April 05/14


Bible Quotation for today/Healing the Deaf & Mute Man

Mark 7,31-37/: "Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

Pope Francis's Tweet for Today

With Jesus our life becomes full. With him everything makes sense. (EG 266)
Pape François
Avec Jésus la vie acquiert sa plénitude. Avec Lui, c’est plus facile de trouver le sens de toute chose. (EG 266)


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 05/14

Russia to back Iran in nuclear talks - Moscow’s “April surprise” for Western sanctions over Ukraine/DEBKAfile/April 05/14

Britain and the Muslim Brotherhood/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat/April 05/14

The Bear Comes Uninvited to Crimea/ By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat/April 05/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 05/14
Lebanese Related News

LF Executive Committee Backs Geagea's Presidential Bid

Assailants Abduct Citizen in Riyaq

Joint Committees OK 7 out of 9 Items in Draft Wage Scale as Kanaan, Khalil Trade Tirades

8 Charged for Nusra Front Membership

Lebanese Activist Barred from Entering Egypt over Death Sentence Petition

Stolen Vehicle Seized near Syrian Refugee Camp in Arsal

Rockets Hit Bekaa Towns, 'Free Sunnis' and ISIL Claim Attack

'Free Sunnis Brigade' Criticizes Security Plan in Tripoli, Says it Violates Sanctity of Muslim Homes

Army to Conduct Security Plan in Bekaa in Upcoming Hours

Report: Murr to Revive Ties with Aoun

Anti-Drug Bureau Arrests Man Wanted on 123 Warrants in Dahieh

Syrian Opposition Urges 'End to Racism' against Refugees in Lebanon

Women's Education: Promoting Development, Countering Radicalism
Miscellaneous Reports And News

U.S. Reviews Mideast Peace Push as Tit-for-Tat Moves Multiply

Israel cancels fourth prisoner release
US envoy Indyk to meet with Palestinians as Washington evaluates role in talks

Israel Mulls Reprisals for New Palestinian Statehood Drive

Iraq Christians Say Homes Seized as Unrest Spikes

Report: Kuwait Minister under U.S. Fire on Syria Jihad Quits

U.N. Official Urges Syria to Resume Stalled Chemical Arms Transfers

Israel Okays Controversial E.Jerusalem Archaeology Project
Syria Army Steps Up Operations near Damascus

West, Middle East Powers Warn against Syria Election

German AP Photographer Shot Dead in Afghanistan 


LF Executive Committee Backs Geagea's Presidential Bid
by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/The Lebanese Forces executive committee unanimously agreed on Friday to back the candidacy of LF chief Samir Geagea to the presidency. MP George Adwan, Geagea's deputy, said following the meeting of the executive committee that was also attended by LF MPs that there was an agreement to back the politician in his bid to become president “out of the patriotic and political principles of the LF and the March 14 alliance.” Such a decision was taken in an effort to implement those principles through the state to have a free and independent country that preserves democracy and human rights, the statement said.
Adwan said that Lebanon is at a sensitive stage at the security and economic levels amid the spread of chaos and the proliferation of illegitimate weapons, which lead to the disintegration of the state. “The LF is keen on respecting democracy in political confrontation,” the MP said as he read the statement. “A dramatic change is necessary to come out of the tunnel and cause a positive shock to give back the presidency its post as a guarantee to everyone … and in confrontation of the dangers against the unity of the nation,” he said.“It's time for the Lebanese to elect a president made in Lebanon,” he told reporters after reading the statement.
“There is contact with the March 14 camp and there are continuous meetings,” Adwan said amid reports that Geagea took a unilateral decision to announce his candidacy.
“The coming days will reveal the path of the candidacy,” the lawmaker, as he shied away from directly answering a question on whether the announcement was made in coordination with March 14. The LF chief “has informed all allies about his candidacy,” he said, adding: “It's natural for Geagea to be a March 14 candidate.” Before the meeting, Geagea told the conferees that the state's authority has been violated along the border and the internal scene due to the spread of illegitimate arms. “Confidence in Lebanon was shaken as several Arab countries banned their citizens from traveling to Lebanon. So did Western states,” he said.
“Given this reality, we must either continue along with it and bring about more deterioration or take radical steps that will bring about a new reality in the country,” he stated.
“We are gathered here today to introduce a new reality in Lebanon that guarantees its security, stability, and sound economy,” Geagea added.
"I have briefed my allies about the issue of my nomination," the LF chief later told reporters. He also admitted that the March 14 coalition "hasn't yet taken a unified stance." Deputy Speaker Farid Makari was the first politician to back Geagea's nomination. “The Lebanese people have a duty to elect a new president who serves the country,” the lawmaker said during a press conference in parliament. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25 but the Constitutional deadline for the election of a new head of state started on March 25. Geagea is a staunch critic of Hizbullah and the Iranian and Syrian regimes. His rival, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who is Hizbullah's ally, said on Wednesday that he would not run for president if Geagea gained the support of al-Mustaqbal movement.

8 Charged for Nusra Front Membership
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/The military prosecutor on Friday charged in absentia two Lebanese and six Syrians for belonging to the Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front. The state-run National News Agency said Judge Saqr Saqr issued the charges against the eight suspects accused of belonging to an armed terrorist organization with the aim of plotting terrorist attacks. The charges include arms possession and shooting Lebanese soldiers in the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood of the northern city of Tripoli, NNA said. Saqr referred the file of the suspects to the first military examining magistrate, Judge Riyad Abou Ghida, the agency added. Sunni militants, including al-Nusra Front, have in the past weeks and months carried out several suicide bombings and car bomb attacks in Shiite-dominated towns and suburbs of Beirut that are Hizbullah strongholds. They claim the assaults come in retaliation to Hizbullah's support to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The party's fighters have been instrumental to Assad's success on the battlefield.

Joint Committees OK 7 out of 9 Items in Draft Wage Scale as Kanaan, Khalil Trade Tirades

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/The joint parliamentary committees on Friday finished discussing “seven out of nine items” in the draft new wage scale, amid a heated exchange between Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan. According to several TV networks, a fierce verbal dispute erupted between Khalil and Kanaan, whose loud tirades were heard outside the meeting room.
LBCI television said the dispute broke out during the discussion of “the revenues from construction licenses.” But during a joint press conference with Kanaan after the meeting, Khalil announced that “all political forces agreed that we are addressing a legitimate demand," adding that there were no "divergent viewpoints on this issue and there is consensus on the need to pass the wage scale as soon as possible."
"The figures of the Finance Ministry and the subcommittee were cross-checked and we reached a total sum, which is LBP 2,765 billion while taking the cost of living into account," he added.
"We discussed the sources of funding and it would be premature to talk about them now," Khalil pointed out. The minister went on to say: "God willing, the course will be positive and it will address the concerns of all the sectors. We are seeking fairness in all our decisions, even in the tax measures that will be taken and will ensure balance for both parties."For his part, Kanaan revealed that "there is tangible progress in finalizing seven articles and two articles were postponed for further consultations with the relevant parties.""We finished discussions over the issue of the cost and started discussing the revenues and there is no dispute over the issue of figures," he noted.
But both Khalil and Kanaan declined to announce a date for the next session, although the former said "there is an inclination to hold a meeting prior to next week's legislative session."Meanwhile, media outlets said the meeting will be held on Monday morning. According to state-run National News Agency, which quoted a number of MPs who took part in the session, the lawmakers finalized the debate over articles 2, 3, 4 and 5, which are related to the revenues needed to fund the new wage scale. One of the ministers who participated in the meeting said "there was an agreement that taxes must be imposed on luxury items, such as caviar, yachts, perfumes, fancy cars, financial stamps and deluxe buildings, while the working class and low-income people, who cannot even buy bread for their children, must be exempted from the taxes.”
The joint committees are discussing the issues of raising the minimum wage; granting cost of living compensations to employees and contract workers at state institutes, the Lebanese University and municipalities; and the salaries of civil servants, public school teachers and the armed forces. The conferees debated the “modification and creation of some legal articles related to taxes,” which are stipulated in the two draft laws that are being mulled. Najib Miqati's government had approved the wage increase without agreeing on the sources of funding. “Revenues are the big problem,” al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Ahmed Fatfat told Future TV, while stressing that he supports the new wage scale because it is a legitimate right. “The Finance Ministry must be responsible for specifying the revenues, because experts are saying that we would enter a very dangerous phase if the wage scale was approved, and the issue needs delicate scrutiny,” Fatfat added.

Syria Army Steps Up Operations near Damascus

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/Regime tanks and warplanes pounded besieged Mleiha east of Damascus on Friday, pressing a campaign to take control of the opposition-held town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Fierce fighting raged on the outskirts of Mleiha as rebels tried to defend it, the Observatory said a day after 22 opposition fighters were killed in the army's bombardment. According to the Britain-based monitoring group, there were four air strikes on Friday on Mleiha, which like much of the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus has been under army siege for nearly six months. Mleiha is strategically located near regime-held Jaramana, which is frequently shelled by the rebels. State news agency SANA said Thursday that six children were killed in shelling on the Dikhaniyeh neighborhood there. An activist on the ground, Abu Saqr, told Agence France Presse via Skype that "Assad's regime has been trying for two days to storm" Mleiha. He claimed that the offensive "is being repelled by the (rebel) Free Syrian Army". Abu Saqr said fighting on the edges of Mleiha was "very fierce" and that the rebels are up against government troops backed by Syrian and Iraqi pro-regime militiamen. The army's campaign to crush rebel bastions in the Eastern Ghouta area began in March 2013, and its troops blockaded the area completely in October. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still living in Eastern Ghouta, suffering from severe food shortages in many towns and villages, as well as bearing the brunt of daily shelling. Elsewhere, fighting resumed in Latakia in western Syria, where rebels launched a major offensive two weeks ago against several strategic positions in the heartland of President Bashar Assad's clan and his Alawite sect.
Friday's battles focused on a key hill known as Observatory 45, whose summit saw fierce fighting, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground. More than 300 fighters on both sides have been killed in Latakia in the past two weeks, the Observatory says. Among them was Moroccan jihadist Ibrahim Benchekroun, a former Guantanamo inmate. Better known as Abu Ahmad al-Maghrebi, he had previously fought U.S. troops in Afghanistan after al-Qaida's September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and was later detained in Pakistan. In northwestern Syria, rebels took control of Babuleen and Salhiyeh in Idlib province, a year after regime forces had taken them over, said the Observatory. At least 18 troops were killed in the fighting. The rebel advance helps tighten their siege on Wadi Deif army base, one of the regime's last significant positions in Idlib. In Aleppo in the north, at least two people were killed in an air strike on the rebel-held Shaar district. Hundreds of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in air strikes on rebel areas in Aleppo since the regime launched a major aerial offensive on the city in December. Source/Agence France Presse.


Lebanese Activist Barred from Entering Egypt over Death Sentence Petition
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/Egypt has barred entry to a Lebanese activist who wanted to deliver a petition against a court's death sentences for 529 alleged rioters, an official with the activist's group said Friday.
Wissam Tarif, a member of the U.S.-based Avaaz human rights organization, was detained at Cairo airport for several hours and put on a flight back to Lebanon, said the group's spokesman Sam Barratt. A court in southern Egypt sentenced 529 people to death last month for deadly rioting, after a perfunctory trial. The sentences are likely to be overturned on appeal because the court did not even bother confirming the presence of the defendants at the start of the trial, legal experts say. Tarif had planned to present the petition that of more than one million signatures gathered online to the mufti, the government's official interpreter of Islamic law. Egypt courts consult the mufti on death sentences as a formality, before holding a final hearing to confirm the judgment. Hundreds of alleged Islamists have also been sentenced to prison terms for violence in the wake of the army's ousting of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July. Source/Agence France Presse.


Stolen Vehicle Seized near Syrian Refugee Camp in Arsal
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/Security forces seized on Friday two vehicles in near a Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa region of Arsal, reported the National News Agency. It said that one of the vehicles, a Jeep Cherokee Liberty, was found to be stolen. Investigations are underway to determine if the other car, a Land Rover Discovery, is also stolen. Security forces this week have seized over six stolen vehicles in the Arsal region.
The army also discovered on Monday a booby-trapped vehicle in the Wadi Hmayyed region in Arsal. On Thursday, a Syrian was killed and two others were wounded in a shootout with the army for failing to halt at an army checkpoint in Wadi Hmayyed.


Rockets Hit Bekaa Towns, 'Free Sunnis' and ISIL Claim Attack
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/A number of rockets fired from Syria landed in the Bekaa on Friday, reported the National News Agency, amid separate claims of responsibility by two extremist groups.
NNA said that two rockets landed between the towns of al-Labweh and al-Nabi Othman. One of the rockets exploded, while the other did not. The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility for the shelling, saying it was a “response to what the 'non-Lebanese army' is doing against our people in the northern city of Tripoli under Hizbullah's directions.” But around four hours later, the Damascus branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group made a separate claim of responsibility. "Two Grad rockets were fired at the 'shabiha' of Hizbullah in the al-Labweh area in support of the oppressed of the Sunni community in Lebanon," the so-called "Damascus Prefecture" of the ISIL said on its Twitter account. Earlier on Friday, the Brigade slammed the recently-implemented Tripoli security plan, saying that it "violates the sanctity of Muslims homes."
Bekaa towns, with a majority of Shiite population, have repeatedly come under rocket attacks by either rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime or armed men supporting them. The Syrian troops loyal to Assad also continue to carry out air raids on Arsal, a majority Sunni town, which is an escape route for rebels and smugglers.


Assailants Abduct Citizen in Riyaq
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/Unknown assailants kidnapped on Friday a citizen in the Bekaa region of al-Riyaq, reported the National News Agency. It said that the abductors, riding in a black Cherokee and a silver Mercedes, kidnapped Ibrahim Shiha, also known as Abou Marwan. The victim has been identified as the owner of al-Amin restaurant. The assailants collided with several vehicles on the road while carrying out the kidnapping, added NNA. It had not been disclosed if a ransom was made for his release. Soon after the news of the abduction broke out, demonstrators blocked the Riyaq-Baalbek highway in protest against the incident. Kidnappings for ransom have grown in frequency in recent months, the latest of which was the abduction of a child, Michel al-Saqr, from Zahleh. He was kidnapped briefly, but released without ransom, said media reports.


Army to Conduct Security Plan in Bekaa in Upcoming Hours
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/The Lebanese army will enforce in the upcoming hours a security plan in the eastern Bekaa valley following the successful implementation of the plan in the northern city of Tripoli. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Friday, the military will deploy in northern Bekaa, in particular, on the outskirts of Arsal and the neighboring villages such as Labweh, Hermel and al-Qassr. The army is strictly ordered to arrest vehicle theft gangs, which are suspected of selling stolen cars to terrorists seeking to carry out attacks in the country. The army will also detain kidnap-for-ransom networks. The endeavors come after the Bekaa town of Baalbek has witnessed a series of kidnappings for ransom and car robbery over the past year. Security forces kicked off on Tuesday the security plan in Tripoli, seizing arms depots and detaining wanted suspects, who are involved in security chaos in the area.  Even in this deployment, top wanted men fled — or were allowed to flee after they were given a warning of the implementation of the plan. 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 in Syria, particularly between the country's Sunnis and Shiite Muslims. Tripoli witnesses frequent gunbattles between two of the impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and Jabal Mohsen, which is dominated by Alawites, who share the same sect as Syrian President Bashar Assad. 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.
Last week, the cabinet tasked the army and security forces with seizing stockpiled arms and controlling the security situation in Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa Valley in areas bordering Syria. The plan took into consideration the recommendations of the Higher Defense Council.

'Free Sunnis Brigade' Criticizes Security Plan in Tripoli, Says it Violates Sanctity of Muslim Homes

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/The so-called Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade slammed on Friday the security plan implemented by “the non-Lebanese army” in the northern city of Tripoli, considering that the military raids are violating the sanctity of Muslim homes. “The army's mice are not being considerate of the sanctity of the Muslim homes and the presence of women in them,” the brigade said via Twitter. It called on the “Free Sunnis” to end the “charade and the assault by the non-Lebanese army and Hizbullah, which is controlling the army, on the Sunni sect.” The brigade urged the Committee of Muslim Ulemas to take a stance and “stand against the Iranian project under the pretext of the security plan.” It considered that the security plan targets the Sunni areas in Lebanon. On Thursday, the brigade warned that “Hizbullah and Iran” are behind the security plan that the army is poised to implement in Baalbek, vowing to turn in the Bekaa city into “a graveyard for the 'Crusader army' and Hizbullah.”The security plan was launched in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday and it is expected to move to tense areas in the Bekaa and Beirut in the coming days. Tripoli witnesses frequent gunbattles between two of the impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and Jabal Mohsen, which is dominated by Alawites, who share the same sect as Syrian President Bashar Assad. The "Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade” has no known ties with any Lebanese or Syrian group. It has claimed that it is an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group, but the ISIL has denied that.


Report: Murr to Revive Ties with Aoun
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/MP Michel Murr is expected to meet with his former ally Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun “soon” after differences drew them apart five years ago, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Friday. Murr will visit Aoun in Rabieh “very soon” to revive their alliance in the Metn district and agree on the presidential elections, the daily said. Aoun, who is a Maronite, hasn't yet officially announced his candidacy for the presidency. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25. The post of the head of state is reserved to Maronites under the 1943 power-sharing agreement. The constitutional deadline for the election of a new head of state started on March 25 but Speaker Nabih Berri is yet to call for a session. Al-Akhbar quoted Murr, an Orthodox, as telling a three-member parliamentary committee from Berri's bloc that he would vote for Aoun if he was a serious candidate. Berri formed the committee to press political parties and the heads of parliamentary blocs to guarantee a quorum during the election session.

U.S. Reviews Mideast Peace Push as Tit-for-Tat Moves Multiply

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/Washington said Friday it was reviewing its push for a Middle East peace agreement as a spiral of tit-for-tat moves by Israel and the Palestinians brought hard-won talks close to collapse.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has invested more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy in the talks process, said there were "limits" to the time Washington could devote to it. "This is not open-ended," Kerry said on a visit to Morocco, adding that it was "reality check" time and he would evaluate with President Barack Obama what Washington does next. "There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps," he said. The U.S. top diplomat spoke to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday in a desperate bid to bring the two sides back from the brink. But Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected Kerry's appeals to withdraw the applications he signed on Tuesday to adhere to 15 international treaties, a Palestinian official told Agence France Presse. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored appeals to refrain from "unhelpful" tit-for-tat moves and asked officials to draw up a range of tough reprisals, Israeli media reported. Kerry said Washington currently had an "enormous amount on the plate," highlighting negotiations with the Russians over Ukraine, negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program and the conflict in Syria, as other U.S. priorities. "Both parties say they want to continue, neither party has said they want to call it off; but we're not going to sit there indefinitely, this is not an open-ended effort," he said. Israel says Tuesday's move by Abbas was a clear breach of the undertakings the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched last July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state. The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own commitments when it failed to release a fourth and final batch of veteran Arab prisoners as scheduled at the weekend, and that the treaty move was their response. On Thursday, Kerry spoke to both Netanyahu and Abbas from North Africa to appeal to them to reconsider.
But Abbas dismissed his warnings about the consequences of pressing ahead with the treaty applications, a Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Kerry warned that "Israel was threatening a strong response to Palestinian actions," the official said. But Abbas retorted: "Israel's threats scare no one. They can do what they like," the official added. Both sides insisted they remain ready to talk and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat was to meet U.S. envoy Martin Indyk later Friday. But as the steps and counter steps multiplied, the talks looked close to collapse, even before their scheduled end on April 29. Netanyahu asked the head of the Israeli military administration in the occupied West Bank, General Yoav Mordechai, to draw up a range of tough options to punish the Palestinians, the Haaretz newspaper reported. The options under consideration include withholding tax revenues levied by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, the newspaper said. Israel briefly imposed the same financially crippling measure in December 2012 to punish the Palestinians' successful drive for observer state status at the United Nations, over its own strong opposition and that of Washington. Other options include tightening the restrictions imposed on Palestinian activities in the more than 60 percent of the West Bank which is under the sole control of the Israeli army, Haaretz said. The interior ministry also announced that it had given the green light for a controversial visitor center in an Arab neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem in what was widely seen as a retaliatory measure. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is Israel's chief negotiator in the peace talks, told the Palestinians on Thursday that there had been a chance of a belated release of the final batch of prisoners, who had been scheduled to be freed last weekend. But she said it had been scuppered by the Palestinians' treaty move, a source close to the talks told AFP. Some 1,500 Palestinians demonstrated Friday outside Ofer military prison near Ramallah, rallied by the families of those who were meant to be released March 29. Eight protesters were wounded by gunfire from Israeli troops, medics said.

Report: Kuwait Minister under U.S. Fire on Syria Jihad Quits

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/A Kuwaiti minister, accused by a senior U.S. official of promoting jihad in Syria, has resigned just days after receiving the backing of fellow cabinet members, a report said Friday. Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Nayef al-Ajmi, who strongly denies the U.S. accusations, said he had asked to be relieved of his duties for health reasons, Al-Rai newspaper reported. The U.S. Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, charged earlier this year that Ajmi "has a history of promoting jihad in Syria." His appointment to the cabinet in January was a "step in the wrong direction," Cohen said in a lecture in the United States, parts of which were carried by the Kuwait press late last month. Ajmi said he had "asked to be relieved of his post because of health problems which predated the accusation that he backed terror," Al-Rai reported. He said that the cabinet, which gave him its full support on Monday, would consider his request on Sunday. Ajmi said he had been undergoing tests in London when the reports of Cohen's comments surfaced in the Kuwaiti media last month and had cut them short to head home. A statement released after Monday's cabinet meeting said ministers had followed Cohen's comments "with great attention and displeasure". Ajmi acknowledged he had taken part in fund-raising campaigns for Syria, but insisted they had been for humanitarian purposes and not for Syria's al-Qaida affiliate Al-Nusra Front as alleged by Cohen.Source/Agence France Presse.

Iraq Christians Say Homes Seized as Unrest Spikes

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/As Iraq suffers its worst violence in years, gangs claiming ties to powerful militias have been commandeering empty homes in Baghdad with little official sanction, victims and rights groups say.
Militia leaders have disavowed the practice and insist they are not behind it, while those affected -- principally minority Christians -- say the country's courts have done little to protect their property."We have received dozens of such cases," William Warda, head of the Baghdad-based Hammurabi Human Rights Organisation, told Agence France Presse. "Most of them are afraid of submitting complaints to the government, because they do not believe they can protect themselves if they file a lawsuit -- they are fearful of being kidnapped."Though kidnapping for political or financial motive is not as widespread as it was during the worst of Iraq's sectarian war in 2006 and 2007, it remains a persistent fear, particularly among minority communities. Christian families have been disproportionately affected by the home seizures, officials say, for reasons to do with tribal politics and because of the high number who have fled. Many empty homes that have been taken over were left by Christians who took flight from Iraq, fearful of the near-daily attacks that plague Baghdad and major cities.
A community that once numbered more than one million nationwide, and upwards of 600,000 in Baghdad alone, has since fallen to fewer than 400,000 overall, according to Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako. Many of those who left did not sell their properties, ostensibly in the hope of returning one day.
- Legal system is 'corrupt' -
And because Christians do not retain tribal affiliations in the way Arab Muslims do, they have little recourse for resolving their disputes outside the Iraqi legal system, which is often criticized for being corrupt and subject to manipulation. The U.S. State Department said in its 2013 human rights report that "delays and corruption prevented the (Iraqi) government from effectively adjudicating property restitution claims". It added, citing local human rights NGOs, that "the government's inability to resolve claims disproportionately affected Christian communities". "A gang claiming to be allied to Sadr took over my house in Karrada, and my friends tried to take it back, but they have failed so far," said one victim who gave only her first name, Ahlam. She was referring to powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia once numbered in the tens of thousands but has in recent years been dormant. Ahlam, a Christian woman who now lives in Britain, told AFP: "The house is my only source of livelihood, and I refuse to sell it because I dream of returning back to Iraq, when the security situation stabilizes."Sadr himself has publicly disavowed the practice, and insists those who occupy the houses are not connected to his group. Baghdad security spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan declined to comment on the property seizures when contacted by AFP.
- Offer to buy cheaply -
According to Ahlam's lawyer, those who took control of her house claimed they were sanctioned to do so based on a Shiite Muslim scholar's ruling that homes belonging to those allied to the regime of Saddam Hussein, ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003, were free to be used for prayer. They also painted on the front of the house that it was subject to a tribal dispute. He said they claimed at various points that they were affiliated with the Mahdi Army and its offshoot Asaib Ahel al-Haq, but both groups denied involvement when contacted by AFP. The lawyer -- who also asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted -- also insisted that whether or not the apparent ruling by the Shiite scholar was justified, Ahlam had never worked for the government under Saddam. According to Warda and victims who spoke to AFP, the groups commandeering the homes typically reach settlement by offering to buy the properties at prices dramatically below market rates. "A large number of Christian property owners have sold their homes at cheap prices, because of the threats from gangs that took over their properties," said one priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Baghdad's central commercial district of Karrada, where Ahlam's home is located, residential property sells for as much as $1,500 per square meter, but those under pressure often settle for far less. Others, however, have held out, Warda said. "People are being patient with their problems," he said, "until the government can uphold the law, one day."Source/Agence France Presse.

German AP Photographer Shot Dead in Afghanistan
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 April 2014/An Afghan police commander on Friday shot dead a female German photographer working for the Associated Press on the eve of presidential elections, in an attack that left a Canadian colleague wounded, the news agency said. The journalists were shot in their car in the Tanai district of Khost province, in the country's east, as they reported on distribution of ballot papers for the election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. The incident comes as Afghanistan undertakes a massive security operation to protect voters and polling officials, after the Taliban pledged to disrupt Saturday's ballot with violence.
Anja Niedringhaus is the third journalist working for international media to be killed in Afghanistan during the election campaign, after Swedish journalist Nils Horner and Sardar Ahmad of Agence France-Presse.
"Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly," AP said in a report from Kabul. "Kathy Gannon, the reporter, was wounded twice and is receiving medical attention. She was described as being in stable condition and talking to medical personnel." AP said the police commander opened fire while the two journalists were in their car, travelling with election workers delivering ballots in Khost city.
"As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled 'Allahu Akbar' - God is Great - and opened fire on them in the back seat," the news agency said.
"He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested." Khost provincial governor Abdul Jabbar Naeemi and other officials confirmed that the attacker was a police commander who was detained immediately after the incident. "Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there," said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in the AP report.
"Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss."
President Hamid Karzai issued a statement expressing his condolences, and ordered an investigation.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) described the attack as "abhorrent", while the US ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham condemned "the senseless act of violence" that took Niedringhaus's life. Khost borders Pakistan's restive North Waziristan tribal area, a stronghold of the Haqqani militant network blamed for numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, many targeting foreigners.
Kabul has been rocked by its own string of attacks in the run-up to Saturday's election, which will be the first democratic handover of power in Afghanistan's turbulent history.
Ahmad, AFP's senior Afghan reporter, was killed along with his wife and two of his three children on March 20 when gunmen smuggled pistols into Kabul's high-security Serena hotel and shot dead nine people including four foreigners. Horner, 51, a veteran of Swedish national radio, was shot dead in March in a Kabul street while researching a story about a January attack on a nearby restaurant which killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners.
In addition to Horner's murder and the Serena assault, a charity's guesthouse has come under attack, along with offices of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). Most recently, six police officers were killed in a suicide bombing at the interior ministry in Kabul on Wednesday. Security was tight across Afghanistan ahead of the vote to elect a president to take over from Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from standing again.
Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of the country's police, army and intelligence services have been deployed to ensure security around the country. There was a heavy police presence on the largely deserted streets of Kabul on Friday morning, with officers carrying out stringent checks on vehicles. The Taliban have pledged to attack the poll, urging their fighters to target election staff, voters and security forces.
Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, runner-up in 2009 Abdullah Abdullah, and former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul are the leading contenders in the eight-man race. A repeat of the bloodshed and fraud that marred the 2009 election would damage claims by international donors that the multi-billion-dollar, 13-year intervention in Afghanistan has made progress in establishing a functioning state system. Whoever wins the race to succeed Karzai faces a testing time maintaining stability as Afghan forces take on the fight against the resilient Taliban insurgency without the aid of NATO forces. The U.S.-led coalition is due to withdraw its 51,000 combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Source/Agence France Presse

Question: "How can you believe in salvation by faith alone when the only occurrence of ‘faith alone’ in the Bible (James 2:24) says that salvation is not by faith alone?"
Answer: It is entirely true that the one verse in the Bible that contains the exact phrase “faith alone” seems to argue against salvation by faith alone. James 2:24 reads, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (ESV). However, rejecting the doctrine of salvation by faith alone based on this verse has two major problems. First, the context of James 2:24 is not arguing against the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Second, the Bible does not need to contain the precise phrase “faith alone” in order to clearly teach salvation by faith alone.
James 2:14-26, as a whole, and especially verse 24, causes a lot of confusion. The passage definitely seems to cause serious problems for the “salvation by faith alone” concept. First, we need to clear up a misconception, namely, that James means the same thing by “justified” in James 2:24 that Paul means in Romans 3:28. Paul is using the word justified to mean “declared righteous by God.” Paul is speaking of God’s legal declaration of us as righteous as Christ’s righteousness is applied to our account. James is using the word justified to mean “being demonstrated and proven.”
The 2011 NIV provides an excellent rendering of James 2:24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (emphasis added). Similarly, the NLT translation of James 2:24 reads, “So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone” (emphasis added). The entire James 2:14-26 passage is about proving the genuineness of your faith by what you do. A genuine salvation experience by faith in Jesus Christ will inevitably result in good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works are the demonstration and proof of faith (James 2:18). A faith without works is useless (James 2:20) and dead (James 2:17); in other words, it is not true faith at all. Salvation is by faith alone, but that faith will never be alone.
While James 2:24 is the only verse which contains the precise phrase “faith alone,” there are many other verses that do, in fact, teach salvation by faith alone. Any verse that ascribes salvation to faith/belief, with no other requirement mentioned, is a declaration that salvation is by faith alone. John 3:16 declares that salvation is given to “whoever believes in Him.” Acts 16:31 proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” See also Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Ephesians 1:13; and Philippians 3:9. Many other scriptures could be referenced in addition to these.
In summary, James 2:24 does not argue against salvation by faith alone. Rather, it argues against a salvation that is alone, a salvation devoid of good works and obedience to God’s Word. James’s point is that we demonstrate our faith by what we do (James 2:18). Regardless of the absence of the precise phrase “faith alone,” the New Testament definitely teaches that salvation is the product of God’s grace in response to our faith. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? . . . On that of faith” (Romans 3:27). There is no other requirement.

Russia to back Iran in nuclear talks - Moscow’s “April surprise” for Western sanctions over Ukraine

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 4, 2014/As the Six Power group and Iran prepared for their third round of nuclear talks in Vienna next week (Tuesday-Wednesday, April 8-9) Tehran frankly admitted to exploiting the holes in the six-month interim deal they forged in Geneva last November. And Moscow looks like making good on its threat to back the Iranian case, in retaliation for Western penalties for its annexation of Crimea.
In a closed meeting in Tehran Wednesday, April 3, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Commission said: “We have 19,000 centrifuges of which 9,000 are in operation [for enriching uranium]. Our advice is not to discuss the number of centrifuges, rather to discuss the unit’s isolation power." He explained there are different types of centrifuge.
This was a candid admission that Iran had found a way to get around its commitment under the interim deal - which US Secretary of State John Kerry held up as his greatest diplomatic achievement - not to build or activate its most advanced centrifuges for speeding up enrichment.
Salehi had no qualms about pointing to the holes in that deal, as the six foreign ministers prepared to face Iran in Vienna for the next round of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement for Iran’s nuclear program.
That forum will provide Moscow with its first opportunity to confront the West over Iran (and likely Syria too) for the sanctions and bans NATO meted out over Russia's Ukraine policy.
The architect of Russian policy on both issues, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, gave due warning last week, when he said: “Russia wouldn’t like to use their [nuclear] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes between Moscow and the West,” he said. “But if Russia feels forced, it would take retaliatory measures here as well.”
On the day the Iranian nuclear czar talked about Iran’s centrifuge capacity, sources in Moscow and Tehran reported that the two governments, both targets of Western sanctions, were close to a mammoth barter transaction: For 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, Russia will supply goods of equivalent value including foodstuffs.
This transaction when it goes into effect will more or less scuttle the sanctions regime against Iran, including the oil embargo.
Salehi was accordingly not afraid to boast: “Enrichment activities have not ceased.”
The interim accord did not ban low-grade uranium enrichment, and that was another hole in the deal, because it allowed Iran to press forward and stockpile large quantities of the low grade material despite the fact that it can be refined to weapons grade in short order.
As for the heavy water-plutonium reactor under construction in Arak, Salehi commented: “Under normal circumstances, we would have needed at least two to three years to advance this project.” He went on to reveal: “Under the Geneva accord we undertook not to install certain major equipment for six months. So instead we worked on equipment quality.”
Referring to US President Barack Obama’s public statement last November that Iran had agreed to halt the Arak reactor project, Saleh pointed out: “The Arak reactor was never in operation for it to cease.”
However, Iran did not let the grass grow. Now that the six months of the interim accord is up, the improved equipment can be installed without further delay.
He also noted that a cessation of heavy water reactor operations was not covered in the Geneva Accord. “[The West] manipulated public opinion to persuade people that those operations must be stopped.”
This confirmed Israel’s complaint to Washington that the interim deal of last November and subsequent discussions between the big powers and Iran omitted to address the Arak project and its capacity for producing plutonium, as an alternative weapons fuel to enriched uranium. The Iranian official made no secret of his government’s intentions. “Currently, we are not after establishing reprocessing facilities [for high grade enriched uranium and/or plutonium]. Of course, this does not mean that we renounce this right for ever.”

Women's Education: Promoting Development, Countering Radicalism
Hedieh Mirahmadi/House Committee on Foreign Affairs
April 3, 2014
Increasing access to quality secular education can create better jobs for women and reduce some of the economic drivers of radicalization; educated women can in turn play a pivotal role in inoculating their children and communities against the radical narratives used to recruit followers.
Below are Dr. Mirahmadi's concluding recommendations; download the PDF to read her full testimony, or watch video of the entire hearing.
The following is a list of recommendations from activists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they are important principles for any development and education initiatives focused on countering violent extremism (CVE).
Consistently Involve Women in Peace Processes. To date, civil society activists, particularly women, are only marginally included in major peacebuilding and national reconciliation conferences. Greater efforts should be made to invite female regional activists, especially those outside of urban centers. These community leaders are an essential part of creating local buy-in for any peacebuilding efforts especially in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the central government's reach is either limited or considered corrupt.
Prioritize Funding for Training and Skills-building Programs for Female Activists. The US should prioritize funding for building the capacity of women-led civil society organizations (CSOs) that work in the field of education, peacebuilding, and nonviolence. Training in skills such as non-profit management, fiscal responsibility, civic engagement, coalition building, communications training, and social media skills are consistently requested by activists on the ground. Special effort should be made to make the training available for women-led grassroots and/or un-registered organizations outside of main city centers.
Improving Grant Allocation Processes to Include Women's Groups. It is important to expand the base of grant recipients from US funding sources so more organizations are empowered to effect change in their communities. The current grant amount for many of the requests for proposals at USAID or the State Department is larger than most CSOs can absorb, so they lose out on funding opportunities. This can be resolved by requiring the larger grant recipients to provide at least several smaller grants to local organizations.
Fund Exchanges of Women Activists Who Have Experience in CVE. The US government can use its power as a facilitator and convener to host regular exchanges of female activists from countries facing political instability and violent extremism so they can share experiences and learn from one another's best practices. For example, the women in Kandahar who organized a peace rally can empower women in Yemen with real life examples of how to do the same in their country. It is important to take the local successes and give them a global reach.
Empower the Next Generation of Female Leaders. Although young female activists may have the passion and determination to lead counter-extremism programs, they need substantial training in social mobilization, civic engagement, and leadership development to reach their full potential.
Cultivate Relationships with Women in the Diaspora. Women activists in the US who come from countries facing violent extremism have an immense potential to enhance the strength and growth of civil society abroad. The USG should engage these activists in frequent roundtables to inform policy and development initiatives that are targeted at these countries. The State Department's US-Pakistan Women's Council and the US-Afghanistan Women's Council are excellent forums that should be replicated with other diaspora communities.
Establish Consistent Benchmarks for Identifying Local Partners. More refined screening processes will be required to properly vet local partners. Several international organizations, for example, noted that due to logistical limitations they are not able to perform background checks on partners to verify that they are not associated with violent extremism. As we engage more partners for peacebuilding initiatives, it is vital that we develop a set of benchmarks for collaboration. Specifically, we should expect local partners to share our values in promoting social cohesion and pluralism, respecting religious freedom, and advocating non-violent solutions to conflict.

Britain and the Muslim Brotherhood

By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat
on : Friday, 4 Apr, 2014
There is always suspicion among Arabs that Britain is running the world, even though it handed over their last colony, Hong Kong, more than a decade and a half ago. There is also a prevailing rumor that the Muslim Brotherhood was created by Britain and is run from one of the secret service offices on the banks of London’s Thames River! That, of course, is just another myth.
It goes without saying that Britain has a vast knowledge of our region and culture, thanks to its past colonial history and its shared present with the Arab world in areas of business, tourism and politics.
However, that has all changed now. The small island, with its dense population and limited resources, is suffering seriously under the burden of Arab and third world migrants. These migrants rely heavily on government subsidies and public services, and a group of them have taken advantage of asylum laws and so became a major economic and social burden on the government.
I believe that the British government has a better understanding of the nature and complexity of the situation in Egypt than its allies in America. Also, Britain’s position contradicts with that of the United States with regards to the military-backed government in Egypt.
Britain has had a long history in Egypt, as it ruled the area from 1882 to 1952. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood was established under British rule in 1928. During the era of the Egyptian monarchy, the Muslim Brotherhood was known as the opposition group, not to Britain but to the Egyptian Khedivate monarchy, which represented somehow a continuity of the Topkapi royals of the Ottoman Empire.
Based on that, the Muslim Brotherhood was always labeled as being an Anglo-American creation—an accusation that lacks proof. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was extremely disturbed by an article by Mark Curtis that appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper about four years ago, in which Curtis accused London of having forged links with Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, for many years before and during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Curtis wrote that British authorities “first covertly funded the Muslim Brotherhood” and, later, “contacts were developed as part of plans to overthrow Nasser.” Those claims were strongly rebuffed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
But this is all history. What about today? The British government has expressed its readiness to investigate the accusation about possible links to terrorism against the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain. But those who know the British judicial system say that the courts rarely criminalize a group as a whole, no matter how great the accusation against it. The Muslim Brotherhood will remain in Britain, not only as its annoying houseguests, but also as a bone in the throat of Britain’s political ties with Egypt, because in the UK the Brotherhood is very active on the political and media scenes, nothing to compare with the small Gulf opposition.
The more violence and terrorism occurs in Egypt, the more the Egyptian cabinet will shout “Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood.” This will put the British government in a tougher position, especially given that it needs to have solid ties with Arab governments to better protect itself from terrorism. It remains to be seen how Britain will balance its security needs with its judicial rulings.

The Bear Comes Uninvited to Crimea

 By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat
Friday, 4 Apr, 2014
“The uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar!” This is how Alexander Pushkin begins Tsar Saltan, a fable in verse he composed in 1830.
The founder of Russian literature, Pushkin came to know the Tatars when he spent two years in Crimea in the 1820s. He must have heard of the Crimean counter-adage, according to which “the bear comes to your house uninvited.” That Tatar saying came to my mind the other day as Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev paid a blitz visit to newly annexed Crimea. The “son of a bear”—the meaning of Medvedev’s name in English—was going to the Tatars’ ancestral home uninvited.
Next Tuesday, April 8, marks the 230th anniversary of the Russian annexation of the Crimean Khanate, then a client state of the Ottoman Empire. There are reports, unconfirmed at the time of writing, that President Vladimir Putin intends to visit Crimea to mark the occasion. If he does, Putin would be highlighting Russia’s historic obsession with the Black Sea peninsula. That obsession is fed by at least three elements. The first is nationalism. In a sense, Russians defined their nationhood against Tatars of different tribes and khanates, who ruled over them for centuries in an empire stretching from the Volga to the Pacific Ocean. In the 10th century, travelogues by Ibn Fadlan, an emissary of Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir, and Ahmad Rusta, a Persian merchant from Isfahan, depict a people surrounded by hostile tribes and in search of an identity.
One might suggest that Russian history has been the story of eliminating one Tatar state after another. There is also an element of historic revenge in Russia’s obsession with Crimea for, in 1571, it was the Crimean Khan, Devlet Giray, who attacked and burned Moscow to the ground, destroying the nascent Russian state. The spectacular victory won the khan the much-coveted title of “Takht-Algan,” a Persian–Tatar phrase meaning “the throne-winner.”Today, some Tatar ethnic groups, still part of the Russian federation, could be regarded as endangered species. A few, like the Kalmouks and the Charkess-Qarachai, survive as pale shadows of their past. In Crimea, Tatars now account for just 18 percent of the population, compared to more than 90 percent in 1930. Stalin had a majority of Tatars transported from their Crimean homes to concentration camps 3,728 miles (6,000 kilometers) to the east. The second element in the Russian obsession stems from Crimea’s strategic importance. The peninsula allows Russia, a country lacking warm-water ports, access to the Mediterranean, and thus the open seas. Sebastopol is the principal base of the Russian Navy. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, writing as a young reporter covering the Crimean War of 1854, depicted Crimea as a fortress, a Russian glacis. In that war, Russia beat off the combined forces of Turkish, French and British invaders at a cost of more than a million dead. Even today, many important points in Paris are named after Crimean battles such as Sebastopol and Malakov. A statue honoring the 25,000 Englishmen who died in the Crimean War stands in Waterloo Place in central London. The charge of the Light Brigade in the battle of Balaklava, immortalized in Tennyson’s poem, has entered British mythology as one of the kingdom’s greatest tales of bravery.
The third and possibly the most potent element in the Russian obsession is the romantic image of Crimea in the psychological landscape of most Russians.
Tsarina Catherine II was the first Russian ruler to visit Crimea and be seduced by its romantic lure. In a letter to her chief minister, Potemkin, she claimed she had found Baghcheh Serai, the fallen Tatar capital, an image of paradise on earth. She loved the beautiful Persian garden designed and created by Ostad Omar Beylaqani, a master gardener from Tabriz, for the Tatar Giray Khan in the 15th century. The tsarina’s only complaint was that she was woken up by the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer five times a day, forcing her to get up at dawn and give up her postprandial siesta.
Pushkin played a key role in promoting Crimea’s romantic image. His verse narrative The Fountain of Baghcheh Serai, published in 1824, tells the story of Maria Potocka, a Slav princess captured by the Tatar khan who loves her beyond measure—a love she cannot reciprocate for religious and ethnic reasons. According to legend, it was for that princess that the khan built the palace and garden of Baghcheh Serai, then capital of the Tatar Khanate. (Bagh-cheh-Serai is a Persian phrase meaning “the villa in the little garden.) The fountain is supposed to symbolize the tears the princess shed. In the original Tatar tale that inspired Pushkin, the princess is Georgian, not Slav, with a Persian name: Delaram Bighash. (Delaram means “soother of the heart” and bighash means “flawless.”) By changing the ethnicity of the princess, Pushkin may have wished to symbolize centuries of Russian captivity under Tatar rule.
Crimea is everything that Russia is not. It is warm, while Russia, much of it located above the 50th parallel, is cold. Crimea is temperate, its climate sunny, whereas Russia is bleak. It is open to the outside world, but Russia is boxed in by immense steppes and frozen tundra. Russian poets praised Crimea’s fruits: “Ah! Those apricots, apples, peaches and persimmons,” Mikhail Lermontov remembered. Crimea is a land of plenty where Russia has always dreaded scarcity. Crimea is as old as history, while Russia is a newcomer to human annals.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Darius the Great chased Scythian guerrillas there with little success. For centuries, Crimea was an outpost of the Roman Empire. The Roman poet Ovid, exiled by Emperor Augustus to Tomis, now part of neighboring Romania, was a visitor to that “earthly paradise.” The peninsula and its hinterland also experienced several centuries of domination by the Ottomans, followed by 180 years of Russian rule and half a century of attachment to Ukraine.
Crimea’s history also includes centuries of rule by descendants of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) and sequences of religious conversion—from crude versions of Buddhism to various brands of Christianity and eventually Islam, not to mention almost 80 years of Communism. Can Russia swallow up Crimea that easily? No one knows. However, when Putin visits Baghcheh Serai, he would do well to read these lines from Pushkin’s poem:
There I found a cemetery
Of conquering chiefs the last abode,
Columns with marble turbans crowned,
Their resting-place the traveller showed.
And seemed to speak fate’s stern decree:
“As they are now, such all shall be.”