May 22/2013

Bible Quotation for today/God tests no one beyond his power
1 Corinthians 10 /12-13/: "If you think you are standing firm you had better be careful that you do not fall. Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.

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

Israel: Against Hezbollah in Lebanon, with them in Syria/By: Alex Rowell/Now Lebanon/May 22/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 22/13

U.S. State Department: We Do Not Differentiate between Hizbullah Wings
White House Condemns Hizbullah Role in Syria, Fears Expansion of War
U.S. Official: Iranians Joining Hizbullah in Key Syria Battle
Hezbollah in big Syria battle, Obama "concerned

Hizbullah Sends New Fighters to Bloody Syria Battle
Diplomats: EU Poised to Put Hizbullah's Military Wing on Terror List
The pope and the devil: Francis' obsession with Satan leads to suspicion he performed exorcism

Commandos Descend on Tripoli, Ghosn Warns Country's Fate at Stake
Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz: Assad will pay the price for Golan escalation. Syria: We fired on Israeli patrol
Hezbollah critic Rami Ollaik and relatives threatened
Tripoli Sheikh to NOW: Situation will worsen after Imam’s death

Tripoli Clashes Intensify as Eid Declares All-Out Battle and Kabbara Demands His Arrest
Report: Army Busts 'Terrorist Cell' Scheming to Target it

Geagea Slams Aoun, Accuses him of Seeking to Hold Polls Based on 1960 Law
Aoun Suggests Parliament Vote on Orthodox Gathering, then Hybrid Electoral Draft Laws

Mustaqbal Bloc Urges Suleiman, Berri, Miqati to Stop 'Hizbullah's Crimes' in Syria
One Wounded as Car Fails to Stop at Wadi Khaled Army Checkpoint
ISF Arrests Two People over Links to Kidnappings in Lebanon

Suleiman Chairs Meeting on Syria Refugees, Urges Lebanese against Involvement in Syrian Crisis
8 Wounded as Rockets Land on Akkar Towns

Charbel: We Made a Mistake in Not Limiting Syrian Refugees to Camps
Sidon Dar al-Fatwa helm row sees offices closed

After exchange, Israel warns against Golan attacks, says Syria will 'bear consequences'
Israel Army Warns Syria of Golan Unrest 'Consequences'

Syria Army Says it Destroyed Israel Vehicle in Golan
Canada Condemns Spike in Sectarian Violence in Iraq

At Least 91 Dead as Massive Tornado Strikes U.S. City

Canada Condemns Spike in Sectarian Violence in Iraq
May 21, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:
“I have grown increasingly concerned in recent days as a spate of deadly sectarian violence has rocked cities and towns throughout Iraq.
“Today, we learned that a Canadian is among the many victims. Consular officials are in touch with that person’s family and are offering assistance.
“The security situation in Iraq has been fragile for many years. But the type of violence we have seen increase in recent days is particularly troubling and risks returning the country to a sectarian civil war.
“We will be monitoring the situation very carefully and urging Iraqi authorities to do all they can to increase security in the face of this most recent violence, some of which appears to be inspired by outside forces.”

Diplomats: EU Poised to Put Hizbullah's Military Wing on Terror List

Naharnet/The European Union stands poised to put the military wing of Hizbullah on its list of terrorist organizations after a formal request to blacklist the group was filed by a member state Monday, diplomats said.
The request from Britain formally launches a process to blacklist the group, a move that has long been requested by Israel and which will be discussed in early June, several EU diplomats told Agence France Presse.
"We hope to have an agreement by the end of June," one of the diplomats said, adding that EU experts would meet in a special committee to discuss the request early June.
Both Israel and the United States have pressured the 27-member bloc to follow their example and designate Hizbullah as a terrorist group but the issue remained sensitive and divisive, with Britain openly in favor while France and Italy were believed reluctant. Informed French sources told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat published Sunday that France, which has been the most influential opponent of the move, has lately seen a change in stance and could approve the measure given that Hizbullah members are fighting alongside Syrian regime troops against the rebels. They told al-Hayat that the French leadership favors putting some Hizbullah leaders on the terror list and not the entire military wing of the party. During a visit in March, Israeli President Shimon Peres urged the EU to brand Hizbullah as terrorists, arguing that the movement's intervention in Syria against rebels opposed to President Bashar Assad was enabling the group to spread its reach. "If you do not take measures against Hizbullah, then they may think that they are permitted" to do what they like, he said after a meeting with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.Source/Agence France PresseNaharnet.

U.S. State Department: We Do Not Differentiate between Hizbullah Wings

Naharnet /The United States said Tuesday it does not differentiate between Hizbullah's armed and political wings as it again urged Europe to blacklist the group, a decision diplomats indicated could be imminent. A formal request to brand the party as a terrorist group was filed by Britain and is to be discussed at closed-door talks June 4 of a committee overseeing the EU list of people and groups subject to its asset freezing regime, European diplomats said.The decision would require unanimity from all 27 European Union states. In an email, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told Agence France Presse the U.S. was "increasingly concerned about Hizbullah's activities on a number of fronts -- including its stepped up terrorist campaign around the world, and their critical and ongoing support" for the Bashar Assad regime.
"Countering these activities has been, and will remain, one of our highest priorities," Ventrell said. "The United States does not distinguish between Hizbullah's political/military/terrorist wings," he noted, adding U.S. information indicates "Hizbullah's numerous branches and subsidiaries share common funding, personnel, and leadership, all of which support the group's violent actions." "We have been urging our European partners -- and other countries around the world -- to take a wide range of steps to crack down on Hizbullah, including sanctions and increased law enforcement cooperation with the United States," the spokesman added.
The United States and Israel, both of which have the party on their terror blacklists, have long urged Europe to follow suit. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern on Monday over Hizbullah's "active and growing role" aiding Syria's army against rebels trying to topple the government in a phone call to President Michel Suleiman. Lebanon is officially neutral on the violence in Syria, but a range of Lebanese groups are openly intervening in the conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people since it began in March 2011.Source/Agence France Presse.

White House Condemns Hizbullah Role in Syria, Fears Expansion of War

Naharnet /The White House on Tuesday condemned Hizbullah's "direct intervention" in the battle for the Syrian rebel stronghold of Qusayr, and slammed President Bashar Assad for seeking help from Iran. A day after President Barack Obama called President Michel Suleiman to express concern over the role of the party in Syria, his spokesman Jay Carney amplified U.S. concerns about an expansion of the war. "We have condemned and condemn again Hizbullah's direct intervention in the assault on Qusayr where the Hizbullah's fighters are playing a significant role in the regime's offensive," Carney said. "Hizbullah's occupation of villages in Syria and its support for the regime and pro-Assad militias exacerbates and inflames regional sectarian tensions and perpetuates the regime's campaign of terror against the Syrian people".
Regarding Iran, Carney argued that it "says a lot about Assad that this is where he's looking for assistance." Hizbullah's increasingly direct involvement has raised questions over whether it could tip the balance in the conflict away from the rebels and towards the Assad regime.It also complicates the calculations of the Obama regime on whether to step up support for Syrian rebels -- to include direct military aid -- and as it to co-host a peace conference with Russia in Geneva next month. Source/Agence France Presse.

U.S. Official: Iranians Joining Hizbullah in Key Syria Battle

Naharnet/Iranians are working alongside Hizbullah fighters to back Syrian troops battling to retake the rebel stronghold of Qusayr amid fears of a civilian massacre, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
"It is the most visible effort we have seen by Hizbullah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force, and we understand there are also Iranians up there," a senior State Department official told reporters.
His information was based on reports from commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army, but he was unable to give any estimates of how many Hizbullah fighters or Iranians were involved, and what exact role the Iranians were playing. "I don't know that they are directly involved in the fighting, but I don't think the people that I'm talking to know that themselves," the official told reporters travelling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "This is an important thing to note -- the direct implication of foreigners on Syrian soil for the regime," he cautioned on a conference call in Muscat. Many opposition commanders had reported that forces from Hizbullah "are directly engaged in fighting literally on the streets. They say that their men... are directly fighting against Hizbullah commanders." "Iran's role and Hizbullah's role have grown substantially over the last couple of months," he warned ahead of a Friends of Syria meeting to be held in Jordan on Wednesday. Observers have alleged that Hizbullah fighters were leading the battle for Qusayr in Homs province, three days after the Syrian regime began an assault to regain control of the town. The town is a key strategic prize as it sits on the main highway between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, and also controls rebel supply routes from the northern city of Tripoli. "The world is watching this and we are watching this and we will know if they commit massacres.. and we will hold them accountable," the U.S. official warned the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Syrian opposition had voiced concerns that "when regime forces do go into Qusayr, if they do capture it, that there will be retaliation against the civilian population," he added, stressing "there are still thousands of civilians in the city."

Hezbollah in big Syria battle, Obama "concerned

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Dominic Evans
AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas have fought their biggest battle yet for Syria's beleaguered president, prompting international alarm that the civil war may spread and an urgent call for restraint from the United States. About 30 Hezbollah fighters were killed on Sunday, Syrian activists said, along with 20 Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad during the fiercest fighting this year in the rebel stronghold of Qusair, near the Lebanon border. That would be the highest daily loss for the Iranian-backed movement in Syria, highlighting how it is increasing its efforts to bolster Assad; it prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to voice hi concern to his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman. If confirmed, the Hezbollah losses reflect how Syria is becoming a proxy conflict between Shi'ite Iran and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back Assad's mostly Sunni enemies. Dozens of dead in sectarian bombings in Iraq on Monday and killings in the Lebanese city of Tripoli compounded a sense of spreading regional confrontation.
Western powers and Russia back opposing sides in the cross-border Syrian free-for-all, which is also sucking in Israel - though Washington and its allies have fought shy of intervening militarily behind fractured and partly Islamist rebel forces. The White House said Obama spoke to Lebanese President Suleiman and "stressed his concern about Hezbollah's active and growing role in Syria, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, which is counter to the Lebanese government's policies". The Beirut government, however, has limited means to influence the politically and militarily powerful Shi'ite group. The two leaders agreed "all parties should respect Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria and avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was "preparing for every scenario" in Syria and held out the prospect of more Israeli strikes on Syria to stop Hezbollah and other opponents of Israel obtaining advanced weapons.
Israel has not confirmed or denied reports by Western and Israeli intelligence sources that three raids this year targeted Iranian missiles near Damascus that it believed were awaiting delivery to Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006.
Syrian opposition sources and state media gave differing accounts of Sunday's clashes in Qusair, long used by rebels as a supply route from Lebanon to the provincial capital Homs.
Hezbollah has not commented but in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Monday several funeral processions could be seen. Pictures of dead fighters were plastered on to cars and mourners waved yellow Hezbollah flags. Several ambulances were seen on the main Bekaa Valley highway and residents said hospitals had appealed for blood to treat the wounded brought back to Lebanon.
The air and tank assault on the strategic town of 30,000 people appeared to be part of a campaign by Assad's forces to consolidate their grip on Damascus and secure links between the capital and government strongholds in the Alawite coastal heartland via the contested central city of Homs. The government campaign has coincided with efforts by the United States and Russia, despite their differences on Syria, to organise peace talks to end a conflict now in its third year in which more than 80,000 people have been killed. A total of 100 combatants from both sides were killed in Sunday's offensive, according to opposition sources, including the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Such a death toll would indicate at least hundreds had taken part.
Troops have already retaken several villages around Qusair and have attacked increasingly isolated rebel units in Homs.
"If Qusair falls, God forbid, the opposition in Homs city will be in grave danger," said an activist who called himself Abu Jaafar al-Mugharbil.
State news agency SANA said the army had "restored security and stability to most Qusair neighbourhoods" and was "chasing the remnants of the terrorists in the northern district".
Syrian television also showed footage of what it said was an Israeli military Jeep which it said the rebels had been using and which showed the extent of their foreign backing. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the vehicle was decommissioned a decade ago and dismissed the footage as "poor propaganda".Opposition activists said rebels in Qusair, about 10 km (six miles) from the Lebanese border, had pushed back most of the attacking forces to their original positions in the east of the town and to the south on Sunday, destroying at least four Syrian army tanks and five light Hezbollah vehicles.
The Western-backed leadership of the Free Syrian Army, the loose umbrella group trying to oversee hundreds of disparate rebel brigades, said the Qusair fighters had thwarted Hezbollah with military operations it dubbed "Walls of Death".
Syrian government restrictions on access for independent media make it hard to verify such videos and accounts.
The fighting raged as Western nations are seeking to step up pressure on Assad - Britain and France want the European Union to allow arms deliveries to rebels - while preparing for the peace talks brokered by Russia and the United States next month. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "no option is off the table" over the possible arming of rebels if the Syrian government does not negotiate seriously at the proposed talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has shielded Syria from U.N. Security Council action, said Syrian opposition representatives must take part without precondition, apparently referring to their demands for Assad's exit before they come to the table. Assad has scorned the idea that the conference expected to convene in Geneva could end a war that is fuelling instability and deepening Sunni-Shi'ite rifts across the Middle East.
"They think a political conference will halt terrorists in the country. That is unrealistic," he told the Argentine newspaper Clarin, in a reference to Syria's mainly Sunni rebels.
Assad ruled out "dialogue with terrorists", but it was not clear from his remarks whether he would agree to send delegates to a conference that may in any case falter before it starts due to disagreements between its two main sponsors and their allies. The fractured Syrian opposition is to discuss the proposed peace conference at a meeting due to start in Istanbul on Thursday, during which it will also appoint a new leadership.
Among divisive factors in the rebel camp is fundamentalist Islam, practised by some fighters and opposed by others. In the latest Internet video from Syria to cause discomfort for rebels seeking Western backing, anti-Assad Islamists flogged two men they said had infringed a ban on marrying newly divorced women.
Attacks by troops and militias loyal to Assad, who inherited power in Syria from his father in 2000, have put rebel groups under pressure in several of their strongholds in recent weeks.
Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, has been battling an uprising which began with peaceful protests in March 2011. His violent response eventually prompted rebels to take up arms.
Hezbollah has supported Assad throughout the crisis but for months denied reports it was fighting alongside Assad's troops.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the Hezbollah casualties on Sunday at 28 dead and more than 70 wounded, while 48 rebel fighters and four civilians were also killed.
Tareq Murei, an activist in Qusair, said six more people were killed on Monday as Syrian army artillery and Hezbollah rocket launchers bombarded rebel-held parts of the town.
Video footage purportedly showed a Syrian tank on fire at a street corner in the town. In another video a warplane was shown flying over the town amid the sound of explosions.
Lebanese security sources said at least 12 Hezbollah fighters were killed in Qusair on Sunday. Seven were to be buried in the Lebanese town of Baalbek and nearby villages on Monday, they said. (Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Hermel and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, Alistair Lyon, Giles Elgood and Alastair Macdonald)

Tripoli Clashes Intensify as Eid Declares All-Out Battle and Kabbara Demands His Arrest
Naharnet /Clashes renewed in a fierce manner in Tripoli on Tuesday afternoon, leaving at least four people dead and several others wounded, as the Arab Democratic Party declared an open battle and warned that it “will not let Tripoli sleep.” The National News Agency said Mohammed Rashid Soltani, 30, was killed and two other people were wounded, identifying them as Yehia Seif Obeid, 81, and Khaled Mohammed Mohammed, 33.
Meanwhile, Future TV reported that “Abu Ridwan al-Asmar, the muezzin of Bab al-Tabbaneh's al-Jihad Mosque, has died of his wounds." And as MTV said "Mohammed Mahmoud al-Asmar was killed by sniper gunfire in Tripoli," Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said "Ahmed al-Bunni was killed at Jabal Mohsen's al-Amerkan Square after receiving a bullet in the neck." As the situation deteriorated, a mortar hit an army base on al-Ghoraba Street while another fell on an army base in al-Zahriyeh, leaving a man from al-Tiba family wounded. “Multiple rocket launchers were deployed in Jabal Mohsen as a prelude to escalation," Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) reported.
Clashes also intensified in al-Baqqar, al-Qobbeh and al-Mankoubin as Bab al-Tabbaneh's residents started evacuating their homes and the army withdrew the vehicles that were deployed on Bab al-Tabbaneh's highway near al-Qasr Bakery. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said Mariam al-Saqqa, Issa Thawra and Ali Ahmed were wounded when a mortar hit al-Omari Street. On the political front, Arab Democratic Party media officer Abdul Latif Saleh said: “We will show them who are the cubs and lions of Rifaat Eid and we will cut off the hand that attempts to target Jabal Mohsen.” “The same as our children cried, Tripoli's children will cry and they will see our actions in the coming hours,” Saleh threatened in an interview on al-Mayadeen television.
In another interview with LBCI, Saleh said: “We have entered the fight and we will not let Tripoli sleep.” Meanwhile, Rifaat Eid, the party's secretary-general, wrote on his Facebook page: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the initiator is the aggressor … Enough is enough, now you will hear the roar of Jabal Mohsen.”Later on Tuesday, Tripoli's dignitaries held a meeting at MP Mohammed Kabbara's residence.
"Does the state want to defend Tripoli or not?" Kabbara said, reciting a statement issued after the meeting. "The threats of Assad's party (Arab Democratic Party), which were later executed, are a blatant crime that is tantamount to mass murder against an entire people and they deserve the death penalty. Rifaat Eid and Assad's shabiha must be arrested," Kabbara added.
"How can some shabiha kill the city's residents without being held accountable?" he went on to say. He noted that the chiefs of security agencies know that "Assad's party in Baal Mohsen is the aggressor."  "So how can they be lenient with the murderer and firm with the victim?" added Kabbara. "Tripoli calls on the state to restore its security and stability and defend it against the shabiha of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad and (Hizbullah chief Sayyed) Hassan Nasrallah who are killing the Lebanese and Syrian peoples," he said.

8 Wounded as Rockets Land on Akkar Towns

by Naharnet/At least eight Lebanese and Syrians were injured on Tuesday after rockets hit several towns in Lebanon's northern district of Akkar from the Syrian side of the border, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the rockets hit at dawn the towns of al-Khwasleh and al-Nsoub in the area of Mount Akroum and Wadi Khaled. The incident forced many families to flee their homes. The residents of the border towns urged the Lebanese army to intervene to prevent similar incidents from taking place, NNA said. Rockets from clashes between Syrian regime troops and rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad regularly land in Lebanese towns that lie near the border.

Hezbollah critic Rami Ollaik and relatives threatened

A prominent critic of Hezbollah told NOW on Tuesday that members of the Shiite party set fire to the entrance of his relatives' house in South Lebanon and threatened him and his family. “Hezbollah members burned the entrance my [relatives’] home in the town of Yahmour,” Rami Ollaik said, adding that a letter was left at the scene of the attack that warned, "You have to leave and not come back.” Ollaik—the author of the autobiographical The Bees Road and its recently published sequel Under The Green Waters—added that his uncle’s internet shop in the southern town was also set ablaze. The American University of Beirut professor elaborated that his uncle was a character in his works that were sharply critical of Hezbollah, which according to him angered the attackers. Ollaik told NOW that one of his relatives studying at Lebanese University was also threatened. The author revealed that the attacks come two days before he was set to host a signing of an unabridged English-language edition of his book The Bees Road. He said that a lot of the fans of his works are Lebanese Shiites who are “unhappy with what [Hezbollah] is doing to them.” “Taking all these together, the [attackers] couldn’t take it anymore." Despite the intimidations, Ollaik said, “I am not afraid, and am still pushing and trying to raise awareness, especially [among] the Shiite people of the south.”Ollaik was formerly a member of Hezbollah and served as the party’s representative at AUB from 1992 to 1996.
After leaving the Shiite party he pursued graduate studies and in 2008 wrote his autobiography The Bees Road, which sharply criticizes Hezbollah. The sequel to his autobiography, Under the Green Waters, was published in 2012. The university professor founded the Lebanon Ahead political movement.

Tripoli Sheikh to NOW: Situation will worsen after Imam’s death

Now Lebanon/A Sunni sheikh from Lebanon’s Tripoli warned Tuesday evening that the death of Abu Radwan al-Asmar, the Imam of Bab al-Tebbaneh’s Jihad Mosque, would worsen the city’s already tumultuous situation.
“I do not expect things to go well after the death of innocents [has occurred], especially that of [Sheikh Asmar] who was killed by a sniper from Jabal Mohsen,” Sheikh Nabil Rahim told NOW. “The city of Tripoli is [now] in a state of… total destruction because of the incident,” he added. “Fighters in Jabal Mohsen are firing at adjacent areas and are expanding their range of shelling. They have reached both the Abi Samra and Al-Mina areas, and they are now using rocket-propelled grenades when attacking others.”An official of the Jabal Mohsen-based Arab Democratic Party (ADP) told NOW that Rahim’s accusation of Alawite-area residents in Tripoli shelling Abi Samra and Al-Mina were false. “Our strategy is clear… we are looking to only defend our [neighborhood],” Ali Foddo, the ADP official said.
“We will not allow any [enemy] to enter our territory,” he added. “There are both Takfiri and terrorist groups that have publically declared Jihad against us, and we will not allow [for] that.”
The ongoing clashes in Lebanon’s troubled northern city heated up on Tuesday, leaving at least two people dead and multiple injured. The fighting initially erupted Sunday afternoon, leaving four people dead before Tuesday. Among the dead are two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers who were killed when army personnel came under gunfire on Monday while attempting to deploy to Syria Street, the major thoroughfare that separates Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tebbaneh. Jabal Mohsen residents have frequently clashed with locals from Bab al-Tebbaneh. These recurrent disputes have been triggered by sectarian differences. They also reflect a split in Lebanon's political scene, in which the country’s opposition parties back the rebellion in Syria while the ruling coalition, led by Hezbollah, supports the Assad regime in Damascus.

Geagea Slams Aoun, Accuses him of Seeking to Hold Polls Based on 1960 Law
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea lashed out on Tuesday at Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, accusing him of “seeking to carry out the elections based on the 1960 electoral law.”
“The FPM's endeavors are considered a crime and the only solution to thwart its attempts is to hold a parliamentary session and vote on a new electoral law as soon as possible,” Geagea said in comments published in al-Akhbar newspaper. The Christian leader pointed out that his party is holding onto carrying out elections and rejects proposals to extend the tenure of the parliament.
Geagea slammed Aoun for stating that he agrees on holding the polls based on the 1960 law, which is based on winner-takes-all system, if the rival parties failed to reach consensus over the adoption of the Orthodox Gathering proposal. “It seems that Aoun has been planning all along to hold the elections according to the 1960 law,” he noted. Aoun said during an interview on MTV on Monday that the 1960 electoral law “will impose itself on us,” rejecting the extension of parliament's term. Geagea said that the only constitutional solution is to vote on a new electoral law at the parliament, however he said that Speaker Nabih Berri is “not seeking to implement this choice.”
The LF leader said that the “only way his party would agree to extending the term of the parliament is if it was for a short period and to agree on an electoral law other than the 1960.”
“Holding the polls is extremely important to maintain stability and halt chaos,” Geagea said. He told al-Akhbar newspaper that if the Lebanese foes failed to assume their responsibilities regarding the elections then “any international pressure will not have an impact on them.” The parliamentary electoral subcommittee failed on Monday to reach an agreement over a new electoral law and Berri is yet to set a date for a new session.
Failure to reach consensus over an electoral law has raised fears of a political vacuum in Lebanon. In absence of consensus, the other two alternatives are holding the polls according to the 1960 law or extending the term of the current parliament. An amended version of the 1960 law was adopted in the 2009 parliamentary elections, but the majority of the political blocs are refusing to adopt it for this year's polls.
The Orthodox Gathering law has meanwhile been rejected by President Michel Suleiman, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati, the Mustaqbal bloc, MP Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front, and independent Christian March 14 MPs, however it was strongly backed by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement.

Hizbullah Sends New Fighters to Bloody Syria Battle

Naharnet /Dozens of people, mostly combatants, have been killed in ongoing battles for the Syrian town of Qusayr, a watchdog said Tuesday, as Hizbullah sent new elite fighters to the rebel stronghold. "At least 31 Hizbullah fighters have been killed since Sunday, as well as 68 rebel fighters, six of whom we were unable to identify," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Another nine troops loyal to President Bashar Assad were killed in the fighting, as were three paramilitary fighters. "It's clear Hizbullah is leading the assault," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Four civilians -- three of them women -- were also killed, he added. Hizbullah's al-Manar broadcasted images showing hundreds of people attending funerals for five members killed "carrying out their jihadist duty". It did not specify where they had been killed.Abdel Rahman said most of the rebels who were killed in Qusayr, a strategic town that links Damascus to the coast and the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect, died in the shelling. A source close to Hizbullah told Agence France Presse that the fighters had been killed by explosive devices planted by rebels who are seeking to oust Assad's regime. The source also said Hizbullah had sent new fighters into Qusayr to fight alongside pro-Assad forces. "Hizbullah has sent new elite troops to Qusayr. They have already taken many prisoners from among the rebels, including non-Syrians," the source said on condition of anonymity.U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern over Hizbullah's "active and growing role" in Syria in a phone call to President Michel Sleiman. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell condemned Hizbullah and said its actions in Syria "exacerbate and inflame regional sectarian tensions and perpetuate the regime's campaign of terror.”Meanwhile, the Observatory's Abdel Rahman described the rebels' resistance in Qusayr as "fierce". "The rebels are putting up a fierce resistance, refusing to abandon the civilians," he said.
"But Hizbullah and the loyalist army are staging an extremely fierce assault," he added. The Assad regime has made taking back Qusayr a priority. The Observatory, like the opposition, has repeatedly expressed concern for the fate of some 25,000 civilians still trapped in the town. Pro-regime daily Al-Watan meanwhile said loyalists had taken control of all Qusayr's official buildings. "The Syrian army has taken control of all government buildings... in Qusayr and in the nearby countryside of Homs province, and raised the Syrian flag above it," said the daily.
The army was still advancing into the city, which has been under a tight siege for more than a year. "Dozens of terrorists have been killed or wounded in the battles, some of them Arabs or foreigners," the daily said, citing an unnamed military source.Source/Agence France Presse.

Mustaqbal Bloc Urges Suleiman, Berri, Miqati to Stop 'Hizbullah's Crimes' in Syria
Naharnet /Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc urged the three presidents on Tuesday to act quickly and draw an end to "Hizbullah's crimes in Syria," considering that the party is implementing the instructions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. "We call on President Michel Suleiman, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati and Speaker Nabih Berri to act quickly to stop Hizubllah's involvement in killing Syrians in (the Syrian border town of) al-Qusayr,” the lawmakers said in a released statement after the bloc's weekly meeting at the Center House. It added: “Hizbullah's involvement in Syria's war is a crime and the party is implementing the instructions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.” Addressing Hizbullah's fighters, al-Mustaqbal bloc asked: "What are you doing in al-Qusayr? Did the battle against the enemy relocate to Syria? Why involving Lebanon in conflicts through inciting sedition? Why are they putting the Lebanese in a confrontation against the Arab world and the Syrian people?” "We urge the civil society and institutions and the Lebanese youth to raise their voices and demand the return of the fighters alive from al-Qusayr." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed on Tuesday that at least 31 Hizbullah fighters have been killed since Sunday in battles in Syria, as well as 68 rebel fighters.
Al-Arabiya satellite news channel had reported that around 20 Hizbullah fighters and 62 others wounded in battles in Qusayr were submitted to hospitals in Beirut.
Hizbullah's al-Manar broadcasted images showing hundreds of people attending funerals for five members killed "carrying out their jihadist duty.”It did not, however, specify where they had been killed. Hizbullah is a close ally of the Damascus regime, and its fighters have been battling alongside the army in the Qusayr area for weeks, according to activists. Commenting on the parliamentary elections, the al-Mustaqbal bloc stressed that it needs to be held “as soon as possible,” explaining that this “would restore trust in the constitutional institutions, especially after the mandate of the parliament is over.” "We still back the hybrid draft electoral law that we came forward with along with the Lebanese Forces and National Struggle Front blocs to be voted on at the parliament,” the lawmakers said. “Not agreeing on an electoral law opens the door to an unacceptable state of vacuum in the constitutional institutions, particularly in the legislative authority.”In its eighth round of talks, the parliamentary electoral subcommittee failed again on Monday to reach an agreement over a new electoral law as Berri did not set a date for a new session. This failure has raised fears that of a political vacuum in Lebanon or that the parliamentary elections will be held according to the 1960 law or that the term of the current parliament will be extended.
The MPs also tackled the latest clashes that erupted in the northern city of Tripoli, considering that they serve in distracting the attention from the “crimes committed by Hizbullah in Syria.”
“We rejects all attacks against the army and we call for penalizing all perpetrators.”

Aoun Suggests Parliament Vote on Orthodox Gathering, then Hybrid Electoral Draft Laws
Naharnet /Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun announced on Tuesday his readiness to have parliament vote on the Orthodox Gathering and hybrid electoral draft laws.
He said after the Change and Reform bloc's weekly meeting: “I am prepared to accept the outcomes of the votes on both of the draft laws.”“We will accept the result of the vote on the Orthodox Gathering law, whether it is endorsed or not,” he declared. Moreover, he also voiced his readiness to accept parliament's approval of the hybrid draft law that was agreed upon by the Lebanese Forces, Mustaqbal bloc, and MP Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front. Aoun warned that failure to reach an agreement over a new law will lead to the adoption of the 1960 electoral law for the elections or possibly lead to the extension of parliament's current term. 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.
It was initially approved by the FPM, Marada Movement, LF, and Phalange Party. LF leader Samir Geagea announced last week however that his party no longer endorses the proposal because “it never had the chance to be adopted” due to the opposition to it by President Michel Suleiman, caretaker Premier Najib Miqati, the Mustaqbal Movement, and independent March 14 Christian MPs.
A parliament session was set to convene on May 15 in order to vote on the proposal, but the meeting was never held due to a lack of quorum. A day before the session, the LF, Mustaqbal bloc, and National Struggle Front announced an agreement over a draft law that 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.

One Wounded as Car Fails to Stop at Wadi Khaled Army Checkpoint

Naharnet/A car passenger was wounded on Tuesday as army troops opened fire on the vehicle after its driver refused to stop at a military checkpoint in the northern town of al-Awwadeh in the Wadi Khaled region, state-run National News Agency reported. The wounded man was rushed by a Lebanese Red Cross ambulance to the Our Lady of Peace Hospital in al-Qoubaiyat, while the army arrested a man from the al-Shiban family. The incident created an uproar in Wadi Khaled's towns, with protesters blocking the al-Hisheh-Wadi Khaled road.The road was later reopened, NNA reported.

ISF Arrests Two People over Links to Kidnappings in Lebanon
Naharnet/Two people were arrested for their involvement in various kidnappings for ransom that had taken place in Lebanon in recent months, announced the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau in a statement on Tuesday. It said that a Lebanese and Syrian national were arrested for the attempted kidnapping of the owner of a paper company in al-Metn. The Lebanese national also confessed to robbing, with the help of accomplices, a pick up truck for the Ministry of Agriculture in the Bekaa city of Baalbek. In addition, he confessed that he attempted to kidnap a Syrian national in the Bekaa region.
Investigations are underway with the suspects and efforts are ongoing to arrest their accomplices.

Suleiman Chairs Meeting on Syria Refugees, Urges Lebanese against Involvement in Syrian Crisis

Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman stressed on Tuesday the need for all Lebanese factions to adhere to the Baabda Declaration that calls for disassociating Lebanon from regional conflicts.He called on “Lebanese powers against getting dragged into the ongoing fighting in Syria in line with the Declaration.”He made his remarks after holding talks with caretaker Premier Najib Miqati at the Baabda Palace and after chairing a meeting for the ministerial committee tasked with following up on the case of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.“Lebanon should be kept away from regional disputes in order to maintain its political and security stability”, especially since the formation of a new government and staging the parliamentary elections should be the officials' main concern, added the president. Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour meanwhile informed Suleiman of the number of Syrian refugees currently in Lebanon and their distribution throughout the country.
The president also held talks with head of the Higher Relief Council Ibrahim Bashir on the organization's efforts to aid the refugees. The number of Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country to Lebanon has soared to more than 400,000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on April 8, but Lebanese officials say the actual number of refugees has exceeded one million.

After exchange, Israel warns against Golan attacks, says Syria will 'bear consequences'
By Josef Federman, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press
JERUSALEM - Israeli and Syrian troops exchanged fire across their tense cease-fire line in the Golan Heights on Tuesday, prompting an Israeli threat that Syria's leader will "bear the consequences" of further escalation and raising new concerns that the civil war there could explode into a region-wide conflict. The incident marked the first time the Syrian army has acknowledged firing intentionally at Israeli troops since the civil war erupted more than two years ago. President Bashar Assad's regime appears to be trying to project toughness in response to three Israeli airstrikes near Damascus in recent months. In the exchange, an Israeli jeep came under fire during an overnight patrol in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed. Syria claimed it destroyed the vehicle after it crossed the cease-fire line.Israel said the jeep was on the Israeli side of the line and suffered minor damage, and no one was hurt. It said it returned fire at the source and scored a "direct hit." It gave no further details. Syria did not comment on the Israeli fire.
It was the latest in a string of incidents in which gunfire and mortar shells have struck the Israeli side of the Golan in recent months. Israel believes that most of the fire has been incidental spillover from the Syrian civil war, but that several cases, including Tuesday's, were intentional.
Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, accused the Syrian leader of encouraging and directing operations against Israel. He said the Israeli patrol was targeted several times Tuesday by a "clearly marked Syrian position."
In his speech, he clearly alluded to the possibility that hostilities could erupt between Israel and Syria, which have fought several full-scale wars over the years and are bitter enemies.
"We will not allow the Golan Heights to become a comfortable space for Assad to operate from," Gantz told a conference at the University of Haifa. "If he escalates (the situation on) the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences." Gantz said the situation is extremely combustible, and "a day doesn't go by" where there could be a "sudden uncontrollable deterioration." He warned, "Instability will be the only stable thing that will happen here."Israel has been warily watching the Syrian civil war since it broke out in March 2011, fearing the conflict could spill across its borders at any time.
Israel is concerned that Assad, if he is facing defeat, might try to draw Israel into the fighting to divert attention away from his internal struggles. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war, and rebels now control large swaths of Syrian territory.
Israel is also concerned that Assad's arsenal of advanced arms, including chemical weapons, anti-aircraft systems and sophisticated missiles, could be transferred to Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon or fall into the hands of radical rebel groups.Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida are among the groups trying to oust Assad, and Israel is concerned they could turn their attention toward the Jewish state if they overthrow Assad. Although Assad is a sworn enemy of Israel, he is also a known quantity, and his family has been careful to keep the border with Israel quiet for most of the past 40 years.
But tensions have been rising between Israel and Syria in recent weeks, particularly following the airstrikes, which targeted alleged Syrian arms shipments bound for Hezbollah. Israel has not confirmed carrying out the attacks.
The airstrikes marked a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement on the periphery of the Syrian civil war. Syria vowed to retaliate, and Assad said Syria is "capable of facing Israel" and would not accept violations of its sovereignty. Firing at an Israeli target, like the incident Tuesday, appears to be in line with the tougher rhetoric that followed the airstrikes. Gantz visited the area after the exchange and told soldiers stationed there to "stay alert during these challenging times." Downplaying the immediate dangers, Moshe Maoz, a Hebrew University expert on Syria, described Tuesday's events as "mostly rhetoric," saying neither Syria nor Israel has an interest in sparking a region-wide war. Israel's powerful military is capable of toppling Assad, he said, while an outbreak of hostilities could potentially drag in Syria's key allies, Iran and Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is already active in Syria, sending hundreds of fighters to back Assad's troops."At this stage, neither side wants it, not Israel and not Syria," Maoz said. "It's rhetorical escalation, not strategic escalation. It's more talk. Each side is flexing its muscles."

The pope and the devil: Francis' obsession with Satan leads to suspicion he performed exorcism

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press
VATICAN CITY - Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
The question has bubbled up ever since Francis laid his hands on the head of a young man in a wheelchair after celebrating Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. The young man heaved deeply a half-dozen times, shook, then slumped in his wheelchair as Francis prayed over him.
The television station of the Italian bishops' conference reported Monday that it had surveyed exorcists, who agreed there was "no doubt" that Francis either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from the devil.
The Vatican was more cautious. In a statement Tuesday, it said Francis "didn't intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him."Fueling the speculation is Francis' obsession with Satan, a frequent subject of his homilies, and an apparent surge in demand for exorcisms among the faithful despite the irreverent treatment the rite often receives from Hollywood. Who can forget the green vomit and the spinning head of the possessed girl in the 1973 cult classic "The Exorcist"?
In his very first homily as pope on March 14, Francis warned cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected that "he who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil."
He has since mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions, most recently in a May 4 homily when in his morning Mass in the Vatican hotel chapel he spoke of the need for dialogue — except with Satan.
"With the prince of this world you can't have dialogue: Let this be clear!" he warned.
Experts said Francis' frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.
"The devil's influence and presence in the world seems to fluctuate in quantity inversely proportionate to the presence of Christian faith," said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University. "So, one would expect an upswing in his malicious activity in the wake of de-Christianization and secularization" in the world and a surge in things like drug use, pornography and superstition.
In recent years, Rome's pontifical universities have hosted several courses for would-be exorcists on the rite, updated in 1998 and contained in a little red leather-bound booklet. The rite is relatively brief, consisting of blessings with holy water, prayers and an interrogation of the devil in which the exorcist demands to know the devil's name and when it will leave the possessed person.
Only a priest authorized by a bishop can perform an exorcism, and canon law specifies that the exorcist must be "endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life."
While belief in the devil is consistent with church teaching, the Holy See does urge prudence, particularly to ensure that the afflicted person isn't merely psychologically ill.
The Rev. Giulio Maspero, a Rome-based systematic theologian who has witnessed or participated in more than a dozen exorcisms, says he's fairly certain that Francis' prayer on Sunday was either a full-fledged exorcism or a more simple prayer to "liberate" the young man from demonic possession.
He noted that the placement of the pope's hands on the man's head was the "typical position" for an exorcist to use.
"When you witness something like that — for me it was shocking — I could feel the power of prayer," he said in a phone interview, speaking of his own previous experiences.
Sunday also happened to be the Pentecost, when the faithful believe Jesus' apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Maspero noted the symbolism.
"The Holy Spirit is connected to the exorcism because ... it is the manifestation of how God is present among us and in our world," he said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, sought to tamper speculation that what occurred was a full-fledged exorcism. While he didn't deny it outright — he said Francis hadn't "intended" to perform one — he stressed that the intention of the person praying is quite important. Late Tuesday, the director of TV2000, the television of the Italian bishops' conference, went on the air to apologize for the earlier report.
"I don't want to attribute to him a gesture that he didn't intend to perform," said the director, Dino Boffo. That said, Francis' actions and attitude toward the devil are not new: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently spoke about the devil in our midst. In the book "Heaven and Earth," Bergoglio devoted the second chapter to "The Devil" and said in no uncertain terms that he believes in the devil and that Satan's fruits are "destruction, division, hatred and calumny.""Perhaps its greatest success in these times has been to make us think that it doesn't exist, that everything can be traced to a purely human plan," he wrote.
Italian newspapers noted that the late Pope John Paul II performed an exorcism in 1982 — near the same spot where Francis prayed over the young disabled man Sunday.Follow Nicole Winfield at

Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz: Assad will pay the price for Golan escalation. Syria: We fired on Israeli patrol
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 21, 2013/
Syria and Israel crossed verbal swords Tuesday, May 21, after an overnight exchange of fire on the Golan. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned that Assad would pay the price for bringing terror to the Golan, after Damascus for the first time claimed responsibility for the gunfire on an Israeli Golan patrol Monday. Syria also threatened to strike back for Israel reprisals. The chief of staff refuted the Syrian claim to have destroyed an Israeli army vehicle that crossed to the Syrian side of the border as false.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “Our policy is clear – we don’t interfere in Syria’s civil war, but neither will we let the fire spill over onto our territory. Last night,” he added, “we destroyed a Syrian army position on the Golan which fired at an IDF patrol.” He spoke during a tour of naval facilities in Atlit and Haifa.
On a visit to the Golan, Gen.Gantz and OC Northern Command Yair Golan ordered Israeli Golan positions to return any fire coming from the Syrian side, a reversal of previous policy.
No one was hurt on the Israeli side. But this time, unlike the two previous incidents, Israeli forces directed a Tamuz rocket at the source of the gunfire and identified a direct hit.
To inflate the episode, the Syrian statement claimed an IDF vehicle damaged in the attack was destroyed.
debkafile’s military sources: Bashar Assad is signaling his readiness for a war on attrition on Israel from the Golan, which our sources predicted was in the works on May 15.
See debkafile Exclusive report of Monday, May 19. A Syrian-Israeli confrontation loomed closer Tuesday, May 21, with the claim by the Damascus government of responsibility for the gunfire Monday night on an Israeli Golan patrol and threat to strike back at an Israeli target for any Israeli reprisals. No one was hurt on the Israeli side. Earlier, IDF chief of staff Lt. Benny Gantz and OC Northern Command Yair Golan visited Israeli Golan positions with orders to return any fire coming from the Syrian side.This time, unlike the two previous incidents, Israeli forces directed a Tamuz rocket at the source of the Syrian gunfire and identified a direct hit. To inflate the episode, the Syrian statement claimed an IDF vehicle damaged in the attack was destroyed.
debkafile’s military sources: Bashar Assad is signaling his readiness for a war on attrition on Israel from the Golan, which our sources predicted was in the works on May 16.
Read debkafile Exclusive report of Monday, May 19. Syria and Hizballah, flushed with the success of breaking the rebel hold on the strategic town of al Qusayr, Sunday, May 19, are making no secret of their plans for the “great confrontation,” i.e. military confrontaiton with Israel after they win the Syrian civil war. Israel’s military leaders are taking with the utmost seriousness the words of Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the Hizballah organ Al Akhbar, and a close buddy of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who wrote Monday:

“The rope is taut. It is taut to the limit. Anyone at either end [Israel at one end, Syrian and Hizballah, at the other] need only flex a finger and it will break, and the great confrontation will take place. This is neither a threat, nor an exaggeration or interpretation. This is the situation on the enemy’s northern front. Now means today; it means this hour,” al-Amin wrote.
Israeli intelligence experts have no doubt that the writer penned those words at the behest of his master, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Bashar Assad.
Israeli spokesmen and media tried hard Monday to play down the scale of the joint force’s success in capturing al-Qusayr, which sits on Syria’s main road to Lebanon and the Damascus high road to the Mediterranean, by harping on the heavy battle losses sustained by Hizballah – 50 dead and many more gravely injured.
But these losses do not detract from the Iranian Lebanese proxy’s pivotal role in the Syrian rebels’ resounding defeat and the Syrian army’s decisive victory.
It cannot be denied that the fateful setback suffered by the Syrian rebels resulted from their being abandoned to their fate at the most critical moment of their uprising by their backers, the US, Turkey, Jordan and the Arab Gulf emirates.Syrian and Hizballah forces are getting ready to turn east for their next major offensive, the destruction of rebel strongholds in Homs and its outlying villages. Our military sources report the Syrian army has deployed its 14th Division and an expanded unit of self-propelled artillery for this joint effort. Rebel spokesmen warn that a massacre is in store.

Israel: Against Hezbollah in Lebanon, with them in Syria
Terrorism can be so complicated sometimes.
Alex Rowell/Now Lebanon/ Now Lebanon/When it comes to Syria, the number one question on the Israeli hawk’s mind today, anxiously debated on the opinion pages of establishment papers, goes something like this: Everybody knows that both the Free Syrian Army rebels and their Hezbollah antagonists are abominable terrorists, the very antithesis of civilization as we understand it. But what is a respectable non-terrorist actor like Israel to do when these two groups of terrorists are battling one another on their doorstep? Are all Muslims carrying guns equally considered terrorists, or are there varying degrees of terrorism to be assessed?
The conclusion, judging by an already substantial and daily-growing body of evidence, appears to be the latter, with the Syrian opposition just piping the Party of God to the pinnacle of the terrorist pyramid. Take, for instance, Friday’s article in the London Times, ”Islamist fears drive Israel to support Assad survival,” wherein “senior Israeli intelligence officials” presented the following argument for the Baath regime’s survival: “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos, and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.” The best-case scenario, the officials further opined, was (in Haaretz’ summary) “a weakened but stable Syria under Assad.”
That report prompted a carefully-worded half-denial from Netanyahu, who asserted it did “not represent the Israeli government’s position,” but only on the technical grounds that Israel did not in fact have a position on who should govern Syria – hardly an endorsement of the opposition, and indeed an implied suggestion that Assad – along with his Lebanese Islamist allies - were no less preferable candidates than any of the alternatives.
Not that this was the only conciliatory signal Tel Aviv has sent in Assad’s direction of late. Following the most recent air strike on an alleged Hezbollah weapons convoy near Damascus at the start of this month, Israeli officials rushed to assure Assad they meant no harm to his regime per se. They were just there to prevent terror – if Assad chose to SCUD-missile, cluster-bomb, and air-strike Syrian civilians, well, that was another matter entirely.
Nor does the de facto support for Assad end with merely enabling his war crimes to continue. Last month, Netanyahu announced Israel reserved the right to physically obstruct the opposition’s armed struggle against the dictatorship by blocking weapons transfers to rebel brigades.
Incompatible as all this may seem with Assad and Hezbollah’s bellowings about confronting the grand Zionist conspiracy, Tel Aviv’s under-the-table camaraderie with Damascus has long been the Middle East’s worst-kept secret. An excellent explanation of this decades-long relationship appeared recently in Foreign Affairs under the candid title, ‘Israel’s Man in Damascus: Why Jerusalem [sic] Doesn’t Want the Assad Regime to Fall.’ The author, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, runs down the key bullet points: 40 years of calm on the border, fears of Islamism among the opposition, and enduring hopes for a peace treaty that has been on the table since the 1990s. This article concluded that “[Israel] ultimately has little interest in actively hastening the fall of Bashar al-Assad.”
In other words, Israel watches – presumably with some satisfaction – as a kind of umpire in the sky, as Assad and his proxy militias (foremost among them Hezbollah) rain rockets upon rebel “terrorists” just kilometers from Lebanese territory, only stepping in to interrupt the fun when those rockets venture west of the border. So long as Hezbollah plays by the rules – keeping the guns pointed east rather than south – they’re doing more good than harm in Israel’s eyes, and so they can even be given indirect nudges of assistance. It’s tough to say which is the greater of the ironies – that Israel is making common cause of a kind with the chief proxies of its supposed arch-enemy Iran, or that so many ground troops of the ‘Islamic Resistance’ are giving their lives to facilitate precisely the Zionist “project” they set out to thwart.