April 04/14


Bible Quotation for today/I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’

Luke 4,31-44/: "He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’ And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea."

Pope Francis's Tweet for Today
May we never get used to the poverty and decay around us. A Christian must act.
Pape François
Nous ne pouvons pas nous habituer aux situations de dégradation et de misère qui nous entourent. Un chrétien doit réagir.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 04/14

Obama and Erdoğan, Back in the Spotlight/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/April 04/14
Has Britain fallen out with the Brotherhood/By: Mshari Al-Zaydi/Asharq Al Awsat/April 04/14

Obama visit to Saudi affirms strategic alignment/By: Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi/Al Arabiya/April 04/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 04/14
Lebanese Related News

Lebanese Armenians mourn rebel takeover of Kasab in Syria

Army Raids Northern Neighborhoods in Search of Fugitives, Arrests Omar Bakri Associate
Isolation and fear still loom as Tripoli comes back to life
Lebanese Alawite cleric urges reconciliation with top leaders in Tripoli
Geagea Seeks 'Radical Change' by Running for Presidency

Legislative Session Ends as Berri Stresses Need to Pass Wage Scale

STL Sets Status Conference on Merhi Counsel Preparations, Pending Issues for April 10

Hunter Captures Crocodile in Beirut River

Syrian Killed, Two Wounded by Army for Failing to Halt at Arsal Checkpoint

MP Kanaan Calls for Session to Grant Rights to Civil Defense Volunteers

Number of Syria Refugees in Lebanon Passes 1 Million Mark

Tripoli Arch-Foes Celebrate Together as Army Deploys

33 Arrested in Tripoli as Troops Continue Implementing Security Plan

Nusra Front members plotting in Lebanon

Laws In The for the people

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister: Iran does not seek indefinite power for Assad

Syria Paper Accuses Peace Envoy of Encouraging Terror

Israel Stops Palestinian Prisoner Release amid Talks Crisis

Dempsey claims Israel satisfied the US will use military option against Iran.

Frustrated Kerry Urges Leadership from Israel PM, Abbas

White House 'Disappointed' at Israel, Palestinians

Iraq Forces Kill Dozens of Militants Near Baghdad

Pakistan's Musharraf Survives Assassination Bomb Attempt

Muslim Brotherhood urges Britain not to yield to foreign 'pressure' over review 


Lebanese Armenians mourn rebel takeover of Kasab in Syria
April 03, 2014/By Justin Salhani/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Seated outside the clothes shop in Burj Hammoud where he works, Syrian-Armenian Ararad Mahdesian gazes into the distance, reminiscing about the place he still calls home. “I had beautiful days in Kasab. I was born there and I am from there,” the 25-year-old says solemnly, referring to a town in northwest Syria that was overrun by rebels less than two weeks ago while he wasn’t there. Located on the border with Turkey, Kasab is a historical town with an ethnic Armenian population that dates back to the medieval Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Until the civil war, Kasab was a tourist destination mostly inhabited by farmers.
Now, like so many places in Syria, it has all changed. Mahdesian says his 65-year-old father was one of the last people to leave Kasab, and that his relatives are now in Latakia with around 600 other families who all fled due to the rebel attack. According to Mahdesian, who left a month ago for economic reasons, about 20 people remain unaccounted for and are thought to still be in town. The effects of the town’s seizure has been heavily felt in Lebanon’s bustling Burj Hammoud, a sprawling suburb northeast of Beirut that was founded by survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and is the hub for the 200,000 or so members of the Lebanese-Armenian community.
On Tuesday afternoon, shops in Burj Hammoud shut for two hours in solidarity with the besieged town. “We closed for two hours, and we are united with them,” said Toros Papazian, a security guard at Mesrobian School of Armenian Catholics in Burj Hammoud. “Our hearts are with Syrian-Armenians.”Kasab is now thought to be entirely vacant of the Armenian community that has inhabited the area for centuries and endured prior tragedies including the 1909 Adana Massacre and the genocide six years later. There are no official figures on how many residents of Kasab have taken refuge in Lebanon, but sources estimated that less than 100 have settled here, primarily in Burj Hammoud or Anjar, a town in the Bekaa Valley with a large Lebanese-Armenian population. “Of course it sent shockwaves through the Armenian diaspora,” said Vahram Emiyan, the international news editor at Armenian language-daily Aztag, based in Burj Hammoud. “This region is part of the historic [Armenian Kingdom of] Cilicia, and Armenians have lived there since the middle ages.”Emiyan added, “The forced deportation brings back very terrible memories from the Armenian genocide.” “Kasab had a specific Armenian culture with their own dialect, their own books, vocabulary and traditions,” said Father Vartan Kazanjian of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate in Beirut, who lived in Syria for two brief stints in the ’90s. “For us, Kasab was the last town left from the Armenian lands.”
“It used to be a secure area,” said Aram Seraydarian, a shop owner in Burj Hammoud. “We are scared, not just for Armenians but for all Christians in the East.”
Kazanjian visited the displaced Syrian-Armenian community in Latakia last Saturday. “It was very hard to see these people after they left their houses and land behind,” he said.
Kazanjian said that more than 300 people were holed up in a church in Latakia and were short on basic necessities. He added that the situation was made more difficult to bear considering it fell just a year shy of the 100-year commemoration of the genocide. Kazanjian said one displaced gentleman he spoke to in Latakia broke into tears mid-conversation. “I told him not to worry and that hopefully he will be able to return home soon,” Kazanjian said, to which the man replied, “I may not see that day.” Another man Kazanjian met had been displaced twice after fleeing having previously fled from Raqqa to Kasab. “It’s very hard to see these people suffering,” Kazanjian said. While the Lebanese-Armenian community has shown sorrow for the plight of their partners in the diaspora, critics have accused them of only showing compassion when fellow Armenians are involved.
“I’m not saying Armenians are others; a human is a human and a person is a person,” said Kazanjian. “I don’t want any person to be killed, but we have a cultural and historical connection to Kasab.”
For Syrian-Armenians like Mahdesian, however, the situation is clearly personal. “For the last week I haven’t slept well,” he says somberly. “When I close my eyes, I see my village and how I lost everything.
“I don’t care about clothes or shoes, but I care about the memories. Everything is gone.”


Army Raids Northern Neighborhoods in Search of Fugitives, Arrests Omar Bakri Associate
Naharnet /The army on Thursday raided several neighborhoods in the northern city of Tripoli in search of fugitives, as part of the security plan that troops started implementing earlier this week to end the state unrest and instability in the North. The Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau also carried out raids in the northern Akkar town of Halba, and succeeded in arresting Sheikh Musheer Khodr, who is linked to radical cleric Omar Bakri, radio Voice of Lebanon (93.3) said. Media reports said that Bakri, however, was able to escape the raids. "Checkpoints have been erected in the Tripoli neighborhood of Abi Samra and troops raided several locations in the region,” VDL mentioned. It noted that army forces raided al-Bazar street in the city as they were looking for fugitive Talal Issa. "The army also raided Hussam al-Sabbagh's farm in Abi Samra,” the same source added, describing him as a “very important fugitive.” Troops, however, did not find him, VDL said. Al-Jadeed television reported that Abdullah Yahya Mahmoud al-Hussein, who is nicknamed Abi Bakr al-Ansari, was also arrested in Tripoli's al-Qobbeh. Meanwhile, troops positioned in the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen near the house of Arab Democratic Party politburo chief Rifaat Eid, who had left Lebanon along with his father, Ali Eid.
On Wednesday, the military institution announced arresting 33 people, including 14 Syrians, in Tripoli. Troops also seized 15 motorbikes, 10 unlawful cars, in addition to weapons and ammunition.
Separately on Thursday, one person was killed in an individual dispute that erupted in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. "Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah, nicknamed Ahmed al-Aswad, died of his wounds in the Islamic Hospital after he was critically injured in the dispute," the state-run National News Agency said. VDL (93.3) had said that the Commando Regiment was carrying out raids in Tripoli's vegetable market following the dispute. Ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri lauded the Tripoli security plan on Thursday, saying it proved that “the state can extend its authority across all Lebanese regions when it determines to do so.”
"We particularly salute the efforts exerted by the interior and the justice ministers, as well as all Tripoli's politicians, and civil activists,” Hariri said in a released statement.
He also praised “the sacrifices of the army and security forces to safeguard the city and protect its people.” Prime Minister Tammam Salam telephoned the ministers of telecommunications, public works, energy, health and social affairs on Thursday afternoon, urging them to respond to the demands and needs of Tripoli regions affected in the fighting. Meanwhile, Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb ordered the technical teams in the ministry and in OGERO to inspect the damages sustained by the phone network in Tripoli due to the clashes. He called for repairing the network and restoring the phone service in the region.


Tripoli Arch-Foes Celebrate Together as Army Deploys
Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/ Gunmen cheerfully shared coffee and cigarettes with men they have tried to kill with assault rifles, grenades and mortars. Women on balconies hurled rice to celebrate. Men chanted giddily to welcome soldiers deploying to the streets of this northern city. In a day as joyful as it was unlikely, weary residents of two Tripoli neighborhoods on Wednesday celebrated as hundreds of Lebanese soldiers deployed in the most determined plan yet by the government to stabilize an area that for the past year has been increasingly drawn into the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Khaki-clad Lebanese soldiers in APCs used bulldozers to scrape away sandbag fortifications used by gunmen, pushing aside dumpsters used as barricades. Residents spoke of arrest raids targeting wanted gunmen. The 3G cellular connection was cut, preventing gunmen from using the WhatsApp messaging system.
"They threw rice on me! It's like a dream," said 19-year-old Abdullah as he walked in a spontaneous demonstration for unity between rival neighborhoods.
The security plan is an important test case for whether Lebanon can reverse its slide into conflict, fueled by violent sectarian tensions triggered by the war next door, particularly between the country's Sunnis and Shiite Muslims.
Bab Tabbaneh is mostly Sunni, whose residents support Syrian rebels in their war to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Jabal Mohsen residents are mostly Alawite, and loyal to Assad, who shares their faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Syria tensions added to decades of bad blood between the two areas, stretching back to Lebanon's 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
Exhaustion and frustration with months of fighting likely contributed to the jovial mood Wednesday, which many skeptics predicted would not last. Even among the celebrations, residents said their rivalries hadn't ended.
Some young men in Bab Tabbaneh skulked in back streets, eyeing soldiers as they smoked water pipes. A group of men near a juice stand resentfully hurled fireworks on the ground near soldiers.
But the pause in fighting offered relief from flaring clashes that have killed over 200 people in the past three years. The clashes have destroyed businesses, impoverished families and battered the two neighborhoods, where buildings are riddled with bullets and gaping mortar holes.
"People here are fed up of clashes and shelling. We don't want to see any more houses under fire or any more families forced to flee," said Abdul Qader Hamzeh, 28. "We don't want to face what the Syrians are facing."
The pause also reminded residents of older family ties between the two areas, connected by alleys and a shared sense of abandonment by the state.
On a street where only snipers trod, two old friends hugged and laughed. "Jabal Mohsen and Bab Tabbaneh are only two steps from each other," said Abu Yusef, of the Alawite neighborhood. "Politicians intervened so they could destroy us," said the 30-year-old. His friend, Abu Haitham, a Sunni, said some of his relatives married Alawites of Jabal Mohsen, and he struggled with the idea that they were enemies.
Abu Yusef joked that he was going to find a Sunni bride. Nearby, young men in Bab Tabbaneh cheered around soldiers patrolling on foot and in armored vehicles, shouting: "The people and the army are one hand!"
Last week, two Lebanese soldiers were killed during their deployment here. On Wednesday, dozens of young men rushed to a muddy alleyway linking the two neighborhoods, some trying to enter, others peeking curiously. Lebanese soldiers pushed metal barriers to stem the chaos. One Alawite fighter, Abu Ali, pointed to where he usually aimed his guns at Sunnis below — an area now occupied by Lebanese soldiers. Later, he chatted with gunmen from Bab Tabbaneh. "It was nice," he said. "I hope we go back to the way we were before, when we married from them, and they married from us." Echoing a refrain across the two neighborhoods, he said the state hadn't provided enough security to quell flaring problems, and that residents carried weapons for self-defense. "Where was the army before?" grieved Rania Idlibi, 37, of Jabal Mohsen — a Sunni who married an Alawite decades ago. Soldiers had deployed in the past, but rarely for long, because they never had enough backing from all of Lebanon's quarreling sides to act firmly. Even in this deployment, which began Tuesday, top wanted men fled — or were allowed to flee. Lebanese military officials would not comment. Lebanon's politicians are deeply divided over the Syrian war, and until February, the country was left without a government for nearly a year over it. The government is now expected to limp along until a new president is elected by March 25 and forms his own cabinet. Many residents said they were enjoying the deployment as a respite from battles they considered pointless but fueled by Lebanon's persistent political instability. "We are poor here and they are poor there," said Idlibi. "All these people who died — who did they die for?" Source/Associated Press.


Isolation and fear still loom as Tripoli comes back to life
April 03, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The men smashed blocks of concrete, smiling in the midday sun, clearing away the debris near bullet-riddled walls and bright oranges on display. Bab al-Tabbaneh was coming back to life.
“Nobody likes war,” said Abul Hasan, a former militia fighter, as he looked on at the vegetable vendors.
Abul Hasan joined a militia after Hezbollah’s takeover of West Beirut in 2008, incensed at the battle, but quit after “thugs” became prevalent in the neighborhood.
After 20 rounds of fighting linked to the Syrian war, cautious optimism has returned to the streets of the northeastern city of Tripoli, as residents pick up the pieces after their very own persistent war. Gone were the majority of black jihadist flags that adorned the streets leading from the central Nour or Allah Square, and the vast portrait of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad from the entrance to Jabal Mohsen.
Instead, there were countless patrols and checkpoints of Lebanese soldiers and police officers, many smiling, some even playing games with local young people.
Security forces led by 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 the city. Troops backed by armored vehicles fanned out into the quarter at 4 a.m. as military helicopters fired illuminating flares, security sources told The Daily Star. Soldiers removed sand barriers, barricades and lines of barbed wire erected by gunmen in over a dozen areas including Syria Street, which separates the majority Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh from the mainly Alawite Jabal Mohsen. The military detained 75 individuals on the first day of the plan’s implementation. Last week, the public prosecutor issued 200 arrest warrants, including several for militia leaders in Tripoli. Behind the façade of newly found harmony, however, tensions still simmer on the traditional battle lines between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen. Sunnis still want Ali Eid, the leader of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party of Jabal Mohsen, to be arrested. Eid is wanted in connection with twin car bombings in the city last year, but his whereabouts are unknown. Alawites, who perceive themselves as a persecuted minority, are angry that their leader has been forced into hiding. Both sides say the massive security presence is not sustainable. They argue that Tripoli needs a comprehensive plan to alleviate the impact of its abandonment by the state – one that resolves the rampant unemployment and poverty that fuel radicalization. “The military plan in civilian areas cannot continue,” said Nafez al-Masri, who owns a cosmetics, perfume and lingerie shop in Tripoli. “This is an emergency situation that causes economic disturbance.”
Masri’s shop is having a clearance sale. A sign outside says he is closing his shop after over 40 years in business to comply with politicians’ plans to destroy Tripoli’s economy.
He said the city’s citizens feel abandoned by the state, which has left them to wallow in poverty. “We do not feel like we belong to the Lebanese state,” he said. “ Tripoli is one star, and Beirut is five stars.” Still, he said there was optimism now that the fighters, seemingly made of “paper,” disappeared with the launch of the security plan. This was further evidence, he said, that Tripoli’s crisis was made and exploited by politicians. The security plan must be augmented with an effort to develop the city and alleviate its poverty, he said.
“ Tripoli has a lot of poverty, and it’s created by the politicians because they are not developing it,” he said. “They brought you to the point of despair.”
Bab al-Tabbaneh’s residents now speak of outsiders who instigated much of the fighting, and of others who exploited it for their own ends. Few spoke of whether they had been coerced into supporting the militia leaders who disappeared overnight. “The majority just want to live,” said Hadi Ghamrawi. Ghamrawi is a bulk fruit and vegetables merchant whose shop was at the edge of a battle line between the two neighborhoods. His storefront is pockmarked with bullet holes and barrels to shield fighters.
He will reopen his shop this week, after one-and-a-half years of lost business. Suppliers often refused to visit, worried they might have been caught in the crossfire.
“Nobody wants war and everyone in Tabbaneh loves life,” he said, adding: “It was the circumstances that took over.”
Several militia leaders went into hiding ahead of the raids, but militia commander Ziyad Allouki defied the judicial warrants against him, saying he would remain in Bab al-Tabbaneh until Rifaat Eid was arrested.
“I will not leave Tabbaneh and I will not surrender to the Lebanese Army as long as Rifaat Eid is on the loose,” Allouki told The Daily Star in a telephone interview.
Jabal Mohsen, however, is tense. The metal bar at the gate of the Eid family compound has collapsed, police and Army soldiers guarding the entrance behind barriers that were once manned by Eid’s acolytes.
At the district’s entrance were giant posters erected for its martyrs, men killed in the endless rounds of battle – youngsters in gel haircuts and hip poses whose lives were cut short. Residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh marched earlier toward Jabal Mohsen in an overture for reconciliation, and one Jabal merchant said he saw several fighters reaching out to the neighborhood’s Alawites.
But another march toward a mosque that lies beyond Jabal Mohsen was halted because demonstrators from Bab al-Tabbaneh were shouting “God is great” as they approached their neighbors.
Jabal Mohsen now finds itself without a leader – the Eid family appears to have fled amid fears that its scions might be arrested amid the Army crackdown, along with other gunmen and militia leaders.
“They equated Rifaat Eid, a sect leader, with the militia leaders,” said one Alawite resident, who declined to give his name. “They put a judicial warrant out for our leader.”
“That is a catastrophe,” he added. He said there were still psychological barriers between the two neighborhoods, which would not be erased until after a broader reconciliation took place.
“Let’s see if they shoot any of us this week,” he said. Separately, an Army statement Wednesday said that the military arrested 14 Syrians in possession of heavy weapons and forged documents in the Baalbek village of Arsal. – Additional reporting by Misbah al-Ali and Antoine Amrieh

Lebanese Alawite cleric urges reconciliation with top leaders in Tripoli
April 03, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The head of the Alawite Islamic Council Thursday urged reconciliation between local leaders in the northern city of Tripoli after Ali Eid, head of the Arab Democratic Party that represents Lebanon's Alawite community, reportedly went into hiding. “I call on the state to reconsider reconciliation from the top all the way down to the bottom in order for [the reconciliation] to survive and flourish," Sheikh Assad Assi said during a news conference in Tripoli, north Lebanon. He pointed to a Sept. 2008 agreement that was signed by top leaders in Tripoli to end months of bloody clashes between Alawites in Jabal Mohsen and Sunni groups in nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh. mThat agreement was reached after a reconciliatory meeting between Eid, a supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Saad Hariri, head of the Sunni Future Movement.
In a rare display of solidarity Wednesday, residents of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh celebrated as hundreds of Lebanese soldiers deployed to restore peace and stability to Tripoli after dozens were killed in at least 20 rounds of gunbattles linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria. Speculation circulated about the whereabouts of Eid, the ADP head and a former MP, following the Army crackdown that began Tuesday. Sources told the local daily An-Nahar that Eid fled to Syria and that his son, Rifaat Eid, left for the United States on the eve of the implementation of the Tripoli security plan. Assi defended the gunmen and the so-called “field commanders” saying they were “victims of their [political] bosses.”“They are heroes ... They fought for their Islam and their honor,” he said. An-Nahar said many field commanders fled to refugee camps in south Lebanon ahead of the military crackdown. The Lebanese Army carried out more raids Thursday in search of suspects wanted by authorities. A military statement late Wednesday said the Army arrested 33 more suspects in Tripoli, raising the number of detained men since the clampdown to 108. The Army said a quantity of weapons, ammunition and various types of military equipment was also seized Wednesday.

STL Sets Status Conference on Merhi Counsel Preparations, Pending Issues for April 10
Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/The Trial Chamber of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will hold a Status Conference in the Ayyash et al. case on April 10, announced the STL in a statement on Thursday. The hearing, which is the second Status Conference since the Trial Chamber temporarily adjourned trial, will cover preparations of the counsel for Hassan Habib Merhi for the resumption of the trial, including filing of their Defense pre-trial brief and the date of resumption of the trial. It will also tackle submissions on the deadline for counsel for Merhi to file any notice under Rule 161 (B) of the Rules of Procedures and Evidence. The status conference will also cover the Lebanon's cooperation with the STL and any other pending motions. The hearing, which will be public, will begin at 2:15 PM (Central European Time). The Trial Chamber may decide to go into closed session if confidential matters need to be discussed. The in absentia trial of four Hizbullah members accused of murdering former Premier Rafik Hariri in February 2005 opened at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague on January 16. The trial sessions were adjourned until at least early to mid-May to allow Defense counsel for Merhi adequate time to prepare for trial and to conduct their own investigations. The February 14, 2005 seafront blast killed 22 people including Hariri and wounded 226, leading to the establishment by the U.N. Security Council of the STL in 2007. The court in 2011 issued arrest warrants against Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra all members of Hizbullah. The four suspects were indicted in 2011 with plotting the attack, but have not been arrested. A fifth suspect, Merhi, was charged late last year in the case and is also still at large.

Legislative Session Ends as Berri Stresses Need to Pass Wage Scale

Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/The parliament on Thursday wrapped up a plenary legislative session that spanned three days, after approving several key bills and postponing a host of draft laws. The legislature also decided to refer to parliamentary committees a number of urgent bills after determining that they need further debate. At the end of the session, Speaker Nabih Berri announced that a new legislative session will be held on Wednesday and Thursday next week, following a cabinet session that will be held on Tuesday. The speaker hoped the new legislative session will be dedicated to the new wage scale, whose decrees are expected to be finalized this Friday by the joint parliamentary committees. Berri underlined the need to finalize the salary scale and give it priority, noting that the parliament would then start discussing the submitted draft laws on the parliamentary electoral law. The Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, staged a central, massive sit-in on Wednesday to press for the approval of the wage scale, which was passed by Najib Miqati's government more than a year ago. The government, however, had failed to agree on the sources of funding back then.

Geagea Seeks 'Radical Change' by Running for Presidency

Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea stated that the situation in Lebanon is “difficult and bleak”, which is why the time is right for him to run for president, reported the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday. He told the daily: “We must introduce radical change over how to solve Lebanon's problems.” “I want to complete what President Michel Suleiman started, which he unfortunately only began during the last seven months of his term,” he said. “I want to commence with my presidential program immediately should I succeed in the elections,” Geagea remarked. “I do not seek power, but I believe that the situation in Lebanon can no longer support the ongoing problems,” he continued. The LF chief explained that he based the decision to run for the presidential elections on promising factors and his intention to extract Lebanon from its current situation. “My allies want to see me elected as president, in contrast with what some sides are attempting to portray,” Geagea said in reference to media reports of a rift between the LF and the Mustaqbal Movement.
“In fact, my allies will be the most at ease should I be elected as president,” he said. Geagea is poised to officially declare his nomination for the presidency, after his press office announced that the party's Executive Committee will meet Friday to discuss his presidential program.  Asked if Hizbullah will accept his nomination and possible election, Geagea replied: “What not? Perhaps the party also wants to end the current deteriorating situation in Lebanon.” “I believe that they are better off dealing with a serious person whose way of thinking they are aware of instead of someone whom they do not know so well,” he explained.
“When one is in a crisis, they unconsciously seek someone else to get them out of it,” he added. “I do not think that Hizbullah's main support base is in the greatest of shape … and I do not think that it is capable of altering the current situation,” he stated. “We are calling for the rise of the state that achieves stability and security that serve all sides,” Geagea said. “The program we are planning serves the interests of all sides and eliminates a current flawed situation, which started with the civil war and still persists under various slogans because the Syrian regime needed it for its regional and international agendas,” he noted.
“Shouldn't Hizbullah's youths be at university instead of the battlefield?” he wondered in reference to party members taking part in the fighting in Syria alongside the country's ruling regime. “Shouldn't they working on building a solid economy instead of earning their salaries from Iran?” asked the LF chief. “Hizbullah's support base will be the first beneficiary from my presidential program because it is ultimately suffering the most from the current situation, whether on the social, security, or economic levels,” he remarked. “Hizbullah's supporters will gain the most from the establishment of a strong state and achievement of security and stability,” he added.

Hunter Captures Crocodile in Beirut River
Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/A crocodile was captured in Beirut River several months after more than one reptile were spotted in the area. The state-run National News Agency reported that the crocodile was caught by a hunter and weighs around 20 kilograms. The first crocodile was spotted in the area in July was said to be between 3 to 5 years old. Witnesses had said that “at least three other reptiles of same specie were present in the river.” The crocodile was described as “one of the most dangerous types of the species.”It was identified as Crocodylus Niloticus (or a Nile crocodile) and it is among the most dangerous crocodiles in the world.

Syrian Killed, Two Wounded by Army for Failing to Halt at Arsal Checkpoint
Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/A Syrian was killed and two others were wounded on Thursday by the army in the Bekaa region of Arsal, said the Army Command in a statement. It said that the army was forced to open fire at the Syrians, who were riding a motorcycle, after they fled from an army checkpoint in the Wadi Hmayyed area. Investigations in the incident are underway. The National News Agency had earlier reported that the three Syrians were armed members of al-Nusra Front, adding that they fell victim to an army ambush. The victim was identified as Ziad Issa and the injured as Iyyad Samra and Ibrahim Hsayyan, reported Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3). Al-Jadeed television meanwhile reported that the incident took place after the Syrians attempted to cross the border sand barrier in the area.
Arsal lies 12 kilometers from the border with Syria and has been used as a conduit for weapons and rebels to enter Syria, while also serving as a refuge for people fleeing the conflict.
Lebanon is sharply divided over the war in Syria and Arsal is a particular flashpoint as refugees from the uprising and fighters and smugglers hostile to the regime of President Bashar Assad traverse the border.

MP Kanaan Calls for Session to Grant Rights to Civil Defense Volunteers
by Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/Change and Reform MP Ibrahim Kanaan demanded on Thursday a parliamentary session to grant Civil Defense volunteers full-time employment, considering that any attempt to block the matter “will not pass.”“Next week will be a landmark concerning the credibility of all parliamentary blocs regarding the Civil Defense demands,” Kanaan said during a press conference from the parliament. He stressed that the “new wage scale dilemma can no longer endure any delay.” “Several years have passed and the Civil Defense is carrying out its tasks for the sake of the Lebanese people,” the lawmaker said, wondering “what the parliament is waiting for to make the volunteers full-time employees.” “We are discussing ways to fund the new salary scale with the ministry of finance,” Kanaan pointed out. He called for reforms to end corruption. Earlier on Thursday, Civil Defense members briefly blocked the International highway in Chtaura. On Wednesday, Civil Defense volunteers also held symbolic sit-ins in several Lebanese regions to protest the parliament's failure to endorse a proposal that improves their work conditions. The draft-law suggests financing the Civil Defense's fund to solve the department's current financial crisis.

Number of Syria Refugees in Lebanon Passes 1 Million Mark

Naharnet Newsdesk 03 April 2014/More than a million people fleeing Syria's war have registered as refugees in Lebanon, the U.N. said Thursday, with many now living in misery in a tiny country overstretched by the crisis.
And the number is swelling by the day. At a crowded UNHCR center in Tripoli, Lebanon's second city, hundreds of Syrian refugees were seen on Thursday queuing to register.
The U.N. refugee agency says that every day it registers 2,500 new refugees in Lebanon -- more than one person a minute. Yehia, an 18-year-old from Homs in Syria, was identified by the UNHCR as the millionth refugee to be registered in the country. He told Agence France Presse he lives in a garage in Dinniyeh, near Tripoli, with his mother and his two sisters. His father, a carpenter, was killed by a sniper in 2011, six months after the revolt against President Bashar Assad broke out. "It is a disaster," said Yehia. "My mother sold all her gold so we could pay the $250 monthly rent. We don't know what will happen to us in the future."His main wish, he said, was to go back to school to finish his studies, which were interrupted by the war. "The fact that there were one million Syrians before me who are going hungry, even dying here is very painful," Yehia said sorrowfully. According to the UNHCR, refugees from Syria, half of them children, now equal a quarter of Lebanon's resident population, warning that most of them live in poverty and depend on aid for survival.
UNHCR representative in Lebanon Ninette Kelly branded the one million figure as "a devastating marker."
"The extent of the human tragedy is not just the resuscitation of numbers, but each one of these numbers represent a human life who, like us, have lives of their own, but who've lost their homes, they've lost their family members, have lost their future," she told reporters. Kelly said Lebanon has become the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide. Lebanon "is literally staggering under the weight of this problem. Its social services are stressed, health, education, its very fragile infrastructure is also buckling under the pressure." The massive refugee crisis is compounded by a spillover across the border of the violence that has ravaged Syria for the past three years, with Lebanon experiencing frequent bombings and clashes even as it grapples with political deadlock and an economic downturn. In a statement, UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres urged increased international action to help Lebanon deal with this "immense" and "staggering" crisis. Social Affairs Minister Rachid Derbas also appealed for international support saying Lebanon "cannot carry this burden alone".
The strain has been particularly felt across the public sector, with health and education services, as well as electricity, water and sanitation affected. The humanitarian appeal for Lebanon "is only 14 percent funded," even as the needs of a rapidly growing refugee population become ever more pressing, the UNHCR's Kelly said.

- Girls are married young -
Half the refugees are children, with the vast majority not attending school.
"The number of school-aged children is now over 400,000, eclipsing the number of Lebanese children in public schools. These schools have opened their doors to over 100,000 refugees, yet the ability to accept more is severely limited," said the UNHCR's statement. Because of the dire economic situation their families endure, many children are now working, "girls can be married young and the prospect of a better future recedes the longer they remain out of school," it added. Unlike Turkey and Jordan, which are also hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Lebanon has not set up official camps. Tens of thousands of families live in insalubrious informal settlements dotted around the country, many of them near the restive border with Syria. Syria's war began as a peaceful uprising demanding political change in Arab Spring-inspired protests, but it morphed into a bloody insurgency after Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown against dissent. The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, while half of the population is estimated to have fled their homes. Source/Agence France Presse.

Nusra Front members plotting in Lebanon

April 03, 2014/By Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
Security reports warn that a large number of Nusra Front fighters have infiltrated Lebanon in the last few days; most have been coming from Yabroud and Qalamoun in Syria. The reports said these fighters would likely join certain extremist groups in Lebanon that are plotting several terrorist operations, backed by fundamentalist and Islamist scholars who live abroad. These fighters have scattered to several refugee camps and regions across Lebanon, with some residing in secret apartments. Palestinian sources told The Daily Star about their anxieties and expectations for dramatic incidents to take place in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in south Lebanon in the near future. A senior security official in Fatah informed the security forces that these groups have steadily been building their military capabilities, the results of which might soon be seen in operations carried out by these groups, who are financed by regional parties. Reports have also revealed that the head of Fatah al-Islam in Ain Al-Hilweh, identified as Mohammad A. D., known as Khordoq, has finalized preparations and drawn a map of key locations that could be targeted by fighters based in the camp. The information said Palestinian IDs would be forged for members of several fundamentalist groups for later use to execute terrorist operations in Lebanon and Syria. The security forces have also been informed that there are stolen cars in Ain al-Hilweh, where they were rigged by an explosives expert called Kh. Agha, an Algerian residing in Lebanon for the past seven years, who works for one of the fundamentalist groups in the camp. The sources noted that the government-backed security plan that was implemented in north Lebanon and Tripoli had prompted several groups to take refuge in the camp, where they are planning out how to attack Hezbollah targets in response to the group’s involvement in the Syrian war.
Well-informed sources said a group of fundamentalist fighters were taking refuge in Akkar and would soon go to Syria to support opposition fighters in their uprising against the regime, under the supervision of military trainers from the Free Syrian Army and Syrian officer Hussein Mahhour from Zabadani. The training of these groups is part of a plan to boost the ranks of the FSA following its recent setbacks in Homs and Qalamoun.
A security report was provided to The Daily Star that contained the names of some of these fighters who will leave to train. They come from different regions and are identified as Mohammad S., Hussein A.S., Abdel-Rahman M., Tareq N., Ghassan M., Khaled Hisham A., and Mohammad Mustafa Kh. The report confirmed that heavy and advanced arms were smuggled to Syria through secret crossings in the Bekaa Valley and Arsal under the supervision of Lebanese Ahmad M. A. with the cooperation of an officer in the FSA identified as Ibrahim Fares.
A few weeks ago, dozens of Lebanese fighters traveled to a regional capital where they held several meetings with regional intelligence officers, with the presence of Nusra Front officials and military officers from different nationalities, to discuss a plan to be launched from positions in north Lebanon aimed at Syria to ease the pressures being exerted by the regime forces on the opposition groups and to keep reinforcements open.

Laws In The for the people
April 03, 2014/The Daily Star
While it is partly positive that Parliament is finally getting around to passing legislation that has been on hold for years, it is important that this is not done in a haphazard way or on politicized whims. The passing of the law governing Electricite du Liban workers Wednesday, which grants contract workers full-time employment, came under pressure from Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aware that many of the EDL workers who have been striking are supporters of his party. This was not about a concern for workers’ rights, but appeasing his electorate. It is clear that on many issues, legislation, which should be Parliament’s raison d’etre, is becoming its tool, used to secure sectarian support, not judged based on what would best benefit Lebanon. The inadequate domestic violence law, passed Tuesday, is another example. Some 70 MPs claimed to have wanted to discuss amendments before it passed, but this did not happen. Was this opposition a lie? Why was it then voted through? On the salary increase for public workers, which looks set to be passed soon, many from the Finance Ministry, the Central Bank and economists have cautioned against it, saying the funds simply don’t exist. If a wage hike for state workers is extended to the private sector, as some are already demanding, it is likely that many businesses will simply have to fire large numbers of staff. What looks like a positive step is nothing of the sort.
Shortsighted, populist decision-making in Parliament is dangerous and does not benefit Lebanon. Those MPs must be held accountable.

Obama and Erdoğan, Back in the Spotlight
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Thursday, 3 Apr, 2014
Anyone watching the tense scene in the Middle East had been anticipating two recent events: US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the municipal elections in Turkey.
True, there have been other incidents that garnered media attention, such as the Arab League summit hosted by Kuwait, US Secretary of State John Kerry renewing efforts to revive the Israeli–Palestinian peace talks, the latest developments in the Egyptian presidential elections, the turbulent situation in Iraq, and the so-called “security plans” and forthcoming elections in Iraq and Lebanon. All of these incidents deserve to be highlighted; however, to be frank none of them will have a palpable impact on the politics of the region.
The outcome of the Arab League summit was known in advance, not only because of the now-familiar inter-Arab differences but also the schisms now appearing within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which, until recently, was the most robust and cohesive Arab organization.
On the other hand, the expectations surrounding Kerry’s efforts to strike an Israeli–Palestinian peace deal were never that high in the first place. First, Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies have always sought to undermine anything and everything that might lead to a peaceful solution. Second, Washington has never been equidistant from the two sides in the negotiation process it insists on monopolizing.
As for Egypt, it is obvious that the way has been paved for the election of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as president. In addition, a sense of déjà-vu applies to the situation in Iraq and Lebanon, with any elections there remaining outside of the scope of speculation and conjecture given Iran’s hegemony over Baghdad and Beirut.
The consensus was that Obama’s visit to Riyadh came at a time caracterized by clear differences of opinion between the Kingdom and the US regarding some of the vital issues keeping the region on edge. But this is not the first time such differences have been noted between the two traditional allies. For example, one may point to Saudi Arabia’s misgivings about the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. At the time, Riyadh expressed clearly and frankly its reservations based on its understanding of the nature of the region and its social and political fabric. As we recall, George W. Bush, with the Republican neocons and the Pentagon’s hawks behind him, did not heed the friendly advice, choosing instead to deal with Iraq their own way. They got what they were after, and as a result Iraq turned into a vassal state in Iran’s orbit, as we see today.
Obama came to the White House from a different political background to Bush, and during his first visit to the Middle East—the most prominent feature of which was his speech at Cairo University—he gave the impression that he was keen on promoting understanding with the region. Indeed, some thought that he was truly of a different disposition from traditional US presidents, a perception largely based on his much-touted election slogan, “Change.” Nevertheless, Washington’s reaction to the “Arab Spring” was reluctant and self-contradictory. While claiming to be in line with the system of high principles it defended, the US response to the “Arab Spring” lacked intuition or realism. Even when the US administration decided to move, it preferred to “lead from behind” other regional and international players—that is, until its approach to the Syrian crisis caused that policy’s demise.
Regardless of Israel’s true attitude towards Assad remaining in power, it must be said at this point that Washington had raised expectations by making a barrage of promises and threats, only to prove later that it was never serious about honoring any of them. Later on, it became clear that the crisis was more dangerous than anyone had realized. However, just as it became clear to the entire world that the Syrian regime was a mere facade of Iran’s regional project, details of a then-undisclosed dialogue between Washington and Tehran began to emerge. It appears today that this US–Iran rapprochement aims to develop into a partnership. Taken on its own terms this is positive step, but it wouldn’t be when it runs in parallel with Washington’s deafening silence on Iran’s burgeoning influence in the region, from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Sudan.
In Riyadh, Obama reiterated that rapprochement with Iran would not come at the expense of Washington’s “friends” in the region. Indeed, US politicians have grown accustomed to repeating similar remarks ever since the US appeasement of China in the 1970s. At the time, Washington maintained that normalizing relations with Beijing would not compromise its ties with Japan and South Korea. The difference with the current situation is that, at the time, China was not occupying parts of Japan or South Korea.
As for Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in the municipal elections may give Ankara a dose of confidence, and will likely see Turkey’s return to the region’s political arena through Syria. At this point, we must acknowledge that some of the problems that have plagued Turkey over the past two years have been self-inflicted. Ankara did not need to give precedence to its ideological interests over its strategic ones following the transformation in Egypt that saw the end of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. Ankara–Tehran ties also require realistic and broad analysis. Thus far, the tone between the two capitals has been very friendly. The experience of the Brotherhood—Ankara’s allies—in Egypt in terms of the way they dealt with Tehran indicated that they were ready to sacrifice Syria and leave it to Iran’s hegemony.
When the transformation took place in Egypt, Ankara’s reaction was rather rash and petulant, regardless of how it views the Iranian project. Furthermore, Erdoğan’s reactions have lost Ankara the sympathy and admiration of a wide segment of Arab public opinion, which a few years ago saw Ankara as an ally. This is why the Arab region is now keenly observing how Erdoğan will act following the new popular mandate he secured in the municipal elections. How will Erdoğan respond to the course the Syrian crisis has taken, particularly on the Lattakia front close to the Turkish border? How will he handle Bashar Al-Assad’s regime targeting the Turkmen minority in Syria?
Will the Erdoğan government act with the mentality of a regional power or as a parochial ruling party?

Has Britain fallen out with the Brotherhood?

Mshari Al-Zaydi/Asharq Al Awsat/Thursday, 3 Apr, 2014
The movement of the British authorities toward outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood is a great catastrophe for the group—even greater than the Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi catastrophe. Reports say that British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an immediate investigation into the activities of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the UK due to suspicions that members there are planning to carry out extremist activities in Britain. According to media reports, British foreign intelligence service MI6 will investigate suspicions that the group was behind the deaths of three tourists on a bus in Egypt last February, along with other attacks, while domestic security agency MI5 will draw up a list of Brotherhood leaders who moved to Britain following the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi. A spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry welcomed the British decision, labeling it a triumph for Egyptian policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. But will this new direction lead to the Brotherhood being deprived of its British haven? It is perhaps too early to say, or even to imagine.
Why? Because the presence of the Brotherhood and its affiliates in the West goes back a long time. Sometimes, they went to the West under the pretext of seeking political asylum or looking to earn a living, but other times they came in full knowledge of Western politicians. Since the rise of the founder of the group, Hassan Al-Banna, a number of Brotherhood personalities have been active in the West, including Egyptians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians. There is a third generation of sons of Brotherhood members currently residing in the West who still hold their original nationalities. Dr. Tariq Ramadan, the son of Hassan Al-Banna’s brother-in-law and comrade, Said Ramadan, is one example, as is Youssef Nada, a wealthy Brotherhood member, who has for decades used the West as a haven for his investments.
Britain has often been at the receiving end of accusations by Arab governments of endangering their national security by sheltering Brotherhood members and that is was duplicitous in its claims regarding human rights. But London’s reply has always been that it is simply adhering to the values of freedom and democracy.
The Brotherhood is interested in consolidating its presence in the West, to the extent that we can talk about the “Brotherhood of the West.” But they will now probably go through a period of drought and restrictions, after years of living in the land of milk and honey. This Brotherhood presence in the West has been noted by Western researcher Lorenzo Vidino in his book book, The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, published by Columbia University Press and presented to the Arab world by the Al-Mesbar Studies Center. In the book, Vidino talks about the reasons for the Brotherhood’s Western presence, as well as how the Brotherhood has monopolized the role of speaking in the name of Muslims in the West. He quoted a US official who said that concerns among people in the West of being labelled racist or anti-Muslim had led some Muslim organizations to use this to their advantage by demanding financial or other benefits. The West’s embrace of the Brotherhood is puzzling to some, but things are not always conspiracies and plots; sometimes they may simply stem from ignorance—as Vidino has pointed out when he shows of how some Western officials do not even know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites. There is no doubt that London’s recent move is a turning point in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. We shall see if it represents a new resolve, or just an empty promise.

Dempsey claims Israel satisfied the US will use military option against Iran.

DEBKAfile: Israel doesn’t say this Special Report April 2, 2014/Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, flew out of Israel Wednesday, April 2, from three days of talks with Israeli leaders, asserting: “I think they are satisfied we have the capability [to use a military option against Iran]. I think they believe we will use it.”DEBKAfile sources tracking his talks did not receive that impression from Israeli officials. They did not subscribe to his statement that “Israel and the United States are in broad agreement about the threat that Iran poses to the region and how to deal with it.”The US general admitted there were differences but added that Israel and the United States are closer now in their assessments of the threat Iran poses and America’s willingness to act. “They just wanted to know that we are maintaining and continuing to refine our military options,” he said. During his visit, Gen. Dempsey paid calls on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, as well as military intelligence (AMAN) chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. He also raised eyebrows in security circles. when he made his own arrangements to see certain retired Israeli generals, including former AMAN head Amos Yadlin, None of his interlocutors knew what he was talking about when he summed up his visit by saying, “Our clocks are more harmonized than they were two years ago.” He was evidently referring to the summer of 2012 when Israel and the IDF were all set to stage an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and forced to call it off under sledgehammer pressure from President Barack Obama. Today, while Iran presses on, Israel and the US are no nearer agreement than before, Israeli security circles stress. Dempsey’s remark that the US “will use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path,” is the giveaway. It exposes the Obama administration’s continued refusal to admit that while Tehran sticks to “the diplomatic path” it uses that path to carry on developing its military nuclear capacity undisturbed. The coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out next Friday reveals the details of a secret plan presented to Israel by Gen. Dempsey. Don’t miss this and other

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian: Iran does not seek indefinite power for Assad
By Michelle Moghtader | Reuters/Thursday, 3 April 2014
Iran, Syria’s main regional ally, does not see President Bashar al-Assad staying in power indefinitely but neither does it want “extremist forces” to replace him, a senior Iranian diplomat said on Wednesday.
Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs, added in an interview Iran hoped to have talks in a month or so with Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s regional rival, to address their differences about the Middle East. Asked about Iranian activities in several Arab countries, he told Reuters that stability, peace and development “in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and any other country in the region will help the interests and security of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Abdollahian, on a tour of some Gulf Arab states for talks about regional issues, said: “In order to answer your question in another way: We have a deep relation with Syria. It’s a strategic ally against Israel.”
He added: “We aren’t seeking to have Bashar al-Assad remain president for life. But we do not subscribe to the idea of using extremist forces and terrorism to topple Assad and the Syrian government.”
Syria’s conflict has drawn in thousands of foreign fighters who fight either for the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels, which include radical Islamist militias aligned to al Qaeda, or for Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey back some groups fighting Assad’s forces. In turn, Assad gets political support from Iraq and Algeria, weapons from his old ally Russia, and military backing and advice from Iran, diplomats say.
Political solution
Abdollahian insisted Iran’s aid to Syria was limited to humanitarian goods such as food and medicine and said military aid would not end the three-year-old war, which has cost an estimated 140,000 lives and uprooted millions.
“The situation vis-à-vis Syria has changed regionally,” he said, adding it was necessary now for a “parallel track” to failed peace talks held in Switzerland earlier this year.
He did not elaborate on that or on what he has previously described as a four-part plan for Syria developed by Tehran and U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
But he said Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey “have all started to believe in a diplomatic process and are now more than ever working towards a political solution.”
Diplomatic efforts, focused on the political rather than religious factors driving Syria’s conflict, have made no headway..
Abdollahian was speaking after talks with United Arab Emirate’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, which he said covered Syria, as well as Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt. He held talks in Kuwait on Tuesday.
‘Misunderstandings’ with Saudi Abdollahian expressed readiness to meet his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, but said Iran was waiting for Saudi Arabia to specify the exact date.
“Misunderstandings” between Saudi Arabia and Iran about Syria, Iraq and Bahrain could be solved through discussions, he said, adding: “We are hopeful to having discussions in the next month, or at the earliest possible moment.” Turning to efforts to resolve a long-running dispute over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, Abdollahian expressed hope that negotiators for Iran and major powers would reach a final settlement by a deadline of July 20.
The talks were hard but “important steps” had been taken, he said. The Islamic Republic has long denied accusations from Israel, Western powers and their allies that it has tried to develop the capability to produce atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program. In November, Iran and the six powers struck an interim deal under which Tehran shelved higher-grade uranium enrichment and agreed to other constraints in exchange for modest relief from punitive economic sanctions. The next set of nuclear negotiations are slated to take place in Vienna on April 7-9. Abdollahian added that Noor Ahmad Nikbakht, an Iranian embassy official kidnapped in the Yemeni capital last year, was alive and in good health. “We have formed a joint committee with the Yemen security forces and their foreign ministry,” he said without elaborating.
In January, another Iranian diplomat was fatally wounded when he resisted gunmen who tried to kidnap him. Kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen are common, often carried out by al-Qaeda-linked militants or by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to put pressure on the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services.

Obama visit to Saudi affirms strategic alignment
Thursday, 3 April 2014/Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi/Al Arabiya
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week highlighted the perennial topic of relations between the two countries, with observers discussing real and imagined disputes and the seemingly diverging paths of the old allies. Most of the talk focused on the partial disengagement of the United States from the Middle East toward East Asia, Europe and South America, arguing essentially that there would be a reduced focus on issues in this region. But it seems abundantly clear now that while tactics may differ, the strategic vision and intent of the two nations remain intact.
Saudi stands firm. Saudi leaders are known for taking rational and wise decisions, ultimately aimed at seeking harmony. It has been no different recently, except for a change in political thinking. The kingdom has taken a leading and decisive role during a critical time. This was established by the position the country took on the June 30 Egyptian revolution and the Syrian uprising. Saudi Arabia also made its intentions clear in the Arab world, and globally, by rejecting a seat on the “ineffective” U.N. Security Council last year.
Saudi leaders are known for taking rational and wise decisions, ultimately aimed at seeking harmony. It has been no different recently, except for a change in political thinking. The kingdom has taken a leading and decisive role during a critical time.
The world is changing and so are the global centers of power. Politics is the art and science of holding on to power in the face of competing interests and constantly shifting alliances. Saudi Arabia has therefore understandably taken the realistic decision to seek warmer relations with new regional powers.
An important element of this has always been to ensure a united front among the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly in light of the current tensions created by Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
There is no doubt, of course, that the GCC has seen better days. This regional institution, that had maintained such success in the face of previous challenges, has clearly been shaken by changes, including several revolutions and toppled regimes. Qatar’s position on issues has weakened the GCC, and it has now become imperative for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to develop a united political position.
Everyone knows that Iran’s ambitions were featured prominently in the talks between Washington and Riyadh, including the concerns of the Gulf nations.
While Washington has made comforting reassurances that it would not accept a “bad deal” with Iran, Riyadh has made it clear that the issue is not only about Iran’s nuclear program, but also its interference in Gulf affairs.
In particular, Iran’s attempts to impose its political agenda on Arab countries by using whatever underhanded means necessary and consequently jeopardizing the region’s future.
Shifting priorities of the U.S. While Obama’s visit has confirmed the strategic relations between the two countries, differences remain. This has changed the accord the two countries once had in jointly determining how to deal with regional and international issues. Now Riyadh has taken the leading role here, which has been caused by the shifting priorities of the United States and its indecisive administration.
When Saudi Arabia went public about its support for the Syrian revolutionaries and sought to gain international backing for the moderate opposition, Washington created problems and dissatisfaction with its confusion on how to deal with the issue. It issued contradictory statements in the wake of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on its people and it still opposes arming the opposition, claiming that it fears the weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists. Political differences are healthy and can ensure a relationship based on mutual respect. In the end, though, what matters is whether there are still shared strategic objectives.
Aside from oil, the U.S. will always need Riyadh’s political, economic and strategic role in the region. For instance, the discourse in the U.S. has changed on Egypt because of Saudi influence and persuasive arguments.
Obama’s visit has not magically dealt with unresolved issues but it has reaffirmed that the two nations are aligned strategically. The two countries still share common interests, and these will ultimately ensure they deepen and develop their alliance.
**This article was first published in Arab News on April 2, 2014.


Israel Stops Palestinian Prisoner Release amid Talks Crisis
Naharnet/Israel has told the Palestinians that a planned release of 26 prisoners cannot proceed, placing already embattled peace talks in further jeopardy after both sides took steps Washington called "unhelpful."
Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians has told them that the planned release cannot go ahead, a source close to the embattled talks told Agence France Presse on Thursday.
A frustrated U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier demanded that recalcitrant Israeli and Palestinian leaders demonstrate leadership in the crisis-hit peace process.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told a meeting with her counterparts on Wednesday that the prisoner release could not happen because the Palestinians had resumed a diplomatic campaign meant to challenge Israel more fully in the international arena.
The talks hit a new impasse when Israel failed to free the prisoners as expected at the weekend. In response, the Palestinians formally requested accession to several international treaties. The source said Livni told the Palestinians that her government had been seeking to expedite the release when the Palestinians submitted their accession request to U.N. bodies, and that they had therefore breached their commitments under the terms of peace talks restarted under U.S. auspices last July.
It said that Livni urged the Palestinians to cancel the move and return to talks. White House spokesman Jay Carney called Israel's decision a further "challenge" to peace efforts.
"The decision by the Israelis to delay the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners creates challenges," he said.
U.S. officials said that Kerry, who has pursued more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy, spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday afternoon, and to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later, but they gave no details. Kerry said in Algiers that Israelis and Palestinians made "progress" in lengthy overnight talks in Jerusalem, also attended by the Americans.
His efforts appeared to be on the brink of collapse this week after Israel announced a fresh wave of settlement tenders and the Palestinians resumed international recognition moves.
Washington described them as "unhelpful, unilateral actions", but insisted diplomacy still had a chance.Kerry threw down the gauntlet, telling both sides it was time for compromise at what he called a "critical moment" in the peace process.
"You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions to compromise," he said. "The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it's there."
He said, however, that progress was made at a meeting between Livni, U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat that lasted until 4:00 am Thursday. The overnight marathon "focused on the necessity of releasing the prisoners," a Palestinian official told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity, adding that the applications for accession to several international treaties were "irreversible."
Each side accused the other of violating undertakings given when the talks began. "The ball is in Israel's court now. It should release the prisoners," former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh told AFP.
The moves dealt a hammer blow to Kerry's frenetic efforts to broker an extension of the negotiations beyond their original April 29 deadline.
U.N. Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry confirmed receiving the Palestinian applications, with a spokesman for the secretary general saying they would consider the "appropriate next steps."
The first treaty the Palestinians applied to was the Fourth Geneva Convention, which holds huge symbolic importance as it provides the legal basis of their opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
In Israel, there was surprise and anger over the Palestinian move. "The Palestinians have returned to a diplomatic intifada," one political official told Yediot Aharonot newspaper, using the Arabic word for uprising.
Pro-government daily Israel HaYom said efforts were under way to compile a list of more prisoners who could be freed should the sides agree to extend the talks.
It said top officials agree that the potential security repercussions of a talks collapse "will be far greater than the price that Israel will be required to pay for extending the negotiations."
Source/Agence France Presse