May 16/2013


Bible Quotation for today/Obstacles
Luke 11/52 “How terrible for you teachers of the Law! You have kept the key that opens the door to the house of knowledge; you yourselves will not go in, and you stop those who are trying to go in!”


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

Washington blunders yet again in Syria/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/May 16/13
The imminent Hezbollah-Nusra war/By: Hanin Ghadder/Now Lebanon/May 16/13
Surprises from Khartoum/By: Osman Mirghani/Asharq Alawsat/May 16/13
Learning the Hard Way/Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat/May 16/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 16/13

Assad said Hezbollah may fight Israel from Golan'
Israeli official issues stark warning to Syria
'If Assad reacts to Syria strike, Israel will retaliate'

UN nuclear talks with Iran fail to end deadlock
Roux Calls on Lebanon to Cooperate: Waiting for Fransen to Set Trial Date
Hezbollah official slams 24-minister cabinet
Geagea: Orthodox Gathering Law Never Had Chance to Succeed

Nasrallah to Make Televised Speech on Resistance and Liberation Day
Aoun: Those who Rejected Orthodox Proposal Toppled Most Important Law for Christians
Phalange Stays Out of Deal on Hybrid Vote Law, Parliamentary Session Postponed

Berri Makes Last-Minute Hybrid Vote Law Proposal after Mustaqbal-LF Deal
Soaid Lauds 'Victory of Coexistence' over Orthodox Gathering Proposal
Future MP: Solutions can be reached swiftly with Kataeb
Rahi Calls from Venezuela for a Vote Law that 'Meets Lebanese People's Aspirations'

Miqati Refuses to Sign Orthodox Draft-Law If Approved by Parliament
Attacks against Lebanese Alawites Deepen Fears

Syria Rebel Defends Gruesome Video as Revenge
Russia Calls on Syria Opposition to Back Peace Conference

Russia Sends Humanitarian Aid to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Russia, U.S. Seek to Limit 'Wigged Spy' Scandal Damage
U.N. calls for political transition in Syria

Canada Condemns Iran’s Continued Religious Freedom Violations, Including Persecution of Bahá’ís


Israeli official issues stark warning to Syria
Now Lebanon/A top Israeli official in comments published Wednesday in The New York Times warned the Bashar al-Assad regime against retaliating against the Jewish state or transferring weapons to Hezbollah. “If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies, he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate,” the US daily cited the unnamed Israeli government official as saying.
“Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” the official added. Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last Thursday that Syria responded to Israel’s reported raids by “opening the Golan front” between both rival countries and continuing to provide weapons to the Shiite group. “We announce that we stand by the popular resistance in the Golan, and we offer military and moral support for it to liberate the occupied Golan,” Hezbollah’s chief said. “The resistance will operate freely in the Golan, which frightens Israel and [is why Tel Aviv] began to send messages [to restore] calm.” Israel reportedly targeted military sites near the capital Damascus last weekend, with at least 42 soldiers reported dead in the second strike. The Jewish state has repeatedly warned it will intervene to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, and media reports have said the strikes in Syria targeted weapon transfers to the Shiite group. The PFLP-GC announced Tuesday that it was given a “green light” by Damascus to strike Israel, after Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper said that Syria had approved beginning “resistance” operations against the Jewish state in the Golan.

The imminent Hezbollah-Nusra war
By: Hanin Ghadder/Now Lebanon
Lebanon will become al-Nusra’s alternative battlefield
The Syrian Salafist group Jabhat Al-Nusra declared in Jordan that it has set the confrontation with Hezbollah militants in Syria as a top priority. Jordan-based al-Qaeda-affiliate Mohammad Al Shalabi, alias Abi Sayyaf, said that Jabhat al-Nusra has taken a decision to fight Hezbollah militants, who have become "our Jihadists’ main target" across Syria.
This came after Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah declared last week that Hezbollah will stand by Syria and helps it become a state of resistance. He announced that Hezbollah is ready to receive any sort of qualitative weapons even if it is going to disrupt the regional balance.
For the Syrian rebels, al-Nusra and others, this is a declaration of war against them, knowing that what Nasrallah really means is that Hezbollah is now in charge of Syria, upon Iran’s decision. Hezbollah and Iran are running the show and if the Syrian rebels want to prevail, they need to target Hezbollah, not Assad or the Syrian regime.
Assad has been pushed to the background to make way for Hezbollah. Therefore, it is not strange that Al-Nusra has decided to shift its priority to fighting Hezbollah as its main enemy.
Al-Nusra’s main mission is not to free Syria of its dictatorship and move to build a modern democratic state. Their goal is the umma and they will fight the enemies of the umma wherever they are. Therefore, their fight against Hezbollah will not stay in Syria and will eventually move to Lebanon. They do not differentiate between Hezbollah and the Shiite community just as they do not differentiate between Assad and Alawites.
This will lead to two dangerous consequences for Lebanon.
One, Shiites will be targeted by al-Nusra and other Sunni jihadist groups, especially that the sectarian tension among Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites has already reached unprecedented levels. In fact, while Hezbollah sends its fighters to Syria, many Lebanese Sunni groups are also moving to Syria to fight alongside the rebels.
What’s happening is that the Lebanese Sunni-Shiite civil war is already taking place, but in Syria. It is only a matter of time before it moves to Lebanon. These fighters will return to Lebanon with increased hatred toward each other; hatred rigged with blood and a desire for revenge.
Al-Nusra are not organized enough to fight against Hezbollah in a conventional war, but they could cause great damage by organizing bomb attacks and suicide bombers against Hezbollah’s bases and public squares in the southern suburbs of Beirut or the South.
Their fighting tactics are usually based on bomb attacks, not bombing cities with rockets. They are an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, and they don’t usually dissociate between a militant and a civilian. They just target a place aiming at the maximum damage. Therefore, Hezbollah’s supporters and the Shiite community in general will be in danger.
Also, there are plenty of Lebanese jihadist and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that had a presence in Lebanon before the Syrian conflict and can now be mobilized to target Hezbollah. Organizations like Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham or Osbat al-Ansar have had bases in Lebanon for years, but they never engaged Hezbollah in direct confrontations. However, after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadists reportedly regrouped in a new radical organization inspired by the emergence and successful military operations of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
Two, Lebanon will become al-Nusra’s alternative battlefield. There are no state institutions to control their growing presence in Lebanon or the spread of arms. The current void in government is not helping and Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam seems to be incapable of forming a government that does not meet Hezbollah’s conditions, one that facilitates its involvement in Syria.
So how can we protect Lebanon and the Shiites from the looming disaster?
Let’s start with the reality that the Shiite community in Lebanon is not one single bloc that supports Hezbollah. The diversity among the Shiites is wider than it is among other sectarian communities, for religious reasons related to the diversity of religious references (Marja’) and different interpretations of the Qur’an. On the political level, this community has never been as divided over Hezbollah as it is today. The feeling that Hezbollah is dragging them to hell is translating into serious discussion and refutation inside the community.
There is an urgent need to repeat this over and over. Every Lebanese official and media outlet should aim to highlight this diversity. Hezbollah will not save the Shiites. They have already determined that Lebanon and all the Lebanese will have to sacrifice their lives for their mission to serve Iran and its interests in the region. The Lebanese need to save themselves.
That’s why it is also important to safeguard Lebanon today by fighting Hezbollah’s hegemony over state institutions. A government that empowers Hezbollah and maintains Iran’s control over state institutions should not be an option. PM-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman should not succumb to any threats. A government to save Lebanon is urgently needed now, more than ever.
If this is not achieved, Lebanon will be naturally linked to Hezbollah and the Hezbollah-Nusra war will not spare anyone. If we lose this chance, we lose everything.
**Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr

Assad said Hezbollah may fight Israel from Golan'

By JPOST.COM STAFF05/15/2013 /J.Post
Report: Iran persuaded Syria to open a "new front" in the Golan for all Arabs and Muslims wanting to fight Israel.
Iran persuaded Syrian President Bashar Assad to allow Hezbollah to open a new front from which to attack Israel in the Golan Heights, Israel Radio reported Wednesday citing a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.
According the report, an Iranian source told the newspaper that Tehran is determined to prevent the fall of Assad's regime in Damascus, because the Syrian president has been convinced to open the Golan to all Arabs and Muslim wanting to fight Israel. The report follows similar claims last week that following alleged Israeli air strikes near Damascus, Syrian authorities considered allowing Palestinian armed groups to launch attacks against Israel across the Golan Heights border, as reported by Syrian daily Al Watan. According to the report, the initiative was set to be discussed in upcoming meetings between Syria and Palestinian faction leaders, said Khalid Abd al-Majid, secretary-general of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front. In light of recent developments, Syria has the “right and duty to respond using all available means,” Majid was reported as saying. Majid’s faction is close to the Syrian regime, and the strength of the forces under his control is subject to dispute. Prof. Eyal Zisser – an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center – told The Jerusalem Post he doubts the report because there is no real presence of strong Palestinian forces that would be able to carry out such an attack. However, Zisser did not rule out the possibility that Assad might attack Israel in an indirect manner, via a third party.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the UN General Assembly was set to vote on a draft resolution that condemns Syrian authorities and accepts the opposition Syrian National Coalition as party to a potential political transition.
*Ariel Ben Solomon, Michael Wilner, Reuters contributed to this report.


UN nuclear talks with Iran fail to end deadlock

By REUTERS05/15/2013/J.Post
VIENNA/ISTANBUL - The United Nations' nuclear agency failed to persuade Iran on Wednesday to let it resume an investigation into suspected atomic bomb research, leaving the high-stakes diplomacy in deadlock.
With Iran focused on a presidential election next month, expectations had been low for the meeting between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been trying for more than a year to reopen an inquiry into "possible military dimensions" of Tehran's nuclear work.We had intensive discussions today but did not finalize the structured approach document that has been under negotiation for a year and a half now," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts said after the eight-hour meeting, referring to a long-sought framework deal for the investigation. "Our commitment to continue dialogue is unwavering. However, we must recognize that our best efforts have not been successful so far. So we will continue to try and complete this process." No date was set for future talks.
Iran's envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said both sides had put forward proposals during "intensive technical discussions" and the aim was to bridge the differences in future talks. Iran denies it has any aims to develop nuclear weapons. The United States, which accuses Tehran of using stalling tactics at the IAEA talks and parallel negotiations with world powers, said it expected the nuclear agency to eventually urge the UN Security Council, which has imposed several sanctions resolutions on Iran, to take more action. "At some point, the director general of the IAEA will have to return to the Security Council and say: 'I can go no further. There has been no response. You have to take further action,'" Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told lawmakers in Washington. That could happen in June or in September, she said.Ashton, Jalili meet in Istanbul over Iran nukes
Later, the European Union's foreign policy chief met Iran's nuclear negotiator for dinner in Istanbul to discuss the other line of talks which are a bid to resolve a row that could ignite war in the Middle East. The meeting between Catherine Ashton, who represents six world powers in the talks, and Saeed Jalili, who is running for president in Iran, follows a failed round of diplomacy in April.
Ashton said she hoped Jalili would respond to a "good, comprehensive, fair and balanced" proposal that the powers had already made to Iran. "This is not a negotiating meeting, but it is an opportunity to take time to consider further the good proposals we have put forward," she said in a statement. The two sets of talks represent distinct diplomatic tracks but are linked because both center on suspicions that Iran may be seeking the capability to assemble nuclear bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program. Any movement in the decade-old standoff will now probably have to wait until after Iranians vote on June 14 for a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The gap between Tehran and the powers - the United States, Russia, France, Germany, China and Britain - is wide: they want Iran to suspend its most sensitive nuclear activity. Iran wants them to recognize its "right" to refine uranium - which can have both civilian and military purposes - and to end sanctions.
Israel and the United States have threatened possible military action if diplomacy and increasingly tough trade and energy sanctions fail to make Iran curb its nuclear program.
In the latest US step to try to choke off funding for that program, the US Treasury blacklisted an exchange house and a trading company based in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, saying they had dealt with Iranian banks that Washington has declared off limits.
Tehran says its nuclear activity has only peaceful purposes and that it is Israel that threatens peace and stability.

'If Assad reacts to Syria strike, Israel will retaliate'
By HERB KEINON 05/15/2013/J.Post
Senior Israeli official tells the 'New York Times' Israel will continue action to prevent transfer of weapons from Syria; Putin, Netanyahu agree to continue contacts on Syria; IDF intelligence head joins PM in meeting
Israel will continue to take military action to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to Syria, The New York Times quoted a senior Israeli official as saying Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi to discuss the troubled situation.
According to the Times, the Israeli official – who contacted the paper – said, “Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region.”“If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies, he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate,” the official was quoted as saying. The comments came some two weeks after Israel reportedly hit a Syrian arms depot, a chemical weapons site and a weapons convoy in Damascus believed to be in transit from Iran to Hezbollah. Both Assad and Hezbollah’s head Hassan Nasrallah have threatened to retaliate. The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment Wednesday evening on the report.
Meanwhile, Putin – at a press conference with Netanyahu following their meeting – said the two countries would continue to maintain contact regarding the Syrian situation.
“We agreed to continue contacts – both on the personal level and between our organizations, special services,” the Russian news service RIA Novosti quoted Putin as saying.
“A negative scenario may only be prevented by the earliest termination of the armed conflict and transition to a political settlement,” Putin said. “It is particularly important to avoid any actions that may sway the situation.”
Netanyahu said Israel and Russia were “trying to find ways to strengthen stability and security, we have a remarkable opportunity to directly speak with each other.”
Just prior to the three-hour meeting, Netanyahu – who set out for Russia soon after the cabinet approved the budget early Tuesday morning – said “the region around us is very stormy, unstable and explosive. I am pleased to have this opportunity to try and consider together how to stabilize the region and look for ways to bring security and stability, which are certainly important for us but for you as well, for our common goals.”
Netanyahu was accompanied by National Security Council head Ya’akov Amidror, head of military intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a native Russian speaker who has accompanied Netanyahu on previous meetings with Putin.
Kochavi is believed to have given Putin intelligence having to do with Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in the fighting inside Syria.
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov and defense ministry officials accompanied Putin in the talks.
Neither leader made any public reference to the Russian intention – opposed by Israel and the United States – to sell state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria

Canada Condemns Iran’s Continued Religious Freedom Violations, Including Persecution of Bahá’ís
May 14, 2013 - Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, today issued the following statement:
“Canada marks with regret the fifth anniversary of the illegitimate arrest and detention of seven Iranian Bahá’í national leaders by the Khamenei regime, and we renew our call for their release.
“Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi and Mahvash Sabet continue to serve 20-year sentences in deplorable conditions as part of the Iranian regime’s continued systematic and institutionalized persecution of the Bahá’í community. These individuals have been arrested and imprisoned for no crime but for practising their faith and leadership within their religious community.
“Canada stands by the Iranian people, who deserve the freedom to practise their faith without fear of persecution and violence. We once again call on the Iranian authorities to respect their domestic and international obligations and to uphold the human rights of Iranians, regardless of religion or belief.”


Hezbollah official slams 24-minister cabinet
Now Lebanon/Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem lashed out at the proposal that seeks to form a government of 24 ministers where no party owns a blocking third.
“The 8-8-8 government is, in fact, an unacceptable cabinet which [does not preserve the] national interest,” the National News Agency quoted Qassem as saying on Wednesday.
The Shiite Sheikh explained that his party desires to be “a partner in this government,” and claimed that only eight ministers out of 24 “means that we are not partners in the cabinet… because all decisions by majority or two-thirds will be passed with or without [our approval].” “We do not accept to be a part of a government in which we merely have an ineffective third [of the ministers],” Qassem added. The 24-minister cabinet suggests granting eight ministerial seats respectively to March 8 forces, March 14 forces and centrists representing the president, the prime minister and the Progressive Socialist Party. Lebanon’s political parties are jockeying over the composition of the new government as Premier-designate Tammam Salam is working to create a cabinet that would replace the resigned government.
Following discussions with the country’s parliamentarians, Salam announced in early May that he would not grant a “blocking third” veto in the government to any coalition, after the March 8 group reportedly made the request for a “blocking third” share in his upcoming cabinet.


Future MP: Solutions can be reached swiftly with Kataeb
Now Lebanon/Future bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat said that his party will try and find common ground with their March 14 ally, the Kataeb Party, regarding the mixed electoral law they presented on Wednesday.
“I am convinced that there is no fundamental problem with the Kataeb, and it is possible to swiftly reach common ground about the electoral law issue,” Fatfat told Future television on Wednesday.
The opposition lawmaker specified that the electoral draft was concluded Tuesday night following a phone call between Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea. The Kataeb and the Progressive Socialist Party were later contacted and informed of the details of this electoral draft.On Wednesday, Lebanese Forces bloc MP George Adwan announced the formulation of a mixed electoral law agreed to by most of the March 14 parties before the parliament's scheduled meeting. However, this proposal was rejected by March 14’s Kataeb. The LF, Marada Movement, Kataeb and Free Patriotic Movement had previously voiced support for the Orthodox law, which was opposed by independent Christian figures, the Future Movement and the PSP. Speaker Nabih Berri had called on parliament to convene from May 15 to May 18 in an effort to develop a new electoral law, but included the controversial Orthodox law as sole item on the parliament’s meeting agenda for May 15. However, after the LF, Future Movement, PSP and independent Christian MPs unveiled their new proposal, Berri postponed the session to Friday and instead convened the electoral sub-committee. If the parliament fails to agree on a new electoral law by a May 19 deadline, the 1960 law that governed the 2009 parliamentary vote would go into effect for the upcoming elections scheduled for June 16.

Attacks against Lebanese Alawites Deepen Fears
Naharnet /..Lebanese members of the Syrian leader's Alawite sect fear their tiny community will be a casualty of the civil war raging in the neighboring country. Already, Sunni Muslim extremists have stoned a school bus, vandalized stores and beaten or stabbed a number of men in a wave of attacks against Lebanese Alawites, stoking fears of even more violence should Syrian President Bashar Assad be removed from power.
In one particularly humiliating case, angry Sunnis tied a rope around an Alawite man's neck and dragged him around the streets of Tripoli. "The Alawites are being subjected to an organized campaign that aims to eliminate them on all levels," said Ali Feddah, a prominent member of the Arab Democratic Party, which is mainly Alawite. Feddah spoke to The Associated Press in his office in Tripoli's predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Sitting next to a picture of Assad, he said the Alawites face an "existential threat," mainly because of extremist Sunni incitement against them. His words echo the sentiments of many Alawites, who have long enjoyed privileges in Syria under Assad family rule and now fear for their future. The tiny community in Lebanon, which has long been a Syrian client state, has also benefited from Assad's rule, particularly during Syria's three-decade hold on its smaller neighbor that ended in 2005. The Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, represents little more than 10 percent of the population in Syria and about 2 percent in Lebanon. Before their ascent in the mid-20th century, the Alawites were impoverished and marginalized, largely confined to the mountains of the province of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
Under the French mandate, the Alawites were granted an autonomous territory stretching in a band along the coast from the Lebanese border to the Turkish border. It lasted a few years until 1937, when their state was incorporated into modern-day Syria. After the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power in Damascus, Alawites began consolidating their presence in the Syrian government and armed forces. The uprising against Assad's rule that began in March 2011 quickly became an outlet for long-suppressed grievances, mostly by poor Sunnis from marginalized areas. It has since escalated into an outright civil war.
Many of the rebels trying to overthrow Assad today say they want to replace his government with an Islamic state. The war, now in its third year, has turned increasingly sectarian with countless cases of tit-for-tat slayings between Sunnis and Alawites. Sunni rebels are often seen in videos posted online referring to Alawites as dogs and heretics.Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the central Syrian city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said the Assad regime has carried out massacres against Sunnis. He points to waves of sectarian killings this month, allegedly carried out by pro-government Alawite gunmen in the coastal towns of Banias and Bayda. More than 100 civilians were killed in the attacks.
"We will completely wipe out the Alawite sect," said al-Homsi, who does not use his real name because of fear of government reprisals. "There will be no Alawites in Syria. The young and the old will be punished."
Bassam al-Dada, an official in the rebels' Free Syrian Army, disagrees with al-Homsi. "The Alawites have nothing to do with Bashar's crimes," he said. The U.N. estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the war. Human Rights activists say most of them are Sunnis, but Alawites have also paid a heavy price. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday the group has documented the names of more than 35,000 Alawites who have died, most of them soldiers and pro-Assad militiamen. "Their losses statistically are very high. There is a lot of resentment in Alawite regions," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University in Beirut. The tensions in Syria are playing out in Lebanon, which is sharply split along sectarian lines and has recently seen repeated bouts of street fighting related to the war across the border. Northern Lebanon, in particular, is a potential powder keg. It has a strong Sunni population but also has pockets of Alawites.
The Alawites live mainly in Jabal Mohsen, a hilly district where posters of Assad and his father and predecessor, the late Hafez Assad, decorate the streets.
For years, residents of Jabal Mohsen have traded short bouts of automatic weapons fire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades with residents of the mainly Sunni Bab Tabbaneh neighborhood. The two districts in Tripoli are separated by a roadway named Syria Street. The clashes have become more frequent since Syria's uprising began — and so have the targeted attacks. Ali, an unemployed 25-year-old Alawite from Jabal Mohsen, says he has not been to Sunni neighborhoods of Tripoli for more than a year after he was beaten up in the central Tal neighborhood. Ali, who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals, described how he was intercepted by a man who ran toward him, grabbed him by the neck and tried to choke him as he shouted: "Are you from the Jabal?" He said he denied he was an Alawite and was eventually saved by a Sunni man who knew him.
Last month, a bus carrying school children was attacked on the edge of Jabal Mohsen by a group of extremists who pelted it with rocks for several minutes before troops intervened. "Since then, all school buses from Jabal Mohsen are accompanied by troops," Feddah said. Residents say several men have been stabbed and beaten up in the past few weeks. Several shops in Jabal Mohsen were set on fire, their fronts seen shuttered on a recent visit. Earlier this month, bearded extremists grabbed a Syrian man in Tripoli, beat him up and stripped him to the waist before tying a rope around his neck and parading him through the streets. "I am an Alawite shabih," they wrote on his bare chest, in reference to widely feared pro-Assad militiamen who fight alongside soldiers in Syria. In Syria, thousands of Alawites have left their homes in war-shattered cities such as Homs, for the relative safety of the overwhelmingly Alawite provinces of Tartous and Latakia. Syrian opponents of Assad say Alawite fighters are trying to carve out a breakaway enclave in the country's mountainous Alawite heartland by driving out local Sunnis. They say recent killings in overwhelmingly Sunni villages close to Alawite communities are meant to lay the groundwork.
Earlier this month, regime forces from nearby Alawite areas were blamed for killing dozens of civilians in Banias and Bayda, two Sunni communities in western Syria. The violence bore a closer resemblance to two reported mass killings last year in Houla and Qubeir, Sunni villages surrounded by Alawite towns in central Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper that having failed to control the entire country, Assad was now executing his "plan B" — which involves opening up an Alawite corridor between central Syria and Lebanon and driving Sunnis away from the area. "There is an effort to cleanse the region," Davutoglu said in the interview, published last week. "This will cause turmoil in Lebanon too. It could cause a culture of revenge."
SourceAssociated Press.

Roux Calls on Lebanon to Cooperate: Waiting for Fransen to Set Trial Date
Naharnet /Head of the international tribunal's defense office Francois Roux reiterated calls for the Lebanese authorities to swiftly respond to the defense office's requests that are approved by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's Pre-Trial Judge, Daniel Fransen. He considered in an interview with An Nahar newspaper that any delay in cooperation will have an impact on the trial. “There's always delay in responding to our defense office team by the Justice Ministry,” Roux said, urging the Lebanese authorities to swiftly respond to any request made by the defense and by Judge Fransen. Asked about the date of the in-absentia trial for four Hizbullah members indicted by the STL, Roux pointed out that the defense office is waiting for Judge Fransen to set the date after reports said that it could begin at the end of 2013. “We should be all ready, in particular the Lebanese authorities,” Roux said. The attorneys of the four men recently said they had insufficient time and resources to prepare a defense and needed more time before the trial could begin after the original start date on March 25, 2013 was postponed.
Concerning the funding of the STL, Roux said that he discussed the matter with the senior Lebanese officials he met, including Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati.
“They all assured me that there will be no difficulties regarding the matter,” the STL official said. In 2012, Miqati announced that he had transferred Lebanon's share towards the STL without revealing the sources of the funding.

Geagea: Orthodox Gathering Law Never Had Chance to Succeed
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stated on Wednesday that the party had from the beginning of discussions over a parliamentary electoral law sought an agreement over one that garners the support of all sides, stressing that it never pledged to adopt the Orthodox Gathering law. He said during a press conference: “The Orthodox proposal never had the chance to succeed.” He explained that the law was never going to be adopted because President Michel Suleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati opposed it. The Lebanese Forces therefore decided to search for an alternative proposal, which was reached with the Mustaqbal bloc and National Struggle Front on Tuesday, he said. On parliament's failure to convene to vote on the Orthodox Gathering law, he said: “We have not returned to square one, but the hybrid law is available.”
The new proposal should be placed on parliament's agenda for Friday, he added. Addressing MP Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement's accusations that the LF had broken its pledge over the Orthodox Gathering law, Geagea said: “We never made a pledge in the first place.” He therefore urged the movement to halt its accusatory tone and heated rhetoric over this issue. Moreover, he noted: “Why is it that parliament did not convene since the adoption of the Orthodox Gathering law on February 19? It is because some sides that claim to support it actually don't.” He also praised the role of Bkirki in following up on discussions to agree on a new law, while hailing those of former Premier Saad Hariri, whom Geagea deemed as one of his closest allies. “I hope that Aoun would read the new hybrid law proposal and I think he will reach a different conclusion about it than the one he already made,” he explained. The March 14 alliance, excluding the Phalange Party, and the National Struggle Front of MP Walid Jumblat announced on Wednesday an agreement on a hybrid electoral law
The plan calls for 54 MPs to be elected under the winner-takes-all system and 46 percent via the proportional representation system. The country would be divided into six governorates under proportionality and 27 districts under the winner-takes-all system. The Orthodox draft-law, which considers Lebanon a single electoral district and allows each sect to vote for its own MPs under a proportional representation system, is strongly backed by Hizbullah and the FPM.

Berri Makes Last-Minute Hybrid Vote Law Proposal after Mustaqbal-LF Deal

Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri has proposed a hybrid electoral law in response to a last-minute deal between al-Mustaqbal bloc and the Lebanese Forces on a similar vote plan that sought to avert differences among the March 14 alliance's members. Berri scrambled to hold a meeting of around 30 MPs from the March 8 coalition on Tuesday and late at night made his proposal after the announcement of a deal on a hybrid vote law between al-Mustaqbal and the LF. The proposal of Berri, who is also the the head of the Amal movement, calls for electing 64 MPs based on the proportional representation system and the other half via the winner-takes-all system and keeps the number of districts at 26. According to An Nahar daily published Wednesday, Berri's suggestion had received the backing of several March 8 and March 14 blocs.
The al-Mustaqbal-LF deal, which also received the backing of MP Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front, lies in having 54 MPs elected under the winner-takes-all system and 46 percent via the proportional representation system. Late night discussions among the members of the three parties focused on having 6 governorates and around 26 districts. But the official announcement of the deal will be made during a press conference in parliament on Wednesday morning ahead of four consecutive sessions that Berri has called for with the sole item of the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal on the agenda. The Orthodox plan is the only draft-law approved by the joint parliamentary committees. But it is severely criticized by al-Mustaqbal, the National Struggle Front and the March 14 alliance's independent Christian MPs. The proposal considers Lebanon a single electoral district and allows each sect to vote for its own MPs under a proportional representation system. Its opponents claim that it encourages extremism and leads to more sectarianism in the country. But the March 8 alliance and mainly Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement stress that the plan is the only way to guarantee the best representation of Christians. LF chief Samir Geagea expected Berri to react positively to the proposal that his party made along with al-Mustaqbal, saying a hybrid vote law was the speaker's first choice from day one. “Berri should be very happy because consensus was reached on his plan,” Geagea told An Nahar. “We will agree with Berri on the shortest and best way to adopt the draft-law in parliament, a move that should take place on Wednesday,” he said. The last-minute deal between the March 14 parties on Tuesday came after differences between them on the Orthodox proposal.

Aoun: Those who Rejected Orthodox Proposal Toppled Most Important Law for Christians

Naharnet /Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun lamented on Wednesday the political parties' failure to approve the Orthodox Gathering electoral law during a parliament session. He said: “Some of the parties that backed the proposal abandoned it therefore toppling the most important law for Christians.” “The same concessions that were made during the approval of the Taif Accord are being repeated today,” he noted from parliament.
“We were waiting on this historic day for a fair electoral law to be approved,” he stated. “The constitution calls for fair and equal representation for all sides, which was not respected,” declared the MP.
Moreover, Aoun said: “We were hoping that the other camp, which opposes the proposal, would have supported it in a moment of clarity, but they didn't.” Meanwhile, he accused the Christian parties that did not back the draft law of violating the principle of coexistence in Lebanon. “We are concerned with offering fair representation for Christians, while the others only care about gaining more seats in parliament,” remarked the FPM leader.
Speaker Nabih Berri had called parliament to convene on Wednesday in order to vote on the Orthodox Gathering electoral, but the session was suspended over a lack of quorum.
The proposal had been rejected by President Michel Suleiman, caretaker Premier Najib Miqati, the Mustaqbal bloc, MP Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front, and independent Christian MPs.
Its opponents claim that it encourages extremism and leads to more sectarianism in the country. But the March 8 alliance along with the Lebanese Forces and Phalange Party from the March 14 camp stress that the plan is the only way to guarantee the best representation of Christians. The proposal considers Lebanon a single electoral district and allows each sect to vote for its own MPs under a proportional representation system.
The majority of March 14 alliance MPs and lawmakers of the National Struggle Front reached on Wednesday an agreement on a hybrid electoral draft law despite the rejection of the Phalange Party.

Rahi Calls from Venezuela for a Vote Law that 'Meets Lebanese People's Aspirations'

Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi urged lawmakers to agree on an electoral law that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese people, the state-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday.
"MPs must reach an accord over a vote law that meets the aspirations of Lebanese people inside the country and around the world,” al-Rahi said after meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Tuesday eve. Speaker Nabih Berri postponed Wednesday's parliamentary session to Friday for lack of quorum after the majority of March 14 alliance MPs and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front reached a deal on the hybrid law. The lawmakers were set to vote on the Orthodox gathering's draft electoral law during Wednesday's session. However, during a press conference that several of March 14's MPs held in parliament, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said: “We reached a deal on the hybrid law that Berri had previously proposed.” Berri invited a parliamentary electoral subcommittee to hold consecutive meetings until 6:00 pm Friday under his chairmanship. Al-Rahi pointed out that the Venezuelan head of state gives a special attention to the Middle East, and relies on Lebanon's role in this respect. Meanwhile, Maduro said after the talks: “We discussed peace and the importance of healing wounds to defend peace."He stated: "Peace, sovereignty, independence and self-determination are the Syrian people's rights.” "All foreign interference in Syria must stop, as well as acts of terrorism and divisions inside the country.”

Soaid Lauds 'Victory of Coexistence' over Orthodox Gathering Proposal

Naharnet /March 14 general-secretariat coordinator Fares Soaid hailed on Wednesday the “victory of coexistence” on what he said were attempts to “tear the country apart.” In a press conference he held following the weekly meeting of the general-secretariat, Soaid said: “This is a stage of victory for the March 14 alliance.” “Today's exceptional meeting consolidates the victory of coexistence,” he said the same day the coalition's main parties and the centrist National Struggle Front struck a deal on a hybrid vote law proposal that combines the winner-takes-all and proportional representation systems. However, the Phalange party, which is a principle member of the alliance, rejected the proposal. Soaid said he met with Phalange leader Amin Gemayel on Wednesday morning, adding the party will “overcome” its rejection of the plan. “The interest of both Christians and Muslims is in national unity. The Christians can't turn themselves into a tribe in confrontation of the others,” the former MP told reporters in reference to the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal which was strongly backed by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement. The plan, which considers Lebanon a single electoral district and allows each sect to vote for its own MPs under a proportional representation system, was meant to give Christians better representation. But the Lebanese Forces, which is a Christian March 14 party, said it granted instead its support to the hybrid plan that falls in Lebanon's national interest. Soaid also said that “compromises should be made to achieve coexistence.” “Every time we stretched our hands to Muslims, we emerged victorious in favor of Lebanon,” he added. Soaid slammed FPM chief Michel Aoun for claiming that he works for the interest of Christians at a time when “he visits Tehran.” Aoun said Wednesday that “some of the parties that backed the (Orthodox) proposal abandoned it therefore toppling the most important law for Christians.”
He was referring to the LF, which along with the FPM, the Phalange and Marada movement had announced the plan as the electoral draft-law of their choice but then backed down to pave way for consensus.

Charbel Expects Failure to Agree on New Vote Proposal, Says 1960 Law should be Amended
Naharnet/Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel reiterated on Wednesday that the solution to the electoral crisis lies in adopting the 1960 law with some amendments to improve the representation of Christians.
In remarks to al-Liwaa newspaper, Charbel said that the law, which considers the qada an electoral district and is based on the winner-takes-all system, is still valid. He expected the rival March 8 and 14 alliances to reach a dead-end during four days of consecutive parliamentary sessions that Speaker Nabih Berri has called for. “We have to wait a little until the (different) parties reach a dead-end and decide that there is no solution but to return to the 1960 law,” the caretaker minister told the daily. Asked about what kind of amendments should be introduced so that it becomes acceptable by the Christians, Charbel said: “We are studying ways that it (the law) becomes acceptable by all sides.”“It could become so if we only amend one article in it,” he added. In other remarks to al-Joumhouria newspaper, Charbel said he had to reopen the door for the announcement of candidacies based on the 1960 law after May 19 for the elections that are set to be held on June 16. Last month, the parliament approved a draft-law to suspend the deadline for submitting nominations until May 19. The law states that the interior ministry will resume accepting nominations on May 20 and until May 25.

Nasrallah to Make Televised Speech on Resistance and Liberation Day

Naharnet/Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to make a televised speech on Saturday 25 at 5:00 p.m. Nasrallah is expected to tackle the latest local and regional developments. The speech will be made on the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation day. The ceremony that will be held in the village of Mashghara in eastern Bekaa valley. Liberation Day commemorates the Israeli army’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000. Several rallies are being held on Friday in southern towns on the occasion. 

Syria Rebel Defends Gruesome Video as Revenge
Naharnet/A Syrian rebel who was filmed apparently cutting out and eating the organs of a soldier has defended his actions as revenge for regime atrocities, Time magazine reported on Tuesday. The U.S. news weekly said it had talked by Skype with the fighter, identified as Khalid al-Hamad, who appeared in a video that sparked outrage and condemnation, including from the Syrian opposition. Hamad claimed he was driven to the gruesome acts by footage on the dead soldier's cellphone, showing him "humiliating" a naked woman and her two daughters. The magazine said Hamad described participating in other acts of mutilating regime forces, including militiamen known as shabiha. "I have another video clip... In the clip I am sawing another shabiha with a saw. The saw we use to cut trees. I sawed him in small pieces and large ones," Time quoted him as saying.
The magazine said Hamad, a Sunni like much of the opposition fighting against President Bashar Assad's regime, expressed hatred of member's of the leader's Alawite sect. "Hopefully we will slaughter all of them," he told the magazine, "They were the ones who killed our children in Baba Amr and raped our women," he said, referring to a neighborhood of the central city of Homs. "We didn't start it, they started it," he added.
"Our slogan is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." The video, in which Hamad leans over a uniformed body, cuts out organs and then holds one up to his mouth, has prompted an outcry around the world and thrown the mainstream rebel leadership on the defensive. The National Coalition, the country's main opposition grouping, issued a statement saying it "strongly condemns" the act.
"The Coalition stresses that such an act contradicts the morals of the Syrian people, as well as the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army," it said. "The Syrian Coalition reiterates its condemnation of such an act and stresses that it is a crime, regardless of the perpetrator. "The culprit will eventually be tried in court in front of an honest and fair judiciary." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded rebel leaders take immediate action to prevent such "atrocious" acts within its ranks. "The video that has just emerged from Syria, apparently showing a rebel leader cutting out and biting the heart of a dead soldier, depicts a truly atrocious act," she said. "Mutilating or desecrating corpses during a conflict is a war crime. "While it is not yet possible to fully authenticate the video, I urge the armed opposition groups in Syria must do everything in their power to halt such gross crimes. "They must investigate this incident along with other alleged very serious violations by opposition fighters, including acts of torture and a succession of apparent summary executions and extra-judicial killings."
Pillay renewed her calls for the U.N. Security Council to task the International Criminal Court with investigating allegations of war crimes against rebel as well as government forces. "I have repeatedly called for the case of Syria to be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court, so that legal proceedings can begin against people believed to be responsible for serious international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, irrespective of whether they are on the side of the government or are in opposition to it," she said. SourceAgence France Presse.

Russia Calls on Syria Opposition to Back Peace Conference
Naharnet / Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday called on the Syrian opposition to support Moscow and Washington in their efforts to work towards convening a peace conference to end the bloodshed in Syria. "It is important for all participants to express articulate support for the Russian-US initiative to implement the Geneva communique," Lavrov was quoted as saying in the Swedish town of Kiruna by Russian news agencies.
Syria's key National Coalition opposition group is scheduled to meet in Istanbul on May 23 to discuss a Russia-U.S. proposal for an international conference on a political solution to the Syrian conflict. The meeting was proposed by Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month and will aim to build on an agreement reached by world powers last June in Geneva. The never implemented a greement called for a cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government without ever spelling out the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lavrov, who is in Sweden for a meeting of the Arctic Council, a grouping of countries with Arctic territory, discussed the holding of the peace conference with Kerry on Tuesday. Kerry said both he and Lavrov believed that the conference could indeed be organized in accordance with plans.
"We discussed the challenge of Syria," he said. "We are very optimistic that it can be done." SourceAgence France Presse.

Russia, U.S. Seek to Limit 'Wigged Spy' Scandal Damage
Naharnet /Russia and the United States on Wednesday sought to limit the damage to already troubled ties from a new spy scandal that erupted when Moscow caught a blonde-wigged alleged CIA agent who was reportedly seeking information on the Boston bombings. The suspected agent, who Moscow says was caught with a "typical espionage arsenal" of money and disguises, is said to have been working undercover as a low-ranking third secretary at the U.S. embassy. The man, named as Ryan C. Fogle, was caught red-handed in a blonde wig as he tried to recruit a Russian security agent with an advance of $100,000 for intelligence on the Northern Caucasus, according to the Russian FSB security service. After being interrogated, he was handed back to the U.S. embassy and ordered to leave the country after being declared persona non grata.The Kommersant daily said that Fogle was likely to have been seeking intelligence about the Boston marathon bombers whose origins were in the Russian Northern Caucasus, despite pledges by security services to cooperate in the investigation.
U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul met officials at the Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday morning after being summoned to explain the presence of the alleged CIA agent. The foreign ministry said that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had issued a protest to McFaul, confirming that Fogle had to leave in the "shortest possible time". Nevertheless, both sides appeared keen to avoid inflammatory rhetoric at a time when they are engaged in sensitive diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov steered clear of the topic, saying that he had opted not to bring up the case at talks in Sweden with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "I decided that talking about it would be superfluous, since it is already made public and everyone already understands everything," he said in comments published on the ministry's website on Wednesday.
Former head of the FSB Nikolai Kovalyov described the alleged agent's interception as a great success for Russian intelligence as it was rare for spies to be caught red-handed, "all the more with such attributes as a wig".
Kovalyov, now a ruling party lawmaker, however predicted the episode would have no effect on bilateral relations. "The Americans do nothing other secret services -- including ours -- would not do," he told the Interfax news agency. Footage published by state English language television RT showed Fogle being pinned face down to the ground and having his hands put behind his back for the arrest, while apparently wearing a blonde wig under his baseball cap. The FSB footage also displayed supposed espionage equipment including two wigs as well as a compass, a street atlas of Moscow and a somewhat old-fashioned mobile phone.
For all the comedy of the spy novel-style trappings of his kit, Kommersant daily said it was probable that Fogle was looking for information on the Tsarnaev brothers who are alleged to have carried out the marathon bombings.
It linked the agent's capture to a trip a U.S. delegation made to Dagestan last month in coordination with the Russian authorities to investigate the April 15 blasts at the Boston marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260. Suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Dagestan in 2012 and U.S. authorities are eager to see if he built up contacts with the local Islamist underground there.
"It is likely that during the trip in April the U.S. side obtained the phone numbers of (Russian) Federal Security Service (FSB) agents," said Kommersant.
"Clearly, they then decided to use it to have personal contacts with anti-terror agents, given that the exchange of information in the form of questions and answers between special services is not always quick and smooth," it said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell confirmed that an American staffer at the embassy had been briefly detained, but refused to respond to allegations that the man was an undercover CIA agent.
SourceAgence France Presse.

Surprises from Khartoum

By: Osman Mirghani/Asharq Alawsat
The Sudanese regime has taken a number of different turns over its 24 years in power, gone back on many of its political slogans, and frequently changed its attitudes in an attempt to cling to power. After coining the slogan, “We eat what we plant and wear what we manufacture,” the regime ruined the country’s agricultural projects and sold off large swathes of state-owned lands in controversial deals, raising concerns among the Sudanese that one day their country would become a wasteland. In an attempt to ridicule this slogan, the Sudanese people added: “We laugh at what we hear,” particularly following an unprecedented rise in living expenses, forcing the majority of the population to cut down on the number of their daily meals.
After the “Salvation” regime adopted the slogans of jihad to “crush the insurgency” in the South, pledging not to abandon a single inch of national territory, Sudan became fragmented, with wars raging in the North and extending from the borders of Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Despite its vows not to negotiate or compromise the unity of Sudan, the regime eventually signed the secession agreement, with the president joining the ceremonies at the announcement of the independence of South Sudan in Juba. Moreover, regime officials claimed that “lifting the burden of the South,” would promote the welfare of the North.
In light of this record of failures and setbacks, many attitudes and slogans have changed and many confusing and contradictory statements have been issued, with the government pursuing no certain policy except that of clinging to power. The latest of these confusing statements was President Omar Al-Bashir’s announcement last week that he is confident that the day will come when the two parts of Sudan reunite or form a sort of union. What makes this statement confusing is the fact that it comes from the president who not only oversaw the secession process, but who also played a major role in creating the climate for this to take place. Had the regime been concerned about the unity of Sudan, why did it not make use of the six years following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led to the South’s self-determination referendum in 2011? During these six years, many political programs could have been implemented to attract people towards unity instead of the quarrels and the aggressive statements that led to the Southerners vote “yes” on secession.
In reality, the regime wasted these years, arousing animosity towards the South to the extent that some officials and ideologues failed to conceal their desire to see the it secede. They thought that secession would help them implement their “Islamic movement” project and establishing a so-called second republic. The Islamic movement, which was responsible for the “Salvation” coup, sought to impose its ideology on the country, turning Sudan into the first Muslim Brotherhood republic in the Arab world.
With the belief that the South was an obstacle in the way of the establishment of an Islamic republic, the regime sought to lift this burden from its shoulders even if this meant “losing” a fifth of the country, a quarter of its population, and over three quarters of its oil revenues. The regime believed that even after the secession of the South, it would succeed in obtaining a considerable amount of the Southern oil by imposing heavy transit fees. As the emerging country in the South is landlocked, it can only export its oil via the Northern pipelines. Besides this, trade in South Sudan is also dependent on the North.
Therefore, the regime’s ideologues were convinced that they would be able to use their economic sway in settling some of the pending issues, from border demarcation and the fate of Abyei to the division of water revenues and the issues of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. However, things did not go as Khartoum expected, and the relations between the South and the North deteriorated, leading to actual military confrontation. This, in turn, led to the suspension of oil exports, leaving the economies of both countries on the verge of collapse.
Given the awkward position it finds itself in at home, particularly after the Arab Spring, the “Salvation” regime has returned to the strategy of contradicting itself. For example, the regime has decided to hold negotiations with South Sudan once more, accepting less oil transit fees than it had previously demanded. In addition, it has offered compromises over the security arrangements, replacing its former discourse of using strength “to discipline the south” to dealing with Juba based on a new reconciliatory tone. We have seen Bashir, on returning from visiting the South, claim that his regime is seeking to restore national solidarity with South Sudan and that he is confident that one day the two parts of Sudan will reunite. These are surprises from the Khartoum leadership—or, perhaps, they are nothing more than maneuvers to remain in power.

Learning the Hard Way

Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat
There is an expression about “learning the hard way.” It seems that this is the message that Egyptian defense minister General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sought to send a few days ago when he ruled out the possibility of the armed forces intervening in the political sphere, saying that nobody should try to solve their problems using the army.
During a speech addressing journalists and intellectuals, the Egyptian defense minister said that the armed forces will not even consider entering the streets, that the military is not the solution, and that queuing up for hours to vote is better than destroying the country. Such discourse is important, especially since during the last round of elections—when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was in power—an official public holiday was announced in order to facilitate a larger electoral turnout. However, this resulted in many Egyptians—millions, by some estimates—using this opportunity to travel to holiday resorts rather than to cast their vote at the ballot box.
This talk is the most rational and discerning to be found in the midst of political tensions, liabilities and speeches, some of which are understandable, while others simply defy logic. This statement—that queuing up for hours to vote is better than destroying the country—contains a call to learn things the hard way today, and that we many now have no other choice.
It is clear that this speech was made in the wake of escalating calls for the armed forces to intervene and take power. This comes at a time of escalating political rivalries, stalled dialogue and reconciliation, and a lack of compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the political factions. This is hampering Egypt’s ability to pass through a difficult transition period that has stretched the country’s economy and drained its resources.
The political parties that disagree with the Brotherhood and the current political arrangement in Egypt may have their own justification for calling for the return of the Egyptian army to power once more. This includes the Brotherhood’s intransigence in responding to certain political requests, their exclusion of rivals, and their penchant for placing political loyalists in certain positions, ensuring continuing Brotherhood-control. However, the problem is that nobody is thinking about the next step or what might happen after this.
The SCAF’s experience in power during that difficult transition stage was beset by political tensions and calls for the armed forces to return to their barracks, as well as violent confrontations that placed the military in an awkward position. It seems that the military does not want to repeat this experience, particularly as this institute should be for everybody, and by virtue of politics, it is difficult for any ruling party to satisfy everybody.
The state of public dissatisfaction in Egypt is undeniable, and this is due to the direction that the country is heading in following last year’s presidential elections. There is a large section of society that rejects the decisions that have been taken and are clinging to the concept of the civil state and civil institutions. However, it is also undeniable that the elections took place via the ballot box, reinforcing the legitimacy of rule. Therefore, any desired change must take place via the same process—namely, elections. Otherwise, the country will be following a dangerous course, and nobody knows where this will lead.
In other words, there are no other options available to the political forces or general public that oppose the present course except taking the hard road that is putting forward policies that attract voters. These forces may have the backing of a large, silent majority, but they will have to convince this majority to exercise their will during the election process. This is the only way that the country will progress. Correct political practices will inexorably lead, in one form or another, to everybody taking a realistic view of the situation to reach common understanding and mutual agreement based on their true popularity on the ground, as is the case with political parties in the rest of the world. Everyone should review policies and mistakes. There have been a number of objections to the methods adopted by some of the political forces that utilized loud voices and media uproar, while other forces operated in villages and hamlets, seeking to mobilize voters. There has also been criticism surrounding the inability to come together under one political banner throughout the electoral period.


Washington blunders yet again in Syria
May 16, 2013/By Michael Young/The Daily Star
It is not reassuring that we know next to nothing about the details of the international conference on Syria that has been endorsed by the United States and Russia. It is even more worrisome that both countries view the conference in very different ways. For the Obama administration, a conference would help initiate negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the regime, preferably leading to a transition away from Syrian President Bashar Assad. It could also lower the tension in Syria at a moment when the conflict there is threatening to engulf neighboring countries. And it would create an opening to address the fate of hundreds of thousands Syrian refugees in more practical ways.
Implicitly, talks would also help marginalize the most radical groups opposing Assad, by giving mainstream opposition groups room to shape a settlement. Given that many Syrians are likely to welcome measures to reduce the violence, so-called moderates would gain the upper hand, while the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, which opposes negotiations, would find itself increasingly isolated.
For Russia, a conference must allow Assad to gain the upper hand in Syria. From the start the Russians have sought talks between the Syrian president and opposition forces amenable to a dialogue with him. This failed, but it is still the belief in Moscow that once any talks begin, they would allow Assad to bargain from a position of strength. Even in the doubtful event that talks were to lead to his exit, the reasoning is that his system would remain in place, and with it many of those with whom Russia has collaborated in Syria.
Moreover, the Russians feel this would vindicate their decision to arm Assad and provide him with intelligence assistance and military advice. Therefore a conference would consolidate his army’s recent advances, even as the Obama administration has decided to suspend plans to arm the Syrian rebels, to give the conference a chance. This decision has encouraged the two European countries most insistent about suspending the arms embargo on Syria, France and the United Kingdom, to become more hesitant about going ahead with that plan.
The poor American preparation for a conference has been criticized. In a recent article for the Foreign Policy website, Michael Weiss of the Institute of Modern Russia noted that the conference would be based on the Geneva Protocol of June 2012. This calls for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” The protocol demands an end to armed violence by both sides and the release of political prisoners. It allows journalists greater freedom of movement throughout Syria. And it seeks the “consolidation of full calm and stability.”
However, Weiss adds, “since this would-be road map was cobbled together almost a year ago, more than 50,000 Syrians have died in the Assad regime’s desperate attempt to crush the uprising.” In other words, a return to Geneva takes into consideration neither the gains made by the opposition nor the crimes of the Syrian leadership.
The Americans have locked themselves into a situation where the pursuit of their stated objectives in Syria seriously risks undermining the interests of their allies, while Russia is under no obligation to surrender anything, and will continue to supply arms to the Syrian government. Nor are Iran and Hezbollah a part of the process (and the U.S. does not want them to be), so Hezbollah can continue attacking rebel-held areas in and around Homs, which will only strengthen the Russians’ hand.
Of course, the Syrian opposition can always say no to an international conference. But such a rejection would alienate the U.S. at a time when the military momentum appears to favor Assad’s forces. And while the Obama administration does not want to push the Syrian opposition more firmly into the hands of radical Islamist groups, it probably feels that such groups could be contained if a consensus to resolve the Syrian crisis peacefully is reached at a conference.
It is equally unclear how the U.S. plans to bring about Assad’s departure, a position Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed in Rome following his visit to Russia. After all, it is Assad who will attend or be represented at any international gathering, which will bestow on him undeniable legitimacy, backed by Moscow. To expect him to then agree to a political process that may ultimately lead to his ouster, in response to the demands of a Syrian opposition that currently finds itself on the defensive, is downright laughable.
The Obama administration’s mistake has been to suspend discussion of arming the rebels, when it should have done precisely the contrary: bolster the opposition militarily so that it would come to a conference in an advantageous position. But for the Americans, diplomatic success is all about mood and mutual confidence, and so goodwill gestures are necessary, even when they happen to be self-defeating. How odd for an administration that embraces political realism.
The Russians in turn, have every intention of sending Assad to a conference well positioned to resist all efforts to make him step down. Indeed, the Syrian president will likely impose many conditions before agreeing to be present at a meeting that, he and the Russians know, the U.S. is keen to see succeed, since it would allow Barack Obama to resist mounting calls for greater involvement in Syria.
Peace in Syria is desirable, but not at any price. American miscalculations will further damage the Syrian opposition and give Assad the means to use negotiations to impose his will on his depleted rivals and remain in office. Neither Russia nor Iran will challenge this. And with a short-sighted, risk-averse, amoral administration in Washington, they know they can get their way.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling

U.N. calls for political transition in Syria
May 16, 2013/By Michelle Nichols, Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. General Assembly condemned Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and praised the opposition Wednesday, but a decline in support for the resolution suggested growing unease about extremism among Syria’s fractious rebels.
While the nonbinding text has no legal force, resolutions of the 193-nation assembly can carry significant moral and political weight. There were 107 votes in favor, 12 against and 59 abstentions – a drop in support compared with a resolution condemning the Syrian government that passed in August with 133 votes in favor, 12 against and 31 abstentions.
U.N. diplomats cited concerns that Syria could be headed for “regime change” engineered by foreign governments and fears about a strengthening Islamist extremist element among the rebels as reasons for the decline in support for the resolution.
Russia, a close ally and arms supplier for Assad, strongly opposed the resolution drafted by Qatar, which Assad’s government has accused of arming the rebels seeking to oust him. But Moscow, which along with China has used its veto three times to prevent Security Council action against Assad, could not block the motion as there are no vetoes in the General Assembly.
Diplomats said the Russian delegation wrote to all U.N. members urging them to oppose the resolution. Moscow has complained that the resolution undermines U.S.-Russian efforts to organize a peace conference that would include Assad’s government and rebels, a meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said would likely take place in early June.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari told the General Assembly before the vote that the resolution went against the U.S.-Russia push for a diplomatic solution to the 2-year-old crisis, which the United Nations says has killed at least 80,000 people. “It is running against the current, especially in the light of the latest Russian-American rapprochement, which the Syrian government welcomed,” Jaafari said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo argued that the resolution was consistent with the Russian-U.S. initiative and sent “a clear message that the political solution we all seek is the best way to end the suffering of the people of Syria.” But some U.N. diplomats and officials are skeptical that the U.S.-Russian initiative will resolve the deadlock that has prevented the Security Council taking any action on Syria, given the wide gulf between Moscow and Washington.
Wednesday’s resolution, which had strong backing from Western and Gulf Arab states, was originally conceived to give Syria’s U.N. seat to the opposition Syrian National Coalition.
But U.N. diplomats said it became clear in early negotiations that such a move would not pass the assembly, where many delegations fear their own governments could one day face rebel uprisings.
The resolution did though welcome the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition “as effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition.”
Syria has accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, Britain and France of arming the rebels. The countries have denied the allegations, but the rebels continue to receive arms.
South Africa Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo said his country, which voted in favor of the previous resolution condemning Assad’s government, abstained this time because it opened the door to “regime change” by forces from outside Syria.
Experts have long said the militant Nusra Front in Syria is receiving support from Al-Qaeda-linked militants in neighboring Iraq. The group has claimed responsibility for deadly bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and its fighters have joined other Syrian rebel brigades. Iran, Bolivia, Venezuela, North Korea, Belarus and other delegations that tend to oppose U.S. policy at the United Nations also voted no. Ecuador, which abstained last year, said it voted against the resolution because it feared it legitimized a coup and wondered “who will be the next country on the list.”
Indonesia, which voted in favor of the August resolution, said it abstained mainly because of the resolution’s implied recognition of the Syrian opposition.
Mohammad Khazaee, the ambassador of Syria’s ally and arms supplier Iran, accused the rebels of using chemical weapons against Syrians, something the opposition says was done by Assad’s government and not rebel forces. He also spoke of an increasing number of “terrorist and extremist groups” in Syria.
Russia also warned about terrorist elements in Syria.
The vote could show that recent images of savagery from the civil war – a rebel commander biting a heart ripped out of an enemy combatant – may be undermining the case of those arguing Syria would be better without Assad.
There have also been grisly images of acts committed by Assad’s forces making their way around the Internet.
Another reason for drop in support for the resolution, envoys said, may be the fact that Assad remains in control of much of the country and has demonstrated that his armed forces and allied militia have not lost the war – although they have not been able to win either.
“I’m convinced a lot of countries voted for [last year’s] text because they believed they were voting for the winning side,” a senior Western U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in reference to the August, 2012 resolution. “They are not so sure anymore.” “Now also you have the Islamist, terrorist factor which is much more conspicuous,” he said.
Wednesday’s vote came as Washington and European governments have been mulling the benefits and risks of supplying arms to Syrian rebels.
A French official said Wednesday that France was floating a proposal that the European Union should ease an arms embargo but delay acting on the decision to intensify pressure on Damascus to negotiate an end to the civil war.