May 13/2013


Bible Quotation for today/Division Is Fatal
"Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls" (Luke 11-17


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

STL list leaked, stolen or fabricated/By Niamh Fleming-Farrell/The Daily Star/May 13/13  
Lebanon: Doomsday threats/The Daily Star/May 13/13  

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 13/13  

Russia staffs Mediterranean fleet. Turkey weighs payback for Syrian bombings

Saudi Jails Lebanese Man for Helping Woman to Convert
UAE Advises Citizens to Avoid Travel to Lebanon
6 Suffer Stab Wounds in Clash between Young Men in Biakout

Lebanese Cabinet formation awaits results of Parliament sessions
Pro Axis of Evil Lebanese March 8 warns PM designate about government formation

Salam Refuses to Set Date to Announce New Cabinet, but 'Won't Wait Forever to Form it'
Jumblat, Hariri Discuss Electoral Law, Govt. on MP's Surprise Visit to Saudi Arabia
Rockets Hurt Two in Hermel as Report Says Area was Targeted from Masharii al-Qaa
Syria Promises Ibrahim to Help in Abducted Pilgrims Case

Arslan Urges Politicians to Help Berri Garner Deal on Vote Law
Makari Expects Parliament's Term to Be Extended for Six Months
Saniora: Nasrallah Has Steered Lebanon towards Conflict in the Region
Iranian envoy's visit to Tripoli cut short by protest
Lebanese Military retirements leave Lebanon exposed
Lebanon fuel re-exports to Syria diminishing

Syrians hold pro-Assad demonstration in Sidon
Observatory: More Than 80,000 Killed in Syria Conflict
Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates Says U.S. Military Involvement in Syria would be a 'Mistake'

Damascus Denies Responsibility for Turkey Bombings
Hezbollah denounces Turkey bombings

Turkey says it won’t be drawn into Syria conflict
Syria Opposition Accuses Regime over Turkey Bombings
Erdogan Says Syria Dragging Turkey Down 'Vile Path', Davutoglu Slams World 'Silence'

N. Korea Slams U.S. Aircraft Carrier's Arrival in S. Korea
Israeli Opposition Head Meets Abbas, Urges Him to Return to Talks
Report: Israel Opens Arabian Gulf Mission

Russia staffs Mediterranean fleet. Turkey weighs payback for Syrian bombings

DEBKAfile Special Report May 12, 2013/Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Chirkov said Sunday, May 12, that the process is underway for creating a permanent staff to run Russian fleet operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Speaking at Sevastopol, the Black Sea fleet’s home port, Adm. Chirkov said a staff of 20 officers was already in place. And the Mediterranean deployment would comprise five to six warships and their service vessels as well possibly as nuclear submarines which, say our military sources, are armed with nuclear ballistic missiles. DEBKAfile’s military sources: The new permanent deployment is the next Russian step for safeguarding Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus and deterring military attacks on his Hizballah allies and Iranian interests in their three-way bloc.Moscow is also announcing loud and clear that Russia is finally restoring its military presence to the Middle East in 2013 after the last Soviet squadron exited the Mediterranean in 1992. The Russian naval step came 24 hours after two car bombs reduced to rubble the center of the Turkish town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border, killing 46 people and injuring scores. Turkish ministers at the scene Sunday openly blamed Syrian military intelligence for the attack’s planning and execution. This raised concerns in Moscow that Ankara was preparing to deliver a serious reprisal, possibly in the form of an aerial or missile assault, on Syrian military targets. Russian tacticians reckoned that, after Israel’s two air strikes against Assad regime targets, the Tayyip Erdogan’s government could hardly avoid direct action without appearing to be failing in courage in the eyes of the Turkish public.Some action is doubly pressing as Prime Minister Erdogan prepares to travel to Washington to meet President Barack Obama on May 16 and present him with evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons in his war on Syrian rebels. The Reyhanli bombings and Turkey’s potential retaliation sent a fresh wave of alarm across the Syrian neighborhood. Once again, Israeli Air Force warplanes thundered Sunday across South Lebanon and over Hizballah strongholds in the eastern Beqaa Valley near the Syrian border. Given all these circumstances, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances are virtually nil of getting anywhere in his trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to persuade President Vladimir Putin to hold back advanced S-300 anti-air missiles from Syria. He can expect to find the Russian president driving full speed for arms deals - not just with Syria, but also with Iraq, Yemen and Sudan.Putin clearly regards Obama’s decision to keep the US clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict as an open gateway for a Russian military comeback to the Middle East after a 21-year absence, armed with a cornucopia of weapons for winning clients. For now, there is no stopping him, not even if Turkey or Israel were to embark themselves on military intervention.

Lebanon: Doomsday threats
May 13, 2013/The Daily Star
As reports emerged over the weekend that the prime minister-designate, Tammam Salam, was on the verge of presenting his Cabinet lineup to President Michel Sleiman, a host of March 8 politicians were busy issuing threats.
They said that any government that was “forced upon them” would be not only rejected, but would categorically lead to a dangerous new level of destabilization in Lebanon.
For now, it appears that a new government is not imminent, and the country’s wisest heads have prevailed. Politicians might have every right to move forward with suggesting the kind of government they feel will best serve the country’s interests, but when faced with intransigence, and the latent threat of force to back up the warnings, it is imperative to consider the larger question: Can Lebanon survive such a dangerous destabilization at this critical time? If a confrontation in the streets begins, does anyone have guarantees about how it will end, and at what cost? However, in the end, those issuing the doomsday threats should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. Do they believe that a Cabinet made up of neutral figures, who can form a cohesive team and bring some much-needed order to the central government, truly deserves to be confronted by threats?
The politicians who have been busy issuing the threats should realize that when they dominated the Cabinet, in terms of numbers, little of consequence was achieved. One step forward in certain areas was accompanied by two steps backward in many others; the performance of some ministers was more about making public declarations of progress, while clamping down on transparency and accountability. In short, the March 8 camp should realize that the public wants the country to move forward – a steady drumbeat of loud and threatening objections to technocratic ministers assuming office does nothing to help the situation.
The unfortunate commotion over forming a new government, meanwhile, is actually a side effect of the failure of March 8, while it was dominating the government, to make any progress on a new parliamentary election law.
The Cabinet formation saga will drag on this week while another drama will play itself out at Nijmeh Square. Politicians have been unable to forge an agreement on a new electoral law, and there are few signs that a miracle solution will appear this week, as MPs are scheduled to gather for a general assembly session. Instead of producing a durable solution on the election law – a fundamentally important aspect of any democratic system – politicians have given no indication that there is hope for resolving this thorny issue. Governments come and go, but the basis of the entire system is sound representation, and the priority should be to encourage the thousands upon thousands of disaffected Lebanese to take their political system seriously. The only way to restore a bit of health to Lebanon’s politics is to produce a consensus-based agreement on the election law; if that is solved, then the task of forming governments will become a great deal easier.


UAE Advises Citizens to Avoid Travel to Lebanon
Naharnet/The UAE foreign ministry on Sunday advised Emirati citizens not to travel to Lebanon “except in case of utmost necessity” due to “the current situation in the region, especially in Lebanon.”''If necessary, holders of diplomatic and special passports planning to travel to Lebanon should obtain prior permits from the Ministry and should coordinate with it before departure,'' the ministry said in a statement. It asked holders of normal passports to sign a pledge at the airport to take full responsibility when they travel to Lebanon. Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Hamed, the ministry's undersecretary, said the travel advice was issued “out of the ministry's keenness to maintain the safety of citizens.” He appealed to Emiratis to comply with the travel advice until further notice and take utmost caution when traveling abroad.  In December 2012, the United Arab Emirates issued a similar travel advisory. “We have taken this decision because of the political situation in Lebanon and in surrounding countries,” the foreign ministry said back then.

Saudi Jails Lebanese Man for Helping Woman to Convert
Naharnet/A Saudi court jailed a Lebanese man for six years and sentenced him to 300 lashes after convicting him of encouraging a Saudi woman to convert to Christianity, local dailies reported Sunday. The same court sentenced a Saudi man convicted in the same case to two years in prison and 200 lashes for having helped the young woman flee the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, local daily Al-Watan said. A court delivered the verdict in Khobar in the kingdom's east, where the woman and the two accused worked for an insurance company. The July 2012 case caused a stir in Saudi Arabia, which applies a strict version of Islamic Sharia law that stipulates Muslims who convert to another religion must be sentenced to death. The woman, known only as "the girl of Khobar", was granted refuge in Sweden where she lives under the protection of unspecified NGOs, according to local press reports. She had appeared in a YouTube video last year in which she announced that she had chosen to convert to Christianity. Her family's lawyer Hmood al-Khalidi said he was "satisfied with the verdict," according to the press. Both men, who could also be prosecuted over other charges including corruption and forging official documents that allowed the woman to leave the country without her family's agreement, will appeal. Saudi women are banned from traveling without their guardians' permission.Source/Agence France Presse.

Rockets Hurt Two in Hermel as Report Says Area was Targeted from Masharii al-Qaa
Naharnet/Four rockets fired from Syrian territory hit the outskirts of the Bekaa town of Hermel and the neighboring town of al-Qasr on Sunday, as a media report said the Bekaa border area of Masharii al-Qaa could be source of rocket fire. Lebanon's National News Agency said two rockets landed near the Imam Sadr Educational Foundation as the Beirut-based, pan-Arab television al-Mayadeen said the salvo was fired from the positions of Syrian rebels in the Homs area of Qusayr. Later on Sunday, NNA said a Lebanese man from the al-Jamal family and a Syrian woman were wounded when two rockets fired from Syria hit the outskirts of the town of al-Qasr in Hermel. Five Grad 107-mm rockets landed on the southern entrance of Hermel on Saturday, reported the daily An Nahar on Sunday. Information obtained by the daily said that the some reports have alleged that these rockets may have been fired from the border area of Masharii al-Qaa in Lebanon. It said that official security authorities are investigating these claims. An Nahar reported that some youths “transported the rockets to Masharii al-Qaa where they fired them at Hermel because of the Syrian rebels' limited mobility in the area due to Hizbullah's success in seizing control of the majority of Qusayr's countryside in Syria.” The daily added that the party has been increasing its inspection of individuals in Masharii al-Qaa “out of fears that rockets may indeed be fired from the area towards Hermel.”It is aided in its mission by Syrian regime forces that have taken control of the main hills in the region and border-crossings that were being used by the rebels. The pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday that rebel shelling of Hermel is aimed at pressuring Hizbullah to end its fighting in Syria and withdraw its fighters from Qusayr. Lebanon has suffered a spillover of Syria's raging conflict, with frequent cross-border shelling targeting the north and the east of the country. On Thursday, three shells hit Hermel and two others hit Masharii al-Qaa nearby, said Agence France Presse. Qusayr has been a strategic boon to the rebels, who used it as a base from which to block the main road from Damascus to the coast, impeding military movement and supply chains, but Hizbullah and regime forces have made advances in the area, which was captured by the opposition over a year ago.

Saniora: Nasrallah Has Steered Lebanon towards Conflict in the Region
Naharnet/The head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora slammed on Sunday Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's speech, saying that it has taken Lebanon on a “new and dangerous” track.
He said in a statement: “Nasrallah has steered Lebanon towards the conflict in the region.”“He is supporting the Syrian regime at Iran's behest because it wants Hizbullah to serve as a base for it in Lebanon and the region,” he remarked. The MP also slammed Nasrallah's “excuse” that the party is taking part in the fighting in Syria in order to protect Lebanese people residing in Syrian villages and religious shrines in the neighboring country. “His actions are jeopardizing, not protecting, them,” Saniora noted. “We seek the best ties with Iran, but based on mutual respect,” he added. “This should relationship should not be based on implementing Iranian orders and achieving its interests because that will jeopardize Lebanon's civil peace,” he warned. Moreover, he questioned “the Syrian regime's sudden interest to liberate the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after over 40 years of calm in the area.”
“We have long said that we are proud to confront Israeli assaults, but on condition that such decisions be taken by the Lebanese state and not Nasrallah's actions that are allowing arms to flow freely in Lebanon,” Saniora added.
In addition, he predicted that the Hizbullah leader's stances will impact Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam's efforts to form a new government. In his speech on Thursday, Nasrallah vowed to back “the Syrian popular resistance” in the Golan Heights. “Just as Syria stood by Lebanon, we in the resistance declare that we will stand by the Syrian popular resistance that is aimed at liberating the Syrian Golan,” he said.
He also announced that the party is “ready to receive any game-changing weapons and we're competent to possess and protect such type of weapons and we will use them to defend our people.”
Nasrallah said the shipments of new types of weapons would serve as the Syrian reaction to Israel's airstrikes in the neighboring country last week. Syria has long been a conduit for Iranian weapons bound for Hizbullah.
Israeli officials say the Lebanese group has tens of thousands of rockets, but that most of them are unguided. Israeli officials said the shipments targeted in Syria twice last week included precision-guided missiles.

Jumblat, Hariri Discuss Electoral Law, Govt. on MP's Surprise Visit to Saudi Arabia
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat held talks on Saturday with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. They addressed efforts to form a new government and reach an agreement on a new parliamentary electoral law, announced Hariri's media office in a statement on Sunday. They also discussed the crisis in Syria, stressing the need to confront “agendas to drag Lebanon into the conflict.”“Such attempts are aimed at threatening coexistence in Lebanon and the national, security, social, economic, and political interests of the its people,” added the statement.
Jumblat made a surprise visit to the kingdom on Saturday night in order to address the latest developments in Lebanon, reported An Nahar daily Sunday. After meeting Hariri, he then held talks with Saudi Intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, reported Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) Sunday. An Nahar said that consultations with Saudi officials tackled efforts to form a new government in light of indications that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam will announce a cabinet lineup soon  But caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who accompanied Jumblat on his trip, said later on Sunday that the Druze leader's visit to Saudi Arabia “is part of the continuous consultations with its officials over all issues, noting that “it was not aimed at discussing the cabinet formation process … especially that the kingdom does not interfere in Lebanon's domestic affairs.”
“Officials in the kingdom always stress that they stand at the same distance from all the Lebanese,” Abu Faour added. He said Jumblat held a “fruitful” meeting with Hariri, during which they discussed “the cabinet formation process, the electoral law and the threats facing Lebanon due to the Syrian crisis.” “As for the issue of the cabinet, the party leader will continue his contacts with President Michel Suleiman, PM-designate Tammam Salam, Speaker Nabih Berri and the political forces concerned in a bid to reach consensus over the cabinet formula proposed by PM-designate Salam, which we hope all parties will accept given its balance and accuracy,” Abu Faour added.  An Nahar had reported that Salam will follow his convictions over the new government in that he will refuse to grant any political camp veto power, which the March 8 alliance had been demanding.
He had held talks on Saturday morning with Jumblat's envoy caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour, who relayed to the premier-designate the results of the discussions that National Struggle Front held with Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday. Jumblat last visited Saudi Arabia in February, the first time he traveled to the kingdom in over a two years.Jumblat and Hariri last met in Paris in January earlier this year.

Lebanese Cabinet formation awaits results of Parliament sessions
May 13, 2013/By Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is unlikely to present a Cabinet before Parliament meets this week to discuss a new electoral law, March 8 and March 14 officials said Sunday. Salam’s move is apparently aimed at averting a crisis over the formation of a new government. “It is highly unlikely there will be a new Cabinet before Parliament’s sessions on a new electoral law,” a political source told The Daily Star. “All groups will wait for the session. If an agreement on an election law is reached, everyone will lower the ceiling of their demands,” the source said. Speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled four consecutive legislative sessions starting Wednesday to discuss and approve a new electoral law, with the Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal topping the agenda. Lebanese leaders scrambled to prevent the country from sliding into chaos over the formation of a new Cabinet following stern warnings by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies to Salam that the setting up of what they called “a fait accompli government” could destabilize Lebanon. There was a flurry of political activity in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia aimed at averting a crisis as Salam was reported to be planning to visit President Michel Sleiman in the next 48 hours to present him with a Cabinet lineup. “The next two days are delicate. Prime Minister-designate Salam is continuing contacts with all the parties to reach consensus on a new Cabinet,” a source close to Salam said. “Salam is considering all options and he has not yet decided on a final option. But the formation of a 14-member Cabinet has become a possibility after the March 8 [coalition] rejected Salam’s proposal for a 24-member Cabinet divided equally among the March 8 and March 14 parties and the centrist bloc,” the source said. The source said there was no final date as to when Salam would present his Cabinet list to Sleiman, whose approval is essential before the new government can seek a vote of confidence from Parliament. “But time is running out and Salam will take the appropriate decision at the right time,” the source said. He added that the Cabinet formation has been stymied by the March 8 alliance’s insistence on veto power, which requires one more minister than Salam has offered, a demand the prime minister-designate has rejected. Speaking to visitors at his Moseitbeh residence, Salam said consultations were still continuing to form “a government of national interest.”“The announcement [of a new Cabinet] depends on several factors and the [outcome of] consultations that are still ongoing with many political parties,” he said. Responding to Hezbollah’s warnings that the formation of “a fait accompli” Cabinet could destabilize the country, Salam said: “We are in a democratic country and everyone is free to say what he wants.”Berri joined Hezbollah officials and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun in warning of the consequences of such a move. “The formation of a fait accompli government will reflect negatively on the country,” Berri told The Daily Star, adding he would counsel against a fait accompli government at Baabda Palace if such a Cabinet were to be presented. He said he hoped that Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s weekend visit to Saudi Arabia and his meetings there with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Saudi officials would defuse tension in Lebanon over the Cabinet formation. Jumblatt returned to Beirut Sunday after meeting Hariri and Saudi officials in the port city of Jeddah Saturday night, the state-run National News Agency reported. He was accompanied by caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and his son Taymour.
Hariri and Jumblatt discussed Salam’s efforts to form a new Cabinet and various proposals for an electoral law, according to a statement released by the ex-premier’s office. The two also “discussed developments in Syria and the need to confront plans to involve Lebanon in the Syrian conflict. These plans threaten coexistence and the national, security, socioeconomic and political interests of the Lebanese at the expense of foreign interests that have nothing to do with Lebanon and the Lebanese,” the statement said. Upon his return to Beirut, Abu Faour said Jumblatt would continue his contacts with Sleiman, Salam, Berri and concerned political parties in an attempt to reach agreement on the Cabinet formula proposed by the prime minister-designate. He said Jumblatt’s visit to Saudi Arabia was not aimed at discussing the formation of the new Cabinet and proposals made in this respect. “The kingdom does not interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs. Saudi officials have affirmed that they stand at the same distance with all the Lebanese,” he said in a statement. Abou Faour described Jumblatt’s meeting with Hariri as “fruitful.” Earlier Sunday, several Hezbollah officials warned Salam against forming what they called “a fait accompli government,” saying such a move would threaten the country’s stability.
“The formation of the so-called fait accompli government will pose a threat to internal stability and consequently, cannot be in conformity with the slogan of a government of national interest,” Hezbollah’s caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish told a rally in south Lebanon. “We will not accept at all anyone to impose on us a fait accompli government.”
Aoun also warned that the formation of a fait accompli government would amount to a “coup” against the Constitution. He warned Salam against committing “this mistake.”
Meanwhile, Berri said he would chair Parliament’s session Wednesday to achieve what he called “a Lebanese Doha” agreement on a new electoral law. He was referring to the political deal reached by rival Lebanese factions in the Qatari capital in May 2008 that led to the election of Sleiman as president and the formation of a national unity Cabinet. “I will give consultations [on an electoral law] the maximum time and open the door to understanding to the largest extent,” he said. The lack of a new election law raises the possibility of postponing the June elections and an extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires June 20. A political source expected lawmakers to extend Parliament’s mandate for six months, renewable for another six months.


Salam Refuses to Set Date to Announce New Cabinet, but 'Won't Wait Forever to Form it'
Naharnet /Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam reiterated on Sunday that he is seeking to form a cabinet of national interest. He also refused to set a date to announce the new government. He made his remarks before political, popular, and economic delegations that visited his Msaytbeh residence. “The announcement of the new government is linked to several factors and the ongoing consultations with several political powers,” he added. He repeated that he is open to suggestions from all sides. Salam's efforts to form a new government are ongoing as he has maintained his consultations with President Michel Suleiman and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat to that end, reported the daily An Nahar Sunday. His visitors told the daily however that he “will not wait forever to form a new cabinet.”Observers monitoring the government formation process said that the situation is “very critical,” with discussions focusing on the positive and negative results of Salam forming a government before the May 15 parliament session aimed at adopting a new parliamentary electoral law.
They noted that his announcement of a cabinet after this date will not alter the March 8 camp's insistence to obtain veto power in the government, which Salam has been adamant in rejecting.
He has repeatedly said that such a power will render the cabinet ineffective. The head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad denied on Saturday that the March 8 coalition's demand was aimed at paralyzing the new government. “It is our right to be represented in it according to our parliamentary weight. This is a moral, practical and constitutional right,” he declared. The latest discussions over the formation of the cabinet have focused on the distribution of power, with Salam insisting that the March 8 camp be granted eight ministers. and Hizbullah parties naming the four Shiite ministers, while the fifth one will be named by someone who is not part of this alliance, such as President Michel Suleiman, reported the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat Sunday. Speaker Nabih Berri had reportedly objected to this proposal and suggested instead that if another side, besides AMAL and Hizbullah, were to name the fifth Shiite minister, then he should be entitled to name the fifth Sunni minister in cabinet. He will then be included as an additional member of the March 8 camp's eight-member bloc, should Salam's proposal of a 24-minister cabinet be adopted. Al-Hayat said that the premier-designate had rejected Berri's suggestion, saying that it is a veiled attempt to obtain veto power. Salam had instead agreed that Berri name the fifth Shiite minister in the alliance's eight-minister bloc. The remaining three ministers will be named by Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. The PM-designate reportedly also did not oppose that the speaker name a Sunni minister in cabinet, on condition that he part of the March 8 camp's portion of the government. Salam had repeatedly said that he advocates the formation of a 24-minister government that sees the equal distribution of portfolios between the March 8, March 14, and centrist camps, whereby each side would be granted eight ministers.

Makari Expects Parliament's Term to Be Extended for Six Months
Naharnet /Deputy Speaker Farid Makari doubted that parliament will succeed in reaching an agreement over a new parliamentary electoral law during its upcoming session on Wednesday, reported the daily An Nahar Sunday.
He told the daily that the failure will prompt the extension of the current parliament's term for six months. “Extending the term is a better way of telling the people that an agreement has not been reached over a new vote law,” he explained. The term could be extended for another six months if an agreement is still not reached, he added. He linked these issues to the current developments in the region. Speaker Nabih Berri called parliament to convene on Wednesday in order to adopt a new electoral law. He had stated that he would allow lawmakers to hold discussions before calling for a vote on the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal, media reports said Saturday. He added that the assembly's meeting will last till May 18 and would even hold another session on May 19 if required. The plan, which considers Lebanon a single district and allows each sect to vote for its own MPs under a proportional representation system, has been approved by the joint parliamentary committees despite the rejection of President Michel Suleiman, caretaker Premier Najib Miqati, the Mustaqbal bloc, the National Struggle Front of MP Walid Jumblat and the March 14 alliance's independent Christian lawmakers. Berri rejected a technical extension of the parliament's mandate to September, saying he would exert all efforts during Wednesday's session to garner a consensus on a new electoral law. The political parties' failure to agree on a new vote law is threatening to postpone the elections that are scheduled for June 16.

Arslan Urges Politicians to Help Berri Garner Deal on Vote Law
Naharne/Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan threw his weight behind Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday, saying politicians should also back all the efforts exerted by the head of the Amal movement to agree on a vote law. Following talks with Berri in Ain el-Tineh, Arslan told reporters that all parties “should work on Berri's initiative to reach the required results.”The speaker has called for a parliamentary session starting Wednesday to agree on a new electoral law. He said he will put the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal up for vote if the rival blocs failed to reach consensus. Arslan praised Berri for being the only politician who sought to fortify the local situation. He said he will coordinate his stance with Berri during the session. He also hoped that no one would try to circumvent Berri's call for Wednesday's plenary to reach common ground. The lawmaker also slammed the political rivalries that he said were harming the country's civil peace and unity, and increasing divisions. He blamed Premier-designate Tammam Salam for allegedly not coordinating with Berri to form the new government. “This is a big political mistake,” he said. Among Berri's other visitors on Saturday were caretaker Premier Najib Miqati and Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji.

Lebanese Military retirements leave Lebanon exposed
May 13, 2013/By Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The failure to extend the terms of the six-member Military Council will deal a blow to the military establishment and leave the country exposed to various eventualities, a senior security source said Sunday. The need to extend the terms of a number of officers is especially urgent given the fast-moving developments in the region, particularly the 26-month-old bloody conflict in neighboring Syria and its repercussions on the country’s security and stability. Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, who heads the Military Council, reaches the retirement age in September, while the Army’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Walid Salman, is scheduled to retire the month before. During this month alone, three other council members are reaching the age of retirement. Maj. Gen. Nicolas Mozher, a council member whose term ended May 1, continues to handle all administrative and judicial matters, such as draft laws and decrees, pertaining to the rights of the military as a result of their service or war injuries. He is considered a top aide to the Army commander on these matters.
General Inspector Maj. Gen. Michel Munayyir, a council member who reached the age of retirement on May 2, a day after Mozher’s retirement, has been responsible for implementing the Army Command’s orders in coordination with all officers. Among the council members whose terms should be extended is Maj. Gen. Abdel-Rahman Shehaytli, director-general of the administration in the Defense Ministry, who retires May 24. He is known to have played a leading role in substantial issues related to maintaining Lebanese sovereignty. The Defense Ministry is made up of four main institutions: The Army, the General Inspection Department, the Directorate General of Administration and the Military Council. The Military Council, which represents all sectarian groups in the country, refrains from meeting when two of its members are absent, the source said, adding that it is significant for coordinating the flow of all decisions relating to Defense Ministry institutions. These decisions include military appointments and promotions as well as other administrative and logistical matters and decisions that require the defense minister’s signature. “Therefore, the failure to extend the terms of [the council’s] members means in effect the cancellation of an effective institution within the Defense Ministry and consequently, obstructing all issues pertaining to the Lebanese Army,” the source said. “The failure to extend the terms of military leaders is a blow to the cornerstone of Lebanon, namely the military. Thus, it’s tantamount to crippling a key institution in the Defense Ministry – the Military Council, which oversees all missions placed on the shoulders of the Army Command.”The source noted that there is a possibility of extending the terms of some military officials, based on Articles 29 and 55 of the Defense Law. This mechanism requires a recommendation by the Army commander and approval by the defense minister, until a new Cabinet, once it is formed, can appoint full-fledged replacements.
The source said that over the last six years, Shehaytli has built strong ties with UNIFIL peacekeeping troops and the countries contributing troops to this force, benefiting from the support of all these to protect Lebanon’s territories and sovereignty until the last grain of its soil and the last cup of its water, as Speaker Nabih Berri has said. According to the source, Shehaytli’s prerogatives include liaising with UNIFIL, which means daily follow-up with the peacekeepers in order to respond to Israeli movements on the border, and attending periodic meetings with UNIFIL and Israeli army officers in the border town of Naqoura to discuss border violations. Shehaytli is also assigned to follow up the issue of maritime borders, including the Exclusive Economic Zone with Syria, Cyprus and Israel, the land border and the disputed areas between Lebanon and Syria, the five-year plan to bolster the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and coordination between UNIFIL troops and local residents in the south, the source said.

6 Suffer Stab Wounds in Clash between Young Men in Biakout
Naharnet/Six young men were wounded when they were attacked with knives and sharp objects during a clash with another group of young men in the Metn town of Biakout on Sunday, state-run National News Agency reported. “Young men from the Sailami and Medlej families assaulted young men from al-Teres family, leaving six of them wounded,” NNA said. The wounded were rushed to Haroun Hospital and army intelligence agents are pursuing the attackers who fled the area after opening fire in the air, the agency added. Earlier on Sunday, MTV said the clash took place between young men from Biakout and members of a political party who came from outside the town. “The atmosphere in the town is currently tense after residents said a new group of young men was called in from the neighboring area of Rouwaisat,” MTV added. Meanwhile, Voice of Lebanon radio station (100.5) said two people were critically wounded in a clash outside the old building of Bsalim's municipality and young men from Rouwaisat were “preparing to intervene.”


Iranian envoy's visit to Tripoli cut short by protest
May 12, 2013/By Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A visit by the Iranian ambassador to the northern city of Tripoli was cut short Sunday after phone messages urged residents to protest against “those who take part in Syria’s bloodshed.”An Iranian business delegation headed by Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi met with a group of Lebanese businessmen with the aim of strengthening economic ties at the invitation of the head of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce Toufik Dabbousi. During the day a phone message began circulating asking residents to reject the delegation’s visit to their city. When officials got word of a planned protest they cut the visit short. The delegation left Tripoli minutes before the protest commenced. "You the Mujahidin, residents of Tripoli, an Iranian embassy delegation will be at the Chamber of Commerce at 1 in the afternoon, so don't let those taking part in bloodshed in Syria step foot in the Tawhid and Sunni Land of Tripoli,” the message read. The Army deployed around the chamber’s headquarters in Tripoli and accompanied the ambassador and his delegation outside the northern city before the protest began. A group of men gathered outside the chamber's office and burned a Hezbollah flag before Tripoli sheikhs calmed the situation. During the Iranian gathering at the chamber of commerce, Dabbousi welcomed the delegation and spoke about the good relationship between the Iran and Lebanon. He said he proposed an economic vision to the delegation which would enhance trade between the two countries particularly in exporting Lebanon’s agricultural products while staying removed from political disputes. “We think that trade and imports of agriculture products from Lebanon will open the door wide for sound ties between Iran and all of the Lebanese people,” Dabbousi said. Roknabadi announced the delegation decided to import agricultural produce from Lebanon. He noted that the Islamic Republic has a unique geographic location and it neighbors 14 markets including Arab states, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran could serve as a link to those markets for Lebanon, Roknabadi said. "Lebanon represents a unique location as one of the important trade and tourist centers in the Middle East and a trade point for four continents,” the envoy said.

Damascus Denies Responsibility for Turkey Bombings
Naharnet /Damascus on Sunday denied accusations it was behind twin car bomb attacks that left at least 46 people dead in a Turkish town near the Syrian border, as Ankara arrested nine people in the probe. Cranes were seen lifting debris from buildings destroyed by Saturday's blasts in Reyhanli, one of the main Turkish hubs for Syrian refugees and rebels. The attack was the deadliest to hit Turkey since the Syria conflict began two years ago and apparently provoked a backlash against Syrian refugees as dozens of Syrian cars were wrecked by what local people said were rampaging crowds. Ankara was quick to blame the Syrian regime for the bloodshed, a claim rejected by Damascus on Sunday. "Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said at a press conference broadcast by state television. "It is (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan who should be asked about this act... He and his party bear direct responsibility," he added. On Saturday, Turkey's Interior Minister Muammer Guler said the government had identified the attackers. "We have established that they are linked to groups supporting the Syrian regime and its intelligence services," he told national TRT television. On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay announced Sunday that "nine people have been held for questioning" over the bombings, adding there have been confessions. Huseyin Celik, vice president of Turkey's ruling AKP party, said on NTV television meanwhile that the twin blasts had killed at least 46 people and left 51 in hospital. Turkey, a member of NATO, distanced itself from its erstwhile ally soon after Syrian President Bashar Assad started cracking down on pro-democracy protests in 2011. Ankara has since become a rear base for the Syrian rebellion and Damascus has already been blamed for a string of attacks on Turkish soil. Atalay said the perpetrators of Saturday's attacks did not appear to have crossed into Turkey from Syria but were already in the country. Guler said the regional governor had been sent to Reyhanli "to put the necessary security measures in place".The attack sowed panic in Reyhanli, a town of about 60,000 people. "I heard the first blast, walked out, thinking it was a missile being fired from Syria. Then I found myself on the ground, my arms and right leg hurting, my ears ringing. It must have been the second bomb," said Hikmet Haydut, a 46-year-old coffee shop owner who survived the blast with minor injuries to his head and body. "I am alive, but all I have is gone," he added. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, on a visit to Berlin, said it was "not a coincidence" that the bombings occurred as international diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis were intensifying. "Nothing will go unanswered," added Davutoglu, vowing the culprits would be brought to justice. The United States and Russia, one of the few remaining supporters of Assad's regime, pledged this week to relaunch efforts to solve the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed 70,000 people since March 2011.Source/Agence France Presse.

Lebanon fuel re-exports to Syria diminishing

May 13, 2013/By Mohamad El Amin/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Only one dealer remains in the controversial business of re-exporting gasoil to Syria, a senior industry official said, while Lebanese customs data showed a 33 percent decline in fuel imports during the first quarter of 2013. “Strong pressure placed by Lebanese banks, dropping margins of profits and higher risks – especially attacks on fuel trucks – all combined to making the trade fall out of favor,” Dania Nakad, general manager of Wardieh Holdings Inc., told The Daily Star. “Quantities of fuel oil exported to Syria plummeted to very marginal quantities.”As Lebanese fuel re-exports to Syria diminished, smuggled Syrian gasoline and some gasoil have been increasingly present in the local market, Nakad added, highlighting that Syrian gasoline subsidies continue to make the illegal trade very lucrative. While sector officials have previously said the smuggled fuel is concentrated in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, Nakad said it was now being sold across the country. She estimated that out of the 33 percent decline in imports, 13 percent was explained by the continued stagnation of the Lebanese economy, with the rest caused by the drop in re-exports. Such a sharp decline in fuel imports does not reflect the variation in local consumption, Chief Economist at Byblos Bank Nassib Ghobril told The Daily Star, echoing Nakad.“We have stagnation in the economy and a drop in the number of tourists so there is probably moderate decline in consumption ... but this does not justify alone such a drop in fuel imports,” he said.
Lebanon’s trade deficit confirmed the trend, as it recovered in the first quarter of 2013, dropping over 10 percent to $4.3 billion from $4.8 billion a year earlier.
While the value of non-hydrocarbon imports increased 8.6 percent to $4 billion, hydrocarbon imports declined 33.8 percent to just $1.5 billion, according to a Byblos Bank weekly economic report issued Saturday.
Changes in oil prices do not account for the drop, as hydrocarbon imports by volume fell a comparable 32.4 percent to 1.88 million tons and non-hydrocarbon imports increased by 8.2 percent to 1.93 million tons.
The lower trade deficit was reflected in Lebanon’s balance of payments, which posted a deficit of $62.2 million in the first quarter of 2013, compared to a deficit of $373.2 million in the same quarter last year.
The balance of payments posted deficits of $1.54 billion in 2012 and $2 billion in 2011 and surpluses of $3.3 billion and $7.9 billion in 2010 and 2009 respectively.
Throughout 2012 Syria appeared to have become increasingly dependent on fuel imports from Lebanon to cover shortages caused by European and U.S. sanctions prohibiting companies from having financial dealings with the Syrian government. The Syrian government in early 2013 authorized Syrian private companies to import fuel, a measure intended to reduce the impact of the sanctions.Since February Lebanese protesters have blocked roads to Syrian fuel trucks and in several cases torched what they said were shipments intended to the Syrian regime. The Syrian government retaliated by barring Lebanese trucks from passing through Syria for more than 40 days before reportedly allowing them access Thursday.

Syrians hold pro-Assad demonstration in Sidon
May 13, 2013/The Daily Star/SIDON, Lebanon: Several hundred Syrian workers in Lebanon held a demonstration in support of President Bashar Assad and his allies Sunday in the city of Sidon. Carrying a 2-meter Syrian flag, around 400 people chanted slogans in favor of Assad, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and Speaker Nabih Berri as they marched through the streets of Haret Saida, a majority-Shiite area. “Erdogan is a monster in front of the giant Bashar,” the protesters chanted, referring to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The protesters carried pictures of Assad in military uniform with a caption that read: “Beware of [harming] Syria, you villains.” Under the watch of Army personnel, the Syrian workers spoke out against the Syrian opposition, describing them as terrorists “and seeking to kill our brothers in Syria.”“The protest is in solidarity with the Syrian people, Syria and Bashar Assad,” said Mohammad Ghayyas, who wrote the words “Oh Assad, here we come” on his son’s belly. One protester said many of his friends decided to stop working Sunday to organize the march. A pro-Assad protest is a rare occurrence in Sidon, where Sunni Islamist Sheikh Ahmad Assir has been holding demonstrations to support the Syrian opposition.

STL list leaked, stolen or fabricated?
May 13, 2013/By Niamh Fleming-Farrell/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Outrage, condemnation and the initiation of contempt proceedings have characterized the past month at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon following the latest publication of an alleged confidential witness list.
But as the STL press office repeatedly tells media outlets to not assume the published list is a leak, and as the court awaits the appointment of an independent investigator to examine whether contempt charges can be brought against those responsible for publishing the list, the question remains as to how the names and details of the alleged witnesses originated.
Three theories appear to be viable: The list was indeed leaked; it was stolen at one point; or the names were either completely or partially fabricated.
The first theory appears to be the most plausible explanation, according to sources familiar with the issue. When Al-Akhbar newspaper published the witness’ details on Jan. 15, the daily described the information as “leaked,” however the method by which hackers obtained a similar list, which was posted on the website of AlMustaqbal newspaper on April 9, was not revealed.
Instead, the hackers provided a link to another website called “Journalists for the Truth,” which has since been taken offline, with the list published under the title “Secret witnesses in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (Group #1).”According to various sources, that the list was leaked from within the STL seems like the most plausible way by which the so-called confidential witness information entered the public domain.
“If I had to speculate on the rumors,” said academic and political commentator Elias Muhanna, “I’d say that the theft and fabrication theories are least plausible to me. ... With an investigation that has gone on as long as this one, with so many people involved, intelligence agencies, diplomats and local police, it seems inevitable that information would eventually leak.”
In 2009, the STL took over the inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and related attacks from its predecessor, the United Nations International Independent Investigative Commission. Over the eight years since Hariri’s death, hundreds of people have worked on the investigation, which in turn has interviewed thousands.
Although the STL has stated that the most recently published witness list on the Al-Mustaqbal website is inaccurate, in the past leaked information, published in local and international news outlets, was proven accurate.
A Lebanon-based source close to the STL defense, speaking on condition of anonymity, dismisses the notion that the witness lists are informed fabrications.
The source claims that while none of the published lists names all of the 557 witnesses included in the confidential list the prosecution filed with the court in November last year, the lists offer too much detail to be a fabrication, as some included the content of witness testimonies. The source argues that the repeated appearance of so-called witness lists “means that the STL has no effective protection system.”Referencing previous leaks, the source recommends that “[STL president] David Baragwanath initiate ... a strong inquiry [within the STL].”
Although the court has announced it will appoint an independent investigator to probe the three incidents in which lists were published, on the grounds that they may interfere with its work, it has not clarified what the scope of this investigation will be.The STL has, however, repeatedly stated the importance of keeping witness information confidential and emphasized the intimidation resulting from publishing the so-called lists negatively affects their work.
Asked about the methods it uses to protect confidential information, the STL told The Daily Star that it “employs a list of internal measures,” but declined to disclose their exact nature. However, the tribunal did explain how it goes about classifying documents. There are four classification levels at the STL for documents filed to the court, and successive levels place additional barriers to access. The party that files the documents determines how it will be classified. In the case of the witness lists, the filing party was the prosecution. The court’s judges can modify the classification.
When the prosecution filed the witness list last November, it classified the document as “confidential,” which is the second classification level, the first being “public” documents.
A “confidential” classification effectively means that though the document cannot be disclosed to the public, it can be made available in both hard copy and electronic format to all of the court’s bodies. The court did not reveal how many individuals would have access to the witness list under this classification.
Filings that are marked “confidential and ex parte,” or “under seal and ex parte with limited distribution,” are less accessible. The former is available in electronic and hard copy formats to a limited number of parties within the court, with the latter being available in hardy copy only to the relevant judge, the president and the registrar. The prosecution confidentially filed its witness list, along with its pretrial brief and its exhibit list on Nov. 15, and as required by the court’s rules these documents were disclosed to the defense counsel. A public redacted version of the filing was issued, naturally excluding the witness details.
The court also pointed out to The Daily Star that the prosecution’s witness lists are not final, and can be subject to change, with the possibility that names can be removed or added before trial.
The tribunal declined to further comment on the nature or management of the list, although it said that “in order to better guarantee the security of those individuals included in the witness list, it is of paramount importance to keep the list confidential.” There is one known theft of information from the STL. On Nov. 27, 2010, a briefcase was stolen from representatives of the court in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
It is noteworthy that when asked if this incident compromised witness details, the court replied: “It is not possible to state the nature of information that was stolen in Beirut on Oct. 27, 2010,” adding, “the contempt judge ordered the appointment of an amicus investigator who will be designated by the registrar in due course.”The court would not be drawn further on what role, if any, the investigator would play in probing the theft.

Hezbollah denounces Turkey bombings
May 12, 2013/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah denounced Sunday the car bombings that left dozens of people dead in south Turkey near the border with Syria and called for stopping terrorism that is targeting innocent civilians. “These terrorist bombings come with a series of similar crimes that are targeting innocent people in more than one Islamic country,” Hezbollah said in a statement. At least 43 people were killed in the Turkish town of Reyhanli over the weekend after two car bombs went off in the town’s busiest street on Saturday. More than 140 people were wounded in the attack that was the deadliest in Turkey in recent years.
Hezbollah said that the bombings had the “fingerprints of international intelligence agencies that aim to create instability, strife and unrest in these countries.” The party’s statement came hours after Damascus denied that it was behind the attack in Turkey that officials in Ankara blamed on Turkish groups with links to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. “Hezbollah condemns these bombings and calls on uniting efforts to fight terror which innocent civilians are falling victims of,” the statement added.

Report: Israel Opens Arabian Gulf Mission
Naharnet/Israel has opened a new diplomatic mission in the Gulf, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Sunday, citing Finance Ministry costings for 2014 prepared for submission to the government this week.
"The paper is an economic plan for the next year and does not name the location of the new mission," Haaretz said. Questioned by AFP, a Foreign Ministry spokesman would say only that Israel "officially has no diplomatic representation in the Gulf." In May 2010, then Israeli trade minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer attended an international economic conference in Qatar. The first Israeli minister to visit the Gulf state since Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in November 2008. Qatar, increasingly influential in the region, broke off diplomatic ties with Israel and closed the Israeli trade mission in Doha in protest against the Israeli military offensive in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009. Besides Qatar, only Oman had established relations with Israel but they were broken in late 2000 after the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada. In January 2010, then national infrastructures minister Uzi Landau, attended a meeting of the International Agency for Renewable Energy in Abu Dhabi. But the United Arab Emirates stressed that his presence did not mean normalization between the two countries.

Observatory: More Than 80,000 Killed in Syria Conflict
Naharnet/More than 80,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it erupted more than two years ago, a monitoring group said on Sunday. Nearly half of those who died were civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based watchdog said it has documented the killing of around 82,257 people, including 34,473 civilians -- among them 4,788 children and 3,049 women. It has also recorded the deaths of 16,687 rebel fighters, including defected military personnel. The watchdog said 16,729 soldiers and more than 12,000 shabiha (pro-regime militia) and regime informants have also died. The bodies of another 2,368 people were found across Syria, the Observatory added. The conflict started out in March 2013 as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad but spiraled into a civil war after the army unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent. Some 1.4 million people have fled the country while 4.2 other Syrians have become internally displaced, the U.N. says. The Observatory says its toll does not include more than 10,000 people missing in detention in regime jails, or some 2,500 pro-regime prisoners kept in rebel hands. In Saturday's violence alone, at least 86 people were killed across Syria, the Observatory said, listing them as 23 civilians, 40 rebels and 23 soldiers.
Source/Agence France Presse.

Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates Says U.S. Military Involvement in Syria would be a 'Mistake'
Naharnet/Former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates warned Sunday that deepening U.S. military involvement in Syria's civil war would be a "mistake," warning the outcome would be unpredictable and messy. In an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation," Gates also said he saw "no good outcomes" in dealing with Iran's nuclear program and warned that a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be "a disastrous mistake."Gates' comments on Syria come amid debate in Washington over whether to step up military support for rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad, even as the administration attempts a new peace initiative with Russia.
"I thought it was a mistake in Libya, and I think it is a mistake in Syria, even if we had intervened more significantly in Syria a year ago or six months ago. We overestimate our ability to determine outcomes. "Caution, particularly in terms of arming these groups and in terms of U.S. military involvement, is in order," he said. "Anybody who says, 'It's going to be clean. It's going to be neat. You can establish safe zones, and it'll be just swell,' well, most wars aren't that way," he said. Gates, who served under both George W Bush and President Barack Obama, was U.S. defense secretary in 2011 when the United States joined a NATO-led air operation in Libya that helped rebels topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. On Iran, Gates said the best the United States can hope for is that sanctions bite deep enough that the regime decides to change course. "If there is no military attack, and they don't change their policies, you will probably see a nuclear-armed Iran igniting a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world, emboldened to be even more aggressive and with missiles that can reach Israel now and Europe soon. "But if you do hit them, then I think the consequences of their retaliation could spin out of control," he said. Gates, a former intelligence officer who helped oversee U.S. support for Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s, said a residual U.S. force should remain in the country after 2014, when U.S. troops are scheduled to come home. "I will tell you this: For us to leave lock, stock, and barrel at the end of 2014, and abandon Afghanistan as we did after the Soviets left, would be a disastrous mistake."Source/Agence France Presse.

Turkey says it won’t be drawn into Syria conflict
May 13, 2013/Agencies
BEIRUT/ANKARA: Turkey’s prime minister vowed Sunday his country would not be drawn into Syria’s civil war, despite twin car bombings the government believes were carried out by a group of Turks with close ties to pro-regime groups in Syria. The bombings left 46 people dead and marked the biggest incident of violence across the border since the start of Syria’s civil war, raising fears of Turkey being pulled deeper into a conflict that threatens to destabilize the region. Syria has rejected allegations it was behind the attacks. But Turkish authorities said Sunday they had detained nine Turkish citizens with links to the Syrian intelligence agency in connection with the bombings in the border town of Reyhanli, a hub for Syrian refugees and rebels just across from Syria’s Idlib province. Harsh accusations have flown between Turkey and Syria, signaling a sharp escalation of already high tensions between the two former allies. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Turkey would not be drawn militarily in retaliation. He insisted Turkey would “maintain our extreme coolheadedness in the face of efforts and provocations to drag us into the bloody quagmire.” “Those who target Turkey will be held to account sooner or later,” he said. “Great states retaliate more powerfully, but when the time is right ... We are taking our steps in a coolheaded manner.”Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said those detained were linked to a Marxist terrorist group.
Sabah, a Turkish newspaper close to the government, reported Sunday that authorities suspect the leader of a former Marxist group, Mirhac Ural, now believed to be based in Syria, may have revived his group and ordered the attack.The group, Acilciler, was one of many Marxist groups active in Turkey through the 1970s and 1980s, and was long-rumored to have been formed by the Syrian intelligence agency. Many of its militants allegedly included ethnic Arab Turks belonging to a sect close to Syria’s Alawites. Davutoglu said the Reyhanli bombers were believed to be from the same group that carried out an attack on the Syrian coastal town of Banias a week ago in which at least 62 people were killed. “Some believe that now that relations [with Turkey] have deteriorated again, Syria may have reactivated the group to cause turmoil in Turkey,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey. Saturday’s twin bombings, 15 minutes apart, damaged some 735 businesses and 120 apartments, leaving smoking hulks of buildings and charred cars. It also wounded dozens of people, including 50 who remained hospitalized Sunday. Syria and Turkey became adversaries early on during the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad that erupted in March 2011.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the aim of the attack was to stoke tensions between Turks and Syrian refugees. The town is home to members of Turkey’s Arab Alevi community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while many of the refugees who have fled Syria are Sunni. On Sunday, hundreds of people marched in the city of Antakya, near Reyhanli, protesting against the government for its Syria policies and support for the rebels – which some believe has exacerbated the conflict in Syria. Turks in Hatay, the southern province where the town is located, complain that the rebels roam freely, disrupting calm in Turkey’s border regions.
Witnesses said they saw Turks attacking Syrian registered cars in Reyhanli soon after Saturday’s attack and some Syrians avoided going out in the streets. Erdogan asked citizens in Reyhanli to remain calm and not “fall for the provocations.” Authorities had so far identified 35 of the dead, three of them as Syrians. Families began burying their loved ones.
Earlier in Damascus, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected Turkey’s charges, saying that “Syria didn’t and will never undertake such acts because our values don’t allow us to do this.”
He accused Turkey of destabilizing the border areas between the two countries by supporting the rebels, who the regime has labeled terrorists. “They turned houses of civilian Turks, their farms, their property into a center and passageway for terrorist groups from all over the world,” Zoubi said. “They facilitated and still are, the passage of weapons and explosives and money and murderers to Syria.” The bombings took place as prospects appeared to improve for diplomacy to try to end the war, after Moscow and Washington announced a joint effort to bring government and rebels to an international conference. Officials from Syria’s opposition coalition, in crisis since its president resigned in March, said Sunday it would meet in Istanbul on May 23 to decide whether to participate. The coalition’s general assembly will also elect a new head of the Western and Gulf-backed coalition, and discuss the fate of provisional prime minister Ghassan Hitto, who has come under heavy criticism, the sources told Reuters. “Everything will be decided in the general assembly meeting,” one of the coalition officials said.
One the strongest contenders to replace Hitto is Ahmad Tomaa Kheder, a 48-year-old independent Islamist opposition leader from the eastern province of Deir al-Zor. He was arrested early in the Syrian revolt and worked closely with liberals during years of peaceful opposition to Assad, the sources said.