May 14/2013


Bible Quotation for today/The Peaceful Kingdom
Isaiah 11/01-09: " The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David's descendants.
The spirit of the Lord will give him wisdom and the knowledge and skill to rule his people. He will know the Lord's will and honor him, and find pleasure in obeying him.  He will not judge by appearance or hearsay; he will judge the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless. At his command the people will be punished, and evil persons will die. He will rule his people with justice and integrity. Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats. Calves and lion cubs will feed together, and little children will take care of them. Cows and bears will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do. Even a baby will not be harmed  if it plays near a poisonous snake. On Zion, God's sacred hill, there will be nothing harmful or evil. The land will be as full of knowledge of the Lord as the seas are full of water.


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

Opinion: Intentionally Crossing Red Lines/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat/May 14/13  
Opinion: Sectarian Cleansing and Sunni Rage/By: Abdullah Al-Otaibi/Asharq Alawsat/May 14/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 14/13
Saudis explore Iranian options for Syria & Lebanon in talks with Iran’s Salehi
UAE Advises Citizens to Avoid Travel to Lebanon
Constitutional Council Rejects Jumblat's Bloc Appeal against Suspension of Candidacy Deadline

Suleiman Supports Amending Constitution to Include Neutrality Article
Berri Warns of De Facto Cabinet, Aims at Ending Dispute over Electoral Law
Salam says not rushing Cabinet formation but opposes delays
Orthodox draft on Parliament’s agenda

Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam to NOW: We will attend May 15 parliamentary session
Suleiman Could Hit the Brakes on De Facto Cabinet Line-up
Salam Meets Berri, Hopes New Government Pleases All Sides
Report: March 8 to 'Resort to the Street' over De Facto Cabinet 'Madness'
Jumblat Backs 24-Minister Cabinet: We Won't Get Involved in Futile March 8 Debates
Al-Mustaqbal, PSP, Independent MPs, and Miqati to Boycott Parliament Session as Orthodox Proposal Only Item on Agenda
Qabbani Appoints New Sidon Mufti: Those Criticizing Me are Seeking to Alter Role of Dar al-Fatwa
Report: Two Soldiers Stabbed in Sidon Clash with Asir Supporters
Central Bank to Investigate Status of 135 Suspected of Links to al-Madina Bank
Drug Smuggling Attempt Thwarted at Airport

2 Workers Killed in Blast in Antelias Quarry
Miqati, EU Mission Deny Withdrawal of UNIFIL Troops
Abou Faour Meets Berri: Jumblat Keen on Consultations with All Sides to Reach Agreement on Govt.
Canada deports 1968 Palestinian El Al hijacker
Israel "determined" to halt Syria missile deal, minister says
Campaigners slam Iran's role at helm of UN arms body

Iran foreign minister warns of Syria breakup
Netanyahu, Putin to Meet Tuesday for Syria Talks
John Kerry to Discuss Syria in Stockholm 
Cameron, at White House, Hails Syria 'Breakthrough'
Turkey to Press Harder for Assad Ouster after Blasts
Syrian Army Takes Villages near Qusayr
Syria Opposition to Consult Regional Backers on Peace Talks

Russia Condemns 'Barbaric' Turkey Border Attacks, Calls for Probe
Lifetime Ban Requested against Berlusconi at Sex Trial

Benghazi Car Bomb Kills 15 near Al-Jala Hospital
Iraq Prosecutor Says Sick President Should Be Replaced

Canada deports 1968 Palestinian El Al hijacker
By REUTERS 05/13/2013 20:01 Palestinian who killed Israeli man on El Al flight from Athens, deported by Canada to Lebanon; previously sentenced to 17 years in Greece, but released a year later in hostage exchange; lived under false identity in Canada.  OTTAWA After a 25-year legal battle, Canada has finally deported a Palestinian convicted of an attack on an Israeli airliner in 1968, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said on Monday.
Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, a former Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine commando, took part in the assault on an El Al jet in Athens that killed an Israeli man. He was deported to Lebanon on Saturday.A Greek court sentenced him to 17 years in jail in 1970, but he was released a year later in a hostage exchange. He came to Canada in February 1987 under a false identity. Officials started trying to deport Mohammad in 1988 but he managed to stay in Canada by claiming refugee status and then launched a series of legal appeals against his deportation. "This case is almost a comedy of a errors ... This a cautionary tale. We should never allow a situation like this to happen again," said Kenney, blaming previous governments for presiding over what he called a dysfunctional system. "He made a mockery of our legal system. We believe that even criminals should get due process and they should get their day in court but they should not be able to abuse our fair process," he told reporters. Canada's right-leaning Conservative government, which took power in 2006, has clamped down on the immigration and refugee system and eliminated many of the rights of appeal that Mohammad had used. Kenney told reporters that Mohammad - who is stateless - had married a Lebanese national and had legal status in Lebanon. Canada has concluded he would not face any risks in Lebanon, he added.

Saudis explore Iranian options for Syria & Lebanon in talks with Iran’s Salehi
DEBKAfile Special Report May 13, 2013/Saudi Arabia has decided to explore dialogue with its great regional rival Iran for ending the Syrian conflict and assuring Lebanon’s political future, debkafile’s Gulf sources report. They have given up on US policy for Syria in view of Russian and Iranian unbending support for Bashar Assad; his battlefield gains aided by Hizballah and Iranian Bassij forces; and Turkey’s inaction after Saturday’s terrorist bombings in the town of Reyhanli near the Syrian border which caused 46 deaths. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal took advantage of the Organization of Islamic Conference-OIC, in Jeddah this week on the Mali conflict for getting together Monday, May 13, with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who was in attendance. Our sources report that Riyadh’s first priority is to stabilize Lebanon through a Saudi-Iranian entente on political equilibrium in Beirut. The Saudis would next seek an accord with Tehran on the outcome of the Syrian civil conflict. The Saudi rulers have come to the conclusion, which the West and Israel have been slow to acknowledge, that since the Iranian-Hizballah-Syrian military alliance is pulling ahead in the Syrian conflict and chalking up victories, they had better look to their interests in Lebanon, which hinge heavily on the Sunni clan headed by Saad Hariri. If they wait till a victorious Hizballah comes marching home and grabs power in Beirut, protecting Lebanon’s Sunni community will be that much harder.
HIzballah has increased its strategic clout in Lebanon and Syria and its leader Hassan Nasrallah will have a greater say in any deal for Lebanon on the strength of his successful support for Assad.
These issues were covered in several hours of discussion between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers. Riyadh has little faith in the initiative undertaken by US Secretary of State John Kerry to convene an international conference with Russia for ending the Syrian conflict. Obama himself left a big question mark over the conference at his joint White House news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Monday, when he spoke of “lingering suspicions between Russia and the US” left over from the Cold War. The US president said he didn’t know if Russia would cooperate in moves to remove Assad from power, so enabling Washington and Moscow to work together for a solution. The truth is that Putin has staunchly backed the Syrian ruler in the more than two years of the Syrian conflict. Any Saudi-Iranian deal, if they do come to terms, would run contrary to Obama’s perception of the Syrian issue. Riyadh would need to meet Tehran at least halfway on Iranian Hizballah aspirations, which center on a role for Assad in any future political accommodation fro ending the Syrian war. The Saudis also deeply disapprove of the Turkish role on Syria. The track they have opened up to Tehran has the additional purpose of outmaneuvering Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan before he reaches the White House Thursday, May 16, to confer with President Obama on the Syrian imbroglio.

Iran foreign minister warns of Syria breakup

AFP/Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned on Monday of the possibility of Syria breaking up and its conflict spilling across the Middle East unless a political solution can end the bloodshed. "God forbid, if there was a void, or disintegration, in Syria, this crisis would spill over into all countries in the region," said Salehi, whose country is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, the Assad regime and its opponents should seek a political solution by setting up a transitional government until elections, he told reporters in Jeddah. He also rejected foreign intervention in Syria, which is in its third year of conflict after protests against the regime in 2011 morphed into an armed rebellion. "The Syrian people should have self-determination... It is not permitted that decisions made abroad get to be imposed on an ancient country and people like Syria," he said. Salehi on Sunday held talks with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal. He acknowledged he had "different views" with his host, whose kingdom supports the Syrian opposition. The Syria conflict has claimed more than 80,000 lives, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog

Campaigners slam Iran's role at helm of UN arms body
AFP/Iran's looming status as head of a UN disarmament body sparked outrage Monday from campaigners who said its nuclear program and arming of Syria and Islamist militias disqualified it from a place at the table. "This is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women's shelter," said Hillel Neuer, head of Geneva-based UN Watch, announcing that the organization would organize protest events involving Iranian dissidents. The leadership of the UN Conference on Disarmament rotates automatically in alphabetical order among its 65 member nations, and Iran is scheduled to take the helm on May 27 for a session running until June 23. "Iran is an international outlaw state that illegally supplies rockets to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, aiding and abetting mass murder and terrorism. To make this rogue regime head of world arms control is simply an outrage. Abusers of international norms should not be the public face of the UN," Neuer said. The organization, which is affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, urged the United States, European Union and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to speak out, despite the fact that diplomatic protocol dictates who will preside over conference sessions. "When the United Nations imposes four rounds of sanctions on Iran for illicit nuclear activities, condemns it for illegally arming the murderous Syrian regime, and denounces Tehran's massive abuse of human rights, this kind of appointment just defies common sense and harms the UN's credibility," said Neuer. Iran takes over the conference presidency from Indonesia, and at the end of June hands over to Iraq, which in turn makes way for Ireland later in the year. The conference was launched in 1979 to try to stem the Cold War arms race.

Israel "determined" to halt Syria missile deal, minister says

AFP/Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is "fully determined" to try to halt sales by Russia of advanced missiles to Syria when he visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin, a minister said Sunday. A reported Russian plan to sell Damascus S-300 missile batteries "worries us at the highest level and the prime minister is fully determined that this contract should not be fulfilled," Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, a member of the security cabinet, told public radio. "Such a sale to Syria would alter the balance of forces in the region and these weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah," the Lebanese militia ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israel's arch-foe Iran, Shalom said. Should Syria obtain the ultra-modern Russian weapons, which can destroy aircraft or guided missiles, "action by countries seeking change in Syria would become much more difficult," he added. Russian and Israeli officials have said the two leaders are to meet shortly, with Russia's Interfax news agency quoting Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the visit was being planned for next week. "Netanyahu and Putin will discuss the Russian arms sales to Syria, in particular the sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems," Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Friday, adding that the Israeli premier would also seek to raise the Iranian nuclear issue. Israel twice last week carried out air strikes near Damascus, attacks a senior Israeli source said were aimed at preventing the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that the sale of S300s to Damascus would be "potentially destabilizing" for the region. Russia however refuses to rule it out however, saying it has to honor existing contracts. On a visit to Warsaw on Friday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was continuing to fulfill agreements by delivering military hardware to Assad's regime in defiance of calls for a freeze.
"Russia has sold and signed contracts a long time ago, and is completing supplies of the equipment, which is anti-aircraft systems, according to the already signed contracts," he told reporters. Its 2013 agenda includes striving to craft a deal on nuclear disarmament, preventing arms from spreading to outer space and halting the development of other weapons of mass destruction. In the past, its debates have paved the way for treaties on non-proliferation of nuclear arms, and biological and chemical weapons

Suleiman Supports Amending Constitution to Include Neutrality Article

Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman voiced on Monday his support to an initiative proposed by the Phalange party, which focuses on introducing a constitutional amendment, which calls for neutrality and dissociate the country from the conflicts surrounding it.“The initiative became a necessity during the current developments in the region,” Suleiman said after talks with a Phalage party delegation at the Baabda Palace. The delegation comprised of MPs Sami Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel, Elie Marouni, Samer Saadeh and Fadi el-Haber discussed the initiative with Suleiman and requested an amendment to the preamble of the constitution to stipulate Lebanon's neutrality towards regional conflicts to the president. “The Baabda Declaration must be adopted in the constitution and in the laws so that no one can act against it. It will be considered illegal if the declaration is breached,” the Phalange party said last week. The Baabda Declaration was unanimously adopted during a national dialogue session in June 2012. It calls for Lebanon to disassociate itself from regional crises, most notably the one in Syria. Meanwhile, Suleiman condemned the twin bomb attacks in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. He called for “punishing” the culprits whatever their affiliations where. The violence of the conflict in Syria has spilled over into Syria's neighbors, with Turkey accusing Damascus of being behind car bombings near the border that killed 48 people on Saturday. The Syrian government denied involvement in the twin car bombs that sowed death in Reyhanli on Saturday but Ankara said it was holding suspects who had confessed and accused Damascus of dragging Turkey into its civil war. Suleiman also held talks with Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati, Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim. Source/Agence France

Suleiman Could Hit the Brakes on De Facto Cabinet Line-up

Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman could postpone signing a decree on the new government line-up that Premier-designate Tammam Salam allegedly intends to announce this week, presidential sources said.
The sources told An Nahar daily published Monday that Suleiman, who “is a partner in the cabinet formation process” and has taken the oath “to preserve the Constitution and the country's security,” would postpone the signature if he saw that the circumstances were not ripe. The president could agree with the PM-designate on giving consultations more time, the sources said after reports that Salam would announce a fait accompli cabinet that does not include the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance. Suleiman's approval is necessary before the parliament gives a vote of confidence to the government. March 8 has asked for veto power in the new government and sought to name its own ministers despite the rejection of Salam, whose sources said in remarks published in several local and pan-Arab dailies on Monday that the formation of a 14-member cabinet is one of the options. “The date of the announcement of the line-up hinges on the developments. The PM-designate is in contact with all the political blocs and would take the stance that serves the national interest in light of the consultations,” they said. The sources said the formation of the14-member cabinet became a possibility after March 8 rejected a proposal for a government of 24 ministers divided equally among the Hizbullah-led alliance, the March 14 coalition and the centrists that include Suleiman and MP Walid Jumblat's Progressive Socialist Party. “Where is the problem in bringing respectable and trustful people who are capable of working for the interest of all the citizens? Are ministries the properties of certain figures and parties?” Salam was quoted as saying by politicians who have lately visited him. Meanwhile, the sources did not confirm a meeting that the Premier-designate reportedly held with Jumblat on Sunday night. Jumblat returned to Beirut Sunday after meeting with al-Mustaqbal movement chief ex-PM Saad Hariri and Saudi officials in Jeddah. Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who accompanied Jumblat on his trip, said in a statement that the PSP chief will continue his contacts with Suleiman, 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 would accept given its balance and accuracy.” The statement seemed to be hinting that Jumblat had given his consent to the alleged de facto government despite his previous rejections of participating in a government in which not all political parties are represented.

Orthodox draft on Parliament’s agenda
May 13, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri set Monday the agenda for Parliament’s crucial session that will be held mid this week, with the controversial Orthodox Gathering proposal the sole item to be discussed. Berri’s decision came during a meeting of Parliament's General Secretariat at the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence where lawmakers failed to agree on the items for the agenda of the May 15 session.
The lack of consensus forced Berri to distribute the one-item agenda to lawmakers, sources close to the meeting of the General Secretariat told The Daily Star. Berri informed the MPs during the meeting that they could discuss other electoral proposals when the Orthodox draft law is brought up in Parliament, the sources said. The lawmakers responded that discussions involving 128 MPs would be futile, especially given that electoral issues were previously discussed in the parliamentary joint committees. Berri, however, insisted on placing the draft law as the only item on the agenda, the sources said. March 14 members of the body, apart from MP Antoine Zahra, told Berri they would not attend the Parliament session.
Several lawmakers in the body criticized Berri, saying he had excluded them from setting the agenda for the legislative session. Future MP Ahmad Fatfat, a member of the General Secretariat, described the meeting as “very bad.” “He decided on the agenda without us,” Fatfat told The Daily Star, noting that the country could face a “true national crisis” as a result. Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, another member of the body, told local media that Berri had overstepped the prerogatives of the secretariat and violated the internal regulations of Parliament. Earlier Monday, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, a member in MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, hinted at a boycott. Asked if the bloc would boycott the session, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour of Jumblatt’s National Struggle Front bloc said: "If the Orthodox draft law is proposed then we will certainly not vote in its favor or play any part in any measure that we consider dangerous to the country and the future of national unity such as the Orthodox Gathering [plan].”
Abu Faour’s remarks came after talks with Berri at Ain el-Tineh. The Future parliamentary bloc has already warned it will boycott a Parliament session should the Orthodox proposal be put to a vote while President Michel Sleiman has repeatedly said he will not sign the draft into law. Opponents of the law argue that a system allowing sects to vote for their own MPs would deepen the sectarian divide in the country and allow for the rise of extremists. Its supporters, mainly the Maronite Christian parties backed by Bkirki, claim that such a formula is the viable option to guarantee fair Christian representation. Although the parties under the sponsorship of Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate, were open to other electoral proposals, lawmakers of the various political divide have failed on several occasions to agree on a new electoral law. Both Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal Movement have said they will vote in favor of the Orthodox proposal if it is put to a vote in Parliament.

Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam to NOW: We will attend May 15 parliamentary session
Now Lebanon/Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam told NOW on Monday that his party will attend the decisive parliamentary session on May 15. “We, the Lebanese Forces, will definitely attend the session but we will wait until the last moment to decide what is best for the country,” Karam said. Regarding the issue of forming a government he said: “We were clear from the beginning. We are with facilitating Premier-designate [Tammam Salam’s] task because we are very concerned with constitutional deadlines and holding the elections on time even if it is postponed for technical reasons.” Salam is having to jump over hurdles in an attempt to form a government ahead of the scheduled parliamentary elections. Representation within the upcoming cabinet is being contested between the opposed March 8 and March 14 groups, while new electoral law proposals are being debated and will be put to vote in parliament on May 15. “The LF wants a technocratic government so that parties do not fight over the division of ministries, and bureaus not be used by a certain political group for its own benefit in the parliamentary elections,” he continued. Some March 14 figures have called for the new government to not include ministers who are running for election as parliamentarians in the upcoming vote, while others have called for a “rotation” of portfolios. However, all parties have denied setting conditions for the formation of the new cabinet. As for the involvement in the Syrian conflict, Karam stressed that “no doubt any kind of intervention is rejected by us.” “It is Hezbollah’s organized and strategic involvement which paved the way for intervention [in Syria]."The opposition MP also said: "It is not like other groups’ interference which is built either on personal reasons or on decisions made by small groups that can be managed in case Hezbollah decides to let the Lebanese army and government control the borders." “However, the strategic decision made by Iran to use Hezbollah in the ongoing crisis in Syria is what caused the Syrian conflict to move into Lebanese territory,” he added. Elite fighters from Hezbollah are leading the fight against rebels in the region of Al-Qusayr in the central province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week. Fighting in the area has spilled over into Lebanon, with rebels reportedly targeting border towns inside Lebanon in response to Hezbollah involvement in the conflict.

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.

Constitutional Council Rejects Jumblat's Bloc Appeal against Suspension of Candidacy Deadline
Naharnet/The Constitutional Council rejected Monday an appeal filed by the National Struggle Front and a number of MPs against a law suspending the deadline for submitting nominations for the parliamentary elections.
The council said the law did not violate Article 42 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “general elections for the renewal of the Chamber shall take place within a sixty day period preceeding the expiration of its mandate."
On April 26, the eight-member National Struggle Front, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari and lawmakers Ahmed Karami and Marwan Hamadeh filed against the suspension of the nominations' deadlines for the parliamentary elections.President Michel Suleiman had signed earlier the draft-law suspending the deadline for submitting nominations for the polls until May 19. The draft-law was referred to the president after it was approved by parliament despite the boycott of the National Struggle Front. It calls for setting the deadline for submitting candidacies to three weeks before the elections date. It also allows candidates who seek to withdraw their nominations to do so 15 days before the polls.

Salam Meets Berri, Hopes New Government Pleases All Sides
Naharnet/Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam reiterated on Monday his keenness to achieve national interests in his mission to form a new government. He said after holding talks with Speaker Nabih Berri: “I hope that the new cabinet pleases all political powers.” “I am not hasty in my efforts, but I do not want to take too long in forming a new government,” he told reporters at Ain el-Tineh. “We are in need of a new government because a caretaker one will only weaken Lebanon,” stressed Salam. He added that Lebanon is passing through a difficult period that requires a new government, hoping that lawmakers would reach an agreement over a new parliamentary electoral law during Wednesday's parliament session. The premier-designate reiterated his goal to form a cabinet that will oversee the elections, which are set for June 16. Media reports said Monday that he was seeking the establishment of a de facto cabinet, which would allegedly prompt the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp to take street action in protest. The alliance has asked for veto power in the new government and sought to name its own ministers despite the rejection of Salam. Berri meanwhile told As Safir newspaper Monday the announcement of a de facto cabinet ahead of Wednesday's parliamentary session will have negative repercussions on it and end the possibility of reaching consensus over a new electoral law.

Berri Warns of De Facto Cabinet, Aims at Ending Dispute over Electoral Law
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri warned on Monday of the announcement of a de facto government ahead of the scheduled parliamentary session, pointing out that he aims at reaching consensus with the different parliamentary blocs and ending confrontation over the new electoral law. “The announcement of a de facto cabinet ahead of Wednesday's parliamentary session will have negative repercussions on it and will end the possibility of reaching consensus over a new electoral law,” Berri said in comments published in As Safir newspaper. He noted that such an endeavor will topple any possible “agreement,” and would be considered a “provocative” act.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam 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. “The protocol and constitutional norms require that I head to the Baabda Palace to be informed about the cabinet formation... If it was adequate I voice agreement but if it was disappointing I will give the appropriate advice and will let the parliament play its role in the matter,” Berri stated. The speaker reiterated his criticism of the “centrists” in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper. But Berri praised Jumblat's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, expressing hope that it would end any “dramatic acts.”“Jumblat will not turn against his ties with me and vice versa,” he noted. Jumblat returned to Beirut Sunday after meeting with al-Mustaqbal movement chief ex-PM Saad Hariri and Saudi officials in Jeddah. Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who accompanied Jumblat on his trip, said in a statement that the PSP chief will continue his contacts with Suleiman, 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 would accept given its balance and accuracy.”The statement seemed to be hinting that Jumblat had given his consent to the alleged de facto government despite his previous rejections of participating in a government in which not all political parties are represented.
Concerning Wednesday's assembly meeting set to adopt a new electoral law, the AMAL movement leader said that he will exert efforts to press lawmakers to reach common ground over the new electoral law or the Orthodox Gathering proposal will be put up for a vote. “The Orthodox draft-law will be the only proposal put up for a vote,” Berri said. 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 Suleiman, caretaker Premier Najib Miqati, the Mustaqbal bloc, the National Struggle Front of MP Jumblat and the March 14 alliance's independent Christian lawmakers. “Whoever challenges me will lose and those who agree with me will win,” the speaker added. The political parties' failure to agree on a new vote law is threatening to postpone the elections that are scheduled for June 16.

Report: March 8 to 'Resort to the Street' over De Facto Cabinet 'Madness'

Naharnet/The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance could “resort to the street” on Monday to send a clear message to Premier-designate Tammam Salam that he would be taking a dangerous road in announcing a de facto cabinet, An Nahar daily reported. The newspaper, which did not provide further details and did not rely on sources, said that Salam would most likely announce his line-up on Tuesday. “The direct message would be aimed at informing those concerned not to take such a step,” it said. As Safir daily also quoted sources as saying that the announcement of the line-up was “just a matter of time.” But high-ranking March 8 sources said that such a step would be “political madness.” They warned that a fait accompli cabinet would have bad repercussions on the local situation. March 8 has asked for veto power in the new government and sought to name its own ministers despite the rejection of Salam. But sources close to the PM-designate have said that the formation of a14-member cabinet became a possibility after the alliance rejected a proposal for a government of 24 ministers divided equally among the Hizbullah-led alliance, the March 14 coalition and the centrists that include President Michel Suleiman and MP Walid Jumblat's Progressive Socialist Party.

Al-Mustaqbal, PSP, Independent MPs, and Miqati to Boycott Parliament Session as Orthodox Proposal Only Item on Agenda
Naharnet/Several parliamentary blocs announced on Monday that they will boycott the parliamentary session on May 15 as the parliament's general-secretariat placed only the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal on the agenda of legislative rounds set to begin this week. "Al Mustaqbal bloc, the National Struggle Front, caretaker premier Miqati and independent MPs will boycott the parliamentary session dedicated to discuss the Orthodox draft on May 15," Future television reported. MTV noted earlier that al-Mustaqbal and the Progressive Socialist Party's blocs will not attend Wednesday's session. The parliament's bureau met in Ain el-Tineh on Monday to agree on the agenda of the sessions that Speaker Nabih Berri has called for starting Wednesday to approve a new electoral draft-law. But Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said that the members of the bureau agreed not to make any statement, a sign they hadn't reached consensus on the agenda of the sessions. An Nahar daily said that the bureau's members were divided between those seeking to put on the agenda only electoral draft-laws - among them is Berri - and the other team backed by al-Mustaqbal bloc that wants the sessions to include other proposals and draft-laws as well. The first session will be held on Wednesday. Berri has been quoted as saying that he would allow MPs to discuss several electoral proposals before calling for a vote on the so-called Orthodox Gathering plan which divides Lebanon into a single district and allows each sect to vote for its own lawmakers under a proportional representation system. The draft-law has been approved by the joint parliamentary committees despite the objection of al-Mustaqbal, the centrist National Struggle Front of MP Walid Jumblat and March 14 alliance's independent Christian lawmakers. But two days before the start of the sessions, the rival parties hadn't yet reached consensus on a hybrid proposal which was the latest plan being discussed by the different blocs as an alternative to the Orthodox plan. It aimed at appeasing all sides by including the proportional representation and winner-takes-all systems. A Lebanese Forces official, who was not identified told An Nahar, that the LF was waiting for the answers of the different parties on the hybrid proposal. Parliamentary sources however ruled out any agreement on a vote law.

Jumblat Backs 24-Minister Cabinet: We Won't Get Involved in Futile March 8 Debates
Naharnet /Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat slammed on Monday the criticism directed against him by some members of the March 8 camp, saying that he will not get embroiled in “pointless debates” with them over the formation of a new government. He said in his weekly editorial in the PSP-affiliated al-Anba website: “The cabinet that grants eight ministers to the March 8, March 14, and centrist blocs offers the best representation and avoids schemes to obstruct political life in Lebanon.” “We will not comment on some of the March 8 criticism that is based on conspiracies and accusations of treason,” he continued.
“These media campaigns have been launched by a sick mind that may push Lebanon to the unknown at a time when it needs logic and calm, which we are practicing,” added the MP. “The PSP rejects the escalatory rhetoric and calls on all sides to exercise patience,” Jumblat said. He therefore reiterated his support for Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman's efforts to form a cabinet of national interests. Last week, Speaker Nabih Berri had lashed out at those who began classifying themselves as centrists while they are “clearly affiliated in the March 14 alliance.”“Those centrists want a large share of the 24-member cabinet... Maybe I should start classifying myself as a centrist,” Berri said in an indirect reference to Jumblat. He wondered how several senior officials take firm stances against a certain team then categorize themselves as centrists. Commenting on Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's latest speech on Thursday, Jumblat said: “If only he had advocated the defense strategy proposed by Suleiman.”“This strategy spoke in detail about how the arms should be used and where they should be directed,” he added. “They should strictly serve Lebanon's national interest, as well as the Baabda Declaration that was unanimously agreed upon by all political powers,” said the MP.
“Perhaps this is the best way to avoid having Lebanon once again be transformed into an open ground for settling regional disputes,” he stressed. During his latest address, Nasrallah announced: “We are 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 recent airstrikes in the neighboring country. Syria has long been a conduit for Iranian weapons bound for Hizbullah. Suleiman had indirectly responded to the speech on Friday by saying: “The Baabda Declaration and a defense strategy that places the resistance's arms at the will of the army will protect Lebanon against any Israeli assault.” The Baabda Declaration, approved during a national dialogue session in June 2012, calls for Lebanon to disassociate itself from regional conflicts. Addressing his trip to Saudi Arabia over the weekend and meetings with Saudi officials and former Premier Saad Hariri, Jumblat said: “They were marked by their usual frankness and served as an opportunity to discuss the latest regional, Arab, and Lebanese developments.”He said that Saudi officials voiced their keenness on Lebanon's national unity, stability, and peace.
“The kingdom insists on standing at an equal distance from all Lebanese people, who will not forget its support during the civil war and its role in approving the Taif Accord and reconstructing their country,” he said.

Drug Smuggling Attempt Thwarted at Airport

Naharnet /Airport security thwarted on Monday an attempt to smuggle drugs from Lebanon to Belgium, reported the National News Agency. It said that security officers at the Rafik Hariri International Airport discovered 7.750 kilograms of heroin concealed in a double-bottomed luggage of a Lebanese national who was seeking to travel to Brussels.He has since been arrested and investigations are underway to uncover his accomplices.

Report: Two Soldiers Stabbed in Sidon Clash with Asir Supporters
Naharnet /Two army troops were lightly wounded in a clash with supporters of Islamist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir in Sidon on Monday, according to media reports. “A supporter of Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir burned pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and fired a number of gunshots on them, and when the Lebanese army intervened, a number of the young man's friends attacked army troops with knives, leaving two soldiers lightly wounded,” MTV said. Earlier, OTV also reported that two army troops were wounded in a clash with a supporter of al-Asir in Sidon.

Qabbani Appoints New Sidon Mufti: Those Criticizing Me are Seeking to Alter Role of Dar al-Fatwa

Naharnet/Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Qabbani appointed on Monday Sheikh Ahmed Nassar as the new mufti of the southern city of Sidon, while lashing out at his critics over his call for the elections at the Higher Islamic Council. He said: “Those attacking the mufti, his authority, and decisions are seeking to impose dangerous changes on Dar al-Fatwa.” “We reject these changes as did slain Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled in the past over 20 years ago,” he declared. “We are not concerned with the reports on disputes on Dar al-Fatwa because the mufti of the republic is performing his duties when it comes to electing new members of the Higher Islamic Council,” he said. Qabbani explained that the previous Council's term was extended at numerous times over a three-year period, which consequently made it past is legal end date of four years.
The previous term therefore lasted for seven years and its members sough to extend it for an eighth one, he said. “This violates all regulations on extending the Council's term during extraordinary circumstances,” remarked the Grand Mufti. “What extraordinary circumstances are we talking about given that parliamentary by-elections, municipal elections, and syndicate ones were staged during this period?” he wondered.
Qabbani then wished Nassar success in his mission as Sidon mufti, hoping he would meet his religious and social duties in service of Islam. Nassar will succeed Sheikh Salim Sousan, whose term Qabbani had refused to extend over the row concerning the Higher Islamic Council. For his part, Sousan condemned Qabbani's appointment of Nassar, saying that this step will lead to “much confusion and strife” at Dar al-Fatwa. He said during a press conference Monday: “I am saddened by the situation at the Sunni sect's religious institutions.” “They should have all worked on uniting their ranks given the critical phase Lebanon and the region are passing through,” he remarked. “I should be informed of Nassar appointment through official means and until then I will remain in my post,” he declared.
Media reports said last week that Qabbani based his decision on the stances taken by Sousan, who didn't support him in his decision to hold the Council elections. The former mufti had said that he rejects Qabbani's decision to refrain from extending his tenure. The Council, which elects the mufti and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, has been at the center of controversy after 21 of its members, who are close to ex-Premier Saad Hariri's al-Mustaqbal Movement, extended its term until the end of 2013 despite Qabbani's objection. The mufti has refused to hold or join any meetings at Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority, and called for the elections of council members. But last month the Shura Council allegedly deemed the call illegal and canceled the elections. Its decision followed a similar move it made last year when it canceled previous polls set by the mufti for December 30.

Central Bank to Investigate Status of 135 Suspected of Links to al-Madina Bank
Naharnet/General Prosecutor Judge Hatem Madi handed over on Monday to the Central Bank's Special Investigation Commission a preliminary list of the names of several people to monitor and probe if they have links to the al-Madina Bank scandal.According to the state-run National News Agency, the commission received the names of 135 people that might have connections to the fraud case at al-Madina and money laundering. The names on the list will be thoroughly investigated, according to the news agency. An experts committee, tasked with probing the fraud case at al-Madina, handed to Judge Madi in April a report that includes the names of 411 suspects that received suspicious funds from the bank.The committee was formed when the bank's millions of dollars of fraud erupted in 2003 to investigate money laundering. Judge Madi tasked in February the committee to probe the amount and the reasons of the payments made. Rana Koleilat, who was accused of playing a key role in the fraud case at al-Madina Bank, revealed in February that she will hand over to authorities the names of her accomplices. During 12 years at the private al-Madina bank, Koleilat rose from clerk to executive. It was an era in which Syria dominated Lebanon and when paying off Syrian intelligence agents and providing gifts to powerful politicians was common. Koleilat was at the center of the scandal that engulfed al-Madina when the Central Bank announced in July 2003 that it had detected a cash deficit at the bank of more than euro 250 million, along with other irregularities. Other suspects in the case include Adnan Abu Ayash and his brother Ibrahim. Reports have said that the amount missing from the two banks could total as much as euro 1.0 billion.

Miqati, EU Mission Deny Withdrawal of UNIFIL Troops

Naharnet/Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati and the European Union mission in Lebanon denied reports that the EU could withdraw its troops affiliated in United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
“EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst didn't relay a warning backed by U.S. that it would withdraw its troops over Lebanon's slackness in preventing abduction of UNIFIL members,” according to a statement issued by the EU mission in Lebanon and received by the Naharnet. The statement pointed out that “none of the allegations were part of the discussion which took place with Miqati last Wednesday,” saying that “any quote attributed to Eichhorst in this regard is erroneous.”The EU ambassador held a meeting with Miqati at the Grand Serail on Wednesday. Meanwhile, sources close to Miqati denied in comment published in al-Akhbar newspaper on Monday that his meeting with Eichhorst tackled the matter. “No change has occurred to the UNIFIL deployment in South Lebanon,” the sources added. The daily also quoted UNIFIL deputy head of mission Milos Strugar as denying the report. On Sunday, Israeli newspaper Maariv and the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah newspaper reported that the EU warned Miqati that it would withdraw its peacekeeping troops deployed along the border with Israel “if their security cannot be guaranteed.” The reports said that the decision came in the wake of the abduction of Philippine peacekeepers of the Syrian Golan Heights earlier this month and that the U.S. backs the EU decision.
According to the newspapers Eichhorst handed a letter to the Miqati expressing concern over the increasing activities of Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.


2 Workers Killed in Blast in Antelias Quarry
Naharnet/Two foreign laborers died and several others were injured on Monday in an explosion at a quarry north of Beirut, media reports said. The blast went off while the workers of the stone-crushing plant in Antelias were welding a diesel tank, they said. The flames caused a second explosion at a nearby dynamite depot, the reports added. The dead men are a Syrian and a Bangladeshi.It was not clear if there were any Lebanese among the wounded workers.

Lifetime Ban Requested against Berlusconi at Sex Trial
Naharnet /Italian prosecutors on Monday asked that Silvio Berlusconi be banned from politics forever and serve six years in prison at the former prime minister's trial for having sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his official powers. "There is no doubt that Silvio Berlusconi is guilty of the crimes he is accused of," prosecutor Ilda Boccassini told the courtroom in Milan at the close of a two-year trial that could rock the country's newly-formed grand coalition government. "He had sex with her and he knew she was a minor," said the prosecutor. "We request a sentence of six years in prison," she said. "We ask for a perpetual ban from holding public office."
The trial relates to alleged crimes in 2010 when Berlusconi was still prime minister and revolves around alleged raunchy "bunga bunga" parties at his luxury residence outside Milan. "The women invited to the then prime minister's private residence were part of a prostitution system set up for the personal sexual satisfaction of the defendant," Boccassini said.Berlusconi's defense lawyers will now have a chance to present their final arguments on June 3.The verdict could come at the hearing after that, which has been scheduled for June 24. Both the now 76-year-old Berlusconi and the woman involved have denied ever having sex for money.
Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex on several occasions with Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug, a then 17-year-old exotic dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer" who was spotted by one of his associates at a beauty contest in Sicily in 2009. Boccassini said El-Mahroug quickly become the premier's "favorite" and had not admitted the relationship with him only because she had received as much as 4.5 million euros ($5.8 million) from the flamboyant billionaire tycoon. Boccassini said El-Mahroug had followed a "negative Italian dream" based on money.
It is also alleged that Berlusconi called a police station to pressure for El-Mahroug's release from custody when she was arrested for petty theft -- an abuse of the office of the prime minister.
According to prosecutors, he did so because he was fearful she could reveal their liaison. His defense claims he believed El-Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident. Berlusconi and his supporters say the trial is only the latest example of "judicial persecution" by left-wing prosecutors in Milan out to get him.
A program on Sunday on a television channel he owns included interviews with Berlusconi and El-Mahroug in which the two spoke of "perfectly normal" soirees that had been wrongly portrayed.
Berlusconi has claimed in the past that performances by girls in a basement discotheque after dinner were in fact "burlesque contests". Prosecutors and some of the attendees have said they were hardcore strip shows followed by sexual encounters with the participants. The legal woes are straining relations within Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government in which Berlusconi's People of Freedom party is a crucial partner.
Moderate leftist Letta reacted angrily over the weekend when Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano attended a rally against the judiciary in which Berlusconi also took part on Saturday.
Berlusconi has been under investigation or on trial ever since entering politics in the 1990s after a career in construction and media. Three of Berlusconi's friends -- a showbusiness agent, a former network anchor and a former regional assemblywoman -- are on trial on pimping charges in a separate trial linked to the case. El-Mahroug, who has not spoken at Berlusconi's trial, is due to testify at that trial on Saturday.
This is only the latest of Berlusconi's legal woes. A Milan court this month upheld his conviction on tax fraud charges, confirming the punishment of a year in prison and a five-year ban from public office which is frozen pending a second appeal. Prosecutors in Naples have also requested a trial against Berlusconi on allegations that he bribed a left-wing senator with 3.0 million euros to join his party and topple a past center-left cabinet.
Even if convicted after exhausting two rounds of appeals, Berlusconi is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell because of relatively lenient sentencing guidelines for over-70s.
SourceظAgence France Presse.

Syrian army takes villages near Qusayr: officer
May 13, 2013/Daily Star
WESTERN DUMAYNA, Syria: Syrian troops captured three villages in the strategic Qusayr area of Homs province on Monday, allowing them to cut supply lines to rebels inside Qusayr town, a military officer told AFP.
"The attack on the villages of Western Dumayna, Haidariyeh and Esh al-Warwar began this morning," the lieutenant colonel said on condition of anonymity. "The fighting lasted for three hours until we established control over these villages, which are considered strategic because they lie on the road between the cities of Homs and Qusayr and will allow us to block supplies to the militants in Qusayr," he said. Western Dumayna is some eight kilometres (five miles) north of the rebel-held town of Qusayr, which has been at the centre of fierce battles between opposition forces and the Syrian military, backed by pro-Damascus group Hezbollah. Last week, activists said the town of Qusayr was surrounded by regime forces on three sides and that some 25,000 residents were still inside. A military source on Friday said leaflets were dropped over the town warning residents to leave, but activists denied the claim and said there was no safe passage out. On Monday, the daily Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian regime, said the Syria military had halted operations in the area to allow civilians to leave safely. But residents and activists around the town said they could still hear fighting and shelling in the vicinity. The area 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. It is also important because of its proximity to Lebanon. The regime has made recapturing it a key objective. President Bashar al-Assad reportedly said last month that fighting in the area was the "main battle" his troops were waging. Activists say regime forces there are backed by fighters from Hezbollah, as well as members of the National Defence Force, a pro-regime militia.

Opinion: Intentionally Crossing Red Lines
By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat
“The Syrian president has not altered his stance after more than 70,000 citizens have been killed, and after losing control of vast areas in the country. His position remained unaltered even after his prime minister survived an assassination attempt. The Syrian president will not change his policies unless someone close to him is killed, or he himself is subject to an assassination attempt.”
This is a reasonable conclusion reached by a politician after many others failed to understand President Bashar Al-Assad. In my opinion—after having long observed his policies—his personal and political abilities pose more danger than the apparatus of his security forces, despite their size.
I think the most dangerous thing about Bashar Al-Assad is Bashar Al-Assad himself. On a personal level, he appears to his guests as an ignorant man with no capabilities whatsoever—to the point where he cannot even decide what he is having for breakfast the next day. His true character, however, can be found in twelve years of terror. He has survived all of his adventures and crimes—except, perhaps, the current crisis. I fear that even if he loses the battle in Damascus, he may succeed in retaining his presidency, and thus remain a bloodstained thorn the region.
While reiterating that Assad is Iran’s puppet, we must admit that he is leading the game. He is using Iran, Hezbollah and Russia to achieve his own aims. And of course, since they are his partners in crime, they too seek to fulfill their own aims.
His stubborn personality and managerial techniques are identifiable through his record of governance. He repeatedly adopts the same approaches, including how he deals with “red lines.” On the contrary to how others have perceived the situation, such threats mean nothing to him, except that the game continues.
His dealings with neighboring Lebanon eight years ago are a noteworthy example. He must have planned, at an early stage, to ostracize top Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri, in order to advance his political domination of Lebanon. To this end, he attempted to eliminate all powers that were not aligned with him. Assad began by attempting to murder Marwan Hamadeh, a Druze leader considered to be a Hariri sympathizer. The assassination attempt against Hamadeh was a message to Hariri, who had left Lebanon, and only returned in order to cast a vote in parliament upon Damascus’ wishes.
Despite this, Assad killed him. By assassinating Hariri in broad daylight, Assad crossed what many considered to be a red line. Following wide international condemnation, he withdrew his forces from Lebanon in compliance with a UN Security Council decision—implying that he sought reconciliation. Each time he crossed a red line, he would hint that he wanted to retreat in an attempt to confirm that he is a head of state that is committed to political and diplomatic protocol.
In reality, however, he practiced politics in the same manner as a mafia leader. He repeatedly made promises to politicians from around the globe, before physically removing most of his Lebanese rivals, Christian and Muslim leaders, military men and media figures. At times, he even got rid of some out of anger—such as George Hawi, who was killed because he made a television appearance in which he condemned Assad.
After every time that he had somebody assassinated, he implied to others that he was worried, and that he desires reconciliation. Then, he surprises us by killing someone else! This method was continued until he had eliminated more than 20 leaders between 2005 and 2007. He was never punished for any crime. He recently returned to this process again by killing Wissam Al-Hassan, a Lebanese security official—perhaps because of his connection with the Syrian revolution.
In a similar case, Assad arranged for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, in Gaza. He was likewise involved in Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli patrol beyond Lebanese borders. This violated red lines regarding his relations with Israel, and Assad relied on Iranian backing by announcing their joint defense treaty. Israel responded by attacking Lebanon and sabotaging both Lebanon and Gaza.
He claims to have helped with negotiations while at the same he prevented reaching any solution. He was furious when the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, informed him that a deal had been struck in which Israel would release 1,000 Palestinian detainees in return for the release of Shalit, and that Hamas official Khaled Meshaal had agreed. Assad responded to Suleiman saying that Meshaal was incapable of making any such promises, and subsequently sabotaged the agreement. Shalit’s case was not resolved until two years ago, when the Syrian revolution forced him to accept Shalit’s release in October 2011. Like Iran’s leaders, Assad exploits the Palestinian cause without taking any interests but his own into consideration.
A third, similar, case has been witnessed at the beginning the uprising of the Syrian people two years ago. Publicly, he shook hands with mediators, such as those from Turkey, promising them what they want to hear regarding a democratic transition. But in the meantime, he committed atrocities that were unparalleled in the region, such as his killing of Hamza Al-Khatib—a child—in a hideous manner.
The personality of Damascus’s dictator is the reason that he is vilified. He thinks he is capable of overcoming any crisis. He believes, like all manic dictators, that miracles will work in his favor. This is why I fear that he will not hesitate to asphyxiate a hundred thousand Syrians using chemical weapons any day now—he has tried to do so in smaller doses over the past few months. He thinks he has succeeded in either fooling the world, or obstructing it by hiding behind the Russians.
Assad is not color blind. He sees red lines, but crosses them nonetheless. And as long as no one is prepared to stop him, he will only continue to surprise the world with something worse.

Opinion: Sectarian Cleansing and Sunni Rage
By: Abdullah Al-Otaibi/Asharq Alawsat
Does anyone believe Bashar Al-Assad when he speaks about terrorism? Does anyone believe Nuri Al-Maliki when he speaks of sectarianism? Does anyone believe the Muslim Brotherhood when its leadership speaks of “the homeland” or of “the people,” rather than their own interests?
These all are important questions for a new era in the Arab world: the era of political Islam that practices politics in the worst possible manner and seeks religious justification for its failures and extremism, blackening the reputation of Islam as a religion. This is something that applies to both Sunni and Shi’a political Islam.
Amid the heated situation in Syria and the terrible bloodshed taking place there, lies begin to melt and slogans vanish. Iran and its allies have long promoted claims that it is the Muslim Umma’s sole legitimate representative in the resistance against Israel. Yet Iran ultimately showed that the Palestinian cause is nothing more than a cover to allow the Islamic Republic to achieve its regional expansionist aspirations. This is also something that the Syrian crisis has clearly shown.
Here, we must ask: Why did Hezbollah stop making threats against Israel? Why did Hassan Nasrallah stop resorting to his usual discourse of threats and challenges to Tel Aviv? Why has Hamas completely distanced itself from any position that could even be misconstrued as being hostile towards Iran?
This is because Iran and its allies are more concerned about suppressing the Syrian people and ensuring the survival of the Damascus regime so that Assad can rule whomever is left. The same can be said about the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt, who address the Israeli president in extravagant diplomatic language. Furthermore, both Tehran and the Brotherhood have both disavowed any act of aggression against Israel in the same manner that Hezbollah denied the drone attack, and Hamas denied firing missiles from Gaza.
Last week, Hassan Nasrallah came out to speak of the Syrian crisis. Attempting to appear realistic and self-possessed, Nasrallah admitted that Hezbollah fighters were taking part in the on-going fight against the people of Syria. He tried to justify such participation by his supporters by putting forward a view that was completely detached from reality, lacked credibility and based on sectarian prejudice. Since Nasrallah is biased towards the Syrian regime, his justifications were irrational and sectarian, particularly in some of the issues that he raised, such as potential threats to the [Shi'ite] Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in Damascus.
Nasrallah said that his militias had not completely joined the Syrian battle, while in reality they have been wreaking havoc across Syria, as everyone knows. This claim can only mean one thing—namely, that the worst is yet to come. Actually, this is precisely the same approach that the Syrian regime used to kill its own people. At the beginning of the crisis, the Syrian regime always claimed that the situation was under control and that it was the police who were dealing with the protesters. After they involved the military in this, the regime began to resort to stronger means of confrontation, such as military chemical weapons.
Just last week, the regime committed a massacre in Al-Baidha village, Baniyas. In a phone call to AFP, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, claimed that the region’s Sunni districts and villages are being bombarded, adding that the regime has set up road blocks along the Latakia to Tartus road to prevent Sunnis from escaping.
The Syrian National Coalition accused the Assad regime of resorting to “sectarian cleansing” and demanded that the Arab League and the UN transfer this case, as well as other similar cases, to the International Criminal Court (ICC). They consider this to be a war crime for which the regime must be held to account.
Iran and its allies are playing with sectarian fire. Look at what Iran is dong in Syria and how Hezbollah is interfering by attacking Sunni villages in Homs. Compare this to the fierce attack Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki launched against some Sunni provinces to quell peaceful sit-ins against his rule. Look at Iran recruiting Shi’ites across the Gulf to use them against their own countries, while also sending arms and logistical support to Shi’ite groups in Yemen.
The talk about sectarianism is abhorrent and worthy of concern. Systematically involving sectarianism in armed political struggles may serve Iran’s expansionist policies. Furthermore, Iran’s government may be capable of protecting itself domestically, considering the fact that it represents the Shi’ite majority, yet it will never be able to curb the “Sunni rage” that has begun to spread widely across numerous Arab and Muslim states. If this Sunni rage boils over, it will be catastrophic for the Shi’ite minorities in these countries.
Nothing is worse than the talk of sectarianism, yet any attempt to read and understand Iran’s strategy in the region in a rational and realistic manner is confronted by this abhorrent sectarianism. In fact, it is now vital to acknowledge the existence of sectarian conflicts and warn against further agitation to ensure that everybody is aware of what will happen should the sectarian conflict deteriorate further.
So far, the Syrian people have demonstrated a great ability to avoid sliding towards the regime’s purely sectarian policy. Similarly, the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army have both refused to turn the peoples’ conflict with the regime into a sectarian battle that would rage for decades.
Sunnis constitute more than three quarters of the Muslim population, compared to the Shi’ites. These are both respectable doctrines, but what benefit will Iran gain from mobilizing one quarter—or less—of the Muslim community against the greater majority? What is the extent of this historical crime that it is committing? Is Iran truly aware of the harm that its policies are causing? Does its nuclear project and its expansionist ambitions truly deserve all these wars and conflicts, which are just beginning?
These are all legitimate questions, and there are many more. The politicians of the Islamic Republic will have to shoulder the historical and moral responsibility for any waves of rage that may be incited in the days to come.