May 24/2013

Bible Quotation for today/Some Greeks Seek Jesus
John 12/20-26: " Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival. They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honor anyone who serves me."

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

Opinion: Iran’s Moment of Truth/By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat/May 24/13
A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/May 24/13
Catholic Cardinal Calls for End to Blasphemy Laws/By:  Andrew E. Harrod/FrontPageMagazine/May 24/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 24/13

Obama: U.S. at ‘crossroads’ in terror fight
Young Hezbollah critic banished from village
At Least 10 Dead in Tripoli Clashes as Heavy Weapons Used for 1st Time

Tripoli Children Sleep Rough as Fighting Rages
Death toll from north Lebanon clashes hits 16
Lebanese city stuck in deadly spiral of violence
Salem from Tripoli: No Political Cover Granted to Gunmen who are Acting Independently
Hariri Warns against 'Conspiracy' in Tripoli: Battles Aim at Covering Hizbullah's Involvement in Syria's War
Hezbollah opens ‘historic wounds’ in Qusair

Observatory Says 104 Hizbullah Fighters Killed in Syria so Far, Party Denies Figure
Syrian Army Fires on Lebanese Security Patrol on Akkar Border
Miqati: There is a Conspiracy to Force Army out of Tripoli
Connelly Meets Charbel, Expresses U.S. Concern over Tripoli Unrest

Syria Refugee Influx Taxes Lebanese Economy and Nerves
Rival Sides Negotiate Parliament Term Extension Amid Security Issues, Conditions Set by Aoun
Report: Saudi Ambassador to Host Dinner Banquet for PMs Friday
Saniora Chairs March 14 Officials Meeting on Cabinet, Polls

Bassil Rejects 'March 14's Second Mountain War', Proposes Electing Short-Term Parliament
Italian President Voices Support to Lebanon, Says Keen to Consolidate Ties

Saniora Contacts Shiite Officials, Urges Halt to Hizbullah Fighting in Syria through All Means
Independent Christians to announce candidacies on Friday, MP says

Flood of Lebanese candidates set to register for polls
In Sidon its increasingly all about sect
Arab League to Submit Syria Peace Proposals to Security Council
'Friends of Syria' Agrees to Boost Aid to Rebels until Assad Goes

Assad Vows to Crush 'Terrorism', Find Political Solution
11 Nations Call for Hizbullah's 'Immediate' Pullout from Syria
Syria Opposition's Khatib Proposes Assad 'Safe Exit'
British PM, Cameron Says Soldier's Murder is Attack on Britain, Betrayal of Islam

Not Ours, Says Iran of Drone Found off Bahrain
U.S. Adds 20 Individuals, Firms to Iran Blacklist
In London as in Boston, terrorist-killers were known to security services


Death toll from north Lebanon clashes hits 16
May 23, 2013/By Antoine Amrieh, Misbah al-Ali The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Two people were killed and 28 others were wounded in fierce clashes in Tripoli, north Lebanon, which continued until the early hours of Thursday morning, security sources said, as the acting head of the police warned that the situation in the city was dire. Security sources identified Abed Sankari and Fawzi Hawshar as the latest fatalities from the overnight fighting, raising the death toll from the daily violence that began Sunday to 16. Among the dead are two Lebanese soldiers who were killed Monday. A total of 192 people – including 42 soldiers – have been wounded so far.
The overnight clashes between supporters of President Bashar Assad in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and backers of the Syrian uprising in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh saw heavy use of a variety of weapons once again.
Mortar bombs as well as rocket-propelled grenades sent smoke billowing in the night sky as residents braved another sleepless night. Mosque loudspeakers urged residents living on upper floors to take shelter on lower levels. This was the second night of intense fighting the port city has seen since the outbreak of hostilities.
The fighting raged well into the early morning hours and several attempts by the rival gunmen to advance into each other’s neighborhoods failed.
Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, who hails from the city, described the night as “one of the worst nights in Tripoli since the [Lebanese] Civil War.”
The Army pulled out from hot spots in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen Wednesday after mediation attempts to put a cease-fire into effect failed.
Intermittent fighting continued into the afternoon hours of Thursday, with residents from both neighborhoods describing the situation as grim.
Sniper fire poses a constant danger, Khaled Shakhshir, one local from Bab al-Tabbaneh told The Daily Star over the phone. “We hear intermittent rocket fire but snipers are still outside and people are afraid to leave their homes. The situation is tragic,” Shakhshir said. He said at least 60 families, who live close to hot spots, were forced to take shelter in one of the neighborhood’s schools.
Food supplies are also running low, Shakhshir said.
“People are finding it difficult to secure food for their families which has led some to leave the neighborhood, risking their lives in the process, in order to find supplies for their loved ones,” he said. “All the shops are closed, we cannot even buy any bread, we are feeding on whatever is available even if it is very little,” he added.
Youssef al-Sheikh, from Jabal Mohsen, described the situation as “very bad” and that residents of the neighborhood were concerned of being cut off from the rest of the city.
“When the clashes start, the area becomes isolated from all its surrounding and we become completely cut off from the outer world,” he said. Al-Sheikh also hailed the military for supporting residents and said soldiers were intervening when Jabal Mohsen, which overlooks Bab al-Tabbaneh, was being “besieged.”“We have good ties with the Army. Whenever the area is besieged and under fire, soldiers help out to transport the wounded to hospitals and they also try to secure us some food supplies,” he said.
“They transform from being soldiers into life savers and medics,” he added. Karami, who voiced outrage over the government handling of the crisis, said residents were wondering whether Tripoli was “still part of Lebanon or become some isolated island.”“I’m also surprised by the government silence toward Tripoli and everyone’s preoccupation with the elections law,” he told Voice of Lebanon radio station in the morning.
Acting police chief Brig. Gen. Roger Salem also warned that the situation in the port city was dire.
“The situation in Tripoli is very serious. This is the first time we see such a high fatality rate,” Salem told reporters after meeting senior security officials in Tripoli.
When asked whether the fighters enjoyed political support, Salem said: "There is no political cover for the gunmen who are acting alone as they are affected by the situation in Syria.”
The weekend violence erupted shortly after Syrian government troops backed by Hezbollah fighters launched a major offensive in the rebel-held city of Qusair, which is located near the Lebanese border.
Battle commanders in Bab al-Tabbaneh are unwilling to end the fighting before Hezbollah fighters withdraw from Qusair, a Syrian town in Homs province, sourced told The Daily Star Thursday. Salam said efforts were under way to curb the violence. “We will try to fix things as much as possible, at least in areas far from the fighting in order to preserve the safety of citizens,” Salam said.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said politicians needed to take action to allow the military to do its job.
"A cease-fire is a big decision required of politicians. After that, the Army will be assigned to oversee the cease-fire,” Charbel told the local Al-Mustaqbal newspaper in remarks published Thursday.
The atmosphere in Tripoli has become so tense and polarized that it is unlikely the clashes will end soon, an activist close to cease-fire discussions said.
Fighters have strongly rejected calls to stop the fighting and a number of the city’s politicians have thrown their support behind Bab al-Tabbaneh, priming the ground for more fighting, said Chadi Nachabe, an activist from Bab al-Tabbaneh.There will likely be more fighting, he said.
“Now they [Bab al-Tabbaneh fighters] have more support from politicians and others to tell Jabal Mohsen to stop what they are doing,” Nachabe said. - Additional reporting by Jana El Hassan and Stephen Dockery

Syrian Army Fires on Lebanese Security Patrol on Akkar Border

Naharnet /The Syrian army on Thursday opened fire on a vehicle for the Lebanese joint border security force that was staging a patrol in the Wadi Khaled border town of al-Nabi Berri, state-run National News Agency reported.
The incident did not cause any casualties although it created an uproar in the region, NNA said. The vehicle was taken to a nearby base belonging to the joint force, the agency added. Earlier on Thursday, Future TV said “Hizbullah members clashed with a patrol for the Lebanese joint border security force in the Hawik-al-Nabi Berri area." "Hizbullah encircled a patrol for the Lebanese joint border security force, but one of its members managed to reach Akroum to seek its residents' assistance," it added.

Tripoli Children Sleep Rough as Fighting Rages

Naharnet/ Rania sits on a blanket in the street, clutching her three children a day after they fled deadly fighting in the flashpoint Tripoli district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.
"It's our children who pay the price," she says, bouncing her wide-eyed toddler Ahmed on her lap. "We first left the house on Sunday, when the fighting began. At first we thought it was celebratory gunfire for a wedding, but then the mortar rounds started to fall," she says.
Terrified, she and her husband Abdullah gathered Ahmed and his two sisters, Nurhan and Batoul, and fled their neighborhood in their car.
With nowhere to go, they are sleeping in the beaten up vehicle, and spending their days sitting on a red-and-black blanket, listening to the crackle of sniper fire just down the road. They are surrounded by other families who have also fled the fighting that broke out on Sunday between rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and neighboring Jabal Mohsen. Despite repeated efforts to resolve the flare-up in violence that began Sunday, at least 17 people have been killed and 150 injured. The violence is linked to the conflict raging for more than two years in neighboring Syria, where Sunni-led rebels are battling to overthrow the regime of President Bashar Assad, an Alawite. The latest flare-up began as Syrian regime troops stormed the rebel-held town of Qusayr, not far from the border. But some terrified residents in Tripoli say they want nothing to do with the conflict. "If putting a picture of Assad on my house would stop the conflict, I'd do it," Rania says desperately. On Tuesday, as the fighting appeared to be subsiding, her family went home.
But as night fell, the clashes resumed even more fiercely.
"It was a real war. I didn't want to leave at first, but I have three children," her husband Abdullah says."We had to flee under fire, I thank God we made it out. "But there is nothing here for us, we can't work, so there's no money for food. The children are not in school, here we have no bathroom for them, nothing," he says.Inside Bab al-Tabbaneh, most shops are closed. A rare coffee shop is open, two plastic tables ringed by elderly men smoking and playing cards. In front of them stands an abandoned street cart, its glass shattered by the fire that continues to ring out through the streets. Nearby, residents have hung a blue plastic sheet across the end of the street, to shield passers-by from the view of snipers. Young men, some wearing black t-shirts and caps with Islamic phrases written on them in white, roam the streets carrying machine guns. They accuse the residents of Jabal Mohsen of starting the fight, and say the Lebanese army -- which has deployed in an unsuccessful bid to calm the situation -- of siding with the neighboring district.
"We are with the Lebanese state and follow the law but what can we do when we are under attack from both sides, the army and Jabal Mohsen?" asks one gunman in his 40s, who declines to give his name.
"The ones in Jabal Mohsen, who support Assad and Hizbullah, started the fight," says Kamal, 31, a cleric sitting in the streets, dressed in a long black tunic and short trousers.
"They are organized, they have heavy weapons, we're just locals defending ourselves with whatever we can buy."
Hizbullah sides with the Syrian regime and is hated in Bab al-Tabbaneh. Nearby, Abu Ahmed, 60, is dispensing tiny cups of coffee to the few residents still in the streets. "Whenever the fighting calms a little, I come down from my house and try to sell a few cups," he says.
"But I have five sons, and they are all on the streets, defending us." Although efforts to resolve the flare-up are continuing, residents express little confidence that any truce will last.
"So long as those dogs up there don't want a solution, the fighting will continue," 27-year-old fighter Abu Jandal says, gesturing towards Jabal Mohsen.
"There is no way to live with people like them, and we're not afraid to die as martyrs."Source/Agence France Presse.

Connelly Meets Charbel, Expresses U.S. Concern over Tripoli Unrest

Naharnet /U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly praised on Thursday the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces in working with political leaders to maintain peace and stability at this difficult time. She expressed after holding talks with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel the U.S. government’s concern over the current outbreak of violence in Tripoli, conveying her regrets over the deaths in Tripoli. The ambassador and minister also discussed the latest political developments in Lebanon, with Connelly noting the “overwhelming public support among the Lebanese people that parliamentary elections be held in a timely manner.”
An ongoing dispute between political powers over the adoption of a new electoral law is threatening to postpone the elections that are scheduled for June 16.
Connelly welcomed efforts by the Interior Ministry to prepare for elections, in keeping with Lebanon's legal and constitutional requirements and in order to respect Lebanon’s democratic values. Lebanon’s democratic process is a linchpin to Lebanon’s stability, she remarked She renewed the United States’ commitment to a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon. At least six people were killed in the northern city of Tripoli overnight, as rival neighborhoods clashed using for the first time different caliber mortars in addition to flares. The latest round of clashes brought the death toll to at least 12 and the number of wounded to at least 140. The battles that engulfed the city for a fifth day, kept schools and most companies and markets closed.The clashes are taking place mainly between the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports the Syrian uprising, and Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime.

Observatory Says 104 Hizbullah Fighters Killed in Syria so Far, Party Denies Figure
Naharnet/Seventy-five fighters from Hizbullah have been killed in Syria since late last year, a source close to the group said on Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a higher death toll, saying 104 Hizbullah members had been killed in Syria since last autumn, but a Hizbullah spokesman denied the figures. "There have been 57 killed and 18 others who have died of their wounds since the start of its participation in the war in Syria," the source close to Hizbullah told Agence France Presse. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said 104 Hizbullah fighters had been killed in all in fighting in central Homs province, which borders Lebanon, and around a revered Shiite pilgrimage site just south of Damascus."In the past five days, 46 were killed in Qusayr, 20 more died in the same area earlier this month, and 38 have died since the autumn in Homs province and at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine," the Britain-based watchdog chief said.
Hizbullah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi told AFP: "I deny these figures. When we decide to give any information, we'll be in touch." Hizbullah combatants have become increasingly involved in Syria's conflict, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces against an insurgency that flared after a brutal regime crackdown on democracy protests.
Initially Hizbullah said it wanted only to defend 13 Syrian villages along the border where Lebanese Shiites live, and the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine, revered by Shiites around the world.
However its elite fighters later encircled the rebel-held central town of Qusayr with regime troops before the launch on Sunday of a withering assault on the strategic border town that is home to 25,000 people. Hizbullah denied its involvement in Syria for some time, quietly burying fighters killed in the fighting there. But the movement stopped hiding its dead when its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on April 30 paid homage to fighters killed across the border.
"Syria has true friends in the region who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of the United States, Israel and Takfiri groups," he said in a televised address. Waddah Sharara, an expert on the organization, says Hizbullah has some 20,000 fighters, of whom 5,000 to 7,000 have combat experience, and between 800 and 1,200 of them have been fighting at Qusayr. Source/Agence France Presse.

Hariri Warns against 'Conspiracy' in Tripoli: Battles Aim at Covering Hizbullah's Involvement in Syria's War

Naharnet/ Al-Mustaqbal Movement leader MP Saad Hariri on Thursday warned against the “conspiracy” targeting the northern city of Tripoli, considering that the battles aim at diverting the attention from Hizbullah's participation in the Syrian war alongside President Bashar Assad's forces.
“The ongoing killing in Tripoli aims at providing a cover for the war of Hizbullah and the Syrian regime against (Syria's border town of) al-Qusayr,” Hariri said in a released statement. He added: “These battles, that are causing destruction and the fall of many victims, only serve in keeping Lebanon under the mercy of Hizbullah's arms, which is being distributed in Tripoli and in other cities.”"The killing machine plans to change Tripoli's national and Arab identities and to weaken its position in the political equation in Lebanon.”Hariri confirmed, however, that the Syrian regime's attempts “will not succeed in transforming Tripoli into a submissive city.” Addressing the residence of the northern city, Hariri urged them “not to confront arms with the use of arms”."Illegal weapons that are used to serve foreign projects will never triumph over the people,” he stressed."Al-Mustaqbal Movement is still betting on the State of Lebanon.”Hariri also called on Tripoli's residence to cooperate with the army and the security forces in the city to enable them to perform their tasks in preventing security collapse and the attacks on citizens. "The role of these forces should not be doubted or interrupted. There is no alternative for the State no matter how much militias tried to obstruct its efforts.”
He called on the military institution to bear the responsibility of “preventing sedition in Tripoli, and fight the transfer of weapons to factions working under Assad's orders.”The latest violence in Tripoli began as Assad's regime launched a withering assault on the rebel stronghold of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.Hizbullah has been sending fighters across the border to help Syrian regime forces attack Qusayr. At least six people were killed in Tripoli overnight on Thursday, as rival neighborhoods clashed using for the first time different caliber mortars in addition to flares. Source/Agence France Presse.

At Least 10 Dead in Tripoli Clashes as Heavy Weapons Used for 1st Time
Naharnet /..At least nine people were killed on Thursday in ongoing clashes between the rival Tripoli neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, as different caliber mortars in addition to flare bombs were introduced to the battle for the first time. The fighting intensified as the night fell on the city after intermittent clashes throughout the day, amid several futile attempts to reach a ceasefire.
“We're about to reach a ceasefire decision to which everyone would commit and which would allow the implementation of a comprehensive security plan and a broader deployment by the Lebanese army on the frontier between the two districts and on all fighting frontiers, in order to restore security and stability in the city,” MP Mohammed Kabbara announced in the afternoon. MTV reported that caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati had invited the leaders of the fighting frontiers to a meeting at his residence and that they refused to attend it, but the premier's office denied the report.
The National News Agency said two people were killed in the evening in Jabal Mohsen, identifying them as Ali al-Ali and Suleiman al-Ali. “Stray bullets reached al-Tal, Abi Samra and al-Qobbeh, sparking a major state of fear among citizens,” NNA said. Later, Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said Milad Hadshiti was killed when a sniper shot struck him in the head at the Hariri Project area in al-Qobbeh.
The security forces will take the necessary measures to restore clam in Tripoli within the coming few hours, NNA said. Earlier, the army said three troops were wounded when an army base in the Dahr al-Mughr area came under gunfire. Two other soldiers were also injured, one critically, when their civilian car came under gunfire outside the entrance of the North's military hospital.
“Army units responded to the sources of gunfire and launched a major crackdown to arrest the perpetrators while the wounded were transported to hospital for treatment,” said a statement issued by the Army Command.
A security source had told Agence France Presse: "Very violent fighting took place last night until 5:00 am that killed six people and wounded 40. The clashes and shelling affected several areas of the city, including the center,"
NNA said the gunbattles witnessed for the first time the use of 60 and 81 mm caliber mortar shells.
The bickering parties in the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, whose residents are mostly Sunni, and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen used flares to locate the sources of the shelling.
Other heavy weapons were also used for the first in the fighting in Tripoli, which has in the past years witnessed deadly gunbattles.
But the war in Syria worsened the security situation there after Bab al-Tabbaneh residents backed the revolution against Syrian President Bashar Assad and the families of Jabal Mohsen supported him.
Smoke was seen billowing into the sky of Tripoli in the morning after several shops and homes were damaged.
The battles that engulfed the city for the fifth day, kept schools and most companies and markets closed.
Troops have been deployed across the city since the outbreak, but this has failed to halt the fighting.
Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn briefed on Wednesday President Michel Suleiman on the army's plan to restore security, said a statement issued by Baabda palace.
No further details were released.
The latest violence began as Assad's regime launched a withering assault on the rebel stronghold of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.
Hizbullah has been sending fighters across the border to help Syrian regime forces attack Qusayr. In 1985, the Syrian army clashed with Sunni groups in Tripoli, and bombarded areas of the city, during Lebanon's civil war. "The political tool used to wage the war is the same, it is the Arab Democratic Party," said Amin al-Qabbout, the municipal official of the Sunni al-Qobbeh area, referring to the party linked to Tripoli's Alawite community. The ADP has, in return, accused Sunni groups of starting the fighting. In an interview on LBCI in the evening, ADP leader Rifaat Eid said "Tripoli would only be hit when Jabal Mohsen ceases to exist and Jabal Mohsen is protecting it," denying as baseless media reports claiming mortars were being fired on the city.

Saniora Chairs March 14 Officials Meeting on Cabinet, Polls

Naharnet/Top leaders from the March 14 alliance have held a meeting to discuss the cabinet formation efforts and the parliamentary elections crisis, An Nahar daily reported on Thursday. The newspaper said that the meeting, which was held on Tuesday and attended by al-Mustaqbal, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalange party and March 14 independent figures, was chaired by al-Mustaqbal bloc leader Fouad Saniora. The conferees reached a conclusion that the new government, which PM-designate Tammam Salam has been tasked with forming, was not looming in the horizon.
They also agreed that a deal on either holding the elections based on the 1960 law or extending parliament's mandate hadn't made any progress, An Nahar said. According to the daily, the March 14 alliance backs a short extension of the legislature's term pending an agreement on a new law that would govern the polls. Zahle MP Nicolas Fattoush has proposed a draft-law to extend parliament's term for two years until June 20, 2015.Fattoush is also a caretaker minister.

Salem from Tripoli: No Political Cover Granted to Gunmen who are Acting Independently

Naharnet /Acting Internal Security Forces chief Brigadier General Roger Salem stressed on Thursday that the security forces will bolster their presence in the northern city of Tripoli in order to contain the clashes and tensions in the area.
He said: “The gunmen are not being granted political cover and they are acting independently.” He made his remarks during a meeting for security officials in Tripoli and the North to address the recent unrest in the city.
“We are gathered here to today to stand by the residents of Tripoli and we will try out utmost to calm the situation,” declared Salem. He described the situation as “very dangerous,” adding that the security forces will not leave the residents at the mercy of the gunmen, “whose actions have gotten out of hand”. Moreover, he linked the recent clashes to the conflict in Syria, saying the that the gunmen are affected by the developments in the neighboring country.
Later on Thursday, former ISF chief General Ashraf Rifi told MTV that the developments in Tripoli are linked to the Syrian unrest, saying that they are aimed at diverting attention from a failed attempt to storm Syria's al-Qusayr region that is located near the Lebanese-Syrian border. “The Tripoli unrest is aimed at informing the residents of the North that they will pay the price for the failure to storm al-Qusayr,” he remarked of Hizbullah's fighting alongside Syrian regime forces in al-Qusayr.  “Some shortsighted individuals began the Qusayr battle and therefore committed a major sin. They sought to direct attention elsewhere and Tripoli is consequently paying the price of their failure,” he explained. “We are proud of our sons who are fighting at all fronts in Tripoli, but those attacking the city will pay the price,” added Rifi in reference to the gunmen in the neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. At least six people were killed in the northern city of Tripoli overnight, as rival neighborhoods clashed using for the first time different caliber mortars in addition to flares.
The latest round of clashes brought the death toll to at least 12 and the number of wounded to at least 140.
The battles that engulfed the city for a fifth day, kept schools and most companies and markets closed. The clashes are taking place mainly between the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which supports the Syrian uprising, and Jabal Mohsen, which supports the Syrian regime.

Bassil Rejects 'March 14's Second Mountain War', Proposes Electing Short-Term Parliament

Naharnet/Caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil slammed on Thursday the distribution of electoral districts in the hybrid draft law proposed by the March 14 coalition, calling it a “second Mountain War.”
"The proposal submitted by the Lebanese Forces and al-Mustaqbal blocs is a political Mountain War if we examine the divisions of the electoral districts they suggested,” Bassil stated in a press conference he held at his residence in al-Metn's Rabieh's neighborhood. His comments referred to the 1982-1983 war in Mount Lebanon when a large number of Christians fled their villages and sought refuge in other Lebanese regions.
LF leader Samir Geagea announced on Wednesday that his party will vote for the hybrid draft electoral law proposed by al-Mustaqbal, the LF and the Progressive Socialist Party in any plenary parliamentary session, adding that he became convinced that the Orthodox Gathering's proposal "has no hope to pass."
Geagea explained his decision, saying that the the Orthodox draft “would be a leap into the unknown and that it would pose a threat to the Lebanese formula, although it would lead to the election of 64 MPs by Christians.”
He stressed: “How can we lose a country for the sake of winning 64 MPs?”Bassil responded to Geagea's comments: “Lebanon is useless if equal power-sharing is not guaranteed.”
He elaborated: “(Marada Movement leader MP) Suleiman Franjieh was sure from the beginning that the LF will not go with the Orthodox Gathering's draft electoral law to the end.”
"But we are still committed to it and we urge MPs to vote for the proposal.”The caretaker minister called on the lawmakers to vote on an electoral law at the parliament.
"Extending the parliament’s term for an additional two years is not acceptable,” he stressed. “President Michel Suleiman's experience in the past few years was not encouraging to extend his term.”Bassil noted: “Any short-term extension must be accompanied with canceling the 1960's electoral law and adopting a new one.”"Why don't we elect a parliament for a short-term, for one or two years, based on the 1960's law?” Bassil proposed. “This would show that we did not agree to fully adopt this law.”Commenting on Hizbullah's participation in Syria's war, Bassil said: “Although we do not approve of this, but we can say that Hizbullah has transferred the battle to Syria whereas (Imam of Bilal bin Rabah mosque Sheikh Ahmed) al-Asir and his allies have moved it to Lebanon.”The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed on Thursday that 104 Hizbullah members had been killed in Syria since last autumn, but a party spokesman denied the figures. "There have been 57 killed and 18 others who have died of their wounds since the start of its participation in the war in Syria," the source close to Hizbullah told Agence France Presse. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said 104 Hizbullah fighters had been killed in all in fighting in central Homs province, which borders Lebanon, and around a revered Shiite pilgrimage site just south of Damascus.

Italian President Voices Support to Lebanon, Says Keen to Consolidate Ties

Naharnet /Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano expressed support on Thursday to Lebanon, stressing that his country is keen to fortify its role through its contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
“Italy will continue to play a positive role to support Lebanon and help it resolve the conditions of the refugees,” Lebanon's Ambassador to Italy Charbel Estephan quoted Napolitano as saying during a ceremony to present his credentials.According to the newly-appointed ambassador, the meeting tackled the bilateral ties between the two countries, the current developments in Lebanon and the region and the conditions of the refugees. The number of Syrian refugees who fled the war in their country to Lebanon has soared to more than 400,000, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said on April 8, but Lebanese officials say the actual number of refugees has exceeded one million.

Report: Saudi Ambassador to Host Dinner Banquet for PMs Friday

Naharnet /A dinner banquet for current and former premiers will be held on Friday night at the residence of Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awadh Asiri, al-Akhbar newspaper reported. According to the newspaper published on Thursday, the dinner banquet is the first-of-its-kind to be hosted by the ambassador. The attendees will tackle the latest local developments, sources told al-Akhbar. Former Prime Minister Rashid al-Solh, who is ill, and ex-PM Saad Hariri, who is abroad, will not attend the banquet. The newspaper reported that Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami will also be present.

Independent Christians to announce candidacies on Friday, MP says

Now Lebanon/Lebanese March 14 MP Boutros Harb said that independent Christians will hold a meeting on Friday to announce their candidacies for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“Independent Christians will hold a meeting on Friday to announce their candidacies for the upcoming parliamentary elections within the remaining candidacy deadline period of 1960 law,” Harb said following a meeting with US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly.
He also voiced his refusal of postponing the elections for two years, adding that “it is possible I agree to a short term postponement to avoid vacuum as long as it does not exceed a period of six months.” On Wednesday, Lebanon’s caretaker State Minister Nicolas Fattoush presented a law proposal by which the parliament’s mandate will be extended an additional two years.
Lebanon’s rival political parties on Saturday remained deadlocked on reaching a consensus on a new electoral law, spurring fears of an extension of the parliament’s term as well as the holding of parliamentary elections under the auspices of the 1960 law. The parliament was set last Wednesday to tackle what law to adopt for the upcoming elections, but Speaker Nabih Berri postponed the session after the LF, PSP, Future and independent Christian MPs gave their proposal for a mixed law as an alternative to the Orthodox one. In mid-April, the government officially changed the election date from June 9 to June 16 by way of a decree.
Connelly and Harb also reviewed during their meeting local and regional developments.

Young Hezbollah critic banished from village

Alex Rowell/Now Lebanon
Arson attack and death threats force south Lebanon girl into hiding
In the Ashrafieh apartment currently serving as her unofficial safe house, Marwa Olleik talks with a mix of pain and defiance as she recalls the series of events that forced her to flee her lifelong home on Wednesday. With her nose piercing, tattooed forearm, and unveiled hair, the 20 year-old journalism student doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of the south Lebanese village girl. Yet it isn’t her looks, but her opinions – in particular, her support for the Syrian uprising and criticism of local hero Hezbollah’s interventions against it – that have brought the powerful wrath of her community upon her.
“From the very first day the Syrian revolution began, I was with it,” she tells NOW. “I’m with any people that choose to revolt to demand their freedom. I didn’t care about the politics, or the history, my thought was always: If the people want to change the regime, I’m with them. If tomorrow they want to revolt against the Free Syrian Army, I’ll be with them too. So for months I’ve been writing messages like these, supporting the revolution, on Facebook.”At first, Olleik says nobody in Yahmur, her village situated about 10km south of Nabatieh, minded her online commentary. But as Hezbollah’s military assistance to the Assad regime grew more apparent, her criticism sharpened, and she began to receive intimidating messages from fake accounts.
“People would tell me I was shaming the honor of the village, and of the Shiites, and they would use terrible insults against me, calling me the whore of Sheikh [Adnan] al-Arour and Ahmad al-Assir, and much worse,” she says. But the turning point came last Sunday, when Hezbollah began its widely-publicized attack on the Syrian town of Qusayr.
“When Hezbollah went into Qusayr, I immediately started posting comments and photos, asking what they were going there for, especially since in Nabatieh every day I would see two or three bodies returning. People told me I was insulting Sayyida Zeinab [the granddaughter of the Prophet, highly revered in Shiite Islam]. So on Monday I wrote a post saying that insulting Sayyida Zeinab a thousand times is more merciful than killing one Syrian child.”
It seems to have been that comment in particular that brought the local community’s anger to a boiling point. As the online abuse poured in, her father – himself a more-or-less orthodox Hezbollah partisan – allegedly began to receive phone calls from local party affiliates, urging him to make his daughter publicly retract her comments. For the sake of her father’s safety and reputation, Olleik says she did post an apology. However, by then the point of no return had already been crossed. En route to university in Beirut the following morning, Olleik received a phone call from her distressed mother, who had been staying at the family’s second house in Nabatieh. “She told me she found a sign stuck to the wall outside the house, saying ‘Don’t think of returning [to Yahmur].’” Ignoring the warning, her mother had driven to their Yahmur home to find that the contents of the front porch had been set ablaze overnight. On Thursday morning, NOW paid a visit to Yahmur, a picturesque village in the fertile plains at the feet of the crusader-era Shqeef Castle, which also happens to be a mere 5km from the Israeli border. Like almost all villages in the south, the flags flying on its lampposts alternate between those of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. A large billboard bearing the faces of Iranian Grand Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei greets visitors at the Husseiniyah [Shiite worship place] in the village center. The few women walking around either donned the hijab or the more conservative chador.
The Olleik home – a traditional single-story villa of off-white stone with a spacious garden – was empty when NOW arrived, but the damage from Tuesday’s arson attack was plainly visible. A tablecloth and accompanying chairs on the patio were damaged and charred black from what had clearly been a small fire.
Local residents at the grocery store across the street had mixed views of the overall episode. “It’s nothing, it’s just a dispute between youths,” insisted one, who did not give his name. “The guys who started the fire are known troublemakers; they smoke arguileh and drink juice all day. In my personal opinion, Marwa should just come back.”
Another resident, who claimed to be a cousin of Olleik’s, butted in to interrupt. “No. She can’t. It’s forbidden. She insulted Sayyida Zeinab, there’s no way we can allow this.”
A third man appeared to agree. Asked how many people lived in Yahmur, he replied, “Five thousand. Actually, 4,999 now.” The others snickered.
“Everything is over in any case,” said the first man. “A Hezbollah man met with her parents and resolved the issue.” He did not elaborate.
Olleik, however, had already described this encounter to NOW. “The rabit [local Hezbollah official] came to our house and told my mother I can’t go back and I have to immediately publish an apology, although I already had done so. He said that this time they burnt the porch, but next time they’d burn the whole house.”
“And if one Hezbollah fighter is martyred from Yahmur, he said they’d kill me.” When asked for comment, Hezbollah press spokesman Ibrahim Mousawi told NOW he had not heard anything about the incident.
A nagging question for Olleik is why the reaction to her comments became suddenly so hostile this week, when for months she had railed against the party with no repercussions. She speculates it’s due to the widespread condemnation the party has faced since launching its Qusayr offensive.
“Hezbollah is losing support even from Shiites because of Syria, so they want to silence criticism. For example, the other day a woman came to my mother, crying and cursing the party because her son had just been sent to fight in Syria. At the recent funerals for fighters, too many of the mothers have been angry for what Hezbollah has done.”
There also remains the question of what Olleik will now do. Her family, she says, has no intention of taking legal action against the assailants, believing it to be a lost cause. Her cousin Rami, who accompanied her during NOW’s interview (and who is himself an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, despite formerly being a party member – a transformation he details in his recent book, ‘The Bees Road') said, “The situation is still boiling for now, but she should go back - maybe even this weekend.”Olleik, however, seems to have other ideas.
“There’s no going back to Nabatieh for me. My reputation is ruined, I would have no life. Maybe I’ll live here in Beirut by myself, or my parents will move here. I don’t know.” “But returning to Nabatieh is not an option.”Yara Chehayed contributed reporting.

Syria Opposition's Khatib Proposes Assad 'Safe Exit'

Naharnet /Syria's outgoing opposition chief published an initiative for his war-torn country on Thursday that would grant President Bashar Assad a safe exit, and urged dissident factions to adopt his plan.
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib published his initiative on Facebook, as the main National Coalition he headed until March gathered in Istanbul to choose a new leader and discuss a U.S.-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2.
Under Khatib's initiative, Assad would have 20 days from Thursday to give "his acceptance of a peaceful transition of authority".
After accepting, Assad would have one month to hand over power to either Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi or Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa, who would then govern Syria for a transitional period of 100 days.
As part of the transition Khatib envisages, Assad would "leave the country along with five hundred people whom he will select, along with their families and children, to any other country that may choose to host them".
This is the first time one of Syria's opposition chiefs has made an offer of political immunity to Assad and key members of his regime.
Khatib's proposal is an effort to pull Syria "out from the catastrophe that has struck our nation", said the former Omayyad mosque imam and controversial opposition figure on Facebook.
It is also "a practical response to the need of a political settlement ensuring a peaceful transition of authority", Khatib added.
"This initiative is a product of Syria and its goal is Syria," he said. While calling on dissident groups to adopt the initiative "as a way out from the catastrophe that has struck our nation", Khatib also said the international community should "oversee it and ensure that it is implemented".This would be accompanied by the release of all political prisoners in Syria, Khatib wrote. The initiative gives Assad a month to "completely hand over authority", and stipulates that while parliament should be dissolved, all of its powers should be handed to Assad's replacement.
Over the same 100-day period, an interim government would "restructure the security and military" apparatus in Syria, said Khatib. He also suggested that the U.N. should appoint an international mediator to oversee the transition.At the end of the 100 days, the responsibilities of the current government would pass to the transitional government, formed with international guarantees, which would "be responsible for the preparation and the re-building of the new Syria," Khatib said. Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the opposition coalition, said it was a "personal initiative" that would be "submitted at the coalition meeting and maybe discussed".Source/Agence France Presse.

British PM, Cameron Says Soldier's Murder is Attack on Britain, Betrayal of Islam

Naharnet/Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday the brutal murder of a soldier by two suspected Islamists on a London street was an attack on Britain and a betrayal of Islam.
"This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life. It was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country," he said.
"There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."In a video taken shortly after Wednesday's brutal attack near a barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, one of the suspects says that "we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting unless you leave us alone" and demands British troops are brought back from "our lands".Speaking outside his Downing Street office following a meeting with national security chiefs, Cameron said Britain was "absolutely resolute in its stand against violent extremism and terror". "We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms," he said, adding that this view was shared by every community in Britain. "We will defeat violent extremism by standing together, by backing our police and security services and above all by challenging the poisonous narrative of extremism."
He added: "There is absolutely no justification for these acts and the fault for them lies solely and purely with the sickening individuals who carried out this appalling attack."

11 Nations Call for Hizbullah's 'Immediate' Pullout from Syria

Naharnet /World powers denounced on Thursday the "flagrant intervention" in Syria by Hizbullah and Iranian fighters, urging their immediate withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In a joint statement, the Friends of Syria group "called for the immediate withdrawal of Hizbullah, fighters from Iran, and other regime allied foreign fighters from Syrian territory."
It described their armed presence in the country as a threat to regional stability. The group held talks in Amman to try to agree the contours of a peace conference to end the war.
A key battle has been waged since Sunday over control of the town of al-Qusayr, which had been in rebel hands for more than a year. Qusayr is located along a land corridor that links two Assad strongholds, the capital Damascus and the heartland of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect along the Mediterranean coast. Syrian troops backed by fighters from Hizbullah have pushed into the town since the start of the offensive. Underlining its importance, Syria's main opposition alliance, the Syrian National Coalition, on Wednesday urged rebel fighters from across Syria to converge on Qusayr to help defend it. Opposition fighters were holding out Wednesday, but appeared to be under increasing strain as government tanks and artillery pounded the town and warplanes bombed it from the sky. The meeting of 11 Western and Arab foreign ministers, as well as Turkey, in Amman urged Assad to commit to peace, but warned that if he fails to negotiate a political transition they would boost their backing of the opposition. The joint statement warned of "severe consequences" if use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces is confirmed.It also accused government troops of committing “ethnic cleansing" this month in the city of Banias.
Source/Agence France PresseAssociated PressNaharnet.

'Friends of Syria' Agrees to Boost Aid to Rebels until Assad Goes

Naharnet/World powers urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to commit to peace, but warned Thursday that if he fails to negotiate a political transition they would boost their backing of the opposition.
The stark warning came from a meeting of the Friends of Syria group, which held talks on Wednesday in Amman to try to agree the contours of a peace conference to end the war.
The conflict, now in its third year, has claimed some 94,000 lives. The United States and Russia have backed opposite sides in the conflict, but hope to bring the warring sides together at the conference next month, although a date and venue remain unclear."We would call on President Assad to exhibit the same commitment to trying to find peace in his own country. That is critical," U.S. Secretary of State Kerry told a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh ahead of the talks.
After meeting late into the night, the 11 ministers from the Friends of Syria group laid out a grim choice for Assad: he and his associates with "blood on their hands" had no role to play in the future of Syria, they said.
If the regime refused to negotiate a transitional government, then they would boost their support for the opposition, they said. "The ministers also emphasized that until such time as the Geneva meeting produces a transitional government, they will further increase their support for the opposition and take all other steps as necessary," a final statement said.
A U.S. official would not confirm whether that meant Washington would finally overcome its reluctance to send arms to the rebels.
"All of the countries agreed that the support to the opposition is a tactic that works towards achieving a strategy of securing a negotiated political settlement," the official said, asking not to be named.
"We've long said that it's important to change (Assad's) calculation, and in order to change his calculation the balance of power on the ground must change.
"So, the communique states we will increase our support to the opposition and the goal of that is to change the balance on the ground."The ministers met for over two hours, first behind closed doors at an Amman hotel, then holding three hours of talks with the interim president of the Syrian National Coalition, George Sabra, and two other rebel leaders.
The communique denounced ethnic cleansing, "identified as the corner stone of a political solution the formation of a transitional governing body through mutual consent."
And it condemned the intervention of foreign fighters, including Hizbullah and Iranians backing the Damascus regime. In another sign of the growing impatience with Assad, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron said they would seek European support for their proposal to arm the Syrian opposition.
"We are prepared to lift the arms embargo further so that the opposition can present themselves as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people," Cameron told reporters during a brief stopover in Paris.
The foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the meeting in the Jordanian capital. Qatari Foreign Minister Hassem bin Jassem al-Thani unleashed a furious tirade against Assad, accusing him of "continuing to kill his people with outside help and using banned weapons. "Syria is totally destroyed, and all so that the regime can stay in place. We are with you and we will stay with you," he told Sabra. All eyes are likely now to turn to Istanbul where the opposition is to start meetings on electing a new president, expand its "parliament" and begin the process of choosing an interim government. Neither the opposition nor Damascus has yet publicly said who they would send to attend the peace conference, likely to be held in June. But U.S. officials said Washington had been told by third parties that the Syrian regime delegation would be led by Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.

A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Does Syria have any friends left?
This is a good question which should be raised before the G11 or the core “Friends of Syria” group meet in Jordan before the promised Geneva 2 conference takes place.
What precisely do some Friends of Syria want? Do all of those participating in the Jordan conference deserve to be called “friends”?
Any step taken regarding the Syrian file should achieve two objectives; first, end the bloodletting; second, reconstruct the social fabric of Syria that has been destroyed by the violent crackdown launched by Bashar Al-Assad and his regional allies. With extremist groups retaliating against the regime’s violence and dealing with Assad in almost the same style that he masters and cherishes, Syria’s social fabric continues to shrivel.
As for the first objective, stopping the bloodletting, it now seems impossible to deter the regime from its violent crackdown and its systematic destruction without firm deterrence. After two years of Iran and Russia fully supporting the regime on all levels—in comparison to the clear US failure to take action—Bashar Al-Assad seems to have no moral conscience towards halting the bloodshed. On the contrary, on several occasions Assad has sung the same tune of rescuing the country from what he terms as “criminal gangs of radical takfirists.”
We all remember how Iraqi President Saddam Hussein played a game of cat-and-mouse with Washington and the international community for more than a decade. At the time, the Soviet Union was in the process of collapsing while Moscow was still attempting to convince its allies that it would not forsake or sacrifice them. Saddam Hussein was then under the delusion that Moscow—despite the impending collapse of its international influence— would still be able to curb the US. Following the end of the rule of George Bush Senior’s “moderate Republicans” and Bill Clinton’s “liberal Democrats”, George Bush Junior’s “neoconservatives” were in power and Saddam’s Iraq became history in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks.
Nevertheless, the situation in Iraq in 2003 was completely different than that of Syria in 2013. Although the Assad regime’s record of human rights violation matches that of Saddam Hussein and both regimes made a habit of bullying their neighboring countries—either in the name of pan-Arabism or the liberation of Palestine—there are some differences between the two scenarios:
Firstly, “neoconservative” Washington has been replaced by “Obama’s Washington” which is exhausted by the military adventures of the past and the growing economic crisis. This led the US to seek even the slightest pretext in order to refrain from rescuing the Syrian people who are being killed and displaced just for standing in the face of a sectarian police state that has stifled the country for over 40 years.
Second, Israel—which in the past had deep concerns about Saddam Hussein’s ambitions—is not in the least worried about what Bashar Al-Assad, nor was it concerned about his father Hafez Al-Assad before him. This is due to the state of coexistence between the two countries which dates back to 1973.
Furthermore, despite the absurd war of words, Israel is not even troubled by Iran’s stated and prospective nuclear capabilities. In fact, Tel Aviv sold weapons to Khomeinist Iran during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). More than this, the “Zionist Lobby” in Washington—which is part and parcel of the “neoconservative” movement that planned and executed the 2003 invasion of Iraq—had been well aware of the geopolitical repercussions of toppling Saddam Hussein. These repercussions included Iran extending its influence in Iraq and beyond towards the Mediterranean Sea.
Third, Moscow witnessed significant changes between 1985 and 2003 and until today as well. Mikhail Gorbachev set the stage for the fragile Soviet Union’s collapse, and this was assured by Boris Yeltsin in 1991. Following the process of decline overseen by Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin—one of the stars of the KGB—came to power. Today, Tsar Putin is preoccupied with rebuilding the Russian Empire and taking revenge on the US for humiliating “Mother Russia.”
Fourth, Iran—which was under siege prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—has become a major regional force, not only harming neighboring Arab states by stirring up sectarian tensions in the name of “resistance” but also neutralizing some of the major Islamist forces in the Arab Spring states in an attempt to incite them to crush the popular Syrian revolution.
Today the Syrian uprising is fruitlessly looking for friends to stop the regime from oppressing the people and plotting to divide the country into sectarian entities by controlling Homs and its surrounding villages. With all due respect to the real “friends” of Syria—some of whom are being blamed by the major international forces—we can only hope that all those who participate in the Jordan conference are sincere in their dealings with the Syrian people, and courageous enough to thwart the plots against Syria.
Is there any hope of Assad and his gang—who rely on prohibited lethal weapons and sectarian militias— abandoning power via dialogue?
With Russia firmly adhering to its opinion and the US agreeing with Moscow’s “diagnosis” of the Syrian crisis, will words be enough to persuade Bashar Al-Assad to end the Syrian nightmare?
Is it reasonable to assume that Iran—which over the past three decades has been investing in Iraq, Syria, and Iraq and providing all sorts of weapons, personnel and funding—will simply give up its regional ambitions and forsake its valuable presence on the Mediterranean coast and in the rest of the region?
I think that nobody but UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and perhaps US Secretary of State John Kerry, could answer the above questions in the affirmative.


Opinion: Iran’s Moment of Truth
By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat
Is it still interesting? This question concerns the forthcoming presidential election in Iran. Some believe that the decision to prevent “heavyweight” candidates from standing has emptied the exercise of whatever significance it might have claimed. This is specially the position of those who argued that former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani or presidential adviser Esfandiar Mashaei would have been able to implement a set of unspecified reforms.
However, a different analysis is possible.
The candidacy of both Rafsanjani and Mashaei was based on lies; cynical for the former and lyrical for the latter. The two men lied to themselves by assuming they could be grandees of a regime while pretending to be its critics. How could Rafsanjani, a man who played a key role in creating the regime that is shutting the door on him, suddenly be repackaged as champion of reform and change?
As for Mashaei, he must have been delusional to claim a mandate from the “Hidden Imam” while seeking approval from the Guardian Council, a 12-man star-chamber that vets applications for candidacy.
More than three decades after Khomeini seized power, it is important for Iranians to acknowledge the truth of their situation. The planned election provides an opportunity for doing just that.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a triple lie. It is not Iranian because its ideology denies the concepts of nationhood and nation-states. Nor is this regime Islamic because its ideology excludes anyone who does not share its slogan of “Allah, Koran, Khomeini”. Those who cannot accept Ali Khamenei as “Leader of the Muslim Ummah ” are also excluded. Here is how Commander of the Military Forces of the Islamic Republic, General Ahmadi Muqaddam, puts it: “Anyone who does not believe in our velayat (leadership) is an infidel and thus mahdur ad-dam, meaning his blood could be shed with impunity”. According to Ayatollah Muhammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, unquestioning loyalty to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei is “part of Islam.”Obviously, the regime is not a republic either because it is the “Supreme Guide” that has the final say on all issues. This is how, in a recent speech, and with admirable frankness, Khamenei himself put it: “Whatever I say on public affairs is an edict of the state.” The regime created by Khomeini is a peculiar beast.
The ayatollah accepted such concept as constitution, republic, and elections to hoodwink the middle classes and seduce leftist and Mussadeqist elements blinded by their irrational hatred of the Shah. However, it was obvious that he could not and did not want a Western-style democracy with a republican system.
The system that Khomeini created, with the help of such characters as Rafsanjani, could best be described as an “imamate” a version of which existed in Yemen until the 1962 coup d’etat. The Khomeinist system is also comparable to the “Islamic Emirate” created by the Taliban in Afghanistan where Mullah Muhammad Omar adopted the title of “Commander of the Faithful” (Emir al-Momeneen).
To be sure, the Khomeinist model has specific features reflecting the fact that Iran is neither Yemen nor Afghanistan. One such feature is the role of the military-intelligence elite that has acquired immense economic and social power under the banner of “velayat”. In that sense, the system also resembles Third World dictatorial regimes dominated by the military. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the three models have similar ideological roots. In all three, a single individual claims divine mandate and casts himself as arbiter of all aspects of public and private life. In such a model, pretending to have an elected president is at best a conceit and an insult to intelligence at worst.
Two years ago, Khamenei addressed that issue, albeit in an indirect manner, when he suggested that the position of a directly elected president be replaced by that of a prime minister appointed by the ”Supreme Guide”.
Rafsanjani and Mashaei wished to ignore the true nature of the regime while acting within it. Before them other “children of the revolution” tried a similar gambit. Mehdi Bazargan deluded himself into thinking that Khomeinism would be like Christian Democracy in Europe. Muhammad Khatami toured the world marketing Khomeinism as an alternative to “the Western model” inspired by the Enlightenment and Renaissance while his police crushed the student revolt and assassinated intellectuals across the country.
Once they have acknowledged the true nature of their regime, warts and all, Iranians will face three key questions:
Do we want this regime?
Does this regime reflect our culture and existential reality as a nation?
Can this regime build a society in which we could live in relative peace and prosperity while enjoying basic human rights and freedoms? If the answer to all three questions is in the affirmative, Iranians should try to help make it work or work better. If not, they should work for regime change no matter how long it takes.
Rafsanjani and Mashaei tried to avoid those questions, thus lying to themselves, to the system, and to the Iranian people.
By highlighting the true nature of the regime, their elimination by the Guardian Council clears the air. The decision has created a moment of truth. And, for that reason alone, the council’s decision must be welcomed.The caveat here is that the eliminated “heavyweights” may yet be reinstated thanks to intervention by Khamenei. But, even if that happens, which seems unlikely, the move will further underline the true nature of the regime.
In June, for the first time since Khomeini seized power, Iranians will know exactly what kind of regime they are voting for. This exercise is of interest because we will see how just many actually go to the polls.

Catholic Cardinal Calls for End to Blasphemy Laws

By Andrew E. Harrod/
Speaking at a conference in Milan, Italy, on May 8, 2013, that city's archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, called for the abolition of blasphemy laws worldwide. Such a step would significantly help protect globally the freedom of speech and religion desperately needed by Christians in particular while countering Islamic fanaticism with freedom.
Once favored to become pope, Scola made his remarks at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart for the opening of a conference focusing on Roman Emperor Constantine's 313 Edict of Milan granting imperial toleration to Christianity. Scola advocated a "healthy secularism" allowing religious freedom, defined by him as a "true litmus test" for a civilized society. To Scola, this "freedom means above all encouraging religious pluralism and opening to all forms of religious expression," including "eliminating laws that criminally punish blasphemy."
As the Catholic cable television channel EWTN reported online, the role of blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries in persecuting Christians and other religious minorities formed the global context of Scola's remarks. As reviewed previously by this writer, the authors of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians have extensively documented that "Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today," a "terrible trend…on the upswing." Moreover, "it is in the Muslim world where persecution of Christians is now most widespread, intense, and, ominously, increasing." Abolition of Muslim blasphemy laws, often used to prohibit propagation of Christian beliefs contradicting Muslim doctrine, would eliminate one important instrument of Islamic repression.
Such religious freedom would protect not just private rights, but also public peace. "Religious freedom," notes Scola's fellow Catholic, Professor Thomas F. Farr of Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs, "the evidence shows, can be an antidote to religion-related extremism, including terrorism." Freedom, analyzes Farr, dilutes fanaticism by forcing various faiths to justify their claims intellectually without coercion in a marketplace of ideas. "What if," speculates Farr,
Osama Bin Laden had been raised in a Saudi Arabia that allowed for religious freedom? What if, instead of being steeped exclusively in the toxic teachings of Wahhabism and Sayyid Qutb, he had been exposed to other forms of Islam, to critics of Islam, to other forms of religious belief, and to liberal religion-based arguments about justice and the common good?
Christians like Scola and Farr have a perfectly sound theological basis for faith-based advocacy of religious freedom. As the prominent Protestant pastor and theologian John Piper haswritten, numerous Biblical verses relate that "Christ did his work by being insulted" in stark contrast to Islam in which the "work of Muhammad is based on being honored." As the somewhat religiously eclectic but committed freethinker Thomas Jefferson wrote to a majoritarian-Christian America in his landmark 1779 (adopted 1785) Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, "all attempts to influence" individual religious belief
by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations…are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.
Ironically, Christian calls for religious freedom with respect to Islam would manifest precisely the Christian concept of the "church militant" (ecclesia militans). Muslim entities like the 57 Muslim-majority member states (including "Palestine") of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have often tried to hide advocacy of de facto Islamic blasphemy laws behind a supposedly "ecumenical veneer" of opposition to "defamation of religion" in general. Christian calls for religious freedom, come what may in criticism and/or condemnation of any particular faith, ostentatiously breaks ranks with this united front claimed by some Muslims, leaving them to defend religious repression on their own. European opponents of blasphemy laws like Scola, though, will have to begin actually with their own continent. Scola's native Italy as well as seven other European countries (out of a total of 45, or 18%) had blasphemy laws according to a 2011 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study. Somewhat similar to blasphemy laws, laws against "defamation" of religion also existed in 36 European countries (80%), while collectively religious restrictions of various sorts exist in 47% of countries worldwide.
As many have already noted (see here, here, and here), ultimately arbitrary European enforcement of such laws today more often than not involve the Islamic faith of recently arrived immigrant communities, not Europe's historically dominant Judeo-Christian beliefs. Accordingly, concerns about limiting free speech with respect to Islam played a role in the 2012 abolition of the blasphemy law in one of the eight European countries listed by Pew in 2011, Holland. The Dutch precedent is a model to follow for all faithful people who believe that they have a religious truth that will set free, a truth that need not fear freedom.
**This article was sponsored by The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.

In London as in Boston, terrorist-killers were known to security services
DEBKAfile Special Report May 23, 2013/
The two Islamist terrorists who hacked a British soldier to death on a London street Wednesday, May 22, chanting Allahu Akbar, were born in Britain of Nigerian descent and known to British security authorities. Motivated by revenge for Muslem deaths in Afghanistan, they selected as their victim a soldier from the Woolwich barracks who had served there. One of the terrorists was identified as Michael Adebolajo, 28, a convert to Islam and self-styled Muslim preacher from a street stand, from which he handed out leaflets condemning the British government and troops fighting in Muslim lands.
His stand was located in the southeastern London suburb of Woolwich, not far from the Royal Artillery barracks near which he committed his savage murder.
Adelbolajo’s crime was long planned. He spent time watching the soldiers coming and going around the barracks. He may even have singled out his victim from a chance acquaintance.
Thursday, the day after the murder, British anti-terrorist operatives carried out searches at various London addresses which the terrorist had used as a student at Greenwich University.
The British authorities have made no statements about arrests or even the interrogation of either of the two terrorists, who are in separate hospitals recovering from police gunshots.
Neither have they revealed why the accumulation of carving knives, a machete and a firearm in their possession never attracted notice. The police are also extremely cagey about the two men’s friends and contacts. As in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, the relevant information began seeping out by chance much later.
The extreme savagery of the killing in broad daylight on a busy London street, culminating in a beheading, recalled the fate of Western hostages at the hands of Al Qaeda’s Iraq commander Musab al-Zarqawi in the years between 2004 and 2006. His custom of beheading victims became a hallmark of al Qaeda savagery.
What also stands out about this episode is that the jihadis did not run away, but waved their blood-stained hands in the faces of horrified passersby, boasting: “We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. The British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!”
The British government held two “Cobra” emergency committee meetings, whose deliberations were kept secret. Its first response to the discovery that this horrific crime was committed by homegrown terrorists was to assign official spokesmen to make as their main theme the drawing of a strong distinction between Islamist terrorism and the large Muslim communities living in most British towns.
Prime Minister David Cameron set the tone in his address to the nation by declaring that nothing in Islam justified this crime and branding the terrorists traitors to Islam.
debkafile reported after the murder Wednesday:
The terrorists drove up to their victim in a car, jumped out and after the murder wandered about in the area, apparently lying in wait for more soldiers to come out of the Royal Artillery barracks 400 meters from the site of their attack.
London police reached the scene after 20 minutes after they were summoned. When the two killers ran towards them brandishing knives and a firearm, police officers shot and injured them. They were taken to separate hospitals and placed under heavy guard in case of attempts to rescue them.
Police sources said later they were treating the incident as a politically-motivated Islamist terror attack without identifying the killers.
In the absence of Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Minister Theresa May summoned the Cobra emergency committee into urgent session. After examining intelligence input, the committee must decide whether the Woolwich outrage was a lone incident or raise the terrorist alert level in London and the rest of the country. Cameron cut short his trip to Paris and returned to London Wednesday night.