April 13/14


Bible Quotation for today/Palm Sunday

John 12,12-22/The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord the King of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him! ’ Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.


Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
How beautiful it is to stand before the Crucifix, simply to be under the Lord’s gaze, so full of love. (EG 264)
Pape François ‏
Comme il est doux de se tenir devant le Crucifix, et rester simplement sous le regard plein d’amour du Seigneur. (EG 264)


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 13/14

Lebanon and the search for a president/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiyia/April 13/14

Why Israel was not established in modern-day Saudi Arabia/Al Arabiyia/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/April 13/14

Iran Seeks to Untangle UN Sanctions/By: Steven Ditto/Washington Institute/April 13/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 13/14
Lebanese Related News

Authorities arrest more suspects in Tripoli, Bekaa

Berlusconi senior aide arrested in Beirut

Hezbollah develops new tactics in Syrian civil war
Three peacekeepers injured in road accident

Rai: President with majority vote will have my backing

Jabal Mohsen leaderless and exposed, locals say

Key questions unanswered in wage hike bill

Lebanon/Don’t count on bankers

'Eagle of Arsal' Arrested for Setting Up Booby-Trapped Cars

Parents' Committees Threaten to Boycott Schools over New Wage Scale

Berri Calls for Parliamentary Session on Tuesday to Discuss New Salary Scale

Suleiman Tasks Committee to Study Impact of Endorsed Laws on Economy

Hariri Agrees with Aoun to Block Extension of Suleiman's Term

Berri Discusses with al-Rahi Presidential Election Session

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran rejects U.S. ban on U.N. envoy, vows action

Syrian regime, opposition forces blame each other for chemical attack
Syrians trade blame over 'poison' attack on town

Militants raise Russian flag in Ukraine city

Bahrain bomb blast wounds policeman

Iran insists on pick for UN envoy, will challenge visa denial
U.S. faces reluctant partners in sanctioning Russia

Jesus' Victorious Entry into Jerusalem -Palm Sunday
By: Elias Bejjani*
(Psalm118/26): "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh! We have blessed You out of the house of Yahweh".
On the seventh Lantern Sunday, known as the "Palm Sunday", our Maronite Catholic Church celebrates the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The joyful and faithful people of this Holy City and their children welcomed Jesus with innocent spontaneity and declared Him a King. Through His glorious and modest entry the essence of His Godly royalty that we share with Him in baptism and anointing of Chrism was revealed. Jesus' Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, the "Palm Sunday", marks the Seventh Lantern Sunday, the last one before Easter Day, (The Resurrection).
During the past six Lantern weeks, we the believers are ought to have renewed and rekindled our faith and reverence through genuine fasting, contemplation, penance, prayers, repentance and acts of charity. By now we are expected to have fully understood the core of love, freedom, and justice that enables us to enter into a renewed world of worship that encompasses the family, the congregation, the community and the nation.
Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time to participate in the Jewish Passover Holiday. He was fully aware that the day of His suffering and death was approaching and unlike all times, He did not stop the people from declaring Him a king and accepted to enter the city while they were happily chanting : "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”.(John 12/13). Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19/39-40). Jesus entered Jerusalem to willingly sacrifice Himself, die on the cross, redeem us and absolve our original sin.
On the Palm Sunday we take our children and grandchildren to celebrate the mass and the special procession while happily they are carrying candles decorated with lilies and roses. Men and women hold palm fronds with olive branches, and actively participate in the Palm Procession with modesty, love and joy crying out loudly: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21/09).
On the Palm Sunday through the procession, prayers, and mass we renew our confidence and trust in Jesus. We beg Him for peace and commit ourselves to always tame all kinds of evil hostilities, forgive others and act as peace and love advocates and defend man's dignity and his basic human rights. "Ephesians 2:14": "For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us"
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus' story into Jerusalem appears in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). The four accounts shows clearly that the Triumphal Entry was a significant event, not only to the people of Jesus’ day, but to Christians throughout history.
The Triumphal Entry as it appeared in Saint John's Gospel, (12/12-19), as follows : "On the next day a great multitude had come to the feast. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet him, and cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it. As it is written, “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King comes, sitting on a donkey’s colt. ”His disciples didn’t understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him, and that they had done these things to Him. The multitude therefore that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, was testifying about it. For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “See how you accomplish nothing. Behold, the world has gone after him.” Now there were certain Greeks among those that went up to worship at the feast. These, therefore, came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn, Andrew came with Philip, and they told Jesus."
The multitude welcomed Jesus, His disciples and followers while chanting: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”.(John 12/13). His entry was so humble, meek simple and spontaneous. He did not ride in a chariot pulled by horses as earthly kings and conquerors do, He did not have armed guards, nor officials escorting him. He did not come to Jerusalem to fight, rule, judge or settle scores with any one, but to offer Himself a sacrifice for our salvation.
Before entering Jerusalem, He stopped in the city of Bethany, where Lazarus (whom he raised from the tomb) with his two sisters Mary and Martha lived. In Hebrew Bethany means "The House of the Poor". His stop in Bethany before reaching Jerusalem was a sign of both His acceptance of poverty and His readiness to offer Himself as a sacrifice. He is the One who accepted poverty for our own benefit and came to live in poverty with the poor and escort them to heaven, the Kingdom of His Father.
After His short Stop in Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem to fulfill all the prophecies, purposes and the work of the Lord since the dawn of history. All the scripture accounts were fulfilled and completed with his suffering, torture, crucifixion, death and resurrection. On the Cross, He cried with a loud voice: “It is finished.” He bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.(John19/30)
The multitude welcomed Jesus when He entered Jerusalem so one of the Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled. (Zechariah 9:9-10): "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth".
The crowd welcomed Jesus for different reasons and numerous expectations. There were those who came to listen to His message and believed in Him, while others sought a miraculous cure for their ailments and they got what they came for, but many others envisaged in Him a mortal King that could liberate their country, Israel, and free them from the yoke of the Roman occupation. Those were disappointed when Jesus told them: "My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom" (John 18/36)
Christ came to Jerusalem to die on its soil and fulfill the scriptures. It was His choice where to die in Jerusalem as He has said previously: "should not be a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem" (Luke 13/33): "Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem".
He has also warned Jerusalem because in it all the prophets were killed: (Luke 13:34-35): "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! "behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord".
Explanation of the Palm Sunday Procession Symbols
The crowd chanted, "Hosanna to the Son of David" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21/09), because Jesus was is a descendant of David. Hosanna in the highest is originated in the Psalm 118/25: "Please, LORD, please save us. Please, LORD, please give us success". It is a call for help and salvation as also meant by the Psalm 26/11: "But I lead a blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me". Hosanna also means: God enlightened us and will never abandon us, Jesus' is a salvation for the world"
Spreading cloth and trees' branches in front of Jesus to walk on them was an Old Testament tradition that refers to love, obedience, submission, triumph and loyalty. (2 Kings 09/13): "They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, "Jehu is king!". In the old days Spreading garments before a dignitary was a symbol of submission.
Zion is a hill in Jerusalem, and the "Daughter of Zion" is Jerusalem. The term is synonymous with "paradise" and the sky in its religious dimensions.
Carrying palm and olive branches and waving with them expresses joy, peace, longing for eternity and triumph. Palm branches are a sign of victory and praise, while Olive branches are a token of joy, peace and durability. The Lord was coming to Jerusalem to conquer death by death and secure eternity for the faithful. It is worth mentioning that the olive tree is a symbol for peace and its oil a means of holiness immortality with which Kings, Saints, children and the sick were anointed.
The name "King of Israel," symbolizes the kingship of the Jews who were waiting for Jehovah to liberate them from the Roman occupation.
O, Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith to feel closer to You and to Your mercy when in trouble;
O, Lord Jesus, empower us with the grace of patience and meekness to endure persecution, humiliation and rejection and always be Your followers.
O, Lord Let Your eternal peace and gracious love prevail all over the world.
A joyous Palm Sunday to all

Hezbollah develops new tactics in Syrian civil war
Lebanon-based terrorist organization, an ally of the Assad regime, uses special forces squads for covert operations deep in 'enemy territory.'
Associated Press/Published: 04.13.14/Ynetnews,7340,L-4509527,00.html
The commandos infiltrated Syrian rebel-held territory near the Lebanese border, watching rebel fighters come and go from a two-story villa before slipping inside to plant a powerful bomb. The next morning, they detonated it as three rebel explosive experts and four assistants met inside, turning the villa to rubble in seconds.
The operation late last month in Syria's western Qalamoun region was carried out Hezbollah fighters, several Lebanese officials close to the militants have told The Associated Press.
The Shiite group has sent hundreds of its fighters into Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad's overstretched troops, helping them gain ground around the capital, Damascus, and near the border with Lebanon.
But with its own casualties mounting in a civil war that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people in three years, officials say Hezbollah has turned to a variety of new tactics – including complicated commando operations – to hunt down rebels and opposition commanders.
The aim of the new strategy, that includes hit-and-run attacks as well as reconnaissance missions, is to help Assad hold onto power, limit Hezbollah casualties, and attack groups that want to launch attacks inside Lebanon itself. "Hezbollah is also well aware of its comparatively limited manpower capacity," said Charles Lister, an analyst with the Brookings Doha Center. "So exploiting an ability to inflict damage on the enemy without expending significant resources… is a natural strategic development." Hezbollah has a long history of guerrilla attacks. It fought Israel during its military occupation of southern Lebanon for nearly two decades until the IDF pulled out in 2000. Then, it relied on hit-and-run assaults to combat Israel's army.
Turning point
The turning point in Hezbollah's strategy in Syria came after the group helped secure the border town of Qusair last June, said the Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Hezbollah military tactics. After that battle, they say rebels ambushed and killed four elite Hezbollah fighters even though Assad's troops told them the area was secure.
Now, Hezbollah sends small groups of fighters to observe areas before entering, the officials say. One official said Hezbollah also has linked Syrian territories where it is present to its bases in Lebanon via a secure, hard-wired telecommunication network it has been using back home for years. The fighters avoid using mobile phones or other equipment easy to monitor, the official said.
The attack on the villa in Qalamoun also showcases the turn to commando-style fighting. Syrian state media said Syrian troops carried out the attack. However, Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Akhbar that is sympathetic to Assad, said both Syrian troops and Hezbollah special forces carried out the attack.
Observers of the group and experts say the Qalamoun attack was consistent with similar operations carried out by Hezbollah in the past.
"Covert and targeted Hezbollah operations further into Syria's interior or into 'enemy territory' is not such a surprising development," Lister said. "After all, Hezbollah training incorporates all the capabilities necessary for such operations, and there is a precedent for similar tactical evolutions, particularly against Israel."
Lister added that the attack "opens its forces up to being able to expand their operational capacity to include covert qualitative attacks on enemy infrastructure and senior leadership."
An opposition activist in Qalamoun who uses the name Amer al-Qalamouni told the AP that the three men, part of an engineering unit, were killed while preparing a bomb and did not die in an operation carried out by Syrian troops or Hezbollah. "Had the bomb been detonated by the army or Hezbollah we would have said that but they did not," al-Qalamouni said by telephone from Syria. "They (Hezbollah and army) want to take credit that they killed them." He did not elaborate.
A spokesman for largely secretive Hezbollah declined to comment when asked if its commandos carried out the Qalamoun attack, saying he had no information about it. The Lebanese terrorist organization's television station Al-Manar, however, hailed the "qualitative operation" and aired black-and-white photographs of the villa before and after the attack.
Al-Manar said the operation was carried 11 kilometers (7 miles) deep inside rebel territories near the area of Hawsh Arab.
The station also reported that the three bomb experts killed were behind suicide attacks that targeted Lebanon. That also offers further motivation for Hezbollah to carry out such an attack.
Syrian rebel groups and those supporting them increasingly carry out suicide attacks and other assaults in Shiite neighborhoods in Lebanon as revenge for Hezbollah's support of Assad. Dozens have been killed in recent months, the bulk of whom are usually civilians.
Hezbollah & Assad
Lebanon itself remains deeply split over Syria's increasingly sectarian civil war. Assad comes from a Shiite offshoot sect and the rebels fighting him are dominated by Sunnis. Stopping the attacks in Lebanon could ease those tensions and help Hezbollah's own image at home. Meanwhile, Syrian troops continue to reap the benefits of Hezbollah's experience. "Since the crisis started until now there has been major development in the performance of Syrian forces," said Qassim Qassir, a Hezbollah expert who writes for the Lebanese daily newspaper As-Safir. One of the deadliest operations against rebels in Syria occurred in February when forces loyal to Assad killed 175 rebels, many of them al-Qaeda-linked fighters, in an ambush near Damascus. The attack – filmed and broadcast exclusively by Al-Manar – was described as one of the deadliest attacks by government forces against fighters near the capital since the crisis began in March 2011. Many believe Hezbollah orchestrated the assault because of Al-Manar's access and the fact the terrorist organization's fighters are active in the region. The Lebanese officials close to Hezbollah said the group's fighters spearhead operations near the Lebanon border, where they pound areas with artillery, multiple rocket launchers and mortars before storming it. Once they get an area under control, they hand it over to Syrian troops or pro-government Syrian militiamen known as the National Defense Forces. "They don't trust anyone," an official said. "They were ambushed several times and lost a number of elite fighters."

Lebanon and the search for a president
Saturday, 12 April 2014
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiyia
Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi is tireless and unwavering in his calls for the election of a “strong” Lebanese president, who under Lebanon’s constitution must be a Maronite.
The term “strong president” has many different possible connotations. The most prominent is that the president should enjoy widespread popularity within his own sect. However, the Lebanese know that traditionally, the Maronite leadership is not held by one person alone. Even the charismatic Camille Chamoun, a former president whose influence lasted from the 1950s to the 1970s, was unable to cancel out the heritage of the Eddé clan or the power of the Lebanese Phalange (Kataeb) Party in the street - not to mention others such as the Frangieh clan in northern Lebanon and Jean Aziz in Jezzine, in the south.
Even more, Bachir Gemayel achieved his near-absolute leadership during the Lebanese Civil War by eliminating the competition through bloody confrontations. Afterwards, Gemayel’s organization, the Lebanese Forces, experienced a period of exhausting leadership disputes and confrontations, prompting it to accept the Taif Agreement. Michel Aoun - the army commander at the time - put himself forward as the “sole leader and savior” of Lebanon’s Christians, outgunning even the Lebanese Forces - then the foremost Christian militia - in his Christian and Maronite rhetoric. He then tried to subjugate them militarily and reject what he considered to be their “concessions” in the Taif Agreement.
A ‘strong’ president
Today, the patriarch recognizes four Maronite leaders whom he consistently invites to decisive discussions - especially discussions about the presidency - to the exclusion of others. These leaders are Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, former president and current leader of the Phalange (Kata’eb) Party Amine Gemayel, and former minister Suleiman Frangieh Jr, the grandson of former President Suleiman Frangieh Sr. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that a “strong” president would be one of these men.
The real solution for Lebanon lies in the election of a wise and fair-minded president who is equidistant from all the local players and who can truly just ‘manage’ the deep-seated crisis
But the word “strong” could also be related to the size of representation in parliament. Frangieh does not enjoy any significant influence across Lebanon as a whole, despite his strong local power base. Some may even say that a President Gemayel must also be out of the equation, in the light of the fact that he lost a by-election in the Christian Northern Metn area in 2007 to a relatively unknown pro-Aoun candidate after the Armenian vote turned against him. This leaves two candidates in the ring: Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and Geagea, the current leader of the Lebanese Forces.
Aoun’s people claim Geagea’s strong presence is due to the support of Sunni Muslims, to which the Lebanese Forces reply that Aoun is indebted to Shi’ite and Armenian voters for most of his bloc’s parliamentary seats. Neither accusation is far from the truth, especially with regards to Aoun’s bloc, which would not have won a parliamentary representation in either North or South Metn, in Baalbak-Hermel, or in other areas of Lebanon were it not for the support of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the “Dashnak” Armenian Party that supports Iran, and inevitably fears any Turkish (Sunni) regional influence. This reality in itself reveals the fragility of the “strength” claimed of any Maronite president who hopes to be elected before the deadline bet under the constitution expires on May 25.
Practically an occupied land
However, if we must be explicit, let us recognize that Lebanon is currently being de facto ruled by an Iranian security and military power represented by Hezbollah, and now - more than any other time since its independence in 1943 - it is practically an occupied land. Lebanon today, together with Syria and Iraq, forms an area of Iranian influence, with tacit Israeli and public U.S. acceptance. In a country under occupation, a “strong” president cannot exist, because the real “strong” party is the occupier. On the other hand, and after accepting this fact - that there is no one who could be described as a “strong” president - the qualities of the next president remain subject to a host of considerations. First is the regional powers’ perspective on the Lebanese arena. Second is whether there is consensus among the regional powers on the complicated and fragile Lebanese arena far from the region’s crises. Third is the effect of the American–Iranian “understanding” on the Lebanese arena, especially given that Hezbollah has already announced that it has a candidate, in the same way that the president of the Syrian regime has called for a “resistance president” in Lebanon. Fourth are the stances of the other regional players, particularly if Washington and Israel’s interests are in line with Iran’s interests in Lebanon. The regional balance of power, it seems, is in Tehran’s favor, in the absence of any obvious objections from Washington and Tel Aviv under the pretext of eliminating extremism, Al-Qaeda and terrorism. This is what tips the balance in favor of the March 8 Alliance, which is strongly linked to the Iranian axis.
Then, with active and continuing Hezbollah participation in the fighting inside Syria, it becomes clear that it is now a waste of time to try to keep the Lebanese arena away from the crises of a region, which is now under the serious threat of a new Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Here, we come to Washington’s position.
No objection
In 1982, Washington did not object to the ascendency of a hardline partisan - namely, Bachir Gemayel - to the presidency while the country was still under Israeli occupation. This ultimately proved catastrophic for the president-elect and Lebanon within just a few months. Later, near the end of 2006 when Iraq was also under occupation, Washington did not hesitate to hand in a deposed president to be executed following a trial which is still seen by many as an act of sectarian retribution. The two examples above indicate that the American position does not hold undue concern for civil peace or national unity. Some observers today even suspect that Washington is exerting both direct and indirect pressure on Lebanon’ Sunnis to accept the “Iranian axis” candidate after he is re-packaged as a consensus candidate. Indeed, this is the explanation many give to the sudden and unusual meetings between the Future Movement and Aoun’s bloc. In my humble opinion, polishing the image of Aoun - or whoever represents him - will not solve the problem. What it will do is push the Sunni street into feeling more alienated and more indignant, and quickly create an environment of persecution that could easily become an incubator for extremism. The real solution for Lebanon lies in the election of a wise and fair-minded president who is equidistant from all the local players and who can truly just “manage” the deep-seated crisis. The four aforementioned main players, unfortunately, are not qualified to manage any crisis. General Jean Kahwaji, the army commander, is according to many no longer seen as an impartial candidate, either. This means that Lebanon’s presidency must go to independent personalities who are known for their skill, such as central bank governor Riyad Salameh, whose nomination deserves the ratification of a procedural amendment to the constitution related to his current post.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 10, 2014

Three peacekeepers injured in road accident
April 12, 2014/The Daily Star/SIDON, Lebanon: Three Malaysian peacekeepers working with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon were injured Saturday in a road accident. The peacekeepers were on board an armored personnel carrier which overturned in the village of Maarakeh, a security source told The Daily Star.

Rai: President with majority vote will have my backing
April 12, 2014/By Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Friday denied media reports that he supported an independent presidential candidate over one picked by the March 8 or March 14 groups, saying he supported any properly elected president.“Any president – whether from March 8, March 14 or from outside these groups – who is elected by the absolute majority in Parliament is our president,” Rai told reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport after returning from Geneva. The head of the Maronite Church clarified the remarks he made to foreign media outlets while in Geneva. “We said what everybody says, which is that if no agreement [among rival groups] is reached over one candidate from the March 14 or March 8 coalitions ... then it will be possible that no one from either the March 14 or March 8 coalitions would assume the presidency,” Rai said, adding that he neither backed nor excluded any particular candidate. However, sources at the Patriarchate told The Daily Star that Rai had information that local and regional signs indicated that a consensus president unaffiliated with either coalition stood the best chance. The sources said that a consensus president would prioritize national interest and would believe in a moderate political stance. Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat told the National News Agency that a meeting between former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri in Riyadh Friday primarily focused on the presidential election. Former Minister Jean Obeid, a possible presidential candidate, explained Friday why he had not announced his candidacy. “He considers that rules and customs do not require the announcement of candidacy or a platform for presidential elections,” said a statement issued from Obeid’s office. “Without false pretenses, he considers himself not to be a candidate so far due to the lack of high chances [for his victory] amid the current circumstances surrounding the competition,” the statement added. A moderate figure, Obeid maintains good ties with Speaker Nabih Berri, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and other politicians from the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions. Many view him as a possible consensus candidate for presidential elections. The constitutional period for the election of the new president began on March 25, two months ahead of the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s term. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who announced his candidacy last month, said that Lebanon’s salvation lay in having a strong republic that required a strong president with clear stances. Addressing visitors at his Maarab residence, Geagea said a strong president should be honest, stick to his position, support the state alone and not back down in fear of Hezbollah. “The strong president is the one who says frankly what he wants and who launches his campaigns in front of the people and not in embassies and behind closed doors, ... who has never sought a post or gains but only wants to be a strong president in a strong republic,” Geagea added. Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb, also a potential candidate, said on Twitter that he would not announce his candidacy officially, as the Constitution did not require hopefuls to declare their intention to run in the presidential poll. Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem announced his candidacy. In an interview by a local television station Thursday evening, Ghanem said he believed in March 8’s values of resistance, but was also dedicated to the values of independence and sovereignty that were emphasized following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Frederic Hof, a former adviser of the U.S. secretary of state, told a radio station that a dangerous vacuum in the presidency was possible, given the domestic repercussions of Syria’s war resulting from Hezbollah’s military involvement. – With additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab

Lebanon/Don’t count on bankers
April 12, 2014/The Daily Star/Lebanon’s banks staged a one-day strike Friday, complaining that lawmakers were aiming to administer a “coup de grace” to the ailing economy by imposing a hike on their deposit revenue taxes. Banks Association President Francois Bassil claimed politicians were making “random” proposals to help fund a new salary scale for teachers and public servants. Bassil sought to temper his stance Friday by heaping praise on Speaker Nabih Berri, the head of the institution that was supposedly poised to crash the economy. The banks’ outburst has done little to help their standing in the eyes of the public, which for years has been directly experiencing the effects of the deteriorating economic situation. In fact, the banking sector has been isolated from the downturn in economic conditions in recent years, judging by the profits that banks regularly announce. The banks have a guaranteed, huge client in the form of the Lebanese state, charge interest rates that are relatively high and benefit from a national currency that has been relatively stable for 22 years, in case they have forgotten. The “random,” doomsday measures that were so objectionable to the banks amounted to items such as: raising the tax on deposit interest revenues from 5 to 7 percent and on their overall performance, while other taxes covered illegal construction on seafront properties. The latter move, far from being “random,” represents a long-standing demand by all manner of reformists. It is a positive sign that the proposals have generated such an outcry, because this puts the banks, and their interaction with society, under the spotlight – and the more that the public learns about how things really work in Lebanon, the better.

Key questions unanswered in wage hike bill
April 12, 2014/By Hasan Lakkis, Elias Sakr/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Parliament’s Joint Committees referred late Friday a controversial draft law to raise the salaries of public sector employees to the general assembly after a seven-hour marathon session that failed to resolve key contentious issues in the bill. MP Ibrahim Kanaan, who chaired the committees’ session, said the proposal would be ready by the beginning of the week in anticipation of a parliamentary vote that would be called by Speaker Nabih Berri, possibly as early as next week. MPs failed to reach an agreement on when the wage hikes would come into effect, whether they would be retroactive and if they would be paid in installments, as well as on the increase in value-added tax and on details of the raises for teachers. Unions have already opposed proposals to pay the hike in installments.
MPs expect the Parliament session debating the bill to witness heated debates between those who want to pass the wage hike at any cost and those who worry that it could deplete state coffers, already reeling under tough economic conditions. The wage hike is expected to cost the treasury some $1.6 billion annually amid a widening budget deficit that has reached 11 percent of GDP in 2013 and prompted several rating agencies to downgrade the outlook for Lebanese banks that hold the bulk of the sovereign bonds. The announcement came as the country’s top banks softened their opposition to the plan, set to feature tax hikes on bank profits and interest from deposits. Earlier Friday, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and the Association of Banks in Lebanon began discussions to reach a compromise agreement over the proposed taxes. “The meeting was positive and we hope to reach an agreement over the next few days,” Head of ABL Francois Bassil told a news conference following a meeting between Khalil and a delegation of bankers. Before holding talks with Khalil, the ABL delegation had requested an appointment with Berri, but the latter refused to meet with bankers and lashed out at the ABL for observing a one-day strike in protest against the proposed taxes, saying local banks make “obscene” profits from clients.
Banks remained closed as the association pleaded with the speaker to help reach a solution suitable for both the private and the public sector. In remarks carried by the National News Agency, Berri insisted that the ABL’s president, “Francois Bassil, publicly apologize for verbally attacking lawmakers and Parliament.” The ABL had criticized lawmakers for making “random decisions” for political purposes, warning that such a step would have negative effects on inflation rates in the country, the stability of the national currency and the purchasing power of the Lebanese. Amal MP Hani Qobeissi filed a lawsuit against Bassil for defamation and slander against lawmakers and politicians, but later retracted the lawsuit following Khalil’s meeting with bankers.
In his news conference, Bassil made a veiled apology to Berri following his criticism of lawmakers Thursday after Parliament’s Joint Committees proposed to introduce a 7 percent tax on the interest income earned by commercial banks on assets deposited at the central bank. Lawmakers had also proposed to increase the tax on banks’ net profits from 15 to 17 percent and raise the tax on interest earned on deposits from 5 to 7 percent. Bassil warned that the proposed taxes would lead to a hike in interest rates that would affect low to middle income families. Increasing the tax on interest earned on deposits will generate $186 million for the treasury, while taxing the interest earned on bank assets deposited at the central banks would generate around $146 million. Adopting softer rhetoric Friday, Bassil said banks were willing to accept a tax hike on net profits as long as it is “reasonable.” A banker told The Daily Star that if the proposed tax increases on banks were enacted without amendment, they would very likely lead to an increase in the lending rate. Banks also fear that international rating agencies, such as Moody’s, would downgrade Lebanon’s sovereign rating even further if the tax measures and the wage hike were to be adopted. Some bankers have hinted that they could decide to stop financing the public debt in protest of current economic and financial policies. Among other proposals to finance the pay raise, the Joint Committees approved fines for property violations; the annual fine amounts to 2.5 percent of the value of any illegally obtained land and 7.5 percent of the value of any illegally constructed building on seafront properties. Voicing fears of repercussions that could ensue following the approval of the draft law, Bassil appealed to the speaker to bridge the gap between lawmakers and banks. “I urge Speaker Berri to use his wisdom and his patriotism to narrow the divide and resolve the problem,” he said. Sources with knowledge of the meeting with bankers told The Daily Star that the bankers had agreed that they could afford to pay for the tax hikes. Khalil pointed out in the meeting that Lebanese banks earn about $1.8 billion of profits from their treasury bonds, and that the tax hike on deposit interest will mean that the banks pay about $400 million annually to the state. Khalil also told the bankers that depositors would not flee from Lebanese banks since interest rates on deposits are already higher than in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, tenants held a protest in front of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s Beirut residence against a new rental law.

Jabal Mohsen leaderless and exposed, locals say
April 12, 2014/By Samya Kullab/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: In the main square of the mostly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli, insignia symbolizing allegiance to Syrian President Bashar Assad have vanished. In its place is but one imposing portrait of Arab Democratic Party politburo chief Rifaat Eid, who, along with his father and party founder Ali Eid, reportedly fled the country two weeks ago to avoid criminal charges, leaving their followers leaderless and exposed. Security sources told The Daily Star that both party figures were in Syria, confirming that Rifaat checked into the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus. Rumors of their departure surfaced two weeks ago, days before a government-backed security plan was slated for implementation in the area and its rival, the majority Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh. Both neighborhoods have engaged in 20 rounds of clashes since May 2008. The violence intensified following the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011.
Security forces have detained at least 43 suspects accused of involvement in the Tripoli clashes as part of the plan, under which around 1,800 Army and security forces have been deployed.
Maya’s husband, who bears the nom du guerre Ahmad al-Hurr, is Rifaat Eid’s bodyguard and on the Army’s wanted list. He, along with other fighters and field commanders in the area, fled before the military raids to an undisclosed area to avoid arrest. Militia leaders in Bab al-Tabbaneh did the same, one prominent sheikh told The Daily Star, and are believed to be hiding in Wadi Khaled.
“I don’t know where he is, but I know he is alright,” Maya says, sitting in her living room, sparsely decorated save for photographs of her three young children. Prior to marrying Hurr, Maya was married to Youssef Traboulsi, an ADP fighter who died in the 2008 clashes. Her house was raided four times in the past three days, she says, rising to attend to her youngest child, who was crying in the next room. Usually soldiers come in the early morning hours, between 2-5 a.m., hoping to catch Hurr unawares.
“They arrested my father-in-law,” she says. “He was just passing by, and they [the Army] asked to see his ID, when they saw he shared the same family name they arrested him.” She speculates the act is a tool to pressure her husband to turn himself in. “Men who aren’t wanted are being arrested,” she claims. “In the first raid, they [the Army] were polite, but with successive raids they started using violence, they started raiding the houses of people who aren’t wanted, they insult them.” “They come here and keep asking for someone who isn’t here, so why use violence against us? They aren’t here,” she says indignantly. The Army spokesperson could not be reached by The Daily Star. For families such as Maya’s, the targets of the raids appear to be indiscriminate and unmerited. All the locals interviewed by The Daily Star said they felt the security plan had unfairly pursued Jabal Mohsen, compared to Bab al-Tabbaneh, and that the departure of their leaders had left them vulnerable to ill-willed outsiders. The Army’s removal of barricades that once protected residents from sniper fire has only worked to exacerbate such anxieties. “When they were here, it made all the difference,” Maya says.
Several civilians from Jabal Mohsen have been shot by militants from Bab al-Tabbaneh in previous months as they were commuting to and from work. Residents expressed skepticism that the security plan would usher in a viable reconciliation with Bab al-Tabbaneh, considering that key players to broker such an accord, such as Eid, militia leaders and Sunni figures, including Saad Hariri, would not be party to it. Protests that had turned violent the previous day between the Army and gunmen in Bab al-Tabbaneh served to reinforce these views.
“Reconciliation?” asks Maya, incredulously. “The security plan has changed nothing. Everything will go back to the way it was before.”
Sheikh Assad Assi, the head of the Alawite Islamic Council, concedes that the departure of Rifaat Eid has had a “psychological effect” on Jabal Mohsen’s residents, but that nevertheless the sect would have representation via its spiritual leaders. He expressed fears that the raids were a product of political interests, primarily those of Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk who are close to the Future Movement. But Assi says “only time will tell.”“We think injustice had been inflicted on Jabal Mohsen, because Ali Eid and Rifaat Eid have been forced to flee the country after being accused of terrorism. They are our leaders, and they are being falsely accused,” Assi says. Last week, Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged Eid and 11 others with belonging to an armed terrorist organization and carrying out terrorist acts in Tripoli. Ali Eid is wanted for allegedly aiding a suspect linked to the twin bombings that targeted two mosques in Tripoli last summer.
Reconciliation between both neighborhoods can only be fostered once its root political causes are addressed, requiring key political players, including the Eids, to come to the dialogue table, Assi says.
The core of the matter is partly political, as clashes escalated with the start of the Syria crisis. In a garage adjacent to Assi’s office building lies a tattered portrait of Assad, his arm raised in salute; a symbolic indication that while the posters had been taken down, Jabal Mohsen’s ties to Syria ran deeper than mere pageantry.
Some residents of Jabal Mohsen interpret the departure of Rifaat Eid as a sacrifice, one he made to avoid a greater conflict that might have ensued had he been arrested. In return, residents say, the security forces should boost measures to ensure their safety. The neighborhood spans 2.5 square km surrounded by Sunni neighborhoods, which are, besides Bab al-Tabbaneh, Beddawi, Manqoubine, Riva and Bakkar. The arrangement has given rise to a siege mentality, especially because of the area’s links to Assad’s regime. “We are being killed just for being allies with Syria,” Noureddine Eid, Rifaat’s brother, previously told The Daily Star. “We aren’t helping them, we don’t send money, we aren’t sending fighters, we don’t have the ability to do that ... but we are being attacked anyway.”
Noureddine Eid had kept his youngest daughter from going to school in Tripoli out of fear that she might be kidnapped, he said his brother had done the same. “We are the head of the Alawite community, and we live like this,” he said. “We are part of a bigger cause,” explains Ali, a local resident. “Because we expressed our support to the Syrian regime.” Ali lives in Hart al-Jadideh, the portion of Jabal Mohsen immediately overlooking Bab al-Tabbaneh. An Army tank is all that separates both areas now. After the first day of the raids, some residents from Hart al-Jadideh walked down the hill with flowers to reconcile with their neighboring adversaries. According to Ali, the heart-warming sight did not represent the attitude of most Alawites. “It’s been six years of bloodshed,” he says, still drinking his coffee in the inside corners of buildings, a habit he inherited from living close to the front lines. “Things like that aren’t resolved in a matter of days.”Still, things are looking up, he says, “At least I can walk down my own street today without fear of bullets.”

Berlusconi senior aide arrested in Beirut
April 12, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Police detained former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's senior aide in Beirut over an Interpol arrest warrant, a security source told The Daily Star Saturday.
Members of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch arrested the man identified as Marcello Dell’Utri in a Beirut neighborhood on charges of forming a mafia, the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. Berlusconi and Dell’Utri have denied links to the mafia. Dell’Utri, 72, had reportedly fled to Beirut and was expected to head to Africa to escape trial for working as a go between for the Sicilian Mafia and the Milan business elite. According to the Telegraph, Dell’Utri founded Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party with him in the early 1990s and became a senator in the party.
On Friday, Dell’Utri issued a statement, saying he was overseas to obtain medical treatment and was not escaping justice. Rome declared him a fugitive on April 8 after reports said he was in Lebanon. The State Prosecution office is expected to communicate with Italian authorities over the issue through the Interpol office in Beirut. "He was captured and is now in a Lebanese police office," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, a former Berlusconi ally who broke with the centre-right leader last year, told Reuters. "His capture was obviously connected to an extradition procedure that the Italian government, through the justice ministry, will activate immediately," Alfano added.

Authorities arrest more suspects in Tripoli, Bekaa
April 12/14/Rakan al-Fakih, Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI/HERMEL: The Lebanese Army Saturday announced it made more arrests in the Bekaa Valley and the northern city of Tripoli, under the nationwide security plan to restore order to regions plagued by the crisis in Syria. In the Bekaa, a wanted suspect identified as Ali Khodr Jaafar was apprehended in Al-Sharawneh neighborhood in the eastern city of Baalbek after the military tightened its cordon around the area and launched raids, a security source told The Daily Star. Jaafar, described as a “dangerous suspect,” is wanted for several arrest warrants and is accused of killing Army soldiers in the Bekaa. In a statement, the Army said Jaafar also known as Ali al-Shaer was linked to the kidnapping of Lebanese and Gulf citizens and was involved in the 2009 ambush that killed four officers. He also took part in two separate attacks on security forces in Baalbek that lead to the killing of two officers, the statement said.
In the same neighborhood, the Army raided four houses belonging to suspects involved in abduction cases, car thefts and drug trading, with soldiers confiscating a number of stolen vehicles, the source said. The military also raided the houses of Nouh Zeaiter and Mohammad Jaafar, wanted suspects as well. The Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch also raided several locations in the notorious neighborhood and confiscated four stolen vehicles. The ISF said in a statement they detained a 46-year-old man in the Bekaa, wanted for several arrest warrants over his alleged role in a number of robberies, trading with counterfeit currency and shooting Army soldiers. In the neighborhood of Maksa in Zahle, east Lebanon, the Army said it detained S.S. suspected of blocking a road in the town and harassing residents. In the northeastern town of Arsal, the military detained a Syrian identified as Abdel-Nabi Roumieh suspected of belonging to a terrorist group, the Army said in a separate announcement.
The Army also said it arrested a man identified as A.F. in Tripoli's Al-Hara al-Barraneye for shooting a person, committing robberies and lacking identification documents. Security forces, led by the Lebanese Army, have begun implementing a security plan to restore law and order to the restive city of Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.
The Army and ISF members erected checkpoints in several parts of the Bekaa and Tripoli, searching for suspects and inspecting vehicles. The military and the ISF Information Branch have also carried out raids in a number of locations and apprehended wanted individuals. In the northern city of Tripoli, the military briefly detained Abdullatif Saleh, media officer for pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, for making comments to a pan-Arab newspaper after the Army had warned him to refrain from doing so. Saleh was previously detained last year for attacking the Army in a newspaper article.
Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr charged 11 suspects from the northern city of Tripoli, including Khaled Shaykho commander of an armed group in Bab al-Tabbaneh, with “forming an armed group with the aim of harming people, sabotaging the authority of the state, shooting security forces, inciting sectarian sentiments, damaging public and private property as well as killing and attempted killing." Earlier this week, the Internal Security Forces detained Shaykho in Bab al-Tabbaneh. Shaykho is among a number of militia leaders who have been detained since the crackdown began on April 1 in Tripoli. Tripoli has witnessed nearly twenty rounds of violence between the Sunni-dominated Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the Jabal Mohsen district, populated mostly by Alawites, leaving hundreds of casualties and scores wounded over the past three years.

Syrians trade blame over 'poison' attack on town

April 12, 2014/Agence France Presse/BEIRUT: Syrian state television and medical sources in central Hama province swapped accusations Saturday over an attack that reportedly caused "suffocation and poisoning" of residents. Medics quoted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO said people choking from poisoning had been hospitalised after air raids with barrel bombs Friday on the town of Kafr Zita. "Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
But state television reported that Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front had released chlorine gas in a deadly attack on the town. "There is information that the terrorist Al-Nusra Front released toxic chorine... leading to the death of two people and causing more than 100 people to suffer from suffocation," it said. "There is information that Al-Nusra Front is preparing to hit Wadi Deif in Idlib province and Morek in Hama province with toxic chorine or sarin," the state broadcaster added. There was no independent verification of either of the claims, which come after a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last year. The opposition and much of the international community blamed that attack, which reportedly killed as many as 1,400 people, on the Syrian regime. The regime denied responsibility, in turn blaming rebels, but agreed under threat of US military action to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction.

Iran rejects U.S. ban on U.N. envoy, vows action
April 12, 201/By Mehrdad Balali/Reuters
DUBAI: Iran on Saturday rejected a U.S. decision to deny a visa for its newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, pledging to take up the case directly with the world body in a dispute that has reopened old wounds dating to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The United States, which hosts the United Nations, said Iran's candidate Hamid Abutalebi was unacceptable given his role in a 444-day crisis in which radical Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. President Barack Obama had come under strong domestic pressure not to allow Abutalebi into the United States to take up his position in New York, raising concerns that the dispute would disrupt delicate negotiations between Tehran and six world powers including Washington over Iran's nuclear programme.
"We have no replacement for Mr. Abutalebi and we will pursue the matter via legal mechanisms envisioned at the United Nations," Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying. "Based on an agreement with the United Nations, America is bound to act according to its international commitments," Araghchi said, as quoted by IRNA. The United Nations said it had no comment at this time on the U.S. decision. American law allows the Washington government to bar U.N. diplomats who are considered national security threats. But Obama's potentially precedent-setting step could open the United States to criticism that it is wielding its position as host nation to improperly exert political influence.
Araghchi is also a top negotiator in Iran's talks with big powers on defusing a stand-off over its disputed nuclear activity. Iran has said Washington's rejection of Abutalebi will not affect the talks, whose next round is set for May 13. Abutalebi says he served solely as a periodic translator for the Islamist students who seized the U.S. embassy hostages, and he has since evolved into a moderate figure favouring, like President Hassan Rouhani, a thaw in Iran's ties with the West. Since an uproar among former U.S. hostages and U.S. lawmakers over Abutalebi broke out, Tehran has steadfastly stuck by its choice, describing him as a seasoned diplomat who has served in various capacities in Western countries.
"Dr. Abutalebi is one of the most capable, experienced and rational diplomats in Iran," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IRNA. He served as Iran's U.N. envoy for eight years before taking his current job last year following Rouhani's election on a pledge to ease Iran's international isolation. In comments posted on Facebook late on Friday, Abutalebi said the U.S. move against him set a "wrong new precedent." Vahi Ahmadiah, a hardline conservative cleric who heads the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee, said: "America has no right to inject its issues into an international matter. It has shown (here) its hostile nature again. It uses every chance to hit out at the Islamic Republic." It was unclear whether the matter might play into the hands of hardliners in Iran's unwieldy power structure. They are keen to discredit Rouhani's campaign to improve long-hostile relations with the West, especially Washington, but have been held in check for now by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian officials privately insist that the dispute should not be allowed to derail diplomacy aimed at a nuclear deal with world powers - crucial to Rouhani's promise to win Iran relief from punitive economic sanctions. The nuclear negotiations have also yielded unprecedented bilateral discussions between Iran and the United States. After former hostages objected to Abutalebi, members of Congress jumped to pass legislation this week banning him, seeing the issue as a chance to look tough on Iran after a new sanctions bill stalled in the Senate early this year. Many Americans retain bitter feelings about Iran over the hostage crisis and many members of Congress, even Obama's fellow Democrats, are deeply sceptical about Tehran's intentions even under the pragmatist Rouhani. They treated Iran's selection of Abutalebi as a deliberate rebuke of the United States.

Iran Seeks to Untangle UN Sanctions
Steven Ditto/Washington Institute
April 10, 2014
The Islamic Republic has added to its nuclear negotiating team a law professor who has extensive experience making Iran's case in international disputes.
On April 9, Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany) concluded the latest two-day round of talks on a nuclear deal, setting the next round for May 13. Earlier in the week, on April 7, Iranian media reported the appointment of Dr. Jamshid Momtaz as head of a "legal advisory group" to the Iranian negotiating team. A French-educated expert on sanctions, disarmament, and UN procedure, Momtaz has represented the Iranian government in some of its highest-profile international legal proceedings, including in claims against the U.S. government at the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ). Momtaz's familiarity with the United Nations, his extensive practice in Europe, and his proven history of leveraging complex legal arguments to advance Iran's international interests indicate that in these latest rounds of P5+1 talks Tehran is likely looking for unconventional ways to "address" and "bring a satisfactory conclusion to" the UN Security Council resolutions against it, as called for in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreed to in Geneva last November.
On paper, Momtaz appears to be the consummate professional. He has authored more than thirty books and academic articles; his father and grandfather both served in the pre-1979 Iranian foreign service; and he was raised in Turkey and Egypt, and educated in Paris. In 2005, Momtaz was appointed chair of the UN International Law Commission -- an elected body on which he had served since 2000 and that is subordinate to the General Assembly -- and charged with deliberating on and codifying complex cases of international law. Most recently, he has been a professor at the University of Tehran, and he is a thirty-year advisor to Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Momtaz litigated Iranian claims at the ICJ concerning the territorial dispute over Abu Musa island; the 1988 accidental downing of Iran Air flight 655; and reparations from the Iran-Iraq War, including the U.S. use of force against Iranian oil platforms.
Perhaps most interestingly, Momtaz served as a legal advisor to current foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the 1990s, when the latter submitted an oral statement concerning the Iranian government's legal opinion on the "Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons," a case being heard by the ICJ at the UN General Assembly's request.
In the sterile discipline of international law, Momtaz's publications and proceedings on this issue, as with other issues, are quite dry. However, he appears to have been more open in a 1998 speech to Iranian legal experts. Reflecting on the ICJ's nuclear weapons ruling, Momtaz accentuated the "principle of proportionality" in international law and noted: "In certain cases, when an enemy attacks another country or government, or when a government invades another country, the use of nuclear weapons may be permissible, because the goal in using the nuclear weapons is to push back the invader and a military goal is of utmost importance." Although cloaked in legal reasoning, Momtaz's statement held that the use of nuclear weapons is not unconditionally prohibited under international law -- a position at odds with Zarif's public testimony and the Iranian government's line. Momtaz put forward more legal reasoning in his speech, noting that the "argument of suffering" -- used in international law to prohibit weaponry that causes harm to either civilians or soldiers -- in fact does not apply in cases of war. "We must consider the military results of nuclear weapons," he claimed. In short, Momtaz conceded that nuclear weapons could lawfully be used for tactical purposes, when aimed at military rather than civilian targets. This argument -- made primarily by nuclear weapons states, including the United States -- had been rejected by Zarif himself in testimony disavowing nuclear weapons "irrespective of type and size."
In the same speech, Momtaz went beyond these legalisms, intimating that in Iranian decisionmaking the interests of the republic trump international law. He characterized Iran's ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and decision to work within the "UN system" as a choice between "bad and worse," primarily motivated by the high price Iran would have paid for staying outside the treaty. "I am of the opinion that had we not joined the CWC, we would have had to tolerate the extreme reactions of the international community and the UN Security Council," he argued. "It would have been better for us to accept the oversight and control systems of these conventions, because it was a more institutional system and, ultimately, would consequently have more assurances for us." This passage suggests the commonality of practical power politics in the Islamic Republic, rather than moral and legal opposition to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), even by exceptional individuals such as Momtaz who have spent their careers upholding the primacy of international law.
The roots of the current round of P5+1 negotiations go back to September 2005, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors voted -- with a majority twenty-seven out of thirty-five countries -- to refer Iran's nuclear file to the Security Council, based on Article 12, Subsection C, of the IAEA statute concerning noncompliance. Earlier that year, nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani had warned that Iran would oppose such a measure and also consider it contrary to international law. "So far as international law is concerned, there is no way to refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council," Rouhani exhorted in March 2005. "If they want to send the dossier to the Security Council, they would be doing something totally illegal, purely political, and irrational."
According to Iranian legal experts' interpretation, the IAEA statute only allows UN referrals in clear cases of nuclear diversion, or when a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is accused of "fault or negligence." The Iranians argued, in their defense, that longstanding questions about contamination of nuclear equipment by high-enriched uranium, as well as secret procurement networks for P1 and P2 centrifuges, had been satisfactorily resolved by the IAEA, making the Security Council referral illegitimate under international law.
In November 2013, following the adoption of the JPOA, Zarif echoed Rouhani's earlier sentiments and characterized the Security Council sanctions as "illegal, unreasonable, and cruel." He noted further that "we have always said that referring Iran's dossier to the Security Council was illegal." Seeking to implicate the United States, he noted it was "a political move masked under a legal basis."
Assuming Momtaz and the newly appointed legal advisory team share these longstanding claims about the Security Council resolutions' illegitimacy, questions will naturally arise regarding the team's approach to satisfying the JPOA's requirement for Iran to, "among other things, [address] the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council's consideration of this matter."
Given this context, the P5+1 faces two broad challenges as it seeks to secure Iranian compliance with Security Council demands.
The first is whether the Iranians -- as they seek the "return" of their nuclear file from the Security Council's agenda back to the IAEA's purview -- will premise their engagement on the illegitimacy of the Security Council resolutions. As expressed by one Iranian academic who has written extensively on nuclear negotiations, seeking to engage Western concerns would "practically be tantamount to recognizing the resolutions as an international phenomenon" and "entering into the issue of the resolutions will not be very different from recognizing their legitimacy." And if the Iranians do seek compromise on premises they consider illegitimate, their sense of "respect" and "dignity" could be violated in the process. Momtaz's record of tenacious advocacy for Iran's legal stances suggests he would insist that any final agreement not endorse the Security Council's authority to take positions to which Iran has objected. These challenges in recognizing the Security Council resolutions passed against Iran are compounded by statements by prominent Iranian parliamentarians, including National Security and Foreign Policy Committee chairman Alaeddin Boroujerdi, asserting that resolving the resolutions is a prerequisite for the Iranian parliament's ratification of the IAEA's Additional Protocol. "As long as Iran's nuclear dossier is on the UN Security Council agenda, discussing the implementation of the additional protocol is not possible," Boroujerdi has said.
The second is the contentious issue of addressing nonnuclear items of the Security Council, U.S., and European Union sanctions, including missile technology and human rights. Security Council Resolution 1929, for instance, passed in 2010, places limits on Iran's development of ballistic missile systems. Although U.S. officials seem to be holding a tough line on including such elements in the P5+1 proceedings, Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi has been clear: "Our mandate as the negotiating team only concerns the nuclear issue."
The optimistic view about Momtaz's appointment to the negotiating team is that the Iranians are beefing up their expertise for a final nuclear agreement on the horizon. The pessimistic view is that Iran could be reinforcing a tough stand focused on legalisms and international legal arguments. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.
**Steven Ditto is an independent Middle East researcher and author of the Washington Institute studies Reading Rouhani: The Promise and Peril of Iran's New President and Red Tape, Iron Nerve: The Iranian Quest for U.S. Education.

Syrian regime, opposition forces blame each other for chemical attack
04/12/2014 /Opposition says Assad forces dropped toxins on town in central province; state TV claims al-Qaida-linked rebels responsible. aleppo syria
Smoke rises during clashes between government forces and rebels in Aleppo, April 11, 2014. Photo: REUTERS
The Syrian regime and opposition forces accused each other on Saturday of carrying out a chemical attack on the village of Kafr Zeita, located in the embattled country’s western-central province of Hama.
Opposition activists reported that dozens of residents suffered from symptoms of suffocation after air units loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad targeted the town with explosive barrels allegedly containing toxic material.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television reported that the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front rebel group was responsible for an attack using chlorine gas, killing two people and wounding more than 100 others.
Last Monday, an Israeli security source confirmed that the Assad regime had used a non-lethal chemical weapon on March 27 on the outskirts of Damascus. The source said he could confirm claims made by Syrian rebels and doctors last month that a substance had been used on rebel fighters in Harasta, an outlying region of the Syrian capital, adding that the chemical “neutralizes [threats] but does not kill.”
A second alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime occurred in the same area within days of the first attack, according to Syrian opposition sources, though the Israeli security source said he could not confirm the report.
In one instance, according to the New York-based website Syria Deeply, which interviewed doctors on the ground, 25 fighters were wounded.
Despite the assertion by the Israeli source that the chemical was nonlethal, some reports suggested that four people had died in the March 27 attack.
Syria Deeply cited the Syrian American Medical Society, a group of Syrian-American doctors and surgeons who travel to Syria, as condemning what it described as a “poisonous gas attack” in Harasta.
“Symptoms suffered by patients included hallucinations, accelerated pulse, trouble breathing and, in some cases, suffocation,” according to SAMS.
Syria has destroyed the majority of its chemical weapon production centers and is in the midst of transporting existing arms from storage sites to ships in Latakia to remove the substances and destroy them, according to Israeli security assessments.
The disarmament efforts, which have been stepped up in recent weeks, are being managed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Israel is expected to closely monitor the situation to try and see whether Assad attempts to secretly keep some chemical arms.
Prior to the disarmament program, Syria had amassed the world’s largest stockpile of VX nerve agents, Sarin and mustard gas.
In August 2013, a chemical attack on a rebel-held area north of Damascus left 1,400 civilians dead. The massacre led to a Russian- brokered disarmament agreement that saw Assad agree to give up the unconventional arms in exchange for avoiding a US military strike.

Why Israel was not established in modern-day Saudi Arabia
Saturday, 12 April 2014/Al Arabiyia
By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed
History is made by individuals. That’s how Israel was born, through a promise from former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on the land of Palestine, although it could have been in any other place.
There was more than one option to establish a state for the Jews in the world, with the majority of possibilities being in the new continents. They thought of Latin America, and mainly Argentina, which was home to 250,000 Jews. The other suggestion was Australia.
The British even discussed the possibility of giving them Uganda, one of their African colonies.
A new element to the old story is that one region of Saudi Arabia was on the list of candidate places to host Jews in order to settle and establish the state of Israel. The British Library recently surprised us with one of its documents, which was a letter from the French Ambassador in Paris sent to Balfour, who was looking on the world map for a place for the Jews.
The letter contained a suggestion by a Russian Jew to occupy al-Ahsa in Saudi Arabia through neighboring Bahrain. But on that same year, 1917, Balfour had already made his mind and decided to make Palestine the Promised Land, before God unveiled his own - the long-awaited land of milk and honey!
For the bad luck of Palestinians - and the good luck of Saudis - Balfour refused the suggestion. He didn’t refuse al-Ahsa on merely historic and religious grounds, but because it was a poor land lacking the elements of a modern state. The only interest of the British in the Peninsula was in stopping the forces of King Abdulaziz from reaching the shores of the Gulf
He found all of the Arabian Peninsula a hostile land, which forced its residents to migrate throughout the centuries, because of drought, famine and starvation.
Maybe if the British minister had known that the biggest oil reserves in the world lay beneath it, he would have changed the direction of the migration, and history would’ve been completely changed.
When Balfour refused the option of al-Ahsa as a state of Jews, King Abdulaziz was riding his horse and fighting with his sword for 15 years throughout the Arabian Peninsula in order to revive the kingdom of his ancestors, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.And the king was lucky - the oil wasn’t discovered in the Saudi Province of Al-Ahsa until 11 years after Balfour refused to give it to the Jews.
Fertile land
Balfour was looking for a fertile agricultural land, Argentina, Australia, Uganda, and Palestine, the land of the olive trees. Who would want al-Ahsa, or any other place in the Arabian Peninsula where its residents were living on sheep and camel breeding and very basic agriculture. The only interest of the British in the Peninsula was in stopping the forces of King Abdulaziz from reaching the shores of the Gulf, to keep their fleet safe, and block the road to the Saudi forces from crossing to Iraq, which was under their rule. Nobody cared about what was happening in those poor desert areas, except maybe the British Captain William Henry Shakespear, who tried to convince his boss Sir Percy Cox about the importance of the Arabian Peninsula.
Cox, who drew Iraq’s map as we know it, wasn’t convinced of the importance of the Arabian Peninsula, and this is what preserved Saudi Arabia from being divided by the British scalpel, and the subsequent tragedies. The Palestinians are still paying a hefty price of that promise with more than 4 million of them scattered all over the world, and countless others besieged in their own land. Even the Jews themselves are bogged down in a state whose future is full of conflicts with neighbors.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 12, 2014.