October 24/2013

Bible Quotation for today/More Warnings

Proverbs 06/01-19: "My child, have you promised to be responsible for someone else's debts?  Have you been caught by your own words, trapped by your own promises? Well then, my child, you are in that person's power, but this is how to get out of it: hurry to him, and beg him to release you.  Don't let yourself go to sleep or even stop to rest.  Get out of the trap like a bird or a deer escaping from a hunter. Lazy people should learn a lesson from the way ants live. They have no leader, chief, or ruler,  but they store up their food during the summer, getting ready for winter. How long is the lazy man going to lie around? When is he ever going to get up?  “I'll just take a short nap,” he says; “I'll fold my hands and rest a while.” But while he sleeps, poverty will attack him like an armed robber.

Worthless, wicked people go around telling lies.  They wink and make gestures to deceive you,  all the while planning evil in their perverted minds, stirring up trouble everywhere.  Because of this, disaster will strike them without warning, and they will be fatally wounded. There are seven things that the Lord hates and cannot tolerate: •A proud look, •a lying tongue, •hands that kill innocent people, •a mind that thinks up wicked plans, •feet that hurry off to do evil, •a witness who tells one lie after another, •and someone who stirs up trouble among friends."


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For October 23/13

Lebanon: The search is on for President’s successor/By Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/October 24/13

To President Al Assad: What elections/The Daily Star/October 24/13

Will the Battle for Qalamoun torpedo Geneva II/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/October 24/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For October 24/13
Lebanese Related News

Report: IAF jets destroy weapons shipment from Syria to Hezbollah
Obama Backs Formation of New Cabinet as U.S. Remembers 1983 Beirut Blast

Saudi ex-Spy Chief: Lebanon on Brink of Civil War because of Hizbullah Agenda

Israel Vows to Stop Syria Arms Transfers to Hizbullah amid Report of Border Airstrike

Legislative Session Postponed Despite Extensive Efforts to Resolve Disputes

Qatar emir vows to help secure bishops’ release

28 wounded in north Lebanon clashes

One Dead, Several Wounded as Clashes Resume in Tripoli

Cautious Calm in Tripoli after Two Killed in Clashes over Syria

Geagea Warns All Lebanese Will Hold Arms if Hizbullah Attempts System Change

March 14: A State that Contacts Ali Mamlouk Does Not Respect Itself or the People

Hammana Residents Block Highway to Protest Dam Project

Army Seizes Weapons-Laden Car Coming from Syria near Arsal

Military Court Probes Baalbek Attack as Soldiers Come Under Fire Again

Jumblat Slams Saniora's Stance from Parliamentary Session, Lauds Berri

Berri Slams al-Mustaqbal, Rejects to Budge an Inch on Parliamentary Dispute

Miscellaneous Reports And News

US, Israel differ over how to resolve Iran nuke issue

Syria to Submit Chemical Plan ahead of Deadline, Says Watchdog
Hopes for Syria peace meet fade as rebels dig in heels

Syria Frees 14 Women Detainees after Release of Lebanese Pilgrims
U.S. Intel Chief: Le Monde Allegations 'Inaccurate and Misleading'

Israel: Failure of Talks with Palestinians Could Harm Us

Syria Rebels Advance towards Weapons Depots, Says NGO

Oslo Considers U.S. Request to Help Destroy Syrian Chemical Arsenal
Brahimi Insists on Political Solution in Syria

Canada Shares UN Human Rights Report’s Concerns About Iran
Netanyahu airs fears of Iran compromise as he meets Kerry in Rom

Germany's Merkel calls Obama over suspicion US monitored her phone
After stumbling in Syria, NSC pushes blame on to Obama

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas signs cooperation accord with Bashar Assad

Canada Shares UN Human Rights Report’s Concerns About Iran

October 23, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement after the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, released a report noting substantial human rights concerns in the country: “Since President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June, Iranians and the international community have been expecting the President to deliver on the many pledges made to voters. “However, since that time, there have been at least 125 executions and an unknown but substantial number of Iranian prisoners have been sentenced to death and are facing imminent execution. “Iran has sought to portray itself as having embarked on a new era of openness, such as by releasing a number of prominent prisoners of conscience on the eve of the UN General Assembly meeting. While we are relieved that these prisoners have been released, this report makes it absolutely clear that real reforms will require substantial efforts by the Ayatollah Khamenei’s Islamic Republic of Iran to address the brutal human rights violations that persist.
“Canada very much hopes to see the Islamic Republic of Iran engage actively and meaningfully with the Special Rapporteur on these issues of profound importance for the people of Iran, an engagement essential in any hope for freedom and prosperity for a people who have been denied both for too long.”
A backgrounder follows.
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Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
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Backgrounder - Human Rights Violations in Iran
Iran’s execution rate is among the highest of any country in the world, with Amnesty International reporting that at least 508 people have been executed so far in 2013. Drug-related offences constitute the majority of executions, with an estimated 4,000 Afghan nationals in Iran currently on death row for drug-related crimes. Transparency and due process remain elusive as Iranian authorities continue to flout their own domestic laws with impunity. Floggings, limb amputations, crucifixion and the possible execution of juveniles remain enshrined in law while the new penal code retains stoning as a possible means of execution. Those who speak out about these issues also continue to be dealt with harshly. It is estimated that at least 500 human rights defenders currently remain behind bars. Censorship continues and freedom of association remains restricted. Journalists, bloggers and online activists are frequently intimidated, harassed and detained.

Obama Backs Formation of New Cabinet as U.S. Remembers 1983 Beirut Blast

Naharnet/U.S. President Barack Obama stressed on Wednesday commitment to promoting Lebanon’s stability and supported the Lebanese people in their effort to form a new government as the U.S. marks 30 years since the deadly Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. In a statement on the anniversary of the attack that left 241 Americans dead in 1983, Obama condemned the “despicable act of terrorism,” which was the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. Marine Corps since the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima. “We join with the families and their loved ones in paying tribute to the fallen and in sharing our deep appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice made in service to our nation. We also honor the courage and bravery of those warriors who survived the attack and spent days digging their brothers out of the rubble,” he said. A ceremony will be held at the U.S. Embassy in Awkar and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos will speak at a memorial bordering Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Many of the 241 Americans killed on Oct. 23, 1983, were members of Camp Lejeune's 24th Marine Amphibious Unit. A suicide truck-bomber attacked the military barracks Beirut that was home to a U.S. peacekeeping force. The bombing was blamed on Hizbullah. Obama renewed “commitment to promoting Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence and to our partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces.” “We continue to support the Lebanese people as they seek to form a government that reflects their aspirations and that will strengthen Lebanon’s ability to defend its national interests and meet its international obligations,” he said in the statement.

Berri Slams al-Mustaqbal, Rejects to Budge an Inch on Parliamentary Dispute

Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri rejected on Wednesday to budge an inch on his call for a two-day parliamentary session, holding on to the agenda of the session and rejecting any pressure exerted on him to modify it. “I presume that the legal quorum will be provided during Wednesday’s session after the Free Patriotic Movement's positive stance,” Berri said in an Interview with As Safir newspaper. He pointed out that he is keen to ensure that all the Lebanese parties are present at any legislative session. FPM leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc agreed after its weekly meeting in Rabieh to reactivate the work of the parliament “as there are social priorities that need to be addressed.”Aoun's bloc has boycotted previous calls by Berri to attend legislative sessions over the speaker's failure to include his bloc's items on the session's agenda. Berri slammed in his comments to As Safir the statement issued by al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc on Tuesday, stressing that “al-Mustaqbal and its allies insistence to boycott the parliament and paralyze the legislative work is harming people's interest.”
“This team has no problem in interpreting the constitution according to its needs,” the speaker said. “The fate of the country depends on the formation of the cabinet,” he added. The controversial two-day legislative session that Berri called for is set to discuss 45 items on its agenda, the same session that has been boycotted for five times since July over differences on whether the parliament can convene amid a resigned government or not. The previous sessions were boycotted by the March 14 coalition, caretaker PM Najib Miqati and Aoun's bloc. Miqati and the March 14 alliance argue that the parliament can only discuss urgent items amid a resigned cabinet. Head of al-Mustaqbal Parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora told reporters after talks with Berri, on the sidelines of a session set to elect the parliament's bureau committee members and the parliamentary committees members, that Wednesday's session is “unconstitutional.” Berri described the boycott as a “disguised dictatorship.”“I've informed them (Miqati and Saniora) that the resignation of the premier should not block the work of the government and the parliament,” he noted.Berri said that he proposed to Saniora to hold the session according to the announced agenda but “as a speaker I would postpone the voting on the draft-laws that al-Mustaqbal bloc rejects.”“But the response was negative,” he told As Safir.

Geagea Warns All Lebanese Will Hold Arms if Hizbullah Attempts System Change

Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea has warned that all Lebanese factions would hold arms and confront a possible attempt by Hizbullah to impose a change in the political system.In an interview with Alriyadh newspaper published on Wednesday, Geagea said: “If Hizbullah considers any such a move then every Lebanese group will hold arms.” He stressed that any attempt by Hizbullah to make a “constitutional coup” is “totally rejected in Lebanon.” “The powerful does not impose anything,” he said in response to a question on a possible endeavor by the party to make changes to the Lebanese political system. Geagea has warned in previous interviews that Hizbullah and its backers are seeking through their demographic size to change the balance created by the Taef Accord. He said Lebanon has been suffering from a “system crisis,” which could be resolved if Lebanese officials assumed their full responsibilities in guaranteeing the safety of the system and holding onto the Taef. In Wednesday's interview, the LF chief again denied that he was a candidate for the presidency.
But he said that he is bringing the issue up because the top post has been neglected and marginalized since the end of the civil war in 1990. “I will continue to discuss about it until we reach serious presidential elections,” he said.
Geagea rejected attempts by the March 8 alliance to push for the candidacy of his rival Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, saying however that he was ready to cooperate with him “to bring a powerful and effective president who can take appropriate decisions.” President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May 2014 but there are fears that differences and lack of consensus among rival political parties would prevent the parliament from meeting and would lead to a vacuum in the top post. Geagea warned that “vacuum poses a danger to the Lebanese system.” “It is the responsibility of the MP to participate in a session to elect the president no matter what his opinion is,” he said. “We will work on making that happen.”

Jumblat Slams Saniora's Stance from Parliamentary Session, Lauds Berri

Naharnet /Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat has criticized al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc, describing its leader MP Fouad Saniora's stance from a two-day parliamentary session on Wednesday as “not encouraging.”In remarks to An Nahar newspaper, Jumblat said: “Saniora's stance from the session is negative and not encouraging.”But the PSP chief, who is also the head of the National Struggle Front bloc, lauded Speaker Nabih Berri, saying “he is always keen on achieving consensus.” Al-Mustaqbal bloc said following its weekly meeting on Tuesday that “the constitutional reasons for boycotting the previous legislative sessions remain the same.”
It reiterated its rejection to participate in a parliamentary session amid a resigned government, saying there should be legislation on urgent issues only. Saniora met with Berri in parliament on Tuesday. He described the talks as “very good,” but said al-Mustaqbal will boycott the two-day session that Berri has called for to discuss an agenda of 45 items. Several sessions with the same items on the agenda have failed to convene since July for lack of quorum. An Nahar said that Jumblat and Berri held a telephone conversation on Tuesday to discuss the parliamentary session. The speaker informed him about the result of his talks with Saniora, it added.

Ibrahim Meets Assad over Abducted Bishops

Naharnet/General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad to discuss the case of the bishops kidnapped by armed men in Syria in April, the state-run National News Agency reported Wednesday. NNA did not say when the meeting took place. But al-Liwaa newspaper reported Wednesday that Ibrahim traveled to neighboring Syria the day before to follow up the case of Bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi. For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, who headed to Qatar on Tuesday on a three-day official visit at an invitation from Qatar's ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will meet with senior officials and address the case of the bishops. According to al-Liwaa, al-Rahi will urge Qatari officials to cooperate with the Lebanese state to reveal the fate of the two bishops. Ibrahim and Yazigi were kidnapped on April 23 in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo while they were on a humanitarian work. Turkish sources told the newspaper that Ankara didn't acquire enough information on the condition of the two bishops and whether they are still alive or not. “Ankara doesn't consider itself directly concerned with the matter,” the sources pointed out. Ibrahim had played an important role in securing a three-way exchange deal reached last week.
It saw Syrian rebels release nine Lebanese pilgrims held for 17 months. Two Turkish pilots held since August were also released in Beirut. Syrian activists said Wednesday that the government has freed 13 jailed women. The move is possibly part of the exchange. Ibrahim had said that some imprisoned Syrian women were to be released to meet rebel demands. The deal was brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority.

28 wounded in north Lebanon clashes
October 23, 2013/By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Schools across the northern city of Tripoli remained closed Wednesday as the total number of wounded from the two days of sporadic clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad rose to 28. Fighters in the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood exchanged rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and assault rifle fire with rival militants in nearby Jabal Mohsen, a mainly Alawite neighborhood loyal to Assad. Lebanese troops responded by firing into the air as the fighting between the two sides raised fears that a new wave of violence could rock Tripoli, a security source told The Daily Star.
Lebanese Army commandos briefly deployed at the Hariri Project area, located between Baqqar and Jabal Mohsen, only to pull out at 4 a.m., the source added. The clashes significantly tapered off around 5 a.m. However, police warned citizens against travel along the highway connecting Tripoli with Akkar due to sniper fire. Meanwhile, private and public schools across Tripoli remained closed for the second day Wednesday. A 13-year-old boy identified as Daniel Ahmad was killed and 14 people were wounded in fighting in the city Tuesday. Clashes first broke out Monday evening following Assad’s appearance on a television interview, but subsided later at night. The fighting broke the calm that had largely prevailed since the government's deployment of a security plan to preserve peace and stability in the northern city. The plan came into affect weeks after two car bombs exploded at separate mosques in the city, killing 47 people and wounding over 100. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has moved to his residence in Tripoli to follow up on the situation there. While there, Mikati also met with the city's Mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar who recently returned to Lebanon after nearly a year abroad for security reasons.

Cautious Calm in Tripoli after Two Killed in Clashes over Syria

Naharnet/Gunfire in the northern city of Tripoli injured two children on Wednesday when their bus came under fire in al-Rifa area. The three-day gunfight in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad has so far killed two people and injured 30 others. The Lebanese army also fortified its presence in Syria street, which separates the two neighborhoods. According to the state-run National News Agency, new armored personnel carrier were deployed in the city near Abu Ali roundabout. Early on Wednesday, "gunmen from the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh tried storming each other's districts", a security official said. "The army fought them off, in a battle that raged at around 3:00 am (00:00 GMT)." The violence forced families from both districts to flee their homes for other areas of Tripoli, said an Agence France Presse correspondent in Lebanon's second city. Most of Tripoli's schools stayed closed on Wednesday because of the violence. President Michel Suleiman held talks with caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami on the situation in Tripoli and the need for the army and security forces to contain the unrest and restore calm. For his part, Mustaqbal bloc MP Mohammed Kabbara slammed a security plan established by the security forces to maintain the situation in Tripoli, describing it as a “farce.” The MP lashed out at politicians during a press conference, considering that they failed in resolving the situation in the northern city. Kabbara reiterated that Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati has announced previously the lifting of political cover off violators. He noted that the clashes demolish the image of the northern city. "Two people have been killed since Monday night. One of them was a 13-year-old child, the other a 32-year-old man. Thirty other people have been wounded," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. The clashes broke out on Monday night as an interview with Assad was being aired on television. The 13-year-old victim was from Jabal Mohsen, a majority Alawite neighborhood in the northern port city of Tripoli whose residents support Assad. The man killed was from Bab al-Tabbaneh, whose Sunni inhabitants support the anti-Assad revolt in neighboring Syria. Source/Agence France Presse

The search is on for President’s successor
October 23, 2013 /By Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
President Michel Sleiman has resigned himself to the fact that his mandate will not be extended when it expires in May, despite the best efforts of a number of several powerful figures who support him, political sources told The Daily Star. The countdown to the end of his term has begun, and political and diplomatic circles have already started discussing possible successors, the sources said, adding, however, that much will depend on regional developments between now and May, particularly regarding the crisis in Syria. Sleiman has reportedly begun launching heated attacks against a particular political party over its blatant rejection of and disregard for the Baabda Declaration, accusing them of “trickery.” Those close to him say that Sleiman’s frankness indicates that he has given up on a new term. Moreover, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have indefinitely postponed his visits, another sign that the clock on his tenure is ticking and unlikely to be rewound. Perhaps even more telling, most Christian political leaders and the Maronite patriarch have all publicly called for holding presidential elections on time. Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai has taken pains to affirm his support for the president while emphasizing his rejection of the extension on grounds of principle and constitutionality. Christian political circles have indicated that a handful of Future Movement MPs who want Sleiman’s term extended are not enough, adding that they will never be able to achieve a two-thirds quorum needed in Parliament to approve it. Sleiman has reportedly told those close to him that he would not pursue an extension or renewal of his own mandate, but would make use of the rest of his term by continuing with his official duties. In fact, sources close to the president say Sleiman has taken a new approach to the internal political stalemate, using official visits, ribbon-cuttings, luncheons and events to speak more candidly than he had in the past.
He has also decided to pursue a new approach to the political stalemate by carrying out his duties while ignoring the Mikati caretaker government as much as possible. For example, earlier this week he chaired a high-level security meeting at which neither caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel nor caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn were in attendance, despite the fact that Charbel had met with Sleiman that very day at the presidential palace. The same political sources see this “new method” of ignoring Mikati’s caretaker government will end with Sleiman refusing to cede power to a resigned government if they are unable to elect his successor. However, visitors to Baabda Palace have argued that this would be unconstitutional because the decree accepting Mikati’s resignation must be issued at the same time as the decrees appointing the prime minister-designate and announcing the formation of a government, suggesting that the current government is still legal. These procedures have been in place since independence in order to guard against a vacuum in the executive branch, the visitors have stressed.
Neither the office of the president nor sources close to him have denied comments attributed to the president regarding the “unconstitutionality” of Mikati’s government. The caretaker prime minister, for his part, has not commented on Sleiman’s attacks, with sources at the Grand Serail describing the atmosphere as one of “stony silence.”Other sources say Sleiman’s comments on Mikati’s government echo the fears of his advisers, who are pushing the president to sign decrees establishing a fait accompli government just before his mandate ends.

Legislative Session Postponed Despite Extensive Efforts to Resolve Disputes
Naharnet/A two-day parliamentary session was postponed for the sixth time on Wednesday over lack of quorum amid sharp rift between the March 14 alliance and Speaker Nabih Berri on its constitutionality. The session was postponed to November 20. The controversial legislative session that Speaker Nabih Berri called for is set to discuss 45 items on its agenda, the same session that has been boycotted for five times since July over differences on whether the parliament can convene amid a resigned government or not. The previous sessions were boycotted by the March 14 coalition, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati and Aoun's bloc. Miqati and the March 14 alliance argue that the parliament can only discuss urgent items amid a resigned cabinet. Despite extensive efforts to resolve the dispute, head of al-Mustaqbal Parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora told reporters after talks with Berri, on the sidelines of a session the day before set to elect the parliament's bureau committee members and the parliamentary committees members, that Wednesday's session is “unconstitutional.” However, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc agreed after its weekly meeting in Rabieh on Tuesday to reactivate the work of the parliament “as there are social priorities that need to be addressed.”Aoun's bloc has boycotted previous calls by Berri to attend legislative sessions over the speaker's failure to include his bloc's items on the session's agenda.

Saudi ex-Spy Chief: Lebanon on Brink of Civil War because of Hizbullah Agenda
Naharnet/Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal has warned that “Lebanon is on the brink of civil war as Hizbullah continues to implement its own agenda without giving any consideration to law and order.”
The party “is willing to risk the foundations on which the entire Lebanese political system was built in order to prevent the collapse of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and impede the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that is probing the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri,” al-Faisal said in a lecture he delivered at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington. “Saudi Arabia believes that the law needs to be imposed in Lebanon and it supports all efforts aimed at putting an end to Hizbullah's intervention in Syria and bringing its leaders who are suspected of being involved in the Hariri murder to court,” the ex-spy chief added, according to the Central News Agency.

Hammana Residents Block Highway to Protest Dam Project

Naharnet/Hammana residents on Wednesday staged a sit-in and blocked the Dahr al-Baidar international highway at the Falougha intersection, state-run National News Agency reported. The move comes in protest at the inauguration of the al-Qaisamani dam project in the Falougha area, “which might in the future affect the drinking water supply in Hammana,” NNA said.Earlier on Wednesday, schools had suspended classes and church bells were rung in protest, the agency added.

Army Seizes Weapons-Laden Car Coming from Syria near Arsal

Naharnet /The Lebanese army said troops seized Wednesday in the Wadi Hmayyed area an arms-laden car coming from Syria and arrested its four Syrian passengers. “As part of the mission of controlling the Lebanese-Syrian border, army forces intercepted this morning in the Wadi Hmayyed-Arsal area a dark blue Geely car that entered from Syria illegally,” an army statement said. Four Syrian nationals were arrested and a quantity of machineguns, pistols, ammunition, military equipment and hand grenades was found in their possession, the statement added. “The detainees and the seized items were referred to the relevant authorities and a probe has been launched under the supervision of the judiciary,” it said. On September 29, the army announced seizing a Syria-bound truck loaded with “obsolete” ammunition in the border town of Arsal. According to LBCI television, the truck came from the northern border region of Wadi Khaled. On September 25, the army said a Syrian man was killed and two others were wounded after troops fired on a van that failed to stop at a checkpoint in Arsal.

Qatar emir vows to help secure bishops’ release
October 23, 2013/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani vowed Wednesday to help secure the release of the kidnapped bishops in Syria as Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim held talks with President Bashar Assad over the same issue.During talks with Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Doha, the emir said "he would exert all efforts to resolve the case of the bishops."He affirmed to Rai his commitment to the Christian presence in Lebanon and the Middle East. The Qatari emir also said that the Lebanese case is his top priority and that his country supported stability in the tiny Mediterranean state. Rai had said in remarks upon his departure to Doha Tuesday evening that he would request Qatar’s help in winning the release of the bishops who were kidnapped in April near the Syria-Turkey border.
“Certainly, we will ask the emir of Qatar and Qatari officials to put up their best effort with us and with the involved state to determine the fate of the bishops and three other priests kidnapped months ago,” Rai said from Beirut airport before heading to Doha on an official visit. Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted in April by armed men near the Turkish border.
Rai also met with Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani. Meanwhile, Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s General Security, met with Assad in Damascus to discuss the case of the bishops, the National News Agency reported. Ibrahim has been tasked by the Lebanese government to follow up on the case of the bishops in Syria.
Qatar News Agency said Rai expressed to Tamim his “gratitude and appreciation" for Doha’s role in securing the weekend release of the nine Lebanese Shiite men held for 17 months by Syrian rebels.
Two Turkish Airlines pilots abducted in Beirut were also released Saturday as part of the swap deal chiefly brokered by Doha. “We hope that all people wherever they are being unjustly detained be freed,” Rai added.
The Maronite Catholic patriarch also expressed hope that Qatar will play a “positive role” just as it did in securing the release last week of nine Lebanese pilgrims in exchange for two Turkish pilots.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi whose brother is one of the abducted bishops said that officials were dealing with the case with a high level of seriousness but there were no new developments.
"There is nothing new in their case but we hope and pray,” Yazigi told reporters after meeting with Greek religious figures.“The president, the [caretaker] interior minister and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim have called me and all the contacts affirm that there is a high level of seriousness toward the issue,” he added. Greek Orthodox Bishop of Mexico Antonios Shadrawi held the international and local community responsible for the continued abduction of the bishops, saying "kidnappings do not frighten us." He also called for serious efforts to help release the prelates. In Qatar, Rai also said he would call for closer cooperation between Beirut and Gulf countries.
“When we visit these [Gulf] countries we speak Lebanese as we cannot separate between the various components of Lebanon,” he said. “This is Lebanon’s value.”

March 14: A State that Contacts Ali Mamlouk Does Not Respect Itself or the People
Naharnet /The March 14 General Secretariat hailed on Wednesday the release of the nine Lebanese pilgrims who were held in Syria's Aazaz region, but questioned how negotiations were carried out with Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk in the case. It said in a statement after its weekly meeting: “A state that meets and negotiates with Mamlouk, who is wanted by Lebanon's judiciary, is not a state that respects itself or its people.”
General Security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who played a major role in the release of the pilgrims, had contacted and met with Mamlouk as part of negotiations to free the captives. Mamlouk and former Minister Michel Samaha are wanted by Lebanon on charges of transporting explosives to the country in order to carry out terrorist attacks. Moreover, the General Secretariat condemned the “scandalous” popular reception for the pilgrims that took place at the Rafik Hariri International Airport on Saturday, saying that it is a sign that Hizbullah is still in control of the facility. “A state that respects itself would hold an official welcome for the pilgrims at the airport, while leaving the popular ones for the streets,” it remarked. A raucous reception was held for the pilgrims by their loved ones at the airport after they were released from captivity that last 17 months.
Addressing the release of the pilgrims, the March 14 General Secretariat hoped that their release will pave the way for tackling the case of “all prisoners and captives unjustly held in Syria.”
The manner in which the pilgrims were released “demonstrated once again that those who possess illegitimate arms and are capable of kidnapping innocents with total disregard to the state's agencies, are able to ensure the release of their loved ones,” it noted in reference to the abduction of two Turkish pilots in Beirut in August in retaliation to the pilgrims' kidnapping. “Those banking on the rule of law, judiciary, and government will however have to wait a long long time for the release of any loved ones,” it remarked. The Turkish pilots were released soon after the pilgrims were freed. “The General Secretariat is committed, now more than ever, to the state and the implementation of laws and it will never cease demanding that Hizbullah, similar to all Lebanese, abide by the laws of Lebanon and not the other way around,” it declared.
“The release of the pilgrims however will not be complete without the release of Bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi and all Lebanese journalists, including Samir Kassab,” it stated.
The General Secretariat questioned how national, regional, and international efforts are exerted to release certain captives and not others. The two bishops were kidnapped in Syria in April, while Kassab, his Mauritanian colleague Ishak Moctar and their Syrian driver, went missing in Syria's Aleppo region last week.

Military Court Probes Baalbek Attack as Soldiers Come Under Fire Again
Naharnet/State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr launched an investigation into a shooting at the army in the eastern city of Baalbek, an attack that occurred again on Wednesday. Saqr tasked security agencies and the army's intelligence with carrying out the initial investigation under his supervision and find Tuesday's shooters. The army said in a communique on Tuesday that several armed assailants opened fire on a military patrol and escaped. It said three soldiers were also lightly injured when a military checkpoint came under fire at the entrance to Baalbek's al-Sharawneh neighborhood. The army later arrested several suspects and seized stolen vehicles and a certain amount of drugs during raids on their hideouts. The search for the assailants continued on Wednesday, but the army again came under fire. It was not clear if there were any casualties.
The National News Agency later reported that the army succeeded in arresting two suspects linked to kidnappings in Lebanon. It said that an army unity, backed by armored vehicles, raided the Bekaa town of Brital after it received leads on the recent kidnapping and release of pharmacist Wissam al-Khatib. The unit managed to arrest Hussein Ahmed Saleh and a Palestinian, Mohammed Khrayzat, in the operation.
Al-Khatib was abducted on September 29 as he was opening his pharmacy that lies on the main road of the town of Karak in the eastern district of Zahle.He was released in his hometown of Kfarzabad in the central Bekaa valley on October 15.

Israel Vows to Stop Syria Arms Transfers to Hizbullah amid Report of Border Airstrike

Naharnet/Israel reiterated Wednesday it would act to prevent any transfer of advanced arms to "militants" during the conflict in Syria, as a newspaper reported an Israeli airstrike along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, speaking at the parliamentary foreign and defense committee, said Israel was closely monitoring the situation in Syria and the regime's moves to dismantle its chemical arms.
"So far the regime is upholding its commitment," he said in remarks relayed by his office. "We are following the issue, and continue to maintain our red lines on Syria -- not to allow the transfer of advanced Syrian weapons to hostile hands, especially Hizbullah," he said. Yaalon said Israel would "not allow the passage of chemical weapons, which until now they haven't even tried to transfer."His comments came as Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, citing an official in Jerusalem, said Israeli warplanes had on Monday hit a convoy carrying advanced missiles along the Syria-Lebanon border bound for Hizbullah. An Israeli defense official refused to comment on the report, which did not state whether the strike took place inside Lebanese or Syrian territory. Israel has carried out several air strikes inside Syria this year that officials said were aimed at preventing shipments of advanced weapons to Hizbullah.
Source/Agence France Presse

Syria to Submit Chemical Plan ahead of Deadline, Says Watchdog

Naharnet /Syria is expected to hand over a detailed plan for the destruction of its chemical arsenal in the next 24 hours, days ahead of deadline, the world's watchdog said Wednesday. The detailed plan is the next step for Damascus under the terms of a U.S.-Russian deal to head off military strikes on Syria agreed last month which calls for all its chemicals to be destroyed by mid-2014. "We expect Syria's initial declaration of its chemical weapons program within the next 24 hours," spokesman Michael Luhan told reporters in The Hague, where the OPCW is based. President Bashar Assad's regime has already handed over an inventory of its chemicals, weapons and facilities, and international inspectors are already busy inspecting and destroying them. Syria has until October 27 (Sunday) to submit its "initial" plan of how to destroy its weapons, in accordance with Article III of the Chemical Weapons Convention. A joint OPCW-United Nations mission has now checked 18 of 23 declared sites in Syria, destroying production equipment at almost all of them, Luhan said.
Damascus is required to submit its declaration by Sunday in accordance with deadlines set by the OPCW's Executive Council and enforced by a UN Security Council resolution. The OPCW's Executive Council will use the Syrian declaration to decide by November 15 on "destruction milestones" for Syria's arsenal. With the first stage of the OPCW's work in Syria nearing completion, Luhan said that some inspectors would be leaving Damascus next week, temporarily reducing the watchdog's staff there from 28 to 15. The combined OPCW-U.N. team in Syria is currently around 60-strong. "We're reaching the end of this first stage, during which we needed to verify the chemical warfare program by visiting all the disclosed sites," Luhan said. A combined OPCW-U.N. logistics team has also been deployed to nearby Cyprus, he added. Mission coordinator Sigrid Kaag said in Damascus on Tuesday that Syria was cooperating with the task of destroying its chemical stockpile. The U.N. Security Council last month passed a resolution backed by the OPCW agreement to destroy the arsenal after hundreds of people were killed in sarin gas attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. The United States threatened military strikes, but then reached a deal with key Damascus backer Russia.Source/Agence France Presse

U.S. Intel Chief: Le Monde Allegations 'Inaccurate and Misleading'

Naharnet /The U.S. intelligence chief said Tuesday that articles published by the French newspaper Le Monde about America's espionage activities abroad "contain inaccurate and misleading information."Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the specific allegation that the National Security Agency collected more than 70 million "recordings of French citizens' telephone data" was false. "While we are not going to discuss the details of our activities, we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States gathers intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," Clapper said in a statement. "The U.S. collects intelligence to protect the nation, its interests, and its allies from, among other things, threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." Citing documents from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Le Monde reported Monday that the NSA taped 70.3 million phone calls in France over a 30-day period between December 10 and January 8, 2013. The newspaper said the documents gave grounds to think the NSA targeted not only people suspected of being involved in terrorism, but also high-profile individuals from the world of business or politics. It followed up on Tuesday by publishing details of U.S. spying on French embassies around the world.
In a phone call with President Barack Obama, French leader Francois Hollande expressed "deep disapproval," saying according to his office that such practices were "unacceptable between friends and allies."
In Paris, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius used a breakfast meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to demand a full explanation of the claims. Clapper, in his short statement, sought to defuse the row by highlighting the close relationship between Washington and Paris. "The United States values our longstanding friendship and alliance with France and we will continue to cooperate on security and intelligence matters going forward," he said.Source/Agence France Presse

Syria Frees 14 Women Detainees after Release of Lebanese Pilgrims

Naharnet /Syrian authorities have released 14 women detainees as part of a weekend hostage exchange but dozens of others are still being held, a prominent human rights activist said Wednesday. Nine Lebanese hostages held for 17 months by a rebel group in northern Syria were exchanged on Saturday for two Turkish pilots held in Lebanon since August. The release of scores of female detainees held in regime jails formed part of the deal brokered by Turkey, Qatar and Lebanon. "Fourteen of the women whose names were on the list" were freed late Tuesday, activist Sema Nassar told Agence France Presse. "For their own safety, they will have to leave the country." Among them was a cancer patient who had been imprisoned twice before and whose husband has been killed in Syria's 31-month-old conflict, said Nassar. "Another 128 women whose names were on the list have yet to be set free," she said. There has been no official comment in Damascus on the women detainees. Tens of thousands of people are being detained by the Syrian regime, many of them without trial, activists say. Rights groups say torture and ill-treatment are systematic in Syria's jails.Source/Agence France Presse

Hopes for Syria peace meet fade as rebels dig in heels

October 23, 2013/Agence France Presse/DAMASCUS: Prospects for a Syria peace conference in Geneva next month looked dim Wednesday after key opposition leaders spurned efforts by Western and Arab powers to persuade them to attend. A meeting in London between the opposition leaders and 11 key countries of the so-called Friends of Syria on Tuesday produced little more than an accord that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play no future role in government. But leaders of the National Coalition -- the main opposition umbrella group -- insisted they would not take part in a conference in late November if any regime members were there, sticking to their demand that Assad's departure was essential. A defiant Assad has shown no sign of backing down after a two-and-a-half-year civil war that has left more than 115,000 people dead, saying he was ready to run for re-election in 2014.Assad has systematically refused to recognise the Coalition as a legitimate negotiating partner and rejected its demands for him to step down. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the London meeting had urged the Coalition to "commit itself fully" to the so-called Geneva 2 talks. He said the Friends of Syria agreed that they would put their "united and collective weight" behind efforts to form a transitional government and that "Assad would play no role in that future government of Syria." US Secretary of State John Kerry took a similar position, saying Assad had "lost all legitimacy."
But he too urged the opposition to go to Geneva, saying Syria was at risk of "implosion" if the war continued and that the only alternative to a negotiated settlement was "continued if not increased killing."
The opposition is due to meet at the start of November to finalise its position on the Geneva talks, which would be a follow-up to a conference held there in June 2012.
'No negotiations if Assad departure not on table' But Coalition head Ahmad Jarba appeared to be in no mood to compromise. "The only thing we are willing to negotiate is a transfer of all power and then the departure of the mass killer (Assad)," he said. "If what is asked is a way out that leads to the fall of the criminal Assad and the handover of power and for the war criminals on all sides to be put on trial, we welcome Geneva 2."
And he said the talks could only succeed if humanitarian corridors are opened to two Damascus suburbs and the Old City of Homs under siege by the army, and if women and children in detention be freed.
"We cannot sit at the negotiating table while, in some areas, children are dying of hunger and women are being tortured in jails."
Notably absent from the London meeting was key Syria ally Russia, which has dismissed such gatherings in the past, saying they do not represent all the Syrian people.
Washington and Moscow have been trying to organise the Geneva conference on the heels of the deal they reached for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons after a deadly poison gas attack in August widely blamed on Damascus. But Assad dealt an early blow to peace hopes, saying in an interview Monday that the factors are not in place for the conference to succeed.
"No time has been set, and the factors are not yet in place if we want (Geneva 2) to succeed," Assad told Lebanon-based satellite channel Al-Mayadeen, adding that there was no guarantee about "which forces are taking part."
UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet again on November 5 with US and Russian officials to prepare for the Geneva talks, the UN announced Tuesday. That meeting will be followed by one with the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China and France, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. In other developments, prominent human rights activist Sema Nassar told AFP Wednesday that Syrian authorities have released 14 women detainees as part of a weekend hostage exchange but that dozens of others are still being held. Nine Lebanese Shiite hostages held by a rebel group in northern Syria were exchanged on Saturday for two Turkish pilots abducted in retaliation. And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting in Quneitra province, near the Israeli border, had killed and wounded 20 loyalists, while militants said there was fighting in various parts of the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham.

US, Israel differ over how to resolve Iran nuke issue

October 23, 2013/By Arshad Mohammed/Reuters
ROME: U.S. and Israeli officials differed over Iran's nuclear programme on Wednesday as Israel called for its effective dismantlement and the United States suggested safeguards could show that it is peaceful rather than military. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke as they began talks ostensibly about Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations but which appeared likely to be overshadowed by Iran. "Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn't have centrifuges (for) enrichment, they shouldn't have a plutonium heavy-water plant, which is used only for nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told reporters. "They should get rid of (their amassed) fissile material, and they shouldn't have underground nuclear facilities, (which are) underground for one reason - for military purposes." He called Iran's programme the region's foremost security problem. Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for electricity and medical treatments, not nuclear weapons. Kerry, whose aides are exploring a diplomatic solution to rein in Iranian nuclear activity, took a tack different from Netanyahu by suggesting Iran could show its programme was peaceful by adhering to international standards followed by other nations. "We will pursue a diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programmes are indeed peaceful," Kerry said as he and Netanyahu began a meeting at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Rome. "We will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world that whatever programme is pursued is indeed a peaceful programme," he told reporters. Six global powers held talks with Iran last week in Geneva to test whether a diplomatic resolution might be reached, their first such negotiations since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election in June opened up possibilities for a deal after years of increasing confrontation. A second round of these talks, which include Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, is scheduled for early November, also in Geneva. Iran cites a right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a 1970 global pact to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
But the United States has said Iran does not automatically have this right under international law because, it argues, Tehran is in violation of its obligations under counter-proliferation safeguards.
A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006 has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment and heavy water related activities. But Western experts say, and some diplomats privately acknowledge, that it is no longer realistic to expect Iran to halt all its enrichment, as the Islamic state has sharply expanded this work in the last seven years and it is seen as a source of national pride and prestige. Instead, they say, any deal should set strict, verifiable limits on the number of centrifuges that Iran can have and on the production of low-enriched uranium.

To President Al Assad: What elections?
October 23, 2013/The Daily Star
The world was treated to yet another media appearance Monday by the president of Syria, who mentioned his personal struggle over whether to seek another term as head of state.
In recent months, a barrage of media appearances by Bashar Assad has allowed the Syrian president to take the lead role in a relentless propaganda campaign. Naturally, all sides in a military conflict engage in such tactics – our forces are making progress, and the enemy is incurring losses. But Assad is also locked in a political conflict, both at home and abroad. During the interview, which as usual was conducted with a friendly media outlet, Assad played coy as he talked about his “re-election” chances. On the one hand, stating a desire to stand for another term was a clear attempt by Assad to throw the opposition into disarray as preparations are ramped up for the Geneva II peace conference. Opposition figures are loudly demanding guarantees that Assad’s exit be part of the Geneva II process, and a declaration of an intent to run again is the logical way to sow confusion.
But Assad’s media strategy is not a particularly sophisticated one. The first question that comes to mind is how to hold elections next year. Do the Syrian authorities have any notion of how they could pull off such an achievement, with much of the country’s territory either out of their control, or under fire from rebel groups? Do the authorities intend to open their friendly embassies abroad to receive the votes of several million displaced Syrians? The entire question of elections with the current regime overseeing them is a red herring; the latest Syrian Constitution, enacted last year, has a ready-made solution for any turbulent situation on the ground. Article 78 says that if elections cannot be held, then the current president remains in power until further notice.
It doesn’t require a lot effort to imagine how Syrian officials will begin shifting their rhetoric over the coming months – from “things are going our way” to “it has become impossible to hold an election because of the difficult situation on the ground.” Meanwhile, the opposition has its own problems. The National Coalition has stuck firmly to its condition that Assad must go, but it is hamstrung by its lack of control over rebel forces on the ground. But its condition is based on the fact that Geneva II means that there was a Geneva I – and that meeting produced a document that talked about an executive transitional authority with full powers – this means power cannot be shared with Assad, remaining on in some official capacity. In the end, both sides are setting down their conditions and counter-conditions in a way that suggests they, and their backers, are content to let events on the ground settle things. But have all of these parties fully considered what a prolonged conflict will mean for the future of Syria and the region?

DEBKAfile Exclusive: Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas signs cooperation accord with Bashar Assad

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report October 23, 2013,/
They sign a secret deal behind everyone's backs
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas this week signed a secret cooperation agreement with President Bashar Assad, debkafile reveals here for the first time from its exclusive military and intelligence sources. They concluded the deal unbeknownst to US Secretary of State John Kerry, shortly before he sat down in Rome Wednesday, Oct. 23, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss West Bank security arrangements and administer a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Our sources reveal that Abbas, the first Arab leader to break ranks with the united Arab front against Assad, was also the first to deal with the Syria ruler on behalf of a minority fighting against the Damascus regime, .e. the Palestinians. Abbas signed a pledge that Palestinian fighters would withdraw from Syrian rebel ranks, lay down their arms and undertake to end their challenge to the Syrian president and his army. The Abbas-Assad deal may bear on American and Russian efforts to convene Geneva 2 for a political solution of the Syrian conflict on Nov. 23. The Palestinian desertion from the Syrian opposition front alters its internal balance and may change the minds of some of the Syrian opposition groups which planned to boycott the conference.
Our sources confrm that the Palestinian leader made his move behind American backs. Kerry apparently went into his meeting with Netanyahu in Rome ignorant of what was afoot.
Assad too acted without the knowledge of his Iranian and Hizballah allies. Suspicions that something was up between Damascus and Ramallah started stirring only Tuesday night, Oct. 22.
Also Tuesday night, the draft of the accord signed in Damascus was delivered to Ramallah by the personal helicopter of Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensor. He arrived too together with Abbas’s special emissary to Damascus, who had signed the document in the name of the PA chairman.
DEBKA Weekly’s coming edition out Friday carries exclusive coverage of how the secret deal was negotiated between the Palestinian leader and the Syrian president and its terms. To subcribe to DEBKA click here.

Will the Battle for Qalamoun torpedo Geneva II?
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Whose stance should we believe in? Is it possible to gamble on pledges?
Within a period of a few hours, the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reiterated remarks indicating that he has nothing new to offer with regards to ending the suffering of the Syrian people, eloquently stating that he “doesn’t see any obstacles to him being nominated to stand at the next presidential elections.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, from his end, said that Geneva II will seek to implement the outcomes of Geneva 1—namely, the formation of an effective transitional power that does not include any place for a president who has done what he has done against his own people and country.
In any country in the world, the president—more precisely the head of the executive authority—would resign when his or her government falls short of dealing with a natural disaster, or when a member of the cabinet is involved in a scandal. Many presidents did indeed resign throughout the modern history of Europe’s democracies. In Britain, for example, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was on the verge of resigning over the so-called Profumo Affair—a sex scandal involving his Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, who was having an affair with a call girl who was at the same time close to a Soviet security official.
What I mean is that the president is responsible—at least morally—for what befalls his country, or the mistakes committed by his ministers and advisers. This is doubly the case if the president himself is the one issuing orders to shell cities and sending pro-regime Shabiha militias out to murder, displace, and starve the citizens. However, here we come face-to-face with a sensitive issue which must not be underestimated.
Is Bashar Al-Assad truly in a position of responsibility? Is he the one who plans, coordinates, and executes? Is he the one who directs battles, and before that, does he know why they are being fought?
John Kerry publicly stated on Tuesday that Assad’s army would not have survived were it not for the support it has received from Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shi’ite militias. Moreover, everyone knows the role being played by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the Syrian conflict. The Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah once famously boasted of his pride in being a soldier in the army of the vali al-faqih (Guardian of Jurists.) This means that he is just following orders, and therefore does not have the final say regarding the deployment of thousands of Lebanon’s Shi’ite youth in the depths of the Syrian conflict.
The latest developments over the past few days point to a looming new battle with important strategic dimensions along Lebanon’s eastern borders with Syria in the Al-Qalamoun region. This strategically important battle has been entrusted to Hezbollah and the Iraqi militias.
There the side which is running the Assad regime’s battle—in addition to its media campaigns—is planning to increase the pressure on the Syrian rebels—the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamist forces. They are seeking to push back the rebels by intensifying the on-going attacks on the southern suburbs of Damascus, cutting off the rebel from the Hauran region, launching an all-out offensive against Al-Zabadani and Al-Qalamoun, and ultimately breaking the rebels’ lines of communication with Lebanon. According to recent reports, Hezbollah is preparing to deploy around 15,000 fighters for this pivotal battle whose repercussions—if the Shi’ite militias are victorious—will be extremely serious for the Sunni enclaves in north-eastern Lebanon.
The recent diplomatic activities, including Tuesday’s London Meeting and Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts, are taking place in-step with the military preparations of the Damascus regime—and its masters—who are trying to impose a new situation on the ground. Assad on Tuesday was openly skeptical about the possibility of holding Geneva II or it producing any tangible results.
This uncertain situation is not encouraging to any side keen on truly putting an end to the Syrian people’s plight.
Tehran, Moscow, Beijing, and Damascus interpret Washington’s insistence on the impossibility of a military solution to the Syrian crisis as a call for striking a deal similar to the chemical weapons’ deal between Russia and the US. Consequently, the entire crisis would become a process of “haggling” to reach an agreeable price, at the expense of the Syrian people’s fate and their country’s sovereignty, which in any case does not exist anymore in practice.  On the other hand, the “true and genuine” Syrian opposition—whose components agree on one thing only, the fall of the regime—is required to come to Geneva without setting conditions.
Ever since the public uprising erupted—initially with peaceful protests—the Syrian opposition forces have repeatedly said that the only thing they wanted was the departure of Assad and anyone involved in the oppression of the Syrian people. They never sought to destroy the country’s infrastructure or institutions. However, the international community—represented by the “friends” of Assad and the alleged “friends” of Syria—have allowed the Syrian president and his supporters to turn the conflict into a massacre of civilians, and thus set the stage for Syria to serve as an incubator for Jihadist and Takfirist forces.
These groups have become a pretext for the international community refraining from resolving the crisis, while it was not long before their relationship with the local environment in northern and eastern Syria quickly deteriorated. In reality, were it not for the regime’s oppression and open sectarianism, these groups would have lost significant support and popularity across the country, including Damascus.
The international community’s ambivalence, if it continues, will give Tehran the green light to start the Battle for Qalamoun. This will also serve to accelerate the enactment of the sectarian segregation scenario in Lebanon, Syria’s ailing neighbor. In fact, Lebanon will serve as a ready-made sectarian link for “Western Syria” if the plans for partition go in accordance with some of the regional and international players’ wishes.
If Syria is truly divided, then all possible prohibitions would be lifted. Lebanon—with its fragile balance—would be unable to distance itself from the new geopolitical situation, while Jordan or Iraq would also be unable to overcome the religious and tribal consequences of this sectarian segregation. In fact, neither Israel nor Turkey would be able to withstand the repercussions of the redrawing of the regional map—something that will also play into sectarian radicalism.
At this juncture, there is little trust among the Syrians and Arabs in the approach being adopted by international states, particularly the approach adopted by Washington. If Arab diplomacy is courteous enough to avoid calling facts by their names, it would be wise for the international community to avoid continuing trying to escape forward.
Israel, at the moment, is comfortable with this polarizing Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry while Russia seems to be happy to see Syria transformed into a quagmire for its Caucasus’ extremists, as well as an embarrassment for Ankara. Tehran, in turn, benefits by being able to flex its muscles and present its credentials as being a part of the solution and a reliable regional partner to Washington.
As for the international community, it appears to be preoccupied with who will win the Nobel Peace Prize next year!