October 21/2013

Bible Quotation for today/
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 06/01-11 : Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?  Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Don’t you know that we will judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?  If then, you have to judge things pertaining to this life, do you set them to judge who are of no account in the assembly? I say this to move you to shame. Isn’t there even one wise man among you who would be able to decide between his brothers? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers!  Therefore it is already altogether a defect in you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?  No, but you yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that against your brothers.  Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals,  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingdom of God.  Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.  “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are expedient. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be brought under the power of anything.  “Foods for the belly, and the belly for foods,” but God will bring to nothing both it and them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. Now God raised up the Lord, and will also raise us up by his power. Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!  Or don’t you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body? For, “The two,” says he, “will become one flesh.”*7 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.  Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin that a man does is outside the body,” but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.  Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For October 21/13
On The Uselessness Of The Debate/By: Husam Itani/Al Hayat/October 21/13

The Costs Of America's Retrenchment And Russia's Activity/By: Walid Choucair/Al Hayat/October 21/13
Oil, Gas, and the New Relationship between the United States and Russia/By: Raghida Dergham/Al Hayat/October 21/13
Israeli-Turkish tension damages bilateral intelligence ties/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star/October 21/13
Syria: Starving to Death/By: Michel Kilo/Asharq Alawsat/October 21/13

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For October 21/13
Lebanese Related News
Lebanese Army Strengthens Presence in Tripoli as Clashes Erupt between Jabal Mohsen, Bab al-Tabbaneh

Salam at Hospital for Stomach Virus
Released Lebanese pilgrims get heroes' welcome
Lebanese hostages and Turkish pilots freed
Turkish pilots detail abduction upon return home
President Michel Sleiman thanks regional countries involved in release deal
Al-Rahi Prays for Release of Syria Clergymen, Urges Suleiman and Salam to Practice their Authorities
More Lebanese Officials Congratulate the Pilgrims on their Return to Beirut

Saniora Holds 'Positive, Constructive' Talks with Berri in Ain al-Tineh
Lebanese Army arrests two involved in pharmacist abduction
Fate of Syria Detainees Unclear after Pilgrims' Hostage Deal
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Netanyahu: Iran has systematically misled the int'l community, continue the pressure

Iran: Only removal of all sanctions will provide hope for successful nuke talks
Israel to Get U.S. Briefing on Iran Nuclear Talks
Syria Peace Talks in Doubt over Opposition Rifts

Syrian Observatory: Suicide Bomber Kills 31 in Hama
Qatar Recovers Websites from Pro-Assad Syria Hackers
Australian Bushfires Threaten to Reach Parts of Sydney
Last Palestinian terror attacks do have common threads – despite Israeli official disclaimers
Rejection is better than capitulation
Syria Peace Talks in Doubt over Opposition Rifts


Israel to Get U.S. Briefing on Iran Nuclear Talks
Naharnet /Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday world pressure on Iran must be maintained, as an Israeli delegation traveled to Washington to be briefed on talks on Iran's nuclear program. Israel has been alarmed by the mounting emphasis on diplomacy with the new Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani to allay concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, fearing that Western governments may ease crippling sanctions before securing any real policy change. "As long as we don't see actions but only words, the international pressure must continue and increase," Netanyahu said. He said that the greater the pressure on Iran, "the higher the chance its military nuclear program will be dismantled." The Israeli premier also warned of legitimizing what he called Tehran's "rogue regime.”Netanyahu's remarks came as a senior Israeli delegation was on its way to Washington for updates on talks between the major powers and Iran over its nuclear program which resumed in Geneva on Tuesday. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and a team of officials from intelligence services and the foreign and defense ministries were to participate in the bi-annual strategic dialogue, a statement from his office said. "This year the dialogue will focus on the nuclear talks with Iran and other regional issues," it said of the meetings which are the "central forum" for deepening bilateral cooperation and coordination over issues in the region. Ahead of the visit, a senior Israeli official was briefed by the U.S. as well as a British delegation to the Iran talks, which flew in to update the Israelis, the Haaretz newspaper reported. French and German officials also briefed their Israeli counterparts by phone on the substance of the Geneva talks, the paper said. Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, has repeatedly threatened to take unilateral action if necessary to keep Iran from developing the capability to build a bomb of its own. Source/Agence France Presse

Iran: Only removal of all sanctions will provide hope for successful nuke talks
By JPOST.COM STAFF/10/20/2013/
Iran views the West's removal of punitive measures as the sole signifier of progress in talks with world powers on its nuclear issue, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission said Saturday. "(Only) the removal of all sanctions can be a sign of practical step (by the West), otherwise we cannot be hopeful about the results of the talks," Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted Boroujerdi as saying. Iranian negotiators met with Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany in Geneva for two days of nuclear talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Islamic Republic has reportedly signaled its willingness to curb parts of its nuclear program to secure urgent sanction relief. "The crucially important point in the negotiations is the recognition of Iran's enrichment right," he stressed. On Wednesday, another Iranian lawmaker reiterated Tehran's skepticism of world powers and said the West must take confidence building measures before the Islamic Republic ratifies the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iranian Parliamentarian Seyed Baqer Hosseini told Fars that Iran should not be first to take such confidence building steps as world powers aim to prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons. "Our (nuclear) activities have not faced any problem until now and all of them have been within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency and inspected by IAEA inspectors,” Fars quoted Hosseini as saying. On Thursday, The New York Times quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying the US was weighing the possibility of unfreezing billions of dollars of Iranian assets in response to potential concessions by Tehran on its nuclear program discussed at the recently concluded nuclear talks in Geneva. The move would allow Washington to give Iran some economic relief gradually without dismantling the sanctions regime which has been built internationally in the face of the Islamic Republic's failure to comply with Western demands regarding its controversial nuclear program.Reuters contributed to this report.

Netanyahu: Iran has systematically misled the int'l community, continue the pressure

By JPOST.COM STAFF/10/20/2013/
Al-Hayat: West has agreed to low-grade uranium enrichment.Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Sunday that the international community should not ease up on pressuring Iran with regard to its nuclear program.
"We must remember that the Iranian regime has systematically misled the international community," the prime minister said at the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting
Netanyahu made the remarks a few days after the end of nuclear talks in Geneva between six world powers and Iran. "Until we see actions, and not just words, the pressure on Iran by the
international community must continue. If the pressure on Iran increases, the likelihood that Iran will dismantle its nuclear arms program will also increase," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Iranian sources told London-based newspaper Al-Hayat that the West has agreed for Tehran to enrich low-grade uranium. This report joins a report from Al Monitor over the weekend detailing Tehran's offer during the recent nuclear talks in Geneva. According to Al Monitor, Iran has offered to halt the production of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium, vowed to convert its arsenal of fuel rods and pledged to hand over used nuclear fuel for an unfinished heavy water reactor.The offer supposedly consists of two stages, each to last at least six months, the source, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy surrounding the Geneva talks, told Al Monitor. Iran, in the first stage of the plan, would reportedly cease production of 20% enriched uranium and "try to convert the stock" so-far amassed to fuel rods for a research reactor. Other elements of the proposal supposedly include: Iran's willingness to relinquish more information on the Arak heavy water reactor; allowance of full inspection of the Fordow underground enrichment plant; engagement in talks on curbing the scope of production at the Natanz enrichment plant; and Iran's endorsement of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Despite the various ideas presented, Al-Monitor stated that the plan did not meet various demands made previously by the United States, such as its insistence that Tehran to remove its stock of 20% enriched uranium from the country. The Middle East news site listed other calls made by the US that the plan did not address, like the complete suspension of activity at Frodow and Arak, and the country's increasing production of low-enriched uranium. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif cautioned against putting any stock in reports on the Iranian offer, saying on his Twitter feed that only members of the Iranian negotiating team know the Iranian proposal, and that they are only allowed to speak on the record. Anonymous sources, Zarif said, are only speculating.

President Michel Sleiman thanks regional countries involved in release deal

October 20, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman thanked Saturday regional countries for their efforts in securing the release of nine Lebanese who were held hostage in Syria for over a year. The president also took the opportunity to remember the thousands who went missing during the years of Lebanon's Civil War. According to his office, Sleiman contacted Turkish President Abdullah Gul to congratulate him on the safe return of the Turkish Airlines pilots and thanked him for his efforts in releasing the Lebanese. A three-way swap deal resulted Friday in the release of the nine Lebanese, two Turkish Airlines pilots kidnapped in Beirut in retaliation to the Lebanese’ abduction and over 100 female detainees in Syrian prisons. The rebel group holding the Shiite Lebanese pilgrims, who were kidnapped on May 22 of last year as they traveled home from a pilgrimage in Iran, demanded the release of some 157 Syrian women imprisoned by the regime. The 11 Lebanese were abducted near the Aleppo district of Azaz. Two of the group were released last year. The Turkish nationals who were snatched on the Beirut airport road on Aug. 9 were released in the Bekaa and transferred to Beirut international airport by military helicopter. Head of Lebanon’s General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim had engaged in negotiations between Syria and Turkey to reach the release deal, which only witnessed a major breakthrough days after Qatar said it would intervene to immediately resolve the case.
Sleiman congratulated the Lebanese on their return and thanked all the countries that have exerted efforts to release them and contribute to their happy ending.
“A special thanks and appreciation to caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, the ministerial committee which was tasked with the case and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim for maintaining contacts with Turkish, Qatari, Syrian and Palestinian authorities which all cooperated to satisfy the conditions of the deal,” Sleiman said. Ibrahim is also tasked with the case of Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim who were abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border. "Lebanon is concerned with every citizen who was a target of abduction or arbitrary detention according to national and ethical logic,” Sleiman said. “While we hope for the release of kidnapped bishops, Lebanese who went missing during the Civil War remain in our minds as well as the duty to commit to work on revealing their fate, releasing or repatriating their bodies,” he added.

Syria: Lebanese hostages and Turkish pilots freed

By: Thair Abbas/Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Nine Lebanese hostages have been released after 17 months of detention at the hands of Islamist rebels in Syria. The release comes at the same time as two Turkish airline pilots, who were kidnapped in Beirut in August, are freed in Beirut in exchange. The nine hostages, who were kidnapped by the opposition’s Northern Storm Brigade in Syria, arrived in Beirut late on Saturday on a flight from Istanbul, while a plane took the Turkish pilots back to Istanbul around the same time. Hundreds of people converged on Rafik Hariri airport in Beirut to welcome the nine Lebanese hostages home. The hostages were also met by a number of officials, including Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. The deal which allowed the hostages to be freed also included the release of more than 100 female prisoners by the Syrian government. Reports said the North Storm Brigades also received EUR 100 million in the exchange deal. Meanwhile, the case of two bishops kidnapped in Aleppo in April is still unresolved. UN High Commission for Refugees Middle East envoy Ali Aqil Khalil, however, said the two bishops, Boulos Yaziji and Yohanna Ibrahim, were expected to be released within the next two weeks.
Information received in the last few days indicates progress has been made in securing their release. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad bin-Khalifah Al Thani, has promised to follow up the case personally, while Lebanon’s head of public security, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, was in charge for the Lebanese side, shuttling between Turkey, Qatar and Syria to finalize the deal to release the two clerics.
In another development, the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday released a statement which said it had mediated between the Syrian government’s armed forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), to facilitate the exchange of the hostages. The statement said “Palestinian early intervention facilitated the idea of the exchange of prisoners by both the FSA and the regular Syrian army, especially the release of the Lebanese hostages held by Syrian opposition fighting brigades in exchange for the release of women prisoners held by the regular Syrian army.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabiih Berri thanked Qatar for its important contribution to the deal and also thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his efforts. He also praised Turkey’s role in responding positively to the efforts and contributing to the transfer of the Lebanese hostages to Turkey and facilitating their return. Berri said: “We thank Syria for responding at the highest level to all demands to resolve this issue in a way which saved the lives of the Lebanese hostages, and leading to their release.” For his part, former prime minister and head of the Future Movement Saad Al-Hariri congratulated the Lebanese people and the families of the hostages on the success of the efforts to release them. He expressed his hope that this process would form “a step on the road to end the suffering of many prisoners and detainees, and for efforts to succeed in releasing bishops Boulos Yaziji and Yohanna Ibrahim.”He also praised “the noble efforts by the state of Qatar and the Turkish government, as well as the efforts of the head of public security, Gen Abbas Ibrahim.”

Released Lebanese pilgrims get heroes' welcome

October 20, 2013/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hassan Hammoud escaped the passionate embraces only to kneel to the floor and kiss his father's feet. “Father, father, father,” screamed a young girl as she looked on to the nine kidnapped pilgrims arriving from Turkey, who were quickly swept up on shoulders amid cheers and chants praising the Prophet Mohammed and his family, as immense joy intermingled with spontaneous tears at the gravity of the moment. Many had not heard from their kidnapped relatives in a year. “God protect you father,” shouted another family member, fighting back tears. An ordeal that lasted a year and five months came to an end Saturday night as hundreds of family members and sympathizers gathered at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport amid deafening ululations to welcome the pilgrims home.
In May 2012, eleven Shiite Lebanese were kidnapped near the Aleppo District of Azaz by a Syrian rebel group on their way from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two were released in the following months.
“It's a strange feeling, man,” said Ali Hammoud, whose father was kidnapped. “After a long wait, torture, anger, they've arrived.”
Hammoud, from a southern town near Naqqoura and was accompanied by 20 of his relatives, said he doubted whether the pilgrims would have been released if it were not for the two kidnapped Turkish pilots who were released at the same time. The return of the hostages to Lebanon came simultaneously with the release and return of Turkish Airlines pilots Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca who were kidnapped in August on Beirut’s airport road. Their kidnappers had linked the release of the Turks to that of the pilgrims  Many family members who endured a four hour wait at the airport were not able to speak to their loved ones for nearly a year. Most of them refused to believe that their release was imminent until they saw them in the flesh. The plane carrying the pilgrims was delayed for four hours, apparently until the kidnapped Turkish pilots were safely on their plane back home. But the families were unfazed and in a celebratory mood, with children carrying roses and flower bouquets and mothers and wives showering the politicians who were present with rice. Health minister Ali Hassan Khalil paced the packed VIP arrival hall on his phone, until he confirmed that the plane had taken off around 9 pm Beirut time.
As the pilgrims stepped off the plane and arrived at the gate, the cheers became deafening. “It is indescribable,” yelled Abbas Shoueib as he stood before the TV cameras moments after arrival. “We thank God for the good and the bad.” “Those who call themselves the Free Syrian Army, the oppressors, who wronged us and tortured us,” he added, before thanking Turkey for its efforts in freeing the pilgrims.
Another pilgrim cursed the captors and prayed for the destruction of the FSA as he was hoisted atop shoulders of celebrators. Another brandished a Hezbollah flag. “I'm not Hezbollah,” he said. “[But] from today I am a soldier of [Hezbollah leader Sayyed] Hassan Nasrallah.”Some of those gathered carried Hezbollah and Syrian flags. Families expressed their thanks to officials who helped secure the pilgrims' release, as well as to Hezbollah's Secretary-General, to Syrian President Bashar Assad for reportedly working to secure the release of the hostages, and to Qatar, which brokered the talks. Some also expressed gratitude towards Turkey. Ali Termos, one of the kidnapped men, was near the point of exhaustion as he spoke to the media. He said they had endured a 15 hour drive to Turkey and then another five hours aboard the plane that carried them home. “How can you express anything?” said Fatma Arzouni, the wife of Abu Ali Arzouni, another pilgrim. “After a year and a half of torture, we could not believe that they were coming back,” said Fatma Tahhan, another pilgrim's wife, tears welling up in her eyes as she waited for her kidnapped husband to arrive. “But now we believe. Now the happiness has returned to our hearts.”

Turkish pilots detail abduction upon return home
October 20, 2013/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Two Turkish Airlines pilots who were released Saturday after spending over two months in captivity in Beirut detailed the moment of their abduction and said their kidnappers did not abuse them. Their release was part of a three-way swap deal that also involved the freeing of nine Lebanese pilgrims held in Syria as well as a number of Syrian women detained by President Bashar Assad's government.
"We were kidnapped within 3-5 minutes [of boarding] the transfer from the airport to the hotel. Some vehicles appeared in front of our bus [and] nearly 10 armed [individuals] got out of three cars,” pilot Murat Akpinar told reporters, according to the Anadolu News Agency. “When I looked back I saw three more cars there. Someone pointed a gun at the driver. Someone kicked in the door of the car. I shouted 'do not shoot' in English," he said
Akpinar along with his co-pilot Murat Agca were snatched on Aug. 9 on their way from Beirut Airport to a hotel. They appeared in two recordings on local media during their time in captivity.
A previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Ali al-Reza claimed the kidnapping, saying they would only release the Turkish nationals in exchange for the release of Lebanese held in Syria.
Relatives of the Lebanese who were abducted on May 22 of last year by Syrian rebels in the Aleppo district of Azaz had repeatedly asked Turkey to help secure the release of their loved ones given Ankara’s staunch support of the Syrian opposition. The nine Lebanese Shiites who were on their way home from a pilgrimage in Iran at the time of thier abduction were released Saturday after the Syrian government agreed to the kidnappers’ demand to free over 100 female detainees in Syrian prisons. Head of Lebanon’s General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim had negotiated with the Syrian and Turkish sides as part of the mediation efforts to secure the pilgrims' release; however, it was only after Qatar said it would intervene in the matter that the Lebanese were freed. The two pilots arrived at the Beirut airport at 9 p.m. on board a Lebanese Army helicopter that took off from the Riyaq military airbase in the Bekaa Valley, east Lebanon. Agca and Akpinar were met upon arrival in Beirut by Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz and Lebanon's caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, representing President Michel Sleiman, before boarding a plane headed to Istanbul. In Istanbul, the pair were later greeted by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking to reporters in Turkey, Akpinar said the Lebanese kidnappers had changed their location every three to four days after 3 a.m. on board several vehicles. He also thanked Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for their efforts, saying: "We know that our president [met with] our families and listened to them. Each Turkish citizen knows he's not alone there if something happens to him." "When we asked them why they kidnapped us, they told us that their families were kidnapped. First days were a bit constrained, we even went to the toilettes under the control of weapons, however we did not face any violence. We followed the news through 'Turkey's Voice Radio.' We are happy to be released," Akpinar said. Agca, who only began working at Turkish Airlines just six months ago, said he and Akpinar supported each other during their time in captivity.

Al-Rahi Prays for Release of Syria Clergymen, Urges Suleiman and Salam to Practice their Authorities

Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi has congratulated the families of the nine pilgrims who were released on Saturday following a 17-month kidnapping ordeal in Syria but called for setting free two bishops and three priests abducted there. During a mass on a pastoral visit to the Metn district, al-Rahi said: “We congratulate their relatives on their safe return but we pray specially for the release of Bishops Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim and the three priests who were kidnapped months ago.” Ibrahim, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Yazigi, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Aleppo, were on a humanitarian mission when they were kidnapped at the end of April in a village in northern Syria's Aleppo province. “We pray that this humanitarian tragedy ends,” al-Rahi told worshipers in his sermon. He described the ongoing abductions as an “assault on human dignity.” Nine Lebanese pilgrims held hostage in Syria since May 2012 arrived in Beirut late Saturday after being freed in exchange for the release of two Turkish Airlines pilots seized near Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport in August. Al-Rahi reiterated that Lebanese officials should assume their responsibilities to end corruption and guarantee a prosperous future for the youth. He said the people reject the sectarian infighting, which is paralyzing the formation of the new government. The patriarch criticized the politicians for linking the fate of the cabinet to the result of the war in Syria and regional and international alliances. “We reject along with the people to become the captives of the two rival political parties,” he said, hoping that President Michel Suleiman and Premier-designate Tammam Salam would also not become the hostages of their differences. He said both of them “should practice their constitutional authorities out of respect for the people who are the source of their authority.”

More Lebanese Officials Congratulate the Pilgrims on their Return to Beirut
Naharnet/More Lebanese top political and religious officials congratulated on Sunday nine Lebanese pilgrims and their families on their safe return home from Syria and called for the release of the kidnapped bishops. In a telephone conversation with Sheikh Abbas Zgheib, who had been tasked by the Higher Islamic Shiite Council to follow up the case of the pilgrims, President Michel Suleiman inquired about the health of the nine men.
A statement said that Suleiman asked Zgheib to send them his regards. Zgheib thanked the president on the efforts that he had exerted to release the pilgrims. The unity of the Lebanese away from political and sectarian divisions contributed to forming a moral pressure group on the kidnappers to release the men, Suleiman said. He hoped for success in the release of Bishops Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim as soon as possible. The bishops were on a humanitarian mission when they were kidnapped at the end of April in a village in northern Syria's Aleppo province. Suleiman also reminded the Lebanese about all those who have been missing since the 1975-1990 civil war. “There should be a continuous commitment and work to unveil their fate and liberate them or return the bodies of those who died,” he said. Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani also expressed his relief over the return of the pilgrims, which he said came due to the efforts exerted by several officials, including General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. He congratulated the pilgrims and their families on their safe return home. But the Mufti called for the release of the two bishops. He condemned kidnappings and attacks on the freedom of people to whatever sect or party they belong to. “These totally contradict morals and religious values,” he said. The nine Lebanese pilgrims and two Turkish Airlines pilots held hostage in Lebanon returned home Saturday night as part of an ambitious deal, which was negotiated by Qatari and Palestinian officials. Suleiman telephoned his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on Sunday to congratulate him on the return of the pilots. The pilgrims were abducted by rebels in May 2012 while on their way from Iran to Lebanon via Turkey and Syria. As for the pilots - Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca - they were kidnapped in August near Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport. Several Lebanese government officials and clerics greeted the pilgrims at the airport late Saturday. "It was difficult, without a doubt," said Ibrahim. "I didn't want anything from this deal, except to see this sight," he said, gesturing at the waiting crowds. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea echoed Suleiman's remarks on Sunday, but wondered why the Lebanese authorities had failed to win the release of hundreds of Lebanese held in Syrian prisons. The authorities should deal equally with the case of the kidnapped and those held in Syria, he said in a statement. Geagea also said “the Lebanese government has a moral duty to make the necessary contacts to liberate” the two bishops.

Saniora Holds 'Positive, Constructive' Talks with Berri in Ain al-Tineh

Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday held a two-hour meeting with head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc ex-PM Fouad Saniora in Ain al-Tineh. “The meeting is a continuation of the talks we held more than two weeks ago. We discussed a large number of key issues that are of interest to the Lebanese and the dialogue was positive, beneficial and constructive,” Saniora said after the meeting. “We agreed that it is useful to continue these meetings and God willing, consecutive talks will be held very soon,” Saniora added. Asked whether parliament will resume its sessions, the ex-PM said the issue would be discussed on Tuesday. Asked about Berri's dialogue initiative, Saniora said he discussed it with the speaker and that more consultations will take place. The former premier also noted that they tackled the issue of the cabinet formation process.

Lebanese Army arrests two involved in pharmacist abduction

October 20, 2013/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Army said over the weekend it arrested two people involved in the abduction of a pharmacist in east Lebanon. Members of the Army Intelligence were able to locate the kidnappers in the Bekaa town of Brital when a unit raided a house there, a statement by the body's general directorate said. Two people, identified as Abdel-Amir Saleh and Dored Saleh, were arrested at the house. The two already have several arrest warrants against them for abduction charges and arms trading. The suspected kidnappers were interrogated and the Army is in pursuit of others involved in the pharmacist's abduction. Wissam al-Khatib, the abducted pharmacist, was released on Oct. 16 near Zahle. Khatib was opening his pharmacy in Karak al-Maallaqah, in the district of Zahle, when gunmen kidnapped him on Sept. 29 prompting residents and the Pharmacists Association to hold several protests. The Pharmacists Association has demanded that the government provide pharmacists with better protection in light of the risk of kidnappings and theft.

Syria Peace Talks in Doubt over Opposition Rifts
Naharnet/Syrian peace talks could be held November 23, but not without "credible opposition" participation, top diplomats said Sunday. After a meeting with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the pointman for international efforts to end Syria's nearly three-year civil war, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the so-called Geneva 2 talks would be held November 23. But Brahimi, speaking to reporters in Cairo, cautioned that the meeting would not be convened without a "credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people" opposed to President Bashar Assad. The mixed messages about the so-called Geneva meeting reflected concerns that the increasingly divided opposition would refuse to take part in talks with Assad's regime, which insists his resignation is not on the table. The renewed push for peace talks comes after a rare U.S.-Russian accord compelled Syria to agree to destroy its chemical arsenal this month, but much of the opposition panned the deal because it averted punitive U.S. strikes on the regime. The main National Coalition opposition bloc said members will decide in the coming days whether to attend the Geneva talks, while the Syrian National Council, a key coalition member, has threatened to quit if they do. The rift among the exiled opposition comes amid a surge in fighting among rebels on the ground, with the mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA) clashing with the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Britain to attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting on Tuesday in which Western and Arab governments are expected to press the opposition to come together and attend the talks. But even if the National Coalition attends the Geneva meeting, it is unclear whether it can enforce any agreement on the ground, after 13 prominent rebel brigades rejected the umbrella group last month. Source/Agence France Presse

Syrian Observatory: Suicide Bomber Kills 31 in Hama
Naharnet /A suicide bomber blew up a truck laden with explosives at an army checkpoint in Syria's central city of Hama Sunday killing at least 31 people, a monitoring group said. "At least 31 people, including regime troops, were killed when a man detonated a truck laden with explosives at a checkpoint near an agricultural vehicles company on the road linking Hama to Salamiyeh," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based watchdog said the death toll was likely to rise, as "there are dozens of wounded, some of them in critical condition". State television had earlier reported multiple casualties from a bombing in Hama without giving a more precise casualty toll. In the first months after the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime erupted in March 2011, Hama saw some of the largest demonstrations against his rule. But in late summer of that year, security forces stormed the city, killing scores of people. They have held a tight grip on the city ever since. While several other Syrian cities have been engulfed by fighting, Hama has seen only sporadic violence in recent months. However, the surrounding province has seen some major clashes between troops and rebels. Source/Agence France Presse

Australian Bushfires Threaten to Reach Parts of Sydney

Naharnet /Australian fire crews were bracing Sunday for some of the worst conditions in decades as several major blazes threatened to merge into a mammoth firefront that could reach Sydney. More than 200 homes have already been destroyed and another 120 damaged by the wildfires, which broke out across New South Wales state in unseasonably warm weather last week, fanned by extremely high winds. The worst of the blazes, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, plunged the city last week into an eerie midday darkness as plumes of smoke and ash filled the sky. One man has died so far trying to protect his property. Three separate infernos continued to burn in the Blue Mountains on Sunday. Grim forecasts of intensifying heat and winds prompted NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to declare a state of emergency giving firefighters the power to forcibly evacuate people, with penalties for refusing. "This is not an action taken lightly... but it's important the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat," said O'Farrell.
"We are planning for the worst but hoping for the best." Officials issued dire predictions about the worsening weather forecasts through to Wednesday, with a RFS spokesman saying there was the "very real potential that these three fires -- (one) in Lithgow and the two in the (Blue) Mountains -- could form as one fire over the next couple of days". "We can understand the magnitude of that as it would then creep into the bottom end of Sydney. It's certainly something that we're very concerned about," the spokesman said. Sydney's suburban outskirts are just across the Nepean River from the foot of the mountains. Embers jumped its banks on Thursday, starting a fire at Castlereagh near Penrith. Some 76,000 people live in the Blue Mountains while the population of Sydney is 4.4 million. NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there would be several extremely difficult days ahead for fire crews, with temperatures set to soar and a return to dangerously high winds. "We've got what would be unparalleled (conditions) in terms of risk and exposure for the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury communities throughout this week," Fitzsimmons told reporters. "If you are to draw a parallel, and it's always dangerous to draw a parallel, at best you'd be going back to time periods in the late 60s."
"The reality is, however, these conditions that we're looking at are a whole new ball-game and in a league of their own." A total ban on starting open-air fires for barbecues or other reasons was in place in Greater Sydney and three other regions across the state until further notice. An emergency warning was issued for the Blue Mountains village of Bell, where residents were urged to evacuate due to the immediate threat of fire. Other township residents were told to shelter in their homes or warned that they faced several days of isolation without electricity. State Assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke said mandatory evacuation orders would be enforced in some areas, describing the risk as "far more extreme" than in past fires. "Police will be doing forced evacuations if the risk is necessary," Clarke told reporters. "At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don't have buildings standing we don't want bodies in them."Wildfires are common in Australia's summer months, which run from December-February. But an unusually dry and warm winter and record spring temperatures has seen the 2013/14 fire season start early. Source/Agence France Presse

'Friends of Syria' Talks to Push Peace Efforts
Naharnet/Western and Arab powers will meet with Syria's opposition on Tuesday in a bid to push for long-delayed peace talks in Geneva with President Bashar Assad's regime.
The conference in London will bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the foreign ministers of the so-called London 11, the core group of the Friends of Syria, including the United States, France and Saudi Arabia. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the nations would "discuss preparations for the Geneva Conference, support for the (opposition) Syrian National Coalition, and our efforts to achieve a political settlement to this tragic conflict." Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint envoy of the U.N. and the Arab League, was meanwhile Sunday pushing for the peace negotiations by preparing to meet the head of the pan-Arab bloc in Cairo before heading for talks in Damascus and a visit to its key regional ally Iran. World powers are focusing on a political solution to the war in Syria after Washington dropped plans for US-led strikes in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Assad regime. Russia and Western nations are pushing for new talks between the Syrian regime and rebels on a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 115,000 people since March 2011.
But the opposition's Western and Arab backers are facing resistance from some among the rebels to attending the so-called Geneva 2 talks -- proposed for November -- as long as Assad remains in power.
The opposition Coalition has agreed to attend the London conference, saying it would focus on "these countries' understandings about Geneva 2 and what it should result in."
The peace talks aim to map a path forward toward a political transition in Syria, and put in place a transitional government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has led efforts with Moscow to find a political resolution to the war, was returning to Europe for the talks in his 16th trip since taking office in February. Kerry told National Public Radio the talks in London are aimed at "trying to move the process forward".
"We're working towards this Geneva conference, not that we know what the outcome is," Kerry said. Syrian officials have repeatedly said they are willing to take part in the Geneva peace talks, but not with any preconditions such as Assad's resignation. The opposition Coalition is also to hold internal discussions in Istanbul this week that should culminate with votes on whether to attend the Geneva talks and on the formation of a transitional government. In a sign of the deep divisions over the Geneva talks, the Syrian National Council, a key member of the Coalition, has already said it opposes the conference and threatened to quit the grouping if it takes part.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Paris was working with the opposition ahead of the talks in London on building a united front for the Geneva conference.
"We want the opposition to be united at this conference. It is important that it be united and strong to influence the outcome," he said. Britain believes the Coalition's fresh leadership -- Ahmad Jarba was elected its new chief in July -- could make progress on ending internal debates. London will also be keen at the talks to support moderate elements in the opposition, so Assad cannot present himself as the only alternative to the radical Islamists who have taken on an increasingly prominent role among Syria's rebels. Syria's close ally Russia, which helped to avert the U.S.-led military action by brokering a deal to dispose of the Assad regime's chemical weapons, is not attending the London meeting. The "London 11" consists of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Source/Agence France Presse

Qatar Recovers Websites from Pro-Assad Syria Hackers

Naharnet/Qatari authorities have restored several government websites attacked by hackers from the Syrian Electronic Army, who support President Bashar Assad's regime, local media reported Sunday. Qatar's Supreme Council of Information and Technology (ictQatar) said in a statement carried by local media that it has "recovered all government websites hacked on Saturday." It said it is ready to "deal with any similar future operations.""No financial losses have been caused" by the hacking that targeted websites with the "" domain name, local media quoted ictQatar as saying on Twitter. The Qatari interior ministry's page was among the websites hit. But the ministry said on Twitter that "data registered on the website was not affected." Hackers who claim to support Assad, collectively known as the Syrian Electronic Army, have targeted high-profile websites in recent months, including one belonging to the U.S. marines and the New York Times's page. Qatar, alongside Saudi Arabia, has openly supported rebels battling Assad's regime since an uprising against his rule broke out in March 2011.
Source/Agence France Presse

Israeli-Turkish tension damages bilateral intelligence ties

October 18, 2013/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star
The Turkish-Israeli relationship became so poisonous early last year that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have disclosed to Iranian intelligence the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers. Knowledgeable sources describe the Turkish action as a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap the Israelis.” The incident illustrates the bitter, multidimensional spy wars that lie behind the current negotiations between Iran and Western nations over a deal to limit the Iranian nuclear program. A Turkish Embassy spokesman had no comment.
Israeli anger at the deliberate compromise of its agents may help explain why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became so entrenched in his refusal to apologize to Erdogan about the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. In that confrontation at sea, Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish-organized convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Nine Turks were killed.
Netanyahu finally apologized to Erdogan by phone in March after President Barack Obama negotiated a compromise formula. But for more than a year before that, the Israeli leader had resisted entreaties from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to heal the feud. Top Israeli officials believe that despite the apology the severe strain with Erdogan continues. The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The U.S. continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however. Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials. Instead, Turkish-American relations continued warming last year to the point that Erdogan was among Obama’s key confidants. This practice of separating intelligence issues from broader policymaking is said to be a long-standing U.S. approach. U.S. officials were never sure that the Turkish disclosure was retaliation for the Gaza flotilla incident, or rather part of a broader deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
Israeli intelligence had apparently run part of its Iranian spy network through Turkey, which borders Iran and has relatively easy movement back and forth. The Turkish intelligence service, known as the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT, conducts aggressive surveillance inside its borders, so it had the resources to monitor Israeli-Iranian covert meetings. U.S. officials assessed the incident as a problem of misplaced trust, rather than bad tradecraft. They reasoned that the Mossad, after more than 50 years of cooperation with Turkey, never imagined the Turks would “shop” Israeli agents to a hostile power, in the words of one source. But Erdogan presented a unique challenge, as he moved in 2009 to champion the Palestinian cause and, in various ways, steered Ankara away from what had been, in effect, a secret partnership with Tel Aviv. The Israeli-Turkish intelligence alliance was launched in a secret meeting in August 1958 in Ankara between David Ben-Gurion, then Israel’s prime minister, and Adnan Menderes, then Turkey’s prime minister. “The concrete result was a formal but top-secret agreement for comprehensive cooperation” between Mossad and Turkish intelligence, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman wrote in their 2012 book: “Spies Against Armageddon.” The groundwork had been laid secretly by Reuven Shiloah, the founding director of Mossad, as part of what he called a “peripheral alliance strategy.” Through that partnership, Israelis provided training in espionage to the Turks and, ironically, also to Iranians under the shah’s government, which was toppled in 1979. Fidan, the Turkish spy chief, is a key Erdogan adviser. He became head of the MIT in 2010 after serving as a noncommissioned officer in the Turkish army and gaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in Ankara. After Fidan took over the Turkish service, “he rattled Turkey’s allies by allegedly passing to Iran sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel,” according to a recent profile in The Wall Street Journal. The Journal also noted U.S. fears that Fidan was arming jihadist rebels in Syria. The Netanyahu-Erdogan quarrel, with its overlay of intelligence thrust and parry, is an example of the kaleidoscopic changes that may be ahead in the Middle East. The U.S., Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all exploring new alliances and struggling to find a new equilibrium – overtly and covertly.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Last Palestinian terror attacks do have common threads – despite Israeli official disclaimers

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis /October 20, 2013/In less than a month, Palestinians have committed six acts of terror against Israeli soldiers and civilians on the West Bank and developed a new terror conspiracy against the Israeli population living next door to the Gaza Strip. Two soldiers and a reserve colonel were murdered. In the latest incident, Thursday, Oct. 17, a Palestinian crashed a tractor into the IDF Rama base north of Jerusalem. He was shot dead in mid-rampage through the facility. This occurred just hours after all military bases in Judea and Samaria were placed on terrorist alert. Yet the Rama base had only one sentry at the gate. And instead of shutting himself inside his booth and summoning reinforcements to deal with the violent interloper, he ran out and was knocked over, dropping his sidearm and walkie-talkie.
Less than two weeks earlier, and not far away, a Palestinian shot the nine-year old Israeli girl, Noam Glick in Pisgat Zeev north of Ramallah. Like the sentry, she survived with injuries.
However, on Oct. 11, Col. (ret) Seraya Ofer was brutally clubbed to death outside his home in Brosh Habika’a in the Jordan Valley by two Palestinians using axes, iron bars and a pitchfork.
As in the Pisgat Zeev attack, official army and police spokesmen hedged before attributing the attack to terrorists. Various motives were under investigation, they said.
Terrorism was only admitted explicitly after Israeli Channel TV 2 investigative reporter Moshe Nussbaum discovered that the pair had shown up at their victim’s home at an earlier date on a lame pretext. They made off when they found him armed and attended by guard dogs. The colonel was suspicious enough, after giving them water, to take down the number of their vehicle and report the incident to the police and Shin Bet.
But there was no follow-up probe on the vehicle. Only after the murder, were the two killers identified and detained. They were Ouda Farid Talb Harub, 18, and Bashir Ahmad Ouda Haroub, 21 – both from Deir Samet, a village on the outskirts of Hebron. And still, Israeli security and military spokesmen insisted there was no evidence that the attacks were connected by a single thread or “a common factor.” It was impossible to keep track of a lone terrorist, they said, who woke up one morning at this home in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem, and decided on the spur of the moment to turn his tractor as a tool of death.
If those officers meant to say that no regular Palestinian organization had been identified as explicitly instigating a terrorist campaign, like the PLO’s Second Intifada of suicide bombers in the years 2000 to 2004, that too is wide of the facts. The hand of Hamas was clearly visible. On Sept. 22, Sgt. Gal Koby, 20, from Tirat Hacarmel, was standing guard at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron when he was shot dead by a sniper, who was never caught.Hebron, which is also the home of Col. Ofer’s killers, is Hamas turf. On Oct. 15, one of the largest and most well-equipped terrorist tunnels was discovered running from a point near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis under the border up to a point near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. The 2-kilometer long tunnel was lined with concrete slabs, equipped with power, phone lines and food and provided with niches for explosives and outlets under the fields of the kibbutz. It was the third terrorist tunnel to be found branching out of the Gaza Strip and more are believed awaiting discovery.
Ein Hashloshe and its 300 denizens, most of them children, has like the neighboring towns and villages, survived decades of Palestinian attacks from the Gaza Strip - rockets, mortars and snipers picking off members working in the fields. They now nervously watch a potato field which is closest to Gaza in case a terrorist jumps out of an unseen tunnel. So the IDF not only had a name for the Palestinian organization behind the latest upsurge of terrorist incidents but also an address. It was impossible to ignore any longer after Saturday, Oct. 19, when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya made a speech in Gaza City calling on all Palestinians and Arab peoples to launch the Third Intifada. There can be no security or stability, he shouted, so long as Al Aqsa is in danger!  This charge was especially ludicrous: The mosques of Temple Mount have never been in danger. The only threat on that holy shrine is to Jews who venture to enter the compound order and pray there. However, in recent weeks, the army has scaled down its guard on the long-suffering part of the country which abuts the Gaza Strip, trusting to the Egyptian army, which has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, to cut down Hamas for aiding and abetting the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.
It has always been the view of DEBKAfile’s analysts that Israel dare not rely on foreign powers to uphold its national security. There is always a price to pay, often in the lives of civilians and servicemen.
Furthermore, Hamas is already proven be turning its attention to building a solid infrastructure for a fresh campaign of terror against southern Israel and organizing outbreaks in Judea and Samaria. It is up to the IDF – not Egypt – to prevent this plot from bursting into broad lethal action. This will not happen so long as army commanders and security officials disclaim evidence of a concerted campaign of terror. There is no guarantee that a third Palestinian campaign of violence against Israel would be identical in method to the second intifada. The conspiracy must be nipped in the bud at source. Hamas is one common factor in the latest outbreaks. There is another: Two of the most recent attacks were perpetrated by Palestinians whose brothers died in the commission of former terrorist strikes.Did those brothers rise up spontaneously on a whim with no guiding hand?

Syria: Starving to Death
By: Michel Kilo/Asharq Alawsat
Bashar Al-Assad’s army has been besieging the people in Eastern and Western Ghouta and Homs for over a year. However, having failed to break the will of the people through prolonged siege and violence, the regime has now dispatched mercenaries to these areas to bolster the blockade, until the people starve to death under continuous shelling.
According to the news coming from the besieged areas, the price of one kilo of sugar—if you can find this on the market in the first place—has jumped to SYP 3,000, compared to just SYP 169 prior to the siege.
As for the price of one kilo of rice, it has jumped to SYP 2,200, compared to just SYP 50 not so long ago. As for bread, well it has become virtually impossible to find a single loaf of bread anywhere in these areas.
A friend of mine told me that he was lucky enough to be in possession of some bread last month when he met some children with distended stomachs. The children’s mother begged him for a small piece of bread for each child, and my friend returned home empty-handed. This same friend told me of a newborn baby girl who died just six days after being born, as her mother was unable to produce even a single drop of milk to feed the baby, as she herself had not eaten for ten days. The mother died shortly afterwards.
Assad’s army, having failed to regain control of Eastern and Western Ghouta through force of arms, attempted to regain control of some villages and towns through deception and fraud. The military leadership offered to lift the siege, if the town’s defenders would just let them in. When the fighters refused the offer, the Syrian military launched a large-scale heavy shelling campaign, specifically targeting civilians. The army tightened the siege, completely cutting off these regions from the outside world. Following this, the army purchased all the food and commodities it could lay its hands on, attempting to starve the people out. This is why the price of food has increased so much, while many foodstuffs are not just expensive, they are non-existent. There is no sugar, and people are having trouble finding anything to eat or drink. As a result of this terrible situation, people are starving to death on a daily basis, with the death toll rising by the hour. These besieged areas are on the verge of a humanitarian disaster that could claim the lives of thousands of people, whilst the world stands idly by watching the Syrian people’s misery and suffering. The international community is patting itself on the back for reaching an agreement regarding the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons. These are the same chemical weapons that he has only ever used against his own people, while the entire deal is being viewed as a victory for Israel. The chemical weapon issue is just one side of the equation: One side ensures the safety and security of what the traitor regime used to disingenuously call the “enemy,” namely Israel, while the second side moves towards completely exterminating the Syrian people by any means possible.
This equation allowed Assad to use any and all conventional weapons in his possession against the Syrian people, safe from America’s wrath. This emphasized what Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem always said, namely that the US would not act directly against Damascus. In fact, the US’s reaction towards the chemical weapons issue has served as a tacit green light for the regime, at a time when the Assad government was losing all hope of remaining in power and considering fleeing. Many of the regime’s military and civilian leadership had already taken this step, while Bashar himself was said to be close to packing his bags.
Today, the regime is using the most horrible weapon of mass destruction: starvation. All the while, the world at large and international organizations are feigning ignorance. Everybody seems content with adopting feeble verbal stances expressing opposition of what is happening, but declining to take any action on the ground against this criminal regime, whose criminal and inhumane nature has been revealed.
The Syrian regime’s violent and aggressive nature, which can only be compared with that of a foreign occupation, has also been exposed. Assad is no true Syrian, and he is killing the Syrian people simply because they do not support him. Assad is not the true leader of Syria, and he has lost any and all legitimacy, particularly as any power that he now does hold emanates from his killing of the Syrian people, rather than serving their affairs and interests. This policy of mass starvation will fail to break the Syrian people, who persists in their march towards freedom amidst an ocean of blood. The besieged Syrian people continue to stand tall after over a year of starvation, despite the massive death toll. The Syrian people in these two besieged districts are calling for the world to loosen the death-grip that the Assad regime has on them, saving whoever can still be saved, while not allowing negativity and defeatism to rule.


On The Uselessness Of The Debate
Husam Itani/Al Hayat
Activists and writers are trying to refute and criticize the discourse of the Jihadist Takfiri groups, by using means drawn from the same system of ideas and doctrines on which the Takfiris are basing their opinions, visions, and sentences.The activists are thus trying to show these Takfiris’ deficiencies and ignorance when it comes to the principles and sciences of religion, jurisprudence, and the Islamic Sharia’a in general, as well as the spread of selectiveness and the absence of a strict methodology governing the issuance of fatwas and the establishment of the origins of jurisprudence, in order to shed light on the false practices of the Takfiris, along with their actions that are harming the interests of the Nation. This approach was recently put forward in the context of the search for tools to deter the threat which has started to be posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the Syrian revolution and the future of the country and its civil society, not to mention the clear services this faction is offering – whether intentionally or unintentionally – to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
But in our opinion, this is a useless effort. Indeed, criticizing the ideology of the Takfiris belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant among other organizations, is much like the attempts to expose the contradictions of rejectionism and the emptiness and decadence of its discourse. This is due to the fact that criticism, exposure and revelations are inefficient tools when accompanied by the complete disregarding of a complex structure of interests, identities and belongings. In addition, criticism is either based on a balance of determined political powers or is non-existent, as it turns into sentimental reflections that have no role in determining the course of change. As for its necessity as a cultural work, it is a completely different issue. For example, is it not puzzling that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant managed to control wide Syrian areas whose liberation cost thousands of martyrs and wounded and massive destruction? Does this not require a look into the social and political environment providing this parasitical organization with elements of strength, immunity and the ability to face all the formations of the Free Army and exploit their contradictions and disputes as it has happened and is still happening in Rakka and Aazaz? Despite the countless journalistic material talking about the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, it is very rare for the reader to encounter a report capable of helping him understand the social base supporting, protecting and facilitating the expansion of the organization. And blaming the intelligence formations of the regime, the alliance between the remaining thugs and the immigrants and the role of foreign intelligence services, is not enough to explain the strength of this phenomenon and the reason why it is not being stopped before it spreads.
As for the talk about responding to and refuting the organization’s discourse, by relying on logic and debates and by shedding light on the right speech and the right opinion, it is much similar to what the Arabs tried to do at the level of their conflict with Israel. Indeed, throughout decades, it was believed that the West and the world will change their biased opinion in favor of Israel, if the undeniable justness of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian rights is shown. But those advocating this opinion refused to recognize that the size of international interests in supporting Israel, its stability and security, exceeds by far the size of the world’s sympathy with the Palestinian tragedy. And today, the Palestinian cause has reached its known predicament. Therefore, the issue is neither cognitive nor ideological. It is not about the extent of the commitment or divergence away from the Sharia’a, and is not necessarily limited to the replacement of a false awareness with the right one. It is primarily linked to the transformations introduced by the current revolutions in Arab societies, at the level of their realities, developmental levels, social structures, and financial interests. Today, the setbacks witnessed in the Arab spring countries are a mere facet of the rebellion of local forces, and the interference of other regional forces along courses that did not rise up to the level of their revolutionary claims. Hence, the current stage might appear to be extremely ambiguous, while waiting for reorganization in societies standing on the thresholds of change.


The Costs Of America's Retrenchment And Russia's Activity
Walid Choucair/Al Hayat
The parties to Russian-American negotiation over getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria are trading concessions with the parties to negotiation over Iran's nuclear program. They are doing this carefully and in parallel, with calculated steps. The results of this process will not appear quickly, due to the linkage between agreeing on one issue with agreeing on the other.
By abandoning a military strike against Syria, the US guaranteed that Russia would continue to cooperate with it and other great powers when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. In turn, Iran offered a concession to these countries, by accepting for the first time since 2007 surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities, in a later stage, and its readiness to prove that it does not seek to possess nuclear weapons by accepting 20 percent uranium enrichment. At least, this is what was leaked from the discussions of the 5+1 countries with Iran in Geneva two weeks ago.
However, these mutual concessions continue to worry a number of countries that are concerned with the crisis in Syria and the spread of Iranian influence in a number of countries for the past two decades. These states fear that the agreement on chemical weapons will lead to giving up on a political solution to the Syrian crisis and on the idea of regime change. They fear it will lead to merely placing controls on Iran's nuclear program so that sanctions on Tehran are eased, while leaving its intervention in a number of countries subject to local balances of power. However, those who are observing the evolution of negotiations between the US and Russia, and between Iran and western countries, over two WMD programs, rule out the idea that the resulting agreements will stand. These observers believe that the fate of the regime in Syria and the political solution, and Iran's role, will have to be discussed, going so far as to cover a comprehensive deal on Iran's regional influence.
The basic key in Syria, which needs to control chemical weapons, is more of a Russian presence on the ground, to protect the long-term process of getting rid of these weapons. The estimates by experts indicate that Moscow needs more than 5,000 soldiers and civilian experts on the ground during this phase. It is unlikely that these weapons can be dismantled without the presence of UN experts requiring military-security protection under the umbrella of peacekeeping troops, who might be even more in number. The irony is that Moscow is once again entering the region with military force, while the US is withdrawing; in the first place Moscow should ask for international protection for its presence, so that its military presence does not come to resemble America's failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. This requires a resolution in the United Nations Security Council with American support, and while Washington will not likely object to such a thing, it will be subject in turn to new rounds of bargaining between the two countries.
Here, we should note what was leaked from Moscow about 50,000 Christians from Greater Damascus areas asking for Russian citizenship, to protect them from terrorists. Logically, it would be difficult to naturalize 50,000 Syrians in one go; instead what is needed is to guarantee the protection of those people, by Russian forces. This is an additional reason for a Russian military presence in the future.
In summary, the complications of the Syrian crisis will not allow the political settlement to be limited to the chemical weapons issue. The objective conditions of a proxy war being waged in Syria will require the world's leading powers to discuss an agreement that goes beyond chemical weapons.
While it is true that the US, Russia and Iran have agreed to fight terrorists and extremist groups in Syria, Washington's policy to prevent the opposition's defeat is still in place. Thus, Secretary of State John Kerry was keen to say that ending the Syrian crisis is not possible if Bashar Assad remains in power. Kerry's comments dispelled doubts in Arab and Gulf countries that his earlier praise for Assad in getting rid of chemical weapons meant the US would accept his remaining president. However, Washington also acknowledges that it will take time to see the agreement with Moscow about a political solution at Geneva 2 include the departure of Assad, and this will prolong the misery of the Syrian people. This scenario assumes that it is impossible to end this crisis with military intervention, as proved by the failed experiment in Iraq. As for the Iranian nuclear issue, Washington is defending its openness to Iran because it can only respond to positive signals from Tehran, and it is keen to affirm that it is waiting for deeds, not words, from the Iranian leadership. The US is also recalling its regional interests, and repeating that it will not abandon its key allies, namely the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The irony is that Washington, despite its agreement with Moscow over preserving stability in Lebanon, is very anxious about this small country entering the spring of 2014 in a state of limbo when it comes to its Cabinet, and its president, and possibly unable to hold parliamentary elections next fall. Does this mean that Lebanon will be left to its fate, because the priorities are Syria and Iran?

Oil, Gas, and the New Relationship between the United States and Russia
Raghida Dergham/Al Hayat
The compass of the geopolitical strategic balance of power is turning towards a qualitative relationship between the United States and Russia, following a phase of tension in their relationship, the features of which had clearly appeared first with regard to the issue of Syria. The reason for this is certainly not the American-Russian understanding over the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, reached two months ago, despite its limited importance. Neither is the reason solely the new state of intimacy achieved by the American-Iranian relationship, after it had been a relationship of truce seeking at the core in the first place. Nor is it the start of talks on the nuclear issue with Tehran – despite its importance. Indeed, the main link between America’s interests and those of Russia is that they have both become oil and gas giants – and both want understanding and cooperation between the two oil and gas superpowers. The United States has recently discovered the size of its own oil and gas wealth – colossal wealth that has come as a result of the discovery of underground shale oil and gas deposits in and around US territory, in what has become known as the “Shale Revolution”. Russia has waged its war in Syria for several reasons, one of the most important and most prominent of them being to prevent the passage of natural gas pipelines from Qatar through Syria to Turkey then Europe – as this would have the potential to shatter Russia’s monopoly on natural gas wealth revenue in the European market in particular. Part of the “Grand Bargain” that is taking shape involves the relationship between the United States and Russia, in light of the fact that the two of them together control the largest and most important oil and gas reserves in the world. From here, one can begin to answer questions about the concerns felt in the Middle East region – and in particular in the Arab Gulf region. Indeed, the latter is wondering what could have led to the current situation in Syria, with Iran and within the framework of the relationship between the United States and the Arab Gulf, of which the main feature had been oil from the Gulf in exchange for American security guarantees for Arab Gulf countries. To be sure, Iran is doing well on the back of the renewed relationship between the United States and Russia. And so is China. As for the losers, as it appears so far at least, they are Europe as well as Arab countries.
One of the questions that have caused a great deal of perplexity for many years is this: why did the United States rush to withdraw from Iraq without leaving a foothold for itself in the form of military bases or otherwise, after it had heavily invested in a costly war – despite the fact that some Arab countries have covered some of its financial cost? One seasoned observer provided this answer: “The Americans discovered at the time the size of their own wealth of oil and gas, and thus decided that they had no need for Iraq’s oil and for its reserves, nor for the claims they had made about the Iraq War having been for the sake of democracy and freedom. They thus rushed out of there after having spent trillions of dollars. Indeed, the strategic equation had changed, and it required rushing to withdraw without anything in return”.
The pattern of instant abandonment without warning is not new to American policy. In fact, the United States has historically had a reputation based on abandoning allies once there are no more benefits to be reaped from them. What is new is that what has been discovered under President Barack Obama exceeds many times over what had begun to appear under former President George W. Bush. It should in fact be stressed that the plans for withdrawal from Iraq were drawn up at the end of the Bush era, and then the Obama administration came and implemented them hastily and with unusually great speed.
Such a pattern and such a reputation are a cause for embarrassment for some in the United States, where long-term strategic decision-makers, who are part not of the governing administration but rather of the “establishment,” devise strategies for decades, not years, in the country’s future. Part of this establishment pauses at such embarrassment and shame, especially as the new direction taken by the United States comes at the expense of the values which America had claimed to be an integral part of its structure that it would never abandon, no matter what. The other part says: “so be it” – America no longer needs to satisfy anyone or to pay the bill for being provided with oil and gas. Indeed, it is no longer in need. America wants to restore its finances. As for values such as humanitarian intervention, insistence on human rights, or refusing to stand idly by and watch crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed, they are at the moment harmful to the strategic equation and to necessary alliances.
Russia seems to be at the top of the list of such alliances, regardless of the nature of the government there and regardless of – superficially – apparent differences. Russia has allied itself with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who the Obama administration says has lost his legitimacy and whom it accuses of having used chemical weapons against his own people. Yet this has not been an obstacle to the major rapprochement that has recently occurred.
Part of what has been happening recently is that Qatar has withdrawn from the battle over Syria, and that the war of gas pipelines between Russia and Qatar has thus come to a stop. Some say that the United States inspired, or endorsed, the transformation in Qatar’s stance, which was accompanied by change at the highest level of power and the start of a new era in Qatar. At any rate, Russia views this as a victory for itself in terms of the future of its own natural gas wealth. Indeed, Qatar had the ability to obstruct Russia due to the amount of natural gas at its disposal, and pipelines to Europe would have had the potential to dwarf Russia’s natural gas wealth.
Iran, as asserted by a well-informed and trusted source, had been at the forefront of opposition to natural gas pipelines stretching across Syria and Turkey. And Iran has fought in Syria and for Syria not just for the sake of the regional role it insists on playing, but equally so for reasons that fall under oil and gas considerations.
Iran is still exporting its oil despite being subjected to American and international sanctions. The largest importers of oil from Iran are China and India, as asserted by the CEO of the Total oil company during a very productive session at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York last week, which brought together Christophe de Margerie from France’s Total and the CEO of pioneering Italian oil and gas company ENI, Paolo Scaroni. De Margerie asserted that what Iran was exporting to China and India was not necessarily part of the “exemption,” while another expert said that the United States had been the one to provide such an extent of exemption for China to obtain large quantities of Iranian oil. Indeed, Iran continues to pump oil despite sanctions, at a rate of two million barrels a day. And China is comfortable with this, especially as it is paying discounted prices.
Europe is likely to lose the most as a result of the Shale Revolution, which Europe may or may not join. This is also because Europe falls between the grips of the United States and Russia, and will not be able to compete. In fact, it may well be forced to consider Russia to have become “Europe’s Texas.”
Paolo Scaroni frankly says that natural gas prices in Europe remain three times higher than they are in the United States, and that the cost of electricity is more than twice what it is in America. Thus, Scaroni says, “for me it’s very hard to imagine how Europe can recover and start again a process of re-industrialization with such a differential in the cost of electricity and gas. This is going to be a major issue for Europeans.”
Regarding the production of shale oil, on the other hand, the quantity is not yet known at the international level, but “in any case, shale oil is going to be expensive, not cheap,” according to Scaroni. Thus, American energy independence will not help Europe. Rather, “Europe is worse off as far as industrial competitiveness is concerned, no doubt about that. And Japan, as well, because to have as a competitor in terms of cost America is very different than having as competitor Qatar or, I don’t know, Iran. America is already very competitive, in terms of labor, in terms of market, in terms of business-friendly environment, et cetera. If on top of that you add a huge differential in energy, I hardly can imagine anybody making an energy-intensive investment in Europe”.
De Margerie agrees and points to ownership, laws, and technological capabilities, coming to the conclusion that the Shale Revolution is not an international revolution, but rather an American one. Even if there were major underground deposits of oil and gas in and around Europe, the cost of extracting them would be too high. They both agree that the leadership role in exploring Europe’s future in the field of shale oil would go to Britain.
Scaroni considers that, if no shale gas is found in Europe or if it proves impossible to extract, “the only thing I’m looking very much forward, no, so 20 years from now, is to think that our Texas will be Russia. Now, why I’m saying that? Because we have Russia next to us with unlimited resources of gas, unlimited. And they need to have a big customer.” This is why the major oil and gas companies will be investing intensively in Russia in the next two decades. China might possess its own wealth of shale gas, yet it continues to rely primarily on oil imports from Africa, alongside Iran.
De Margerie considers that the United States’ problem is that it will be pumping as much shale oil as it possibly can and will be suffering from “instability.” This is why it would be wise for it to pay heed to traditional factors of stability in the world of oil, and in particular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. De Margerie also says that Libya had shocked oil companies, because the Libyans decided to stop exporting oil, but not to stop producing it, and that “production cannot be continuing because, I mean, they don’t export.”
De Margerie adds, addressing the Americans: “I can tell you, if you don’t have the equivalent of Saudi Arabia, you will not make it (…) let’s be careful. Let’s talk with the Saudis.”
Scaroni points to the fact that ENI is working intensively in North Africa, adding that “Personally, I’m confident that Algeria – there are strong institutions, very strong institutions (…) will go ahead relatively smoothly”. Egypt too seems to be “heading towards stability. We have never lost one barrel of oil production all along this period. We are the biggest producer of oil and gas in Egypt, which makes me think that the people are aware that they need desperately to continue to produce oil and gas.” Even in Libya, Scaroni is optimistic on the long run – unlike De Margerie, who said that if he had not already invested in Libya, he would not invest in it today. ENI has to be optimistic because it is producing 300 thousand barrels of oil a day in Libya, but it is also because “I cannot believe that the Libyans, who are wise, will – will throw away the wealth they have (…) [and] destroy all this”.
The Shale Revolution will profoundly affect the balance of energy, its sources and the weight carried by its exporters, locally, internationally and within the framework of bilateral relations.
Whether Arab oil has been a blessing or a curse for the region, the Shale Revolution could worsen the curse or multiply the blessing. It all depends on how the Arabs will adapt to the new developments in the field of oil and gas, and to the relationship between the United States and Russia, which raises them once again to the rank of giants, yet his time in the field of oil and gas, and not necessarily in terms of cold war.

Rejection is better than capitulation
By: Hussein Shobokshi/Asharq Alawsat
It was natural that the Saudis would celebrate their country being elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council for the first time in history, describe this event as being both important and exceptional in Riyadh’s remarkable history of diplomacy. However, Riyadh subsequently came out to reject joining the Security Council in light of the international body’s mismanagement of political issues, as well as its double standards in addressing the world’s major crises. Saudi Arabia made the Syrian revolution one of the pillars of its foreign policy, and it has now come out to complain about the Security Council’s tacit support of the systematic violence and murder taking place there. On one hand, both Russia and China have overtly supported Bashar Al-Assad regime which continues its merciless killing of the Syrian people. On the other hand, there is the US, the UK, and France that do not provide the Syrian opposition with the full military and political support needed to resolve the battle with Assad. Consequently, all sides in their own way are extending the life of this bloody and criminal regime, and thus allowing it to continue killing and destroying its people using unprecedentedly brutal methods. In fact, the Syrian regime has used every weapon in its arsenal to kill its own people.
Saudi Arabia believes that the Security Council fell short of carrying out all of the duties and responsibilities the international community has entrusted it with to preserve peace and protect nations. The Security Council’s stance towards the Syrian crisis contradicts the positions it adopted regarding the tragedies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, and Libya. Its attitude then was clear and explicit, taking a strong stand towards protection innocent people from violence and ethnic cleansing. All of this has changed in the case of the Syrian revolution. The international community completely failed to support this wronged nation, thus transforming the Syrian revolution into one of the tragedies of modern times as well as a major international humanitarian crisis given the death toll, as well as the number of people who have been internally and externally displaced. This is not to mention the psychological implications of the Syrian crisis and the complete destruction of the infrastructure in most of Syria’s major cities.
Saudi Arabia chose to decline a seat on the UN Security Council out of its moral duty towards the Syrian people and as a response to the double standards and contradiction in the Security Council’s decision-making.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry showed its teeth when deciding to take major steps to support the decision of the Egyptian street and public in their second revolution, supporting it by all possible means including political, diplomatic, and economic. Riyadh has now done the same regarding the Syrian revolution, taking a forceful position that cannot be overlooked.
Saudi diplomacy is known for its calm approach and for working diligently behind the scenes, rather than pursuing confrontation. This is something that was reaffirmed in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’s Hajj message. King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz stressed that Saudi Arabia would not allow external interventions to determine the fates of the Arab and Islamic people or humiliate them, continuing its great approach in fighting all forms of terrorism, oppression, and violence. In fact, the Kingdom’s recent decision took everyone by surprise. Even those most familiar with the secrets of decision-making within Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy did not expect this, particularly given that Saudi’s own UN delegation was working hard to secure the votes to be elected in the first place. Saudi Arabia’s rejection of membership is a historic decision which is to be credited and is far more important than a two-year membership rendered valueless in the light of the Security Council’s double standards and protection of tyrants. Syria is not the only problem; there is the Iranian nuclear file, Israel’s chemical arsenal, and the many UN resolutions that Israel has failed to respect. For all of these reasons, Saudi Arabia had to reject a seat that ultimately would have gained them nothing. However, by rejecting this seat in this manner, Saudi Arabia has increased its international stature.