state seeking a position for itself. In other words, it was a violence which did not have any consequences on the other components, especially since the regional pressures that accompanied the promotion of this violence were massive.
But when this violence appeared to be turning inward and gradually replacing the state, the other components became disgruntled, regardless of the balance of powers on the ground, and the entire political system became at stake despite the outside appearance that the institutions were working normally. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri revealed the deep meaning of the flaw at the level of the political system, in which one sect monopolized the weapons and force and began to transform into an aggressor targeting the others’ similar rights. This new reality was confirmed by the elections that followed the assassination, considering that neither the parliamentary majority in which they resulted was able to practice its legislative right, nor the governments – under whichever name – were able to govern. Indeed, the keys of the political system and its institutions became in the hands of the side enjoying armed power, i.e. Hezbollah and the Shiite sect.
Since before the Arab spring and the escalation of the sectarian conflict in Syria, the Lebanese Sunnis perceived Hezbollah – as the side monopolizing violence – in a dubious way and with great sectarian concerns. This perception was met by the party with further shows of power and disciplinary campaigns, pushing the relations between the two components to exit the context of the state and transforming any problem between two individuals into a civil conflict. The crisis in Syria came to draw a separation line between the two Lebanese components and acted as an additional justification for the standoff and infighting on sectarian bases.
At that point, the most extremist side with the loudest voice becomes in control over the popular mood, leading the management of the relationship which exited the hands of the state towards those of the mobs that hate – by definition - the state and its roles in regulating political life. Hence, the Lebanese spring marked the emergence of the rule of the mobs.
In that sense, Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s phenomenon is nothing but the expression of the fall of political life in the hands of the mobs after Hezbollah took control over the state’s tasks. Also in that sense, we are witnessing the repetition of violence throughout the sectarian friction lines in the North, the Bekaa and Sidon, and this is where the great predicament of the political system in Lebanon resides.

Selective sovereignty and legitimacy are contradictions

By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
For reasons that are clear to see, Lebanese politicians yesterday rushed to announce their support for the surgical step taken by the Lebanese army in Sidon, the capital of south Lebanon, to eradicate the phenomenon of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Assir, imam of the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, and his followers in Abra.
Although reasons vary from one faction to another, the support was almost unanimous in a country where leaders and their followers are split on almost everything.
One faction voiced their support because they believe the Lebanese army, even if only in theory, is one of the very few remaining governmental institutions that transcend sectarianism; thus, it is the duty of those who believe in a “state of institutions” to gamble on the military successfully combating a sectarian and illegitimate armed group.
Another faction believes that the Al-Assir phenomenon has been nourished and supported in order to strip the Future Movement, and those who represent moderate Sunnis, of their support base. Accordingly, this phenomenon has served the political factions aimed at “demonizing” Sunni Muslims and inciting hatred against them—whether intentionally or not—resulting in accusations of prejudice and apostasy. This is precisely what the Syrian regime has done and continues to do whenever it addresses the international community.
There is a third faction that is deeply sectarian and publicly opposes any popular uprising against the state of affairs that has been imposed on the Lebanese government and people since May 2008. This sectarian faction goes even further in humiliating Sunnis, particularly following the battle for Qusayr in Syria. This faction pursues this approach by fabricating the lie that it represents an entity that is far from sectarian, and sides “with legitimacy and sovereignty” against sectarian takfirists who oppose this legitimacy and sovereignty. From this point, this same sectarian faction is now encouraging a new generation of Maronite Christians “facades” to present their “credentials” for the presidential elections scheduled for next year, based on their support of the elimination of Al-Assir, the siege of Aarsal, and Hezbollah’s project and actions at home and abroad.
Many Lebanese have said over the past years that the presence of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Assir and his bellicose rhetoric represent the best political weapon for Hezbollah, who exploited this to strengthen its Shi’ite sectarian support base. This is not to mention helping MP Michel Aoun and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi scare Christians with the prospect of “Sunni takfirist extremism.” It is something that to a large extent resembles Israel’s implicit satisfaction with Hassan Nsasrallah’s bellicose rhetoric, which gets more belligerent the farther away he is from the borders of Occupied Palestine, but which is causing ever-increasing sectarian polarization in Lebanon and the entire region.
Let’s return to the issue of supporting the military. Just like all security, civil, judicial and administrative bodies in the government, the Lebanese army is a legitimate governmental institution that is duty-bound to rise above factional and sectarian differences. However, first, it can only perform this role if there is a state to serve. Second, it can only fulfill this role when military and security leaders and judicial and administrative officials are appointed based on the criteria of proficiency and qualifications, irrespective of hidden and overt political deals.
What I mean to say is that if it is the duty of the military—as an institution—to fight against any faction threatening the state’s legitimacy and sovereignty, the Lebanese citizens in turn have the right to question the political allegiances of the military and security leadership, particularly those who were appointed based on recommendations and political deals that are well-known to the public. In an official statement on Tuesday morning, the Lebanese government unreservedly endorsed the measures taken by the army and its strict and decisive handling of the Al-Assir phenomenon. In this light, the Lebanese people should expect two highly important steps in the coming days.
First, they should expect assurances to Lebanon’s Sunnis that they are not being targeted by what prominent Sunni figures have called a ‘policy of double standards.’ The Lebanese government can demonstrate this by launching an official investigation into the original attack on the army checkpoint that started the fighting and the general undermining of security. In fact, some Sunni religious scholars demanded the launch of an investigation before the army stormed Al-Assir’s headquarters, killing dozens of his supporters.
Second—and this is the more comprehensive and important step—the Lebanese state must exercise sovereignty and defend legitimacy in a proper, comprehensive and complete manner, including putting an end to the mini-state in Lebanon that operates in the name of “army–people–resistance.” Indeed this slogan has been recently shortened into a “resistance” that has refrained from resisting Israel since 2006, occupying itself instead with subjugating those who criticize it, accusing those who oppose it of treason, hindering the establishment of the state, and waging wars outside the country’s borders without asking the people’s opinion or showing any regard for the Lebanese army.
Lebanon is a beautiful country and its people are optimistic, have a great love for life, and enjoy partying all year round on the slightest pretext. Therefore, it is absurd that these people should live in a state of constant denial. Only days ago, the minister of tourism—affiliated with Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement—issued over-optimistic statements at the opening of the Jounieh International Festival. Somebody who does not live in Lebanon or is concerned about what is happening there would imagine that the minister is living on another planet.
At the same time that the army was shelling Assir’s headquarters earlier this week, a Lebanese MP allied to the minister of tourism said: “The military must not stop in the middle of the road.”
What road is he talking about? What is “the middle of the road” between sovereignty and legitimacy?
Furthermore, the interior minister, a professional and respected military officer, issued a statement of striking naivety, indicating that those in authority still deal with state institutions—including the army—as if they were window-dressing, while they dealt with the Lebanese people as if they were little children.
We are facing an issue of explicit denial and an intentional neglect of a bitter reality. We are face to face with a state that occupies itself with appearances and ignores the structural problems affecting the essence of the homeland.
In short, it is impossible to establish a nation based on double standards.

Dima Sadek: Between objectivity and humanitarianism, I prefer the latter

Lebanese journalist refuses to dwell on political views based on her sectarian identity.
Lebanese TV journalist Dima Sadek. (Asharq Al-Awsat)/Caroline Akoum
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese TV anchor Dima Sadek began her career in journalism in the print media, but she never gave up her dream of working in front of the camera.
In 2007, she began working with local party-affiliated media before moving on to television, a branch of the media she says is often more objective. Within a few short years, Sadek was able to establish herself as one of Lebanon’s premier TV anchors, known for her objective presenting style and her attempts to highlight social issues.
This interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Alawsat: Can you tell us how you got into journalism and the media?
Dima Sadek: I began working in journalism while I was still studying political science at the University of St. Joseph (USJ). Based on the advice of professors in the field, I decided to begin with print journalism, although my ultimate goal was television work. After training with the Lebanese As-Safir newspaper, I began work as an editorial assistant to the late journalist Joseph Samaha. This experience was greatly beneficial and lay the foundations for my journalistic career. In 2007, I joined OTV at the time of its debut and hosted a political program. In 2011, I moved to LBC, a move I also consider an important step in my media career.
Q: Do you ever regret choosing a career in media?
On the contrary, I love my profession and practice it with eagerness and enthusiasm. This is something I strived towards and worked hard to achieve.
Q: Would you ever consider returning to print media, or do you feel that you belong in front of the camera?
Print journalism was something I experienced at the beginning of my career; however, I am not eager to return to or practice it.
Q: What was the first investigation or interview you conducted and with whom?
The first investigation was with As-Safir and was based on field work. The first interview I conducted was with MP Samy Gemayel, who was a fellow student at the university at the time.
Q: Do what extent do you feel that you achieved your goals in life and what do you still strive to achieve?
There is no doubt that there are many goals I strive to achieve, and one of them is to become a political journalist. From there, I hope to achieve more goals, mostly linked to my work and career, and most importantly, to develop personally, since there is still much left to do to satisfy my ambitions completely.
Q: You worked at OTV, which is affiliated with a particular party, and today you work with LBC, which adopts different political views. How did the work differ between the two?
The first is known for its party politics but the second has no political identity. Today, this makes me feel comfortable working in a non-biased atmosphere and I consider it the most objective channel of the Lebanese broadcast media. Also, social and human rights issues have been recently prioritized by the channel, are these are issues that are defining ones for me, and I find myself becoming immersed in defending these issues professionally and socially. But this does not mean that I was prone to any political pressure at OTV, and I was never asked to ask particular question or avoid another.
Q: How would you describe the reality of Lebanese media in light of the divisions that govern the policy of most media outlets?
I refuse to rate Lebanese media, but what I can say is that it is greatly influenced by political divisions, sectarian instigation and violence on different levels.
Q: To what extent do you consider there to be objectivity in Arab media, and is this reflected in the institutions you work in now?
Objectivity is almost nonexistent in the media. But without exaggerating, I believe that LBC, especially in recent years, has been the most objective in Lebanon. I would like to emphasize that I work with an unbiased channel that reports the news accurately and avoids anything that could be detrimental to the public or fuel strife.
Q: Between “objectivity” and “humanitarianism,” which do you think is the most important?
Objectivity is essential in political analysis and must be maintained, but when it comes to humanity, in my opinion, there is no objectivity. This is proven by my positions and views, which I announce openly, towards the Syrian revolution—and all of the Arab revolutions in fact. For this, I thank God that I experienced liberation day on May 25, 2000, and saw the confrontation with Israel in the war of 2006. Also, I witnessed the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and today I watch the Syrian people’s revolution against oppression and tyranny.
Q: It is obvious that divisions are reflected in the media in Lebanon, given the means by which they are employed. Can it be said that you protects yourself from this “scourge”? And why is there always a debate regarding your methods of “facing guests” and judgment towards your political identity?
I refuse to be judged based on my political views or sectarian identity. This is the controversy or accusations that are heaped on me every time I host a politically affiliated individual. Though it often bothers me, I believe not displaying my political orientation is a positive thing, because I defend any opposing team and its views, and this what I always hope to accomplish. Regarding my methods of “facing guests,” I use this method in order to put the politician on the spot, since I believe an interview shouldn’t be a picnic for them. . . . They should make the effort to convince the people and we place their responsibilities before them.
Q: Who is your role model in the media, either globally and regionally?
I consider Emad El-Din Adeeb and British journalist Tim Sebastian of the BBC and the presenter of Hard Talk two of the most prominent journalists. I followed them closely during my university days. Today, I can say that the Egyptian Bassem Youssef appeals to me as a journalistic figure whose contribution is unlike any other in the field.
Q: Is there a writer that you are always keen on following?
In journalism, I can’t specify one name without the other, as there are a great number of journalists whose books and article I follow consistently in the Lebanese and Arab press.
In literature, I also read the works of many authors. However, I make sure to familiarize myself with the works of the Czech philosopher Milan Kundera, Sadek Jalal Al-Azm, and Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, particularly his work on the Syrian revolution.
Q: Do you participate in preparing the news bulletins and political interviews you conduct on the program Nharkom Sa’eed (“Good Day”), or do you leave this to others? Do you face pressure or rules and restrictions with regards to the questions and issues raised?
Participating in the preparation is an important and essential part of my work, so I make sure to discuss, contribute and brief myself on all matters and topics. With this, I can confirm that I work without any pressure or “political regulations” imposed on me from the station.
Q: Does it bother you that when your name comes up, people mention your beauty before your career?
First of all, I believe beauty is relative, so some may consider me beautiful but others think otherwise. However, like any woman, it doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t get in the way of opinion regarding my work. I don’t depend on my looks and beauty is not a standard by which to evaluate a journalist.
Q: Do you resort to “self-criticism”? How would you criticize yourself today?
Of course I am critical of myself and I examine these criticisms with myself and with people close to me. But what I can emphasize is that I make sure to constantly develop myself regardless of my professional advancement or otherwise.
Q: How many hours do you work per week? And to what extent do you find yourself able to separate your professional life from your personal and social life?
I work 48 hours weekly, the amount of hours set forth by labor law. But there is no doubt that I “live for my work” and it is difficult to separate my career and social life in a country where political and security tensions require constant attention.
Q: How do you balance your work and family, and do you believe professional success should be at the expense of personal life?
There is no doubt that at times I feel guilty about my daughter, Yasmina. But I try as much as possible to balance family and career requirements, since the first is my life and the second is an essential part of my character and future.
Q: What do you think of modern media, and to what extent do you believe it is replacing the old ways?
Modern means of communication are becoming the foundation and source of up-to-date news. Ten years ago, we would wait until the evening or the next day to see the news. Therefore, traditional media is no longer effective in reporting news but rather searching for what’s behind the news, and this is a challenge in itself.
Q: Do you think that with such developments journalists and media professionals need to become more specialized?
There should be journalists who specialize in all kinds of subjects, and this is displayed in the media. . . . The media should be familiar with and have the ability to analyze, though briefly, all issues and subjects at hand.
Q: Is there a particular media outlet, whether written or audio-visual, that you consistently follow?
I try to follow as many media outlets as possible, depending on my time. With regards to the Syrian crisis today, I prioritize Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Sky News and the BBC.
Q: What advise can you give to young, aspiring journalists?
It is important to love the profession and to practice it with passion, as well as perseverance and consistent follow-up to develop one self and gain the trust of viewers.
This interview was conducted in Arabic and can be read here