April 07/14


Bible Quotation for today/I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.

John 7,32-36/"The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about Jesus, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him. Jesus then said, ‘I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.’ The Jews said to one another, ‘Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, "You will search for me and you will not find me" and, "Where I am, you cannot come"?’

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 07/14

Is Israel pointing the finger at the wrong enemy/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/ASharq Alawsat/April 07/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 07/14
Lebanese Related News

U.S. bill aims to cut off Hezbollah's funding

Nasrallah: Some March 14 Supporters Back Our Syria Intervention, Regime Not Facing Collapse Threat Anymore
Report: Salam Govt. to Assume Caretaker Role over Int'l Failure to Agree on New President

Army Arrests Five Armed Syrians in Arsal

Al-Rahi Urges Berri to Hold Parliamentary Sessions to Determine Characteristics of New President

7 Held after Celebratory Gunfire Kills Sidon Woman

Army Begins Removing Hizbullah Checkpoints in Baalbek, al-Hermel

Former hostages thank Doha for release efforts

Officials survey Tripoli damage
Lebanon's Arabic press digest - Apr. 6, 2014

March 14 Wins Tripoli's Order of Engineers Vote amid Consensus in Beirut

Civil Defense Volunteers Block Roads to Press for Full-Time Employment

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Options for Mid East talks: Carrying on, interim deal, or a turn to the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian bloc
Netanyahu: Willing to continue talks 'but not at any price'

Israel Threatens Unilateral Measures against Palestinians

Former Navy chief: Israel in a 'secret war' to stop Iranian weapons smuggling to terrorists

13 Dead in Homs Blast as Mortars Kill 2 at Damascus Opera House

Pro-Russians Storm Government Building in Eastern Ukraine

Boko Haram Attack Kills 17 in Nigeria


Nasrallah: Some March 14 Supporters Back Our Syria Intervention, Regime Not Facing Collapse Threat Anymore
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/Some of March 14's supporters are with Hizbullah's military intervention in Syria and the Syrian regime is “not facing the threat of collapse anymore,” Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has announced. “We're not facing a problem with our supporters regarding our involvement in Syria. On the contrary, some of those who were hesitant have now made up their minds and decided to support our choice,” Nasrallah said in excerpts of an interview with As Safir newspaper that will be published Monday. “I can say that some March 14 supporters are with our intervention in Syria to protect Lebanon from the terrorist takfiri groups,” he added. And as Hizbullah's leader voiced his belief that “the Syrian regime is not facing the threat of collapse anymore,” Nasrallah noted that “we have overcome the threat of partitioning and the military choice (against the regime) has failed.” “The battle of Syria is not aimed at creating democracy and justice or combating corruption, but rather at changing Syria's position and stance, given the several offers that have been received by Syrian President Bashar Assad,” Nasrallah stated. He pointed out that most countries have voiced support for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, expecting further stubbornness in the Russian stance in the coming period. Nasrallah also expressed his satisfaction over the course of events in southern Syria and on its northern border with Turkey, referring to the Daraa and Kasab regions. Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian conflict has been controversial in Lebanon, where many critics have accused the group of entangling Lebanon in the conflict. The party's strongholds in Beirut's southern suburbs and the Bekaa have been targeted in a string of car and suicide bomb attacks that have killed civilians, with jihadist groups saying the blasts are revenge for Hizbullah's role in the Syria conflict. In February, Nasrallah said the attacks, and others in Syria against religious minorities, proved that the group needed to fight extremism in Syria to protect Lebanon. Syrian troops backed by Hizbullah fighters have been making fresh gains in the strategic Qalamoun region near the border with Lebanon. Hizbullah says deadly car bombs targeting the movement in Lebanon were rigged with explosives in the Qalamoun area. In mid-March they seized the rebels' last major stronghold in the region, the town of Yabrud, and have since moved on rebel-held villages closer to the border. And in June last year, Hizbullah's instrumental assistance helped the Syrian army regain the strategic town of Qusayr in Homs' countryside from rebel hands.

U.S. bill aims to cut off Hezbollah's funding
April 06, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: U.S. lawmakers are creating new legislation that will impose further economic sanctions on Hezbollah and its Al-Manar television station as they seek to cripple the party’s sources of funding. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs drafted on April 3 a law that would toughen economic sanctions against Hezbollah, designated by Washington as a terrorist organization, which lawmakers said continued to “pose a threat to the United States, our allies and interests throughout the Middle East, and well beyond.” “The Hezbollah International Financial Prevention Act takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the threat posed by Hezbollah by imposing severe new sanctions on Hezbollah’s fundraising channels and restricting its ability to use its funds to support global terrorist activities,” a statement by the committee said. The purpose of the act is to deal a blow to the Lebanese group’s finances, thereby reducing its capacity to “sow instability in the Middle East and cut off a major source of terrorist support.”“The United States must deal with Hezbollah firmly and decisively with unyielding resolve by crippling its extensive, illegal financial network. Hezbollah’s days of unhindered criminal operations and terrorist activity are numbered,” the statement quoted Rep. Mark Meadows as saying. Rep. Brad Schneider accused Hezbollah of money laundering and helping to fund terrorist activities, saying the bill would give Washington more ways to crack down on the party’s activities. Al-Monitor said Sunday it obtained a copy of the bill that provides the U.S. administration with the necessary tools to pursue foreign banks including central banks that knowingly engage in business with Hezbollah and its enablers. A provision in the bill also allows the U.S. to list satellite providers that still carry Hezbollah's television station and “require that the administration explain why those providers have not been penalized for providing material support to Hezbollah's Al-Manar though the facilitation of its broadcasts,” according to the news website. Among the provisions also include designating Hezbollah as a narcotics trafficking organization and as a transnational criminal organization in light of the party’s reported use of drug trafficking and money laundering networks. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce said Hezbollah was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization prior to the Sept.11 attacks. “Since that time their capabilities have grown, enabling them to attack the U.S. and our allies around the world—from the Philippines, to Bulgaria, and in even on our doorstep in South America. We cannot afford to ignore this threat. This vital legislation empowers the administration to strike at Hezbollah’s fundraising and international financing,” Royce said, according to the statement. “The threat of Hezbollah has grown substantially as the region becomes more unstable," Ranking Member Eliot Engel added. "Hezbollah’s actions in Syria - directed by their patrons in Iran - have helped keep the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime in power. They must be held responsible for their destructive actions in Syria and the threat that they continue to pose to our ally, Israel,” Engel said, adding that the act would “break any lifeline to Hezbollah.”


Lebanon's Arabic press digest - Apr. 6, 2014
April 06, 2014/The Daily Star
The state moved to northern Bekaa ... social tensions sound alarm for further revolts
Social, political and security issues dominate the local scene and further developments are expected to surface this week.
Politically, all eyes are on the presidential election after Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea launched the race to Baabda Palace with his candidacy while everyone is waiting for the March 14 coalition to announce its stance regarding his nomination.
An-Nahar received information that consultations were ongoing among the March 14 [parties] aimed at reaching an agreement on a single March 14 candidate but no date has been scheduled for such an announcement. The coming days will witness further contacts as rival groups await Speaker Nabih Berri's call for the first round of parliamentary sessions to elect a new president.
On the security front, a few steps were taken Saturday that would pave the way for the security plan to begin in the northern Bekaa as some Hezbollah checkpoints between Baalbek, Hermel and Arsal were removed.
Rifaat Eid is wanted on terror charges ... the northern Bekaa without Hezbollah's checkpoints
The security plan is expected to expand to the northern Bekaa in the next few hours. The Army has taken over Hezbollah checkpoints in the area, particularly along the Arsal road.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said: "There are no longer unofficial checkpoints along the road to Arsal, and all unofficial armed groups are nonexistent in Baalbek and Hermel."
Meanwhile, Tripoli witnessed a judicial development by Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr, who charged 12 people including Arab Democratic Party official Rifaat Eid with belonging to a terror group and inciting sectarian sentiments.
Al-Mustaqbal received information saying that one of the detainees in Jabal Mohsen confessed that Rifaat Eid had armed them and ordered them to provoke clashes against Bab al-Tabbaneh.
Diplomatic sources: Aoun might step in
Diplomatic sources say that former Army Gen. Michel Aoun is presenting himself as a “Lebanese” candidate for the presidency and not an Iranian or Saudi one, with the slogan "Lebanon first." He also has the power to influence his allies, particularly Hezbollah, in many decisions.
“A consensus president brings together the Lebanese,” that is what Aoun keeps repeating because he believes that a president should extend his hand to everyone without kneeling to anybody.
The sources says that Aoun has Bkirki's backing and that Patriarch Beshara Rai whispers to his [close circle] that he wants Aoun for the presidency and he can influence Christian MPs to vote for him. Rai also informs his visitors that Aoun has the Vatican's blessing. But the most surprising thing is that the U.S. administration is one of Aoun's biggest supporters. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil is holding contacts with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale to intensify efforts that would help Aoun become president. Hale is also preparing a visit for Aoun to Saudi Arabia to bridge the gap between the two parties.
Hezbollah has also given Aoun the green light, which would guarantee [the former general] a majority in Parliament.

Report: Salam Govt. to Assume Caretaker Role over Int'l Failure to Agree on New President
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/The presidential elections are unlikely to be held in Lebanon given the situations on the regional and international scenes, reported the Kuwaiti al-Anba daily on Sunday.
Diplomatic sources told the daily that the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam is likely to assume a caretaker role and take over the duties of the president should the elections be postponed. “Local desire to hold the elections is not sufficient to hold them,” added the sources. They cited the recent developments in Ukraine, Arab disputes, and the “U.S. escalation against the Syrian regime” as factors that will affect the presidential elections in Lebanon. Some sides are deluded in believing that Lebanon is independent in electing a president, they continued. The election of eleven Lebanese presidents over the years, excluding Suleiman Franjieh in 1970, was influenced by foreign powers. Salam stated on Saturday that his cabinet “does not want to fill a vacuum.”“I have said since the beginning that this cabinet is here for two months only, and it will focus on priorities such as the security situation, the issue of refugees, and the economic and financial situation in the country,” he reiterated. “But our main priority remains reaching consensus over a new parliamentary electoral law and electing a new president,” Salam added. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should choose a new head of state within a two-month period before the end of the incumbent's term, which started on March 25. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced on Friday his candidacy for the presidential elections. No other official has announced his candidacy, but a spokesman for the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki announced last week that the four main Maronite leaders, Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, and Geagea are all presidential candidates. Aoun had remarked on Wednesday that he will not run in the elections if the Mustaqbal Movement endorses Geagea's candidacy.


Salam Warns of Presidential Vacuum, Calls for Communicating with Hizbullah on Syria War Involvement
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 April 2014/Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Saturday warned of vacuum in the presidency, considering that it would drag Lebanon into “a difficult and critical phase.” He also called on local factions to communicate with Hizbullah regarding the party's involvement in the ongoing Syrian war. "I support the election of a moderate and poised figure, who is well-received by all factions,” Salam said on his preferences of Lebanon's future head of state in an interview with Radio Monte Carlo. The prime minister stressed that the presidential elections must be held following the approach adopted in the cabinet's formation, which was “made in Lebanon.”“Forming a locally-made cabinet gave us hope that this would also be reflected in the presidential elections,” he expressed. “This is a democratic game; whoever wants to run for the presidency can run, whoever wins, let them win. This democratic approach must be emphasized in Lebanon, and it will open a new chapter in the country's history that would strengthen our democratic system.”Answering a question about whether his cabinet is ready to be handed over the president's powers in case of a vacuum, the PM stressed that his cabinet “does not want to fill a vacuum.”“I have said since the beginning that this cabinet is here for two months only, and it will focus on priorities such as the security situation, the issue of refugees, and the economic and financial situation in the country,” he reiterated.“But our main priority remains reaching consensus over a new electoral law, and electing a new president,” Salam added. “This is out mission and our goal, and we mentioned this in the ministerial policy statement.”Earlier in the day, Salam also expressed hope that the new president would be a “local choice,” stressing that his cabinet will “do everything in its power to prepare for the presidential elections.”“The international and regional powers, that have an impact on the Lebanese local affairs, support staging the presidential elections on time,” he said in an interview with the General Security magazine. He stressed that his government will exert efforts to “prepare for the appropriate atmosphere to carry out the elections.
President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should choose a new head of state within a two-month period before the end of the incumbent's term, which started on March 25. Separately, the prime minister assured in his interview with Radio Monte Carlo that the new cabinet will commit to the policy of disassociation, which he considered to be “the best approach that could be adopted.”
"Hizbullah's participation in the Syrian war is a sensitive issue to deal with,” he commented. "We recommend communicating with Hizbullah officials to reach a settlement that would stop the party's involvement in Syria, and restore all efforts to preserve Lebanon's unity and immunity, and abiding by the disassociation policy.”Salam said that the deteriorating security situation “reached an unacceptable level, and was threatening the prestige and status of the state and its bodies.”Therefore, a step forward in this respect came to be a necessity, he noted. "The outcomes of the security plan were immediate in (the northern city of) Tripoli, as people of both rival neighborhoods (of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen) sat together and reconciled as if nothing has ever happened,” he said. Salam remarked that the Syrian crisis had many consequences on Lebanon, whether in the increasing number of refugees, or the fighting that is influenced by the neighboring country's clashes. “This is something that we need to strictly deal with,” he said.


Rifi Urges Hizbullah to 'Reevaluate' its Decisions: We Are Ruled by the State Only
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 April 2014/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi called on Hizbullah on Saturday to reevaluate its decisions and "return to the Lebanese state." "We must benefit from the new regional and international developments to get our country out of the Syria war,” Rifi stressed in an interview with MTV. He elaborated: “We believe that we can only be ruled by the state and Hizbullah must reevaluate its decisions.” "We have called on the party to withdraw from Syria, we warned it that it cannot have self-security, and we said that all its activities must be within the state.”Rifi also noted that issue of communicating with Hizbullah was given “a much greater importance than it deserves.” The minister had announced earlier this week that his political camp is seeking “stronger” communication with Hizbullah in a bid to “protect the country.” “There is an intent to revive the channels of communication with Hizbullah in a strong manner instead of maintaining the current low-intensity contacts, in order to protect the country which has been exhausted by the Sunni-Shiite tension,” he said as he entered a cabinet session on Wednesday. Answering a question about being behind some fighting groups in the northern city of Tripoli, the former Internal Security Forces chief stressed that his supporters are not armed. “We know who is armed in this country, which group has military capabilities, and who paid money to raise tension in the city,” he stated. “We just had a defensive response to the attacks, using the minimal means we have,” he added. Rifi assured that the security plan, which kicked off on Tuesday, continues to be implemented in Tripoli, and that it will expand to include the Bekaa and Beirut.

Army Begins Removing Hizbullah Checkpoints in Baalbek, al-Hermel
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/The army kicked off on Saturday preliminary measures to begin implementing in the northern and central Bekaa a security plan similar to the one executed in the northern city of Tripoli, reported the daily An Nahar on Sunday. It said that the army's removal of Hizbullah checkpoints between the regions of Baalbek and al-Hermel and in Arsal is the first sign of the implementation of the plan.
The plan will be similar to that of Tripoli, but it will witness additional checkpoints and strict measures at border-crossings with Syria in order to combat the infiltration of terrorist groups and smuggling of booby-trapped vehicles into Lebanon, continued An Nahar. Concerned sides predicted to the daily that the security plan will likely meet the same success as that of Tripoli given the people's positive response to the security measures and their exasperation with the poor security situation in Arsal, nearby areas, Baalbek, and al-Hermel. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq had discussed the security plan on Saturday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, saying that it will eventually be implemented in Beirut. The Tripoli plan got underway on Tuesday with the army and security forces cracking down on gunmen, confiscating weapons and arresting suspects.
The northern city had frequently witnessed clashes between the impoverished rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. The deep divisions between the two sides have grown since the eruption of the Syrian crisis in March 2011. The Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood backs the Syrian uprising, while the Jabal Mohsen area supports the country's ruling regime. The impact of the Syrian crisis has also been felt in the Bekaa, with the army arresting a number of gunmen attempting to enter Lebanon illegally from the neighboring country and seizing booby-trapped vehicles that were to be used in terrorist attacks in Lebanon.


Former hostages thank Doha for release efforts
April 06, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Nine Lebanese men who were freed last year after over 16 months of captivity in Syria traveled to Qatar Sunday to personally thank Doha for its efforts toward their release.
A delegation of the former hostages headed by the ambassador of the EU Human Rights Commission, Rahab Bitar, met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Doha-based Al-Watan newspaper reported.
The Lebanese expressed gratitude to Qatar for its efforts that led to their release, the report added. Eleven Shiite Lebanese were kidnapped by a rebel group in Azaz, near Aleppo, in May 2012 while returning from a pilgrimage in Iran. Two were released a few months later, while the remaining nine returned to Lebanon in October of last year. Qatar played a major role in the mediation efforts that led to the release of the men and the release of two Turkish pilots who were kidnapped in Lebanon as retaliation over the Azaz hostage case.

7 Held after Celebratory Gunfire Kills Sidon Woman
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/The Internal Security Forces on Sunday announced the arrest of nine people, after Sidon resident Wadiha al-Baidawi was killed Friday by celebratory gunfire while watching a wedding from the window of her apartment in Sidon. The 19-year-old woman was killed after being hit by a bullet to the head, the ISF said in a statement. "Following investigations, members of the Sidon police station in coordination with the Intelligence Bureau arrested Saturday six people who had fired weapons during the wedding," it added. The arrested men are five Lebanese and a Palestinian, the ISF stated. It added that the army's intelligence branch in the South handed the Sidon police station three people – two Lebanese and a Palestinian -- who were also involved in the shooting. "A pistol and two pump-action rifles in addition to the gunshot that hit the woman and four bullet shells have been seized,” the ISF announced. “Following investigations, it turned out that the Palestinian M. A. and the Lebanese H. W. were not involved in the shooting and they were released while the others were kept in custody and investigations are underway under the supervision of the relevant judicial authorities,” it added.

Army Arrests Five Armed Syrians in Arsal
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/The Lebanese army arrested on Sunday a number of armed Syrians in the Bekaa region of Arsal, reported Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3). It said that a shootout broke out between the army and the five Syrians when they opened fire at an army patrol in the Wadi Hmayyed area. It identified the assailants as Mouwaffaq al-Hajj Qassem, Seifeddine Turfa, Fares Abbas, Wael Moussa Ouweidan, and Turab Mohammed Matar. Investigations are underway with the assailants. On Thursday, a Syrian was killed and two others were wounded by the army in Arsal. The army was forced to open fire at the Syrians after they fled from an army checkpoint in Wadi Hmayyed. 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.

Al-Rahi Urges Berri to Hold Parliamentary Sessions to Determine Characteristics of New President

Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi warned on Sunday against “tampering with the presidential elections,” hoping that a strong president would be elected. He urged during his Sunday sermon Speaker Nabih Berri to hold parliamentary sessions in order to determine the characteristics of the new president. “Ensuring quorum for the parliamentary elections is a national and moral commitment,” he added.
“Creating or seeking vacuum is an insult to the people and lawmakers' dignity,” he remarked. Lebanon is in need of a strong president, who can fortify the state and its institutions, defend the constitution, and put an end to corruption, al-Rahi stressed. The current circumstances in Lebanon require internal unity and building ties of cooperation with Arab states and the international community, the patriarch said. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the constitution states that the parliament should choose a new head of state within a two-month period before the end of the incumbent's term, which started on March 25.


Officials survey Tripoli damage
April 06, 2014/By Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Lebanese officials over the weekend surveyed damage caused by the sporadic clashes in Tripoli, vowing to return normalcy to the northern city, which has been plagued by Syria-linked fighting. The head of state-owned telecom operator Ogero, Abdel-Menhem Youssef, toured several areas in the city and reassured citizens that repairs to the disrupted telephone networks, among other renovations, would be finalized this week. “Our purpose today was to evaluate and survey the magnitude of the damage and the needed repairs,” Youssef told reporters. Citing preliminary survey reports, Youssef described the damage as “very extensive,” including at least 600 phone lines and 12 phone booths. “Initially the repairs will be finalized this coming Thursday,” he said, days after security forces lead by the Lebanese Army began implementing a security plan to restore stability to Lebanon’s second largest city. The government-approved plan, which was drafted last month by the Higher Defense Council, has seen a heavy deployment by the Army and security forces in conflict zones as well as the detention of 200 wanted suspects. A survey team from Ogero arrived in Tripoli Friday and examined the damage in the warring neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh. Youssef, who held a meeting with Ogero officials and city leaders, also toured the two areas and said citizens should be able to apply for new phone lines and Internet services by the end of the week.
The general-secretary of the Higher Defense Council, Mahmoud Kheir, also inspected the damage to tens of residential buildings, shops and other business badly affected as a result of the fighting.
He urged Tripoli residents to file for compensation, which would pave the way for the renovations to begin. “We agreed to begin renovations along Syria Street as an initial plan, and we are asking citizens to help us so we could begin renovations in other areas,” Kheir told reporters.“People should prepare the needed documents without any manipulation or committing fraud, otherwise they will be prosecuted."

13 Dead in Homs Blast as Mortars Kill 2 at Damascus Opera House
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/At least 13 rebels died in a blast in the city of Homs in central Syria on Sunday as they primed a car bomb for an attack, an NGO said. In the capital, meanwhile, two people were killed when mortar fire struck the Damascus Opera House. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 13 rebels were killed in the besieged Old City of Homs when a car bomb exploded. "The death toll is likely to rise because there are dozens of people missing and body parts in the area of the blast," the Britain-based group said. State news agency SANA also reported the blast, saying a car had exploded while being loaded with explosives.
The blast took place on the outskirts of the besieged Old City of Homs, which is under rebel control. Some 1,400 civilians were able to leave the area this year under U.N. supervision, but an estimated 1,500 people remain until the army siege. In the capital, SANA said two people were killed in mortar fire by rebel fighters. "Two people were killed and five wounded by a mortar round that hit the Damascus Opera House" near key government and military buildings on Umayyad Square, it said. The attack damaged the Opera House, which was inaugurated by President Bashar Assad in 2004. Mortar fire also wounded three people in the Abbasids neighborhood of northeast Damascus, SANA said. On Saturday, mortar rounds struck near the Russian embassy, said the Syrian Observatory. The rebel fire on Damascus comes as government forces step up a campaign to crush insurgents in its eastern suburbs, the Observatory said. Source/Agence France Presse.


Netanyahu: Willing to continue talks 'but not at any price'
Noam (Dabul) Dvir/04.06.14/ Ynetnews
The prime minister responds to the peace talks crisis for the first time, accuses Palestinians of deteriorating talks through one-sided actions; Israeli ministers slam other side, say 'Abbas is spitting in our faces'.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first public comments on a crisis in US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, said on Sunday Israel was prepared to continue negotiations but "not at any price".
Netanyahu, speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, also cautioned that Israel would respond with steps of its own if the Palestinians pressed ahead with unilateral moves toward statehood: "Unilateral steps on their part will be answered with unilateral steps on our side." Netanyahu noted that "will achieve a state only through direct negotiations and not through empty proclamations or unilateral moves, which will only push a peace accord farther away."
The prime minister further noted that "throughout these talks, we have taken tough steps and demonstrated willingness to continue executing difficult in the upcoming months as well to create a framework to allow ending the conflict. "Right when we were about to come close to that framework, (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas rushed to declare he will not even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish people – not even discuss, not to mention agree. He did so even though he knows no agreement will be signed without the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, something that the US president and other world leaders also made clear. "Unfortunately, as we approached the talks' deadline, the Palestinian leadership rushed to unilaterally join 14 international treaties. Thus the Palestinians significantly violated the agreements that were achieved. The threats to turn to the UN do not affect us. The Palestinians have plenty to lose in a unilateral step." Earlier, Economy Minister and Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett slammed the Palestinians and said that "they shut down the negotiations by unilaterally going to the UN against all agreements. This is a flagrant violation of the accords, including the Oslo Accords. The negotiations with the Palestinians, even though they only turned unilaterally to the UN, makes the State of Israel a shelter for extortion."If the seller runs off with the merchandise, you don't need to chase him – cash in hand – begging to buy his goods. In short, if they retract the UN application we'll negotiate, and if they don't the negotiations must stop." Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz joined the critical remarks against the Palestinians, and said: "Truth be told, Mahmoud Abbas is spitting in our faces, he tells us he is not interested in peace, he is willing to recognize the existence of the Jewish people and its right to its own state, and now he shuts down the negotiations.
"The Palestinian Authority exists thanks to us. Not only because of the Oslo Accords, but because of the funds we transfer them, and the security we give them. Otherwise, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as they control Gaza, would also take down Abbas and take over Ramallah." In light of the American threat to stop mediating the negotiations, another meeting between chief Israeli negotiator and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will be held Sunday, together with American envoy Martin Indyk.
Punitive measures
In an interview with Israeli Army Radio, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat bridled at calls by some of Netanyahu's cabinet ministers for economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. "Why are you threatening us as if we are sending suicide bombers to Tel Aviv?" Erekat asked. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Safa Nassereldeen, the Palestinian minister of telecommunications, said Israel had informed a cellular phone company, Wataniya Palestine Mobile, it would no longer be allowed to bring equipment into the Gaza Strip, where it plans to operate a network. An Israeli government spokesman declined immediate comment. Israel, which imposes tough restrictions on the passage of people and goods across the Gaza border, had permitted the company - owned by the Palestine Investment Fund and Kuwait's National Mobile Telecommunications Co - to send hardware into the Hamas Islamist-run territory after the peace talks with Abbas resumed in July. Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas spokesman, said Israel that was taking unilateral steps through its continued settlement activities in disputed territory Palestinians seek for a state and its failure to release the prisoners.
Cautious optimism
Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism on Saturday in regards to the possibility of the two sides returning to the negotiations table. "The sides understand that this is the last chance," said a senior Israeli official privy to the details of the negotiations. Since Wednesday, the Israelis and Palestinians have met twice, and dozens of additional calls were held through US mediation, in an attempt to formulate a new way to return the sides to the negotiations table. By the expected Sunday meeting, a message will be sent to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is expected to meet with President Barack Obama. The two are expected to deliberate on the status of the negotiations and decide on the future of the US-led effort. Obama's intervention in the talks, after months of letting Kerry lead the effort unaided, raises doubts in Israel regarding a possible withdrawal by the Americans from their commitment to the peace talks. "This time it's serious, it's not a show. The Americans are examining the possibilities standing before them and they need to make a decision. It affects both us and the Palestinians, and so we have to find a way to not end these negotiations," an Israeli official explained

Israel Threatens Unilateral Measures against Palestinians
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened the Palestinians on Sunday with unilateral reprisals as the two sides prepared for last-ditch talks with a U.S. envoy on salvaging teetering peace talks. He said Israel would retaliate if the Palestinians proceed with applications to adhere to 15 international treaties. "These will only make a peace agreement more distant," he said of the applications the Palestinians made on Tuesday. "Any unilateral moves they take will be answered by unilateral moves at our end." Netanyahu's remarks, made at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepared to meet U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in an attempt to save the peace process from collapse. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the driving force behind the peace push, warned on Friday that there were "limits" to the time and energy Washington could devote to the talks process, as his appeals to both sides to step back from the brink fell on deaf ears. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas rejected a plea from Kerry to withdraw the treaty applications, and Netanyahu ignored U.S. appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, asking for a range of retaliatory options to be drawn up. 's move was a clear breach of the commitments the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched in July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state. The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own undertakings by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners last weekend, and that the treaty move was their response. "The Palestinians have much to lose from a unilateral move. They will get a state only through direct negotiations and not through empty declarations or unilateral moves," Netanyahu said on Sunday. "We are prepared to continue talks, but not at any price." Netanyahu noted the Palestinian application to the international institutions came "the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks" beyond their April 29 deadline. Yasser Abed Rabbo, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, blamed the latest talks crisis on Israel which "wants to extend the negotiations for ever" as it creates "more facts on the ground". "Israel always implements unilateral steps," he told Voice of Palestine radio, saying the Palestinians were already being punished by Israel. Officials from Netanyahu down have been cautious not to specify the exact nature of punitive measures Israel might take. But media reports mention preventing Wataniya Palestine Telecom from laying down cellphone infrastructure in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and halting Palestinian construction projects in parts of the West Bank. Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, suggested that Washington scale down its "intensive" involvement in the process with the Palestinians. "Part of what took place in the past months was primarily negotiations between us and the U.S., and less with the Palestinians," she told Channel 2 television on Saturday. "We need bilateral meetings between us, including between the prime minister and Abu Mazen (Abbas)," she added. Source/Agence France Presse.


Former Navy chief: Israel in a 'secret war' to stop Iranian weapons smuggling to terrorists
By JPOST.COM STAFF/04/06/2014/Former Israel Navy chief Admiral (Res.) Eliezer "Chiney" Marom spoke at The Jerusalem Post's Annual Conference in New York on Sunday, saying that Israel was in a "secret war" with terror organizations and the "evil axis" led by Iran. He pointed to the interception near Sudan by Israel of a ship carrying weapons sent by Iran to the Gaza Strip in early March.


Options for Mid East talks: Carrying on, interim deal, or a turn to the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian bloc
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 5, 2014/Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, nearing 80, has proved time and again in the last two decades that he will never put pen to paper on an accord for ending the dispute with Israel. If he really wanted an independent Palestinian state, he could at any time have followed the path to self-determination chosen by David Ben Gurion, when he declared Israeli statehood on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv. Had Abbas (known mostly as Abu Mazen) formally convened an assembly of Palestinian community and institutional leaders at the Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah and proclaimed statehood, there would have been very little Israel could have done.
But that is not his way and never has been, because for him Palestinian independence is no more than an abstract slogan which must never come to earth.
In 1995, Abbas and the dovish Israeli politician Yossie Bailin jointly drafted a document, which later carried their names, offering a formula for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute – except that he never signed it. He couldn’t bring himself to this commitment, because it conflicted with his fundamental principles and put his political survival at risk.
Today, too, the rise of a Palestinian state would end Abbas’s career as Palestinian leader. He holds sway over the six West Bank towns which passed to Palestinian Authority control without a legal mandate. The last Palestinian elections in 2006 gave his Fatah party only 48 seats compared with 76 netted by the rival Hamas.
Israel, the United States and Europe therefore respect as their legitimate Palestinian partner for peace negotiations a figure who is unelected and whose rule is buttressed by seven Palestinian security battalions, which America and Europe agreed to bankroll to the tune of $2 billion, after the cutoff of Arab aid. Another three battalions are due to be added to the force.
So Abu Mazen keeps up the masquerade of striving for Palestinian independence and staying in the talking shop for two purposes: It keeps him in power by dint of international recognition, and donations continue to roll in to feed his corrupt regime and cover the payroll of his security force.
Not much is left to trickle down to the ordinary Palestinian family.
To buy a small measure of street credibility, Abbas must show the people that he is the only leader able to force Israel to release Palestinians from long prison sentences. He achieves this by making this his price for not walking away from the table
So long as the money flows in and Palestinians are sprung from Israeli jails, no voices are raised in circles that count in Ramallah against the corrupt practices eating away at the regime.
Abbas therefore ranted and raved when Israel’s cancelled the fourth batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners due to be released March 30, to punish him for sending applications to 15 UN agencies and conventions for membership to bypass the negotiations. Israel also hit back at Abbas with a threat of sanctions – some directed against his personal business interests.
US Secretary of State John Kerry's hard work as would-be peacemaker was not just thrown back in his face but drew criticism at home from his colleagues in the White House and State Department. He tried Thursday to speak to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in what was described as a desperate bid to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The US Secretary rebuked both the two leaders equally for engaging in “tit-for-tat” tactics, but he knew exactly which side had caused the rupture. Kerry must by now realize that Abu Mazen’s history of withdrawing from any fruitful dialogue for peace made this outcome inevitable. Had he gone for interim accords, which he never considered, rather than final solutions, he might have bought a few years' lull in the dispute, although this too would have come apart over the same Palestinian dynamic.
In the past, Abu Mazen had to contend with only one effective dissenting voice. It came from his bitter rival, Mohammed Dahlan, who ended up quitting his comfortable berth on Palestinian Authority and Fatah councils in Ramallah and going into exile. There, too, he landed on his feet.
Some 30 years younger that Abbas, Dahlan has been a persona non grata for Israel as former Gaza strongman and innovative terrorist.
He is problematic on at least three more counts:
1. Seven years ago, he extracted from the US government a huge sum – estimated at $1 billion – for promising to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas rule. He never delivered and refused to refund the money.
That is one US count against him. In addition, he has thrown in his lot with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and their offensive against Obama administration Middle East policies.
2. Because of his unbridled criticism of Mahmoud Abbas and calls for his removal, Dahlan is on the run from his enemies who have sworn to destroy him.
3. Dahlan has managed to win the sympathy and patronage of powerful Gulf rulers. With their help, he established himself three months ago in Cairo within the Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi’s inner circle of advisers on the Palestinian question. This explains why Abbas gives Cairo a wide berth.
The Palestinian renegade gained this position through the influence of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is one of El-Sisi’s most generous bankers and who stands at the forefront of the Saudi-UAE life-and-death campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The talk of Ramallah this week was not the breakdown of talks, which surprised no one there, but interest in the way the Palestinian fate could be profitably drawn into the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian war on the Muslim Brotherhood and its offspring Hamas – away from the American ken.
Abbas’s rival Dahlan is shaping up as facilitator.
This trend appears to have been picked by some Israeli government and intelligence circles, judging by a comment heard from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Wednesday, April 2, during an office party on Passover Eve. He remarked that the ball is now in the Palestinian court. “Irrespective of the negotiations, Israel has found an attractive political horizon in such places as the Arab oil emirates and Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding: “If Abu Mazen is willing to follow us in that direction, fine. If not, we don’t need him.”
This comment suggested that Israel has thoughts of linking up with the emerging Saudi-Egyptian-UAR bloc and bringing the Palestinian issue on board. Whether or not these thoughts crystallize into hard policy, they hint at an alternative Israeli approach to the Palestinian question.

Pro-Russians Storm Government Building in Eastern Ukraine
Naharnet Newsdesk 06 April 2014/About 50 protesters chanting "Donetsk is a Russian city!" broke through police lines Sunday and stormed inside the main administration building of the eastern Ukrainian city. The activists moved away from a crowd of about 2,000 rallying on the main city square and threw firecrackers at police surrounding the government seat before raising the Russian flag above the 11-story building. An Agence France Presse reporter at the scene said security officers pulled a water canon up to the building but did not use force against the activists. The action began earlier in the day with calls for Donetsk -- a heavily Russified industrial city of one million people that has witnessed weeks of similar Sunday rallies -- to stage an independence referendum like the one that led to Crimea's annexation by Russia last month. Some in the crowd chanted "Give us a referendum" and "NATO go home." The southern and eastern regions of the culturally splintered nation of 46 million have been hit by waves of at times deadly protests that followed the February 22 fall in Kiev of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and the rise of a team that is seeking closer ties to the West. The unrest and threat of bloodshed has sparked concern in both Kiev and Western countries that Russian President Vladimir Putin may order his troops into the eastern regions following his promise to "protect" his compatriots there. Washington believes that Russia has massed about 40,000 soldiers near the eastern border of Ukraine. Moscow has denied plans to move its troops beyond Crimea but has thus far pulled only a few hundred troops back from the border region. Source/Agence France Presse.

Is Israel pointing the finger at the wrong enemy?
Sunday, 6 April 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/ASharq Alawsat
The Israeli government was wrong to shell Hezbollah posts and it is wrong to define them as “the enemy,” columnist Guy Bechor wrote in the Israeli Yedioth Aharonot daily newspaper in a criticism of his country’s government.
His opinion is that President Bashar al-Assad only governs one fifth of Syria and that Israel has plans and the power to confront Shiite terrorists but is not prepared at all to confront Sunni terrorists.
In fact we are not concerned about this way of thinking because it presents the analysis of someone who does not seem to differentiate between details on the ground. On the contrary to Bechor’s argument, it will be good if Israel also directs its cannons towards the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), the al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups. It is the Assad’s regime itself that facilitated the emergence of such parasites vying against the revolting Syrian people. These extremist groups have succeeded at turning the revolution into a sectarian war and have distorted the image of many Syrians taking part in the uprising.
Bechor wrote: “The Syrian territory in the Golan Heights is already filled with Salafi Sunni terrorist forces. In the whole of Syria they include tens of thousands, and they are continuing to multiply… there is already a jihadist Sunni country from Baghdad to our fence in the Golan. Until now, these forces were busy fighting the regime's army, but they are slowly taking over additional territories and finding time for Israel. If that is the case, is it possible that Israel is pointing an accusing finger at the wrong side?.... Because against Hezbollah or the Assad army we still have a deterrence ability, but against the Salafis there is zero deterrence. That is the situation in Sinai, in the Red Sea and in the Gaza Strip.”
Syria will be the biggest threat to Israel after it has been its top silent ally and its secure line of defense for 40 years
Syria will be the biggest threat to Israel after it has been its top silent ally and its secure line of defense for 40 years. The threat stands, regardless of whether Assad remains in power or not.
Remaining weak
If Assad survives, he will remain weak and in control of only a few areas. The situation will be the same if the civil war continues and if extremist groups like the ISIS take control over important geographical zones. Israel’s interest lies in ending Assad’s security cover and in supporting the idea of establishing a peaceful civil state in its neighborhood.
The ISIS, al-Nusra Front and Hezbollah are all terrorist groups with the shared policy of not crossing the borders towards Israel.
Most of their fighting takes place in civilian areas, taking them as hostages. They enjoy the support of different parties in the region to the extent that one of them resorted to abducting foreigners or Christians for financial support. The operation is like money laundering. The countries that support these groups give them millions of dollars in funding disguised as “ransom” money to release the abductees. Truth is, this is a way of supporting terror groups without raising suspicion.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 6, 2014