April 03/14


Bible Quotation for today/Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Mark 4,33-41/: "With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 03/14

Arab state’s ‘Iran problem’ is reflected in Washington/By. Walid Phares/Al Arabiyia/ April 03/14

How Syria's Civil War Threatens Lebanon's Fragile Peace/By: David Schenker/Los Angeles Times/ April 03/14

Human heads in al-Qaeda's cooking pot/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia/April 03/14
The Battle for the Syrian Coast/By: Michel Kilo/Asharq Al Awsat/April 03/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 03/14
Lebanese Related News

Aoun Says Will Not Run in Presidential Race if Mustaqbal Endorses Geagea

Cabinet Passes 10 Appointments including Hammoud, Basbous, Forms Panel on Oil Decrees

Rifi Says May Visit Jabal Mohsen, Seeking 'Stronger' Dialogue with Hizbullah
Rockets from Syria kill one in northeast Lebanon

Lebanon public sector strikes over pay raise

Lebanese Parliament approves amended EDL draft law
Lebanon army expands operation in restive Tripoli

Hezbollah sticking to its secretive ways
Maronite Bishops Appeal for 'Strong' President Capable of Protecting 'Sovereignty'

Suleiman Says New President Should be 'Strong,' 'Loyal to Lebanon'

SCC Goes on Strike as Salameh Questions Feasibility of Funding New Wage Scale from Taxes

March 14 Lauds Tripoli Security Plan, Hopes All Wanted Suspects Will Be Arrested

U.S. Diplomat Urges Lebanon to Swiftly Kick Off Offshore Gas and Oil Exploration

Report: Geagea to Launch Election Campaign Within Days

Report: Vatican Officials Pushing for Election of President with Strongest Representation

Miscellaneous Reports And News'

Pollard deal could tear coalition apart

Hamas says peace talk troubles 'no surprise', call for action to end 'occupation'

Palestinians Hope Kerry will Renew Peace Push 'in Days'
Kerry scrambles to save his torpedoed peace effort
Abbas dumps another US-led peace effort, Kerry gives up on shuttle, Pollard release recedes

'Obama faces stiff opposition on Capitol Hill to freeing Pollard'
Iran rejects Yemen charges of meddling

Egypt police general killed in Cairo campus blasts
Two killed in Cairo University blasts

Jailed Brotherhood leader mocks Egypt courts

Chile Orders Evacuation as 8.2-Magnitude Quake Kills 6

Qatar Emir Visits Sudan at Time of Gulf Tensions

Syria Opposition Says Chief Visits Latakia 

Maronite Bishops Appeal for 'Strong' President Capable of Protecting 'Sovereignty'

Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/The Council of Maronite Bishops urged the parliament on Wednesday to choose a “strong and capable” president who would seek to protect Lebanon's sovereignty.The council issued a statement following its monthly meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki, saying “political parties and mainly MPs should carry out their duties and choose a strong and capable president” before the Constitutional deadline expires.The new head of state should be able to “confront challenges, and build the state's institutions, its unity and sovereignty,” it said. The deadline, which started on March 25, compels all parties to deal with the presidential elections based on the Constitution and the rotation of power, the bishops said. They called for unity between the ministers of Prime Minister Tammam Salam's 24-member government, saying they should take “responsible decisions.” The statement strongly condemned the attempt to kidnap Bishop Semaan Atallah in the eastern Bekaa Valley last month, urging the government and the armed forces to take necessary measures to end the kidnapping phenomenon and bring the perpetrators to justice. It welcomed the release of the Maalula nuns, hoping for more efforts to set free bishops kidnapped in Syria and Lebanese who have been jailed in the neighboring country since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. The nuns, who were kidnapped by armed rebels from the Syrian town of Maalula in December, were released last month. The Maronite bishops also welcomed a security plan implemented in the northern city Tripoli, hoping it would be enforced in other hotspots as well.

Suleiman Says New President Should be 'Strong,' 'Loyal to Lebanon'

Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/President Michel Suleiman called on Wednesday for the election of a strong head of state, who pledges full loyalty to Lebanon. “The new president should be strong, not weak… and consensual if possible or should belong to a certain political camp and be fully loyal to Lebanon,” Suleiman said during a ceremony at Baabda Palace. He should follow up the discussions on the national defense strategy and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Suleiman stressed as he launched an administrative decentralization plan. “We can't build a state without having a defense strategy to protect everyone, including the resistance,” he said. “The new president should seek to implement the decisions reached at the national dialogue ... including the Baabda Declaration,” he added. Decentralization consolidates national unity and diversity, said Suleiman. It avoids obstruction of work at state insinuations, allows youth to participate in governance and creates an incentive for good performance, he stated. Suleiman said the decentralization plan also encourages partnership between the public and private sector, creating job opportunities for the youth. Suleiman said transparency is a major aspect of the plan. “It would allow citizens to hold officials accountable.” The president lauded the armed forces on their security plan in the northern city of Tripoli and the areas bordering Syria in the Bekaa Valley, saying they have been successful in thwarting terrorist activities. But he stressed the importance of establishing a police unit at the level of the district. Suleiman hoped the decentralization plan would become a draft-law so that the cabinet approves the decree before his term expires on May 25


Cabinet Passes 10 Appointments including Hammoud, Basbous, Forms Panel on Oil Decrees
Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/The cabinet on Wednesday approved ten administrative appointments after they were postponed Monday over reasons that turned out to be “sectarian,” as it tasked a ministerial committee with studying the two oil exploration decrees. According to al-Jadeed TV, the cabinet passed 10 appointments, including those of Prosecutor General Samir Hammoud and Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, who had been serving in caretaker capacity. Meanwhile, OTV said the appointments respected sectarian balance among Christians and Muslims. Ahmed Hamdan was appointed as head of the Audit Bureau, Faten Younis as director of political affairs at the Ministry of Interior and Mansour Daou as governor of the South. Moreover, Jean Abou Fadel was named as director of the National Employment Office, Habib Merhi as a health and agricultural inspector and Hanna al-Amil as director of the sugar beet bureau. “The cabinet appointed a governor for Akkar, in the first such decision since it became a governorate,” al-Manar television reported.
Meanwhile, Kamal Hayek retained his post as director general of Electricite Du Liban as Lina Dergham was appointed as director general of the Ministry of Industry. In the wake of the appointments, President Michel Suleiman announced that "the rest of the appointments will be approved in the coming sessions and all vacancies will be filled." The president asked the ministers to return with the names of their candidates in order to fill vacancies at all ministries. The cabinet had postponed the appointments on Monday after disputes forced it to suspend the session for over an hour. Amid Suleiman's insistence during that session on passing the appointments of Hammoud and Basbous to secure the implementation of the security plan, the ministers of the March 8 forces had stressed that the appointments must be approved as "one package." Turning to the issue of oil exploration, which has been witnessing disputes focused on contracts and maritime blocs, the cabinet decided to form a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam to study the decrees that are needed to launch the process. According to LBCI, the committee comprises the ministers Samir Moqbel (Defense), Arthur Nazarian (Energy and Water), Mohammed al-Mashnouq (Environment), Ghazi Zoaiter (Public Works and Transport), Wael Abou Faour (Health), Jebran Bassil (Foreign Affairs), Ali Hassan Khalil (Finance) and Alain Hakim (Economy).


Rifi Says May Visit Jabal Mohsen, Seeking 'Stronger' Dialogue with Hizbullah
Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi on Wednesday announced that his political camp is seeking “stronger” communication with Hizbullah in a bid to “protect the country,” noting that he might visit the Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods amid the security plan that is being implemented in Tripoli. “The implementation of the security plan in Tripoli is very comforting,” Rifi said as he entered a cabinet session in the afternoon, stressing that “Tripoli is larger than Ashraf Rifi and all the figures.” “The challenge is to return peace to Tripoli and it is important to see our children happy and carrying their schoolbags,” Rifi, a former Internal Security Forces chief who hails from the northern city, added. He pointed out that the country has entered “a new phase.”“I hope we will continue in this atmosphere and Tripoli can only be a city of coexistence and peace,” added Rifi.
He revealed that “there is an intent to revive the channels of communication with Hizbullah in a strong manner instead of maintaining the current low-intensity contacts, in order to protect the country which has been exhausted by the Sunni-Shiite tensions.”And as Rifi underlined that the outcome of the security plan is more important than the small details, he did not rule out visiting Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh “because they are all our people.”
On Tuesday, the army and the ISF began implementing a security plan in Tripoli and the North as part of a government resolution that also involves the Bekaa and Beirut. March 8 politicians, especially Arab Democratic Party leader Rifaat Eid of Jabal Mohsen, had on several occasions accused Rifi of supporting the armed groups in Bab al-Tabbaneh. According to media reports, Eid fled the neighborhood as the security plan got underway.

Aoun Says Will Not Run in Presidential Race if Mustaqbal Endorses Geagea
Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun announced on Wednesday that he will not be a presidential candidate against Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea, if the latter gained al-Mustaqbal Movement's support. "If the March 14 coalition and al-Mustaqbal Movement announced their support for Geagea in the presidential elections, I will not nominate myself,” Aoun stated in an interview on Al-Mayadeen television. "I will not be a nominee against Samir Geagea. I don't want to run against anyone,” he added. “If conditions were favorable, I am a candidate for presidency, and I am a strong one. And if they were not, then I will not nominate myself.” “My decision is not final yet,” he noted. Aoun stressed that the same standards followed in choosing the speaker and the premier must apply to electing the new president, adding that "a presidential vacuum is possible if proper Christian representation was not respected." “It is either we respect this Christian post and Christian representation or we don't,” he said. The FPM leader remarked that without the support of the Shiites and the Druze, he will not be elected president. He also rejected comparing the FPM's popularity with that of the LF, saying parliamentary elections are a clear indication of the popular support to either parties.
On his plans if elected president, Aoun said: “Lebanon's presidents come to the post with commitments to foreign nations. I am not that type and it is not about money or power. I want to leave a legacy, and I want to offer a program that solves problems on many levels in the country.” “I have big plans for Lebanon and the country has been on the same path since 1943. We want to change this path.”
Asked about Hizbullah's resistance, Aoun commented that it would not have existed if people didn't embrace it. “The resistance gave the best results and was able to do what all armies of the world were not capable of doing. All these nations looked up to the achievements of the resistance.” He also acknowledged during the interview that he met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Italian capital Rome.
“We talked about collaboration in the future, and we opened a new chapter in bilateral relations,” he revealed. Separately, Aoun said he would have hoped that the regime in Syria was democratic and respected people's desires. “But what made us adopt a certain stance in respect to the situation in the country was our evaluation of alternatives that would prevail if the regime was overthrown,” he said,
He pointed out that Syrian President Bashar Assad's strength enabled him to endure until now, praising also the regime's "protection of Christians in the neighboring country."

March 14 Lauds Tripoli Security Plan, Hopes All Wanted Suspects Will Be Arrested

Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/The March 14 General Secretariat hailed on Wednesday the implementation of the security plan in Tripoli, hoping that it will put an end to the suffering in the northern city.
It hoped after its weekly meeting that the army and security forces will arrest all the wanted suspects, regardless of their affiliations, especially those behind the twin bombings of the Tawqa and al-Salam Mosques in August 2013. It added: “The government's bold political decision to execute the plan aims at applying the law and meeting the demands of the residents of Tripoli who, for three years, have demanded that officials put an end to their suffering.” The army and security forces kicked off on Tuesday a security plan in Tripoli aimed at putting a halt to the security unrest in the city, which has witnessed frequent gunbattles between the rival Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods. The first step of the plan took place on Tuesday in Jabal Mohsen, which saw the arrest of some 75 suspects. The second phase of the plan got underway on Wednesday in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood. Commenting on parliament's three-day legislative session that started on Tuesday, the March 14 General Secretariat deemed the talks “as the first step for lawmakers to perform their constitutional and national duties.” “They should complete these duties by staging the presidential elections on time in order to avoid vacuum,” it added. Parliament should elect a president by May 25 when President Michel Suleiman's term ends.

U.S. Diplomat Urges Lebanon to Swiftly Kick Off Offshore Gas and Oil Exploration

Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/A U.S. diplomat urged on Wednesday the Lebanese government to swiftly complete the necessary measures to kick off gas and oil exploration, denying that Israel is seeking to take Lebanon's share of its offshore natural resources. “The Lebanese state should work swiftly to follow the other eastern Mediterranean countries,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy Amos Hochstein said in an interview with As Safir newspaper. He pointed out that the gas exploration process could require 7 years. The diplomat, who held talks with Lebanese senior officials during his short trip to Beirut, considered that “he is seeking to offer Lebanon a U.S. support” in the matter. “I think the timing of my visit is perfect as it is accompanied by the formation of a new cabinet,” Hochstein noted. He ruled out reports saying that he is in Lebanon to push forward two decrees essential to award the oil blocks for oil companies. The decrees call for demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and setting up a revenue-sharing model. “I am in Lebanon to inquire about the (Lebanese) cabinet's point of view regarding this matter,” the U.S. official added. Concerning the tenders process for the licensing of offshore oil and gas exploration, Hochstein expressed belief that “the U.S. companies are excellent and the best in the world.” The country's oil and gas wealth attracted around 46 Arab and international companies in the second pre-qualification round of the tenders process. Acute discord among Lebanese officials is also delaying the awarding of 10 of the oil blocks. “Only 12 companies will be awarded, however, it all depends on the situation in the country,” the diplomat remarked. The tender has been previously postponed for several times over the failure of former Prime Minister Najib Miqati's cabinet to approve the decrees that call for demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and setting up a revenue-sharing model. Asked about the dispute between Lebanon and Israel over the two countries Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the U.S. official described negotiations as “excellent.”“Israel will not assault the Lebanese oil and gas.... It's a baseless accusation,” Hochstein said. “Israel is exploring blocks that are far away from any potential Lebanese blocks... It's working in the south,” he told the daily. Lebanon and Israel are bickering over a maritime zone that consists of about 854 square kilometers and suspected energy reserves there could generate billions of dollars. Lebanese officials continuously expressed fear that Israel's discovery of a new offshore gas field near Lebanese territorial waters means the Jewish state could siphon some of Lebanon's crude oil. “We're closely working with the United Nations in this regard,” the official stressed, noting that “negotiations are ongoing between the two sides.” In March 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 34.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes the territorial waters of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Cyprus. The U.S. had offered to mediate between the sides in an attempt to reach a solution. Beirut argues that a maritime map it submitted to the U.N. is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949, an agreement which is not contested by Israel. Hochstein held talks during his short visit to Lebanon with President Michel Suleiman, PM Tammam Salam, Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Speaker Nabih Berri's adviser Ali Hamdan, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora.

Report: Vatican Officials Pushing for Election of President with Strongest Representation

Naharnet Newsdesk 02 April 2014/A delegation from the Vatican has been holding talks with Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi and Maronite political leaders in an attempt to bring to the helm of Baabda Palace the strongest and most popular Christian politician, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Wednesday. The daily said that the delegation, which has been sent to Lebanon by Pope Francis, is moving back and forth between the papal embassy in Harissa, the seat of the Maronite church in Bkirki and the residences of the Maronite political leaders. The Vatican officials would then hold meetings with the rest of the parliamentary blocs, al-Joumhouria quoted a Vatican source as saying. The delegation has the objective of holding the presidential elections on time out of fears that vacuum would harm Christians and the post of the head of state that is reserved to Maronites under the 1943 power-sharing agreement. The representatives of the Vatican also seek to guarantee the election of the Maronite candidate with the strongest representation and the one who enjoys the most popularity among Maronites and Christians in general, the source said. “If there was no hope to elect a president who had strong representation, then discussions would focus on the election of a centrist,” it said.
The delegation would convince the four Maronite political leaders with such a proposal, which is better than vacuum, the source added. On Friday, al-Rahi chaired a meeting that brought together Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, and the head of the Marada movement, MP Suleiman Franjieh. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea did not attend the talks in Bkirki for security reasons but approved a statement issued by the conferees, saying all four of them are candidates.  They urged Speaker Nabih Berri to press ahead with a parliamentary session to elect a new president. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25. The Vatican source expected the first round of discussions of the delegation to end on April 10. He told al-Joumhouria that Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, would then visit Beirut.

Hezbollah sticking to its secretive ways
April 02, 2014 /By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star
It is known that within Hezbollah is a notable security body that works in secret, and it is perhaps the secrecy of this body that allows it to geographically transcend Lebanon to enjoy a larger regional and even international scope. The resistance’s work is largely kept secret, making it difficult for the media to get information other than what its press office wants to expose to the public, which the party considers its recipe for success.
The perfect example of this tactic came in the 2006 war, during which Israel was unable to estimate the actual size of the resistance’s capabilities, missiles or fighters. “I challenge you to obtain one picture of a fighter group on the ground in the south outside the framework of the propaganda films prepared by Hezbollah’s media office. ... This is the secret of our success,” a high-ranking party leader said.
The party official revealed to The Daily Star some of Hezbollah’s security branch’s work in fighting Al-Qaeda as it engages in an open battle with the organization and its affiliated groups in Syria and Lebanon, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. While it can speak openly about some elements of this conflict, it is being secretive about other aspects, however, for Hezbollah, its battle with takfiri groups is no less important than the conflict with Israel that began in 1982 and is still going on. The Hezbollah leader spoke to The Daily Star of the party’s principle that “its leadership and its popular base is one body that is not divided,” adding, “we have our priorities in protecting this base which has provided martyrs and wounded and prisoners and has allowed us to achieve large accomplishments and defeat Israel in a humiliating way in July 2006.”The leader said: “Experience has proved that the party’s strong attachment to the idea of unity [between the leadership and its supporters] is what made the decision obvious for the resistance leaders to protect its popular base ... in Beirut’s southern suburbs as well as in the Bekaa Valley from the rigged cars and the spate of suicide bombers. “During a short time, the security body within Hezbollah took a series of decisions ... to respond to the aggression on its people after political communications and diplomatic movement failed.” The Hezbollah leader refused to disclose his security and military plan of action, except that it included everywhere from the Bekaa Valley and Beirut to southern Lebanon, even hinting at the Shebaa Farms. He said the security body had been able to deal hard blows to takfiri strongholds within Lebanon as well as reach their secret strongholds elsewhere. The leader said the party had been able to “videotape and record some meetings that were being planned to strike the southern suburbs during Ashoura ahead of their implementation, as well as arrest the head Naim Abbas. “Some rigged cars slipped from our hands, specifically the car that exploded in Ruwaiss and the other in front of the Iranian Embassy, but we succeeded in our deterrence methods and keeping damage to a minimum.”
“Our body succeeded since the beginning in cutting the umbilical cord between the Qalamoun region and specifically Arsal – which is the natural launching point for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates inside Lebanon – and the plan culminated in great success. This includes the entry of Lebanese Army units into the area [Arsal], taking control of the security situation and recently eliminating Sami al-Atrash.”
But Hezbollah believes its real security achievement lies in the targeting of a center to rig cars inside Syria. “This center lies in a remote villa in the village of Hawsh al-Arab inside Syria. Within this cell, there were 15 wanted individuals who are the best professionals in rigging cars. Our secret lay in monitoring and wiretapping their phones, which enabled us to undergo a clean operation and eliminate the group with no losses and without touching the cars, which were ready to explode inside Lebanon.” Hezbollah is probably undertaking other, more sensitive operations that have not been exposed to the public with the party’s leadership keeping the details secret. But the leader who spoke to The Daily Star confirmed that the groups affiliated with ISIS, the Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades were now being targeted, and that their names and faces were known, something the party considers a clear symbol of its achievements.


Rockets from Syria kill one in northeast Lebanon
April 02, 2014/The Daily Star/HERMEL, Lebanon: Three rockets fired from Syria on the northeast Lebanon town of Labweh Wednesday killed a Syrian worker and wounded a Lebanese man, security sources said. The wounded man was identified as a Labweh resident from the Srour family. Two of the rockets, which caused material damage, landed near the town cemetery, the sources said. The third rocket landed at the town’s main road near a commerci al store, they added. The attack was claimed by the militant group Liwaa Ahrar al-Sunna-Baalbek, which referred to the town as a "Hezbollah stronghold."Previous such attacks against predominantly-Shiite towns and villages commonly associated with Hezbollah have been claimed by Islamist groups linked to the armed Syrian opposition, citing Hezbollah's role in the Syrian war.


Army sweeps Bab al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli crackdown
April 02, 2014 /By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army spread into new areas of Tripoli Wednesday, including the restive neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh, as part of its crackdown to restore stability in Lebanon’s second-largest city. Lebanese troops fanned out into the quarter at 4 a.m. as military helicopters fired illuminating flares, security sources told The Daily Star. The military said troops deployed in Syria Street, which separates the warring neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, as well as in the neighborhoods of Bazar and the vegetable market. “The Lebanese Army is raiding the homes of those wanted [by authorities] and is working on dismantling bunkers and earth mounds erected [during the clashes],” the Army said in a statement. The crackdown is part of a larger security plan for Akkar and Tripoli that went into effect Tuesday. Fighters from the predominantly-Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh, which backs the Syrian opposition, and the Alawite Jabal Mohsen, which enjoys close ties with the Syrian government, have engaged in at least 20 rounds of fighting since the start of the crisis in Syria. The Army said Tuesday it detained 75 individuals, including 27 Palestinians and Syrians, for suspicion of involvement in deadly clashes and confiscated large quantities of weapons and ammunition. The military failed, however, to apprehend militia leaders who went into hiding ahead of the raids.


Lebanon army expands operation in restive Tripoli
AFP, Tripoli/Wednesday, 2 April 2014/Lebanese troops on Wednesday moved into a restive Sunni area in northern Tripoli, in the second stage of a plan aimed at quelling deadly Syria-linked violence, a security source said.
Residents welcomed the deployment, saying they hoped it would help bring normality to the city. The military operation in Bab al-Tebbaneh comes a day after the army entered the Alawite district of Jabal Mohsen.
It follows orders from ministers last week for security forces to move into the city, where at least 30 people were killed in two weeks of fighting in March. Fighters in the two neighborhoods have clashed frequently in recent months, as decades-old sectarian tensions have been exacerbated by the war in neighboring Syria. Hundreds of people have been killed in Lebanese violence -- including bomb attacks and battles -- since the war in Syria broke out three years ago. “The Lebanese army completed its deployment into the flashpoint areas (of Tripoli) and army units went into Bab al-Tebbaneh this morning,” said the security source, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. “The military removed the barricades from the streets and the rooftops, and opened up the road linking Bab al-Tebbaneh to Jabal Mohsen,” he added. “They conducted raids and searched for weapons and wanted people. The troops were backed by armed vehicles, tanks and bulldozers,” said the source, though he gave no details on whether anyone was arrested. Damascus dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years until 2005, and the war in Syria has divided the Lebanese squarely into two camps -- one supporting President Bashar al-Assad, the other backing the revolt.

Parliament approves amended EDL draft law

April 02, 2014 /By Jana El Hassan/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Parliament approved Wednesday an amended version of the disputed draft law to grant contract workers at Electricite Du Liban full time employment, ending a nearly two-year struggle by the part-time employees.In three-hour hour session, lawmakers also approved a draft law to increase the seven weeks full paid maternity leave to 10 weeks. Speaker Nabih Berri called for two seperate sessions on Wednesday and Thursday next week to discuss dozens of accumulated draft laws. The EDL draft law stipulates that the Council of Civil Service would hold examinations for over 1000 workers to fill the state-owned company's vacant posts. The amendments included the worker’s demands that their expertise should be taken into consideration during the test. The amended law also agreed to pay compensation for workers above the age of 56. The compensation is worth two months payment for every working year in the state-run electricity company. Workers have been holding daily protests since Monday. They suspended a strike that started earlier during the day once the bill was endorsed. Lubnan Makhoul, speaking on behalf of the part-time workers, voiced satisfaction with the law and said he was still waiting to receive a copy of the amended bill.
“We are happy, of course we are happy,” Makhoul told The Daily Star. “You can never get one hundred percent of what you ask, but according to what lawmakers told us, the amendments made to the draft law are fair enough for us,” he said. “At least we got our most basic rights,” Makhoul said. In the southern city of Sidon, celebrations erupted among the workers who waited eagerly for Parliament's decision, distributing sweets to pedestarians and drivers.

Lebanon public sector strikes over pay raise
April 02, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Civil servants and teachers held a general strike Wednesday in protest of Parliament’s delay in passing a draft law to boost their salaries. All public school teachers and vocational academies responded to the Union Coordination Committee’s call for a daylong strike as hundreds of protesters gathered near Parliament in Riad Solh Square around 11 a.m. coinciding with the start of a legislative session.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saad joined the protesters in a sign of solidarity. Holding banners that read “the salary scale is our right,” protesters, including Civil Defense personnel and Tele Liban employees, urged politicians and lawmakers to approve the pay hike. “I want to ask forgiveness from the head of the Civil Defense because I did not ask permission to take the streets,” one emergency worker said in an emotional speech.
“But I left the house because I feel oppressed,” the man, wearing his navy blue uniform, said as he saluted Civil Defense volunteers. Only 50 percent of private school teachers, however, committed to the action called for by the UCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees. They have threatened to step up their actions if their demands are not met with the UCC warning teachers would boycott state examinations.
Parliament, which began three-day meetings Tuesday to discuss a number of bills, is not scheduled to debate the salary increase in light of the joint committees failure to decide on a means to finance the wage hike, estimated to cost the Treasury at least $1.2 billion. Speaker Nabih Berri has called on the joint committees to convene Friday and finalize the draft law, a move hailed by the UCC. Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, said unions would meet that same day to decide further escalatory steps if Parliament failed to approve the wage scale. Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh called for an installment plan to pay the wage hikes in a bid to ease pressure on the Treasury’s finances and avoid inflation. “I’m not against the pay raise in principle, but approval should be accompanied by reforms,” Salameh told the local daily Al-Joumhouria in remarks published Wednesday. “I believe that the most appropriate solution at the moment would be an installment [plan],” he added. Salameh said taxes to finance the salary scale constitute 4 percent of GDP.
The UCC has rejected the installment plan. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government referred the law to Parliament last year following a series of mass strikes and protests that crippled the public sector.

Iran rejects Yemen charges of meddling
Al Arabiyia/Wednesday, 2 April 2014
Iran on Wednesday rejected Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi's accusations it was stoking unrest in his country and urged Sanaa to track down the killers of an Iranian diplomat in Sanaa. The accusations are "without foundation," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, quoted by ISNA news agency. Instead, taking an apparent stab at Saudi Arabia, she charged that meddling by "certain countries in the region ... contrary to the interests and security" of Yemen were continuing. Afkham also urged Sanaa "to arrest and punish those responsible" for Iranian diplomat Ali Asghar Assadi's murder in Sanaa last January, and to secure the release of colleague Ahmad Nikbakht kidnapped in July 2013 by suspected al-Qaeda assailants. The Yemeni president in an interview published Monday renewed his country's longstanding accusation that Iran was backing southern secessionists and Shiite rebels in the north. He told Shiite-dominated Iran to "keep its hands off Yemen" and to stop backing "armed groups" in the country. "Unfortunately, Iran still meddles in Yemen whether by supporting the separatist (Southern) Movement or some religious groups in the north," he said. In recent months, Shiite rebels have clashed sporadically with tribesmen and troops in a bid to spread their control further towards the capital.
"We had asked our Iranian brothers to review their wrong policy towards Yemen, but our demands have so far been fruitless," said Hadi. Hadi accuses Tehran of trying to derail a Saudi-backed political transition in Sunni-majority Yemen, where a year-long uprising led to the 2012 ouster of former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Human heads in al-Qaeda's cooking pot
Wednesday, 2 April 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia
Not many could believe the terrifying pictures of two human heads placed in a cooking pot in Syria– just one of the countless atrocities of al-Qaeda. The two victims are Saudis, killed in the fight betweent the competing al-Qaeda branches in Syria: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front. The horrible pictures reveal yet another hideous act practiced by these two groups which only succeeded at one thing: obstructing the Syrian opposition from fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime. They spend their entire time fighting one another. Meanwhile, Assad sleeps comfortably in his bed in the Qasyoun Mountain, pleased at how he transformed those idiots into brigades working for him for free!
Foreign fighters
How do young men from Saudi Arabia end up in a cooking pot like those murdered?
They sneak out of their houses and escape to Syria to help the persecuted and to get quick ticket to paradise. They either end up killed in Syria by one of the many branches of groups fighting or they end up in a cooking pot! There is another evil and mysterious world in Syria that has nothing to do with what they've heard or read about in their country. Syria is like many other countries which have witnessed wars. There are millions of persecuted people who live day to day without knowing whether they will die under rubble as a result of the Russian explosive barrels which Syrian jets throw everyday on their areas or whether they will be killed by Hezbollah's militias as they run for their lives. Those who came from outside Syria alleging that they will save the Syrian people from the Assad regime's tyranny are no less evil than Assad himself. They don't know if their houses will become their own tombs after Assad forces shell them or whether they will starve to death before making it to the border as they try to escape into a neighboring country.
Death from multiple fronts
It's a tragedy which is difficult for anyone to imagine and understand. Those who came from outside Syria alleging that they will save the Syrian people from the Assad regime's tyranny are no less evil than Assad himself. I refer here to organizations like the ISIS and Nusra Front. He who says that ISIS is the hideous face of extremist groups is only attempting to embellish the other hideous face -- Al-Nusra Frnt. The latter has killed and maltreated people in the name of religion. This week, it destroyed religious shrines in Aleppo, a move which angered those who initially welcomed the group believing it would protect them from Assad’s forces. Now, they've realized that Al-Nusra has come to destroy tombs and harm people! Meanwhile, no day passes without hearing news of atrocious acts of murder carried out by ISIS. Al-Qaeda, the mother organization, issued a statement condemning the acts. A released video showed an American "mujahid" from al-Qaeda who condemned ISIS because it assassinated a leader of Ahrar al-Sham, which is affiliated with it in Aleppo.
However, the criticism was about acts against the organization’s leaders – not Syrian citizens. Think about this situation: the murdered man is Syrian from al-Qaeda and those who killed him are from ISIS - perhaps from the Gulf, Libya or Britain - and the one condemning the crime is an American man from al-Qaeda! There are thousands of murderers and millions of frightened Syrian citizens. The number increases and not the other way around. So after all these crimes have been committed, does U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry still think America should appease the Iranians and the Russians in Syria? Does he think that he's curbing terrorism by obstructing others from supplying moderate Syrian opposition groups, the Free Syrian Army, with advanced weapons? What a terrible, historic mistake. This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 25, 2014.

Arab state’s ‘Iran problem’ is reflected in Washington
Wednesday, 2 April 2014/Walid Phares/Al Arabiyia
The visit to Saudi Arabia undertaken by U.S. President Barack Obama has raised more questions in the Arab media than any other visit by a superpower leader to any country in the world. The visit came at the heels of severe crises in international relations—from Crimea to Kiev, Libya’s resurging violence, the unending war in Syria, an escalating security breakdown in Yemen, urban terror in Egypt, and car bombs in Lebanon and Iraq.
The most important question regarding the visit was raised by Arab and Saudi journalists: “Why is this visit taking place now, and at whose request?” Analysts are justified in their confusion as America’s president has not visited the Kingdom since 2009.
Obama reassures
So there must have been an unusual motive for this journey, a few months after the conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran and the deal over Syrian chemical weapons possessed by President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi officials revealed that the visit was at the request of the White House and aimed at “clarifying some of the steps Washington has taken in the region, including about Syria and Iran.”
Hence the second question was about substance: what are the disagreements between Riyadh and the Beltway, and are they uniquely about the new U.S. policies regarding Damascus and Tehran?
International media discussions and think tank analyses agreed on the notion that the Obama administration wanted to reassure Saudi Arabia, and perhaps its allies in the region, that the United States had their backs in case of Iranian aggression and that the nuclear deal with the Ayatollahs “won’t be a bad deal”—to use the words of President Obama.
That may be true, but as I argued on Al Arabiya, there is much more to the summit than just a "clarification of U.S. foreign policy." The issue is about Arab mistrust of Washington’s choices in the region and shift of partnership.
Not just Saudis, but the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, as well as Jordan and Kuwait, and to some extent Yemen have been frustrated with the Obama administration for over two years now regarding a number of highly sensitive dossiers related to a common threat.
Obama missing the mark on Iran
As we have learned over the past weeks, a bloc of Arab moderate countries from the most populous (Egypt) to the wealthiest (Saudi) have put the Muslim Brotherhood on their list of terror organizations and withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, which is now standing accused of provoking Brotherhood subversion in all these countries.
Without any guarantees, the United States began lifting sanctions and the White House threatened to veto any new sanctions leveled by Congress. Predictably, the Khomeini regime resumed its build-up of strategic weapons, mainly missiles, and continued meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and most worrisome to the Gulf, in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Thus the first Arab frustration with the Obama administration has been the latter’s partnership with an organization that has been attempting to seize the control of almost a dozen countries in the Arab world. Washington’s backing of Islamists against popular majorities in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula has left a deep scar in Arab -American ties.
These maladroit choices, influenced by a growing “Islamist lobby” in Washington, have dealt a blow to the traditional trust between Arab allies of the United States. But another dossier seems to have also deepened the crisis between the two sides.
Last fall, the Obama administration abruptly ended a potential campaign to strike at the Assad regime chemical weapons system, which according to several reports had been used against civilians. Washington used a Russian initiative to abort the move, thus enabling the Baathist dictator to resume his massacres inside his own country.
Weeks later, the Obama administration conducted the most radical change of foreign policy in the region by cutting a political deal with the Iranian regime over the nuclear crisis. Without any guarantees, the United States began lifting sanctions and the White House threatened to veto any new sanctions leveled by Congress.
What is more, the Obama administration began releasing billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets back to the Mullahs’ regime while companies rushed to Tehran to infuse cash and conduct business.
Predictably, the Khomeini regime resumed its build-up of strategic weapons, mainly missiles, and continued meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and most worrisome to the Gulf, in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. In the eyes of Arab moderates in North Africa and the Levant, Washington has gone too far by partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood and shielding Iran’s regime.
Arab countries speak out
The Saudis, backed by the UAE, Bahrain, and behind the scenes by Egypt, Jordan and many forces opposed to the Islamists and the Ayatollahs, moved to signify to the Obama administration that a red line was crossed. Endorsing the Brotherhood was a mistake, but cutting a deal with the Iranian regime was a greater one. The Arabian allies of the U.S. could not understand how a U.S. administration, after three decades of systematic collective policy of isolation of the Tehran regime, rushes to establish bridges with Iran without even consulting with allies. Some commentators have even uttered the word “betrayed.”
But the fortunes of this U.S. policy have been missing luck lately. In Egypt, a coalition between a popular majority and the army crumbled the ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi regime, while in Tunisia the Nahda withdrew from the government under the seculars’ pressures. On Syria, all American promises haver failed, as Iraq and Lebanon are falling under Iran’s increasing influence. With a region almost lost, the Obama administration had little choice but to attempt to salvage its influence by seeking accommodations with the Saudis—now more influential than before because of its good ties to the new Egypt. It seems that the Saudi king has conveyed to President Obama the deep concerns and, most likely, their stance on Iran and the Brotherhood. The focus now is to see whether Washington’s foreign policy circles will change direction after this visit. The Iran problem of Arab moderates is not simply within the region, it is mostly in Washington. Will the administration realign with the moderates in the region and consider working with the Iranian opposition, or will it continue in its deal with the regime and lose several allies America has gathered in the greater Middle East over the last few decades?
**Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released The Lost Spring: US Policy in the Middle East and the Catastrophes to Avoid. He also serves as an advisor to members of Congress on the Middle East.

Abbas dumps another US-led peace effort, Kerry gives up on shuttle, Pollard release recedes
DEBKAfile Special Report April 1, 2014/
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not announce his walkout from the negotiations with Israel or directly turn down the package of far-reaching Israeli concessions which US Secretary of State John Kerry assembled with Binyamin Netanyahu early Wednesday, April 1. He simply turned his back on the commitment he made ahead of the talks to refrain from unilateral applications to UN bodies while they were in progress. As soon as the US Secretary flew off to Brussels, he sent out applications for “the independent Palestinian state” to join 12 UN agencies as members.
This was after the Palestinian leader upped his price for meeting Kerry’s request to extend peace diplomacy from April up until the end of the year. He demanded that Israel raise the number of 26 Palestinians due to be released from jail this weekend, to 1,000. They must also include Israeli Arabs.
He was not satisfied with Israel’s offer to free another 400 terrorists and accept a partial settlement freeze; Israel must release the same number as it traded for Gilead Shalit, the Israeli hostage held by Hamas, he said.
Abbas further insisted on top Palestinian terrorist operatives serving sentences for multiple murder be on the list of released pirsoners, including the notorious Marwan Barghouti (who is serving six life sentences for six murders), Ahmad Saadat, (who plotted the assassination of the Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi) and the return to their homes of terrorists exiled as too dangerous to leave at large in the Palestinian territories.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to calm the anger in his cabinet and the Israeli public over the bottomless Palestinian capacity for extortion. His associates said that he shared John Kerry’s belief that buying another nine months for the negotiations would give the US-led peace track a good shot at running full course.
However, Mahmoud Abbas placed deliberate obstacles in their path by holding the diplomatic process hostage to continual Israeli concessions.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that the US Secretary’s plan to visit Ramallah and Jerusalem Wednesday, April 2, to tie up the last ends of his new package, is now up in the air, the subject of frantic consultations in Washington.
The prospect has faded for the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s early release after serving 30 years of a life sentence. President Barack Obama, unwilling to be associated with the imminent collapse of yet another US-sponsored Middle East peace effort, made it clear that he has not made up his mind about Pollard’s release.
Later Tuesday, informed US sources said that it would be a long time before Secretary Kerry agreed to return to the region.
This finale followed a rapid succession of somersaults in the fate of the Middle East peace talks during Wednesday, as DEBKAfile reported earlier:.
US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Brussels Tuesday morning, April 1, after two rounds of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and missing out on a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. US officials reported that Kerry is now aiming for a major breakthrough in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by holding out to Israel the ultimate prize of Jonathan Pollard’s early release.
It was not clear what he had achieved before he left. When he landed in Israel Monday night, Kerry brought Israel the fresh Palestinian demand for a tenfold increase in the number of Palestinian security prisoners listed for the fourth round of releases – 420 instead of the original 30 – to include also Israeli Arabs, which a large number of ministers oppose. Israel was also required to accept a freeze on settlement construction on the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. These concessions were the Palestinians’ price for accepting the extension of talks up until the end of this year.
Kerry agreed to put the squeeze on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yet again. He even dangled the ultimate inducement of the possible release (no promises) of Jonathan Pollard, who has served 30 years of a life sentence in a US jail for spying for Israel. Netanyahu has been fighting for Pollard’s freedom for more than 16 years, hoping that repeated US-initiated peace negotiations with the Palestinians would provide an opening. He came close to success in 1998 when President Bill Clinton promised to release him, but then recanted in the face of furious CIA objections. Netanyahu explained that this US concession would provide his only hope of saving his government coalition and standing up to popular resentment for surrendering to Palestinian extortion beyond accepted bounds. Administrations sources in Washington confirmed that the Pollard case would be open to discussion on certain conditions – i.e. further and bigger concessions to the Palestinians. The convicted spy, now 59, they said, would be eligible for a reprieve in November 2015. This had somewhat tempered the US intelligence agency’s resistance to his early release. Appreciating the high value of the Pollard card, the US Secretary tried using it as a lever to extract a really major Israel concession, beyond even the latest Palestinians demands. He pushed Netanyahu hard for a far-reaching step capable of generating a dramatic breakthrough for the US peace effort he is leading.
He turned to Netanyahu because Abbas is frozen immovably in demand mode.
So instead of shuttling back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kerry spent most of Monday night and again Tuesday morning leaning heavily on Netanyahu for an ultimate concession for the ultimate prize of a freed Pollard. He faced two major obstacles: If he caved in to the US Secretary’s wishes, Netanyahu knew he couldn’t prevent the fall of his government - even if Pollard was thrown into the mix (which is still a big if). This was one cabinet crisis he could not be sure of weathering even after surviving into his third term as head of a coalition government.
The other stumbling block was that the Palestinians, fully conscious of Kerry’s objective and his pressure on Netanyahu, saw their chance to continually up their stipulations for more Israeli concessions as the price for keeping the talks afloat. Those obstacles were still in force when the US Secretary flew out to Brussels Tuesday morning after a second round of talks with Netanyahu. What he managed to do was to shift the focus of US-Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to new terrain – American. President Barack Obama will be asked to consider making a contribution to the peace track on whose success his secretary of state has gambled heavily, by signing the papers for Jonathan Pollard’s release and then preparing it for consumption in America. Netanyahu will also be asked for some fast explaining about the price Israel is paying for him in Palestinian currency.
Pollard now has his first real chance of freedom. But this is far from glad tidings for Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Kerry’s peace effort has demonstrated the truism established by all its forerunners that it is only kept alive by successful Palestinian blackmail. In all former cases, this formula has brought peace diplomacy to demise.

The Battle for the Syrian Coast
By: Michel Kilo/Asharq Al Awsat/Wednesday, 2 Apr, 2014
The battle for the coast is different to the other battles raging on our soil in Syria. In some areas, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebel factions are fighting a regular army dominated by a specific sectarian and religious group. This does not mean the FSA is fighting a specific sect or religion, but it does explain why the fight against the regime’s army has not turned into a civil war. The battles we are now witnessing are a struggle marked predominantly by their opposition to a totalitarian power rejected by wide segments of Syria’s diverse society, including Alawites, Christians, Druze and Ismailis, among others.
The situation along the coast is different, because of the dense Alawite population and the large number of people from other religious communities who have fled their homes. More than a million of them are now scattered across the coastal region. They stand as additional evidence that Syrians are not killing each other; rather, the people of Syria continue to coexist despite the difficulties they are facing, rejecting the government’s efforts to push them into a state of estrangement and hostility. These reasons render any friction in the coast potentially explosive and likely very bloody. In other parts of Syria, the battle is not directed against a certain demographic. However, on the coast any miscalculation or confrontation between people from different sects may lead to a national catastrophe that could eventually take the form of a long-term civil war. All of the atrocities and war crimes so far committed by the regime, its allies and the militants following its course, will be nothing compared to what might happen here. Here in the coastal region, it is crucial that the rebels differentiate between civilians and the government. Civilians must be spared from the battle against the regime and its institutions, otherwise we all run the risk that unarmed civilians will be targeted. Civilians should never be harmed, even if they are loyal to the government. This war against the regime requires patriotism and a humanitarianism that respects and safeguards civilians’ lives, property, dignity and freedom. The rebels must differentiate between the people and the regime; through their actions they must convince non-combatant Syrians that the battle is not against them and that the future Syria will be as much theirs as it is the rebels’.A guarantee to that effect should be given by all factions in the opposition in the form of a binding national charter to be supported by the FSA and other armed opposition factions, including the Islamist ones. Islamist rebels do not have the right to stoop to the level of the regime, and neither should they accept violence being committed with sectarian intent. They must declare that the new Syria will be as diverse in religious and sectarian terms as the old Syria: The new Syria must accommodate all Syrians regardless of their color, gender or birthplace. They also need to prove this intent during their battles against the regime. The coastal region is extremely sensitive after years of being under the regime’s sectarian policies, such as the disproportionate appointment of people from certain demographics to the military and security institutions. Such policies have given the false impression that the regime and these sects are one indivisible whole. In light of such complexity, I have always expressed reservations about the term “the battle for the coast.” I thought it unnecessary to open a front along the coast; rather, the battles should take place in other parts of Syria. Winning our battle with the regime in areas beyond the coast would not have the catastrophic impact on the Syrian revolution that a victory on the coast could. Fighting in parts of Syria without this history will not lead us into an unprecedented civil war, which could happen if there was a concerted effort in the coastal region. Fighting for the coast will be a long, expensive, drawn-out battle, and it will make it easier for the regime to manipulate people’s emotions and stoke hatred, embroiling them without much effort in its criminal war against their fellow Syrians.
In other words, victory cannot and should not be in the coastal region. The struggle against the regime should also go through two stages. First, the battle should spread to the rest of Syria in order to undermine the regime’s ability to continue fighting. Doing so would protect the coastal region from the regime’s evil policies. Second, the people of the coastal regions should have a role in the struggle against the regime, and when signs of its collapse appear, they will be enough to convince its supporters to abandon it. Those signs will be so clear that the regime’s supporters will see their participation in the patriotic political process as being necessary to enable them to express themselves and voice their demands in the manner they choose. Until this happens, rebels should refrain from attacking the coastal region. But that doesn’t mean we should hide and avoid addressing the people of the coastal region with a patriotic discourse based on reconciliation and respect. However, the regime should be prevented from recapturing liberated areas across Syria.
Liberating the coast would be a grave mistake that could plunge Syria into the abyss, leaving nothing intact. Such a civil war would very much reduce the chances of weakening, and eventually toppling, the regime. Instead, it will destroy what is left of our afflicted country.

How Syria's Civil War Threatens Lebanon's Fragile Peace
David Schenker/Los Angeles Times/April 1, 2014
Less than a generation removed from the 15-year civil war that claimed nearly 200,000 lives, Lebanon again appears to be hurtling toward instability. Three years into the Syrian civil war, neighboring Lebanon is fraying at the seams. Over the last year, as Lebanese Sunni Muslim jihadis and their counterparts in the Shiite militia Hezbollah fought each other in Syria, at least 16 car bombs detonated in Lebanon, in both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods. In December, a leading Sunni politician was assassinated. Meanwhile, more than 1 million mostly Sunni refugees have streamed in from Syria, increasing Lebanon's population by more than 20% and skewing its delicate sectarian balance. Less than a generation removed from the 15-year civil war that claimed nearly 200,000 lives, Lebanon again appears to be hurtling toward instability. If not for the Lebanese armed forces, many say, the state would have already devolved into chaos. It's not clear how much longer the army will be able to play this critical role. The army is widely viewed as a national savior, an indispensable bulwark against the resumption of civil war. In recent years, it has deployed throughout Lebanon, establishing checkpoints at sectarian fault lines and serving as a buffer between warring factions. In the course of this mission, the army has been caught in Sunni-Shiite crossfire and has even become the target of car bombs. Unlike other narrowly parochial government agencies, the army is the only truly integrated, functioning and "national" institution in Lebanon. It is unique because it reflects the diverse demography of Lebanon, a state with 17 recognized religious sects. More important, in contrast to the Shiite-dominated General Security services and the Sunni-controlled Internal Security Forces, the army is ostensibly nonaligned, affording it broad popular support. Lately, however, the widespread perception of army neutrality has started to shift, threatening the institution's stature and, potentially, its organizational cohesion.
For the last two decades, the army was tasked primarily with the noncontroversial role of securing Lebanon's 10 Palestinian refugee camps and, on rare occasions, with battling local Al Qaeda affiliates. Although Hezbollah maintained a huge arsenal outside state control, the army never confronted the organization, fearing that such a politically sensitive directive might lead to a split within its ranks along sectarian lines.
But spillover from the war in Syria has complicated the army's traditionally hands-off approach to Hezbollah. The Shiite militia's provision of military support to the Syrian regime has incensed Lebanon's historically restrained Sunnis, and there are signs the community is radicalizing. At the same time, reports suggest that hundreds of armed Sunni militants, some affiliated with Al Qaeda, have crossed into Lebanon from Syria. The problem is that while the army continues to assiduously avoid hostilities with Hezbollah, it is adopting a more aggressive posture toward Sunni militants. This tack is leading many Lebanese Sunnis to conclude that the army is no longer neutral. It's easy to see how they might reach that conclusion. Consider, for example, the June 2013 gun battle between the army and Sunni-Salafist preacher Ahmad Assir and his supporters in Sidon. About two dozen army soldiers were killed. Assir, a supporter of the Syrian uprising and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, was ultimately defeated only by a coordinated army-Hezbollah military offensive. In addition to operational collaboration with Hezbollah, the army's campaign of arrests and shootings targeting Sunnis -- including religious leaders -- for allegedly providing assistance to Syrian rebels has angered the community. In January alone, the army arrested at least 12 Sunni militants and shot and killed two others. Separately, a Sunni who was linked to an Al Qaeda car bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut two months earlier subsequently died in military custody, purportedly of kidney failure. During the same period, no Shiites were reported detained.
To be sure, Al Qaeda holds little appeal to the vast majority of Lebanese Sunnis. But Sunnis increasingly resent Hezbollah's immunity. As Sunni lawmaker Mustafa Alloush recently said, "When the law is only applied to one side, it creates grievances." "What the Sunni street feels," he lamented, "is that there's winking toward Hezbollah and severity toward the other side."As casualties mount in both Syria and Lebanon, this sentiment appears to be rising. Last month, the Lebanese branch of Syria's Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front issued two statements calling for Sunnis to desert the "Hezbollah-controlled" army. The army, it claims, "has become a tool in the hand of the Shiite project." "If you look at prison inmates," the statement says, "you can determine they are all Sunnis...Does anyone detain a Shiite for fighting in Syria?" The extent to which the Al Nusra Front declaration will resonate with the army's roughly 30% Sunni conscripts remains to be seen. Should the army continue to be seen as aligned with Hezbollah in targeting Sunni militants, however, it is all but certain that sectarian loyalties will eventually affect soldiers' morale, if not discipline.Currently, there are few overt signs that the army is cracking. But with no end in sight to the war in Syria, the prospect of a degraded and discredited army is of concern. In 1975, well before current levels of Sunni-Shiite hostility, the army could neither prevent nor contain the civil war. Under pressure, it went missing in action. Today, as sectarian tensions spike in Lebanon, it's increasingly difficult to imagine a different trajectory for Lebanon's armed forces.
**David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.

Kerry scrambles to save his torpedoed peace effort
April 02, 2014/By Jo Biddle/Agence France Presse
BRUSSELS: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was scrambling Wednesday to save his faltering Middle East peace efforts, after both Israel and Palestinians delivered him a stunning slap in the face.
The top US diplomat, who has made the quest for a long-elusive peace treaty his personal holy grail, was blindsided late Tuesday as minutes before a press conference at the NATO headquarters, both sides went rogue.
The Palestinians, infuriated by Israel's refusal to release some 26 Palestinian prisoners by a weekend deadline, announced out of the blue that they were planning to take their claim for statehood to 15 agencies. And Israel, having already broken the terms of a July deal to return to the negotiating table, unveiled tenders for 700 more homes in east Jerusalem. Kerry, who only hours before had held a two-hour breakfast meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem following late-night talks, abruptly cancelled plans to fly back to the region Wednesday to see Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas. Instead he was working the phones from the secure US mission at NATO, phoning foreign leaders, a senior State Department official said. It was also more than likely he would be conferring with the White House.
He will "conduct several calls with foreign counterparts and the US Middle East negotiating team while in Brussels," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. But it was not immediately clear where Kerry can go from here, with both sides trading recriminations and the fragile peace effort seemingly in tatters. "Kerry has gone as far as he can as mediator, absent major decisions by the parties themselves," the Washington Post wrote, quoting a senior administration official. If he fails to get the peace talks back on track, it will mark a humiliating blow for Kerry and certain to elicit a round of smug "told-you-so's" from many old hands, who have seen hopes raised and dashed over the decades. Kerry himself insisted that it was "premature to draw... any final judgement about today's events and where things are".
And he again urged both sides to look at the final goal of peace. But it was clear Wednesday morning that he and his staff had gone into damage limitation mode. The tough behind-the-scenes negotiations, in which Kerry has invested countless hours and energy, had already been complicated by news the US could make a three-way deal under which Washington would free a convicted US-born Israeli spy.
The US intelligence community and American right has long opposed the early release of Jonathan Pollard, arrested in 1985 and sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel, even though he's due for parole in 2015.
And there was sharp criticism in the media at news that Kerry and his team were considering using him as a bargaining chip to keep the talks on track.
The peace effort "has degenerated into... a desperate race to prevent the talks from collapsing," the Washington Post editorial board wrote, and arguing against Pollard's release as a "last-ditch" effort to extend negotiations beyond an April 29 deadline. The chaos and potential fallout from a second failed attempt to broker peace by this US administration would pose a grim prospect for President Barack Obama.
While Obama had endorsed Kerry's efforts publicly, it had always remained unclear just how much he would be willing to back him if things went AWOL. Already under fire both at home and abroad for his perceived weakness in foreign policy, such as a failure to conduct robust efforts to end the war in Syria, Obama and his team may be unwilling to give Kerry more rein to meddle in the Middle East. It could be that after making a comprehensive peace deal his signature issue, Kerry could find that the White House pulls the plug from a process now on life-support.

Egypt police general killed in Cairo campus blasts
April 02, 2014/By Haitham El-Tabei/Agence France Presse
CAIRO: Two bombs targeting security posts near Cairo University exploded in quick succession on Wednesday killing a police general, followed by a third blast as police and journalists gathered at the scene.
An assistant interior minister was wounded in the double bombings, police said. Witnesses said the explosions sent up a cloud of smoke and dust near the campus in the centre of the Egyptian capital, the scene in the past few months of repeated clashes between Islamist students and police. The third bomb went off near the campus main gates, where police investigators and journalists had gathered following the first blasts. An AFP correspondent at the site said the explosion threw several policemen to the ground. The attack was the latest by militants targeting security forces following Islamist president Mohamed Morsi's overthrow in July. It came less than a week after the military chief who overthrew Morsi, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said he was quitting the army to run in presidential elections in May, vowing to wipe out "terrorism". The first two rudimentary bombs also wounded five policemen, the interior ministry said, identifying the slain officer as Brigadier General Tarek al-Mergawi. A police general at the scene told AFP that the bombs were concealed in a tree between two small police posts. "I was waiting for the bus when I heard two explosions. There was dust in the air and policemen were screaming," said a witness, Sakta Mostafa. A student in Cairo University said he ran out of the campus after hearing the explosions. "I found a lifeless man in plain clothes and a policeman bleeding from his leg," said the student, Amr Adel. Mergawi was a chief detective who would have been dressed in civilian clothes. Amateur footage of the bombings posted on an Egyptian newspaper's website showed policemen running out from a cloud of smoke and dust sent up by the first explosion. The second bomb went off moments later. Major General Abdel Raouf al-Serafi, an assistant interior minister, was among the wounded, police officials said. The government says militants have killed almost 500 people, most of them policemen and soldiers, in attacks since Morsi's overthrow amid a deadly crackdown on his Islamist supporters. Most of the attacks have taken place in the Sinai Peninsula, a hub of militant activity, but the jihadists have increasingly targeted police in the capital and the Nile Delta. The government generally blames Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood for the violence, although the deadliest bombings and shootings have been carried out by the Al-Qaeda inspired Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis group, based in Sinai. The Brotherhood, now decapitated with Morsi and much of its leadership in jail, has been designated a terrorist group in Egypt and its close ally Saudi Arabia. Some of its top leaders have relocated to London, where British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered a probe into the group's activities. Militants are expected to increase their attempts after Sisi announced his candidacy for the election in late May, which he is likely to win. But police have scored some successes in their fight against the jihadists, killing and capturing members of two major cells in the Nile Delta over the past two months. One of the cells, belonging to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, was implicated in the car bombing of Cairo police headquarters in January. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, has insisted it remains committed to peaceful action and said it would continue its protests, which often descend into violent clashes with police.
More than 1,400 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in such street clashes since Morsi's overthrow.