April 15/14


Bible Quotation for today/Strive to enter through the narrow door

Luke 13,22-30/: "Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, "Lord, open to us", then in reply he will say to you, "I do not know where you come from." Then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets." But he will say, "I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!"There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 15/14

To believe, or not to believe? Seymour Hersh’s Syria allegations/By: Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiyia/April 15/14

Arabs must unite before seeking a permanent seat at the U.N./Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia/April 15/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 15/14
Lebanese Related News

Salam, Sleiman urge reforms alongside wage hike

Lebanon's Arabic press digest - Apr. 14, 2014
40 Suspects Charged over Tripoli Clashes
Suleiman: New Wage Scale is Legitimate Right, but it Mustn't Impact Economy
Al-Labweh Comes Under Rocket Attack Claimed by Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade

Hariri Congratulates Moqren for Being Named Saudi Future King
Renewed Tension at Tyre's al-Bass Camp
Hizbullah Shifts Tactics, Narrative for Syria Fight
Mutilated Bodies Discovered in Shouf, Ouzai as Hanging Child Found in Shhim
Cabinet to Appoint Civil Service Council Chief on Wednesday
Berri Seeks to Reassure Jumblat over Wage Scale Burden on Economy
Army Frees in Arsal Man Kidnapped in Syria's Qalamoun
Two Al-Manar journalists killed in Syria

Lebanon objects to Arab League final statement

Syrian forces take 3 villages near Lebanese border

Gemayel denies aide was sent to help campaign
Chehab: First Army head turned president
Captagon pills/A bitter pill to swallow

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Lieberman: Israel holds clandestine talks with Arab countries

Ex-Egyptian general wants The UNESCO listed site of St. Catherine’s Monastery demolished
Syria Army Retakes Christian Town of Maalula

Syria Chemical Arms Handover Nearly Two-Thirds Complete

Torture 'routinely' used in Syria: U.N. rights chief
Three Dead, Suspect Caught in Shootings at U.S. Jewish Sites

Kansas City-area shooting suspect to face federal hate crime charges

Suspected terrorist attack near Hebron kills 1, wounds 2 others

Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators Meet Wednesday with U.S. Envoy
Egypt's Sisi Submits Bid for President
Iran asks U.N. Chief to Intervene in Envoy Row

Ukraine President threatens military operation  

Lieberman: Israel holds clandestine talks with Arab countries,7340,L-4510125,00.html

Reuters, Yuval Karni /Ynetnews/ 04.14.14/Israel News
Foreign minister says talks with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait held in attempt to establish diplomatic ties based on common fear from Iran.
Israel is holding secret talks with some Arab states that do not recognise it, looking to establish diplomatic ties based on a common fear of Iran, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Yedioth Ahronot in an interview published on Monday.
Amongst the countries he was in contact with were Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Lieberman said - the first such disclosure by a senior Israeli official.
The two nations swiftly denied the existence of any talks with Israel.
Both these states, along with most other Arab nations, have traditionally been highly hostile towards Israel, which has only signed peace deals with two neighbours - Egypt and Jordan.
However, anti-Israeli sentiment was being superseded by a growing concern over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran's regional allies, and the menace of Islamist militancy, Lieberman said.
"For the first time there is an understanding there that the real threat is not Israel, the Jews or Zionism. It is Iran, global jihad, (Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla group) Hezbollah and al-Qaeda," the foreign minister said.
"There are contacts, there are talks, but we are very close to the stage in which within a year or 18 months it will no longer be secret, it will be conducted openly," added Lieberman, who is a far rightist in the coalition government.
Lieberman said he was in touch with "moderate" Arabs - a term Israelis often use for Sunni states in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East that align with US interests. He also said he would have no problem visiting Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.
"I have spent more than a few years of meetings and talks with them. As far as they are concerned, there is only one red rag and that is Iran," he said.
"You have to understand that if in Bahrain outlaws Hamas or Hezbollah, it's not because of Israel. When the presidential candidate in Egypt, General al-Sisi, outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood, it's not because of Zionism. They understand that we are on the same side of the divide," he noted.
A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said: "There are no ties or talks with Israel at any level."
In Kuwait, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said: "It is not true, we don't have these kind of talks."
Full relations
Lieberman claimed a peace agreement could be signed with moderate Arab countries within five years, and claimed that some new Israeli-Arab peace accords would be signed in 2019.
"I'm certain that by then we will have a situation in which we have full diplomatic relations with most of the moderate Arab states. And you can count on my word," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long hinted that Israel and the Gulf states share a similar goal in halting Iran's nuclear program, saying they all saw a mortal threat in its ambitious atomic drive.
Iran denies that it is planning to build nuclear weapons.
Senior Israeli officials have also said that like themselves, moderate Sunni states are worried that Washington was not taking a tough enough line with Tehran.
However, analysts have scoffed at the idea that ties between Israel and much of the Arab world could be normalized while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained unresolved.
US-brokered peace talks between the two are floundering, with no indication that a resolution is anywhere in sight.
"To Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the cost of open relations with Israel at this time may be higher than the benefit, given the position of the Arab street," Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, said in a report in December.
Lieberman, who has worked hard in recent months to soften his hardline international image, suggested Arab nations were as eager as Israel to be open about their shared interests.
"I think that they too are stewing in their own juice and reaching an awareness that there will be no choice but to move from the secret stage of the dialogue between us to the open stage of the talks," he said



Suleiman: New Wage Scale is Legitimate Right, but it Mustn't Impact Economy
Naharnet/President Michel Suleiman stressed on Monday that the new wage scale is a legitimate right to those demanding it, but the people's interests must be taken into consideration before endorsing it.
He explained: “A balance must be struck between revenues and expenses in a manner that will not negatively impact the economy.” In addition, he hoped after holding talks with Premier Tammam Salam that approving the new wage scale will not result in more taxes that burden the people. The implementation of the pay raise should be met with administrative reform, combating corruption, and controlling spending, stated Suleiman. The president had also earlier held talks with Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq on the implementation of the security plan in the northern city of Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa Valley. On Friday, the joint parliamentary committees gave the green light to the pay raise which has been put on the agenda of the legislature on Tuesday for approval. Despite the move, the Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, called for a protest near the parliament in downtown Beirut on Tuesday to pressure MPs into approving the raise without slashing the 121 percent wage hike demanded by the grouping or making the payments in installments. Several officials and economic committees have expressed their concern over the wage scale, warning that it would further burden Lebanon's economy.


Two Al-Manar journalists killed in Syria
April 14, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Two Al-Manar journalists were killed Monday after the television crew came under attack in the Syrian town of Maaloula, a security source told The Daily Star.
The Hezbollah-affiliated TV reported earlier in the day that its four-member crew came under fire in the predominantly Christian town. “Al-Manar team was shot at by armed groups when [journalists] were covering the Syrian army’s takeover of the Maaloula town in Qalamoun,” the report said, without giving further details.

40 Suspects Charged over Tripoli Clashes
Naharnet/The military prosecutor charged on Monday 40 suspects for their involvement in the fighting in the northern city of Tripoli, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the charges were issued against them by State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr. The 40 suspects include 18 Jabal Mohsen residents, only one of whom is in custody, Bilal al-Baqar and Raef Dandashi, Wael Ibrahim and 19 of his co-conspirators from Bab al-Tabbaneh whose identities are not fully known, NNA said. The charges include the formation of an armed group aimed at carrying out crimes, the attack on civilian and military institutions, participation in the fighting in Tripoli and the exchange of fire, the agency stated. The other charges are killing, attempted murder and damage to properties and buildings, NNA said. The suspects were referred to first Military Examining Magistrate Riyad Abu Ghida. Several people have been detained since armed forces began implementing a security plan earlier this month to restore law and order to the city. The army said in a communique on Monday that it has arrested Suleiman Mahmoud al-Ali in Jabal Mohsen as part of the security plan.
Tripoli has witnessed several rounds of fighting linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Bab al-Tabbaneh is mostly Sunni, whose residents support Syrian rebels in their war to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Jabal Mohsen residents are mostly Alawite, and loyal to Assad, who shares their faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Al-Labweh Comes Under Rocket Attack Claimed by Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade
Naharnet/Several rockets landed on Monday on the Bekaa town of al-Labweh from the Syrian side of the border, the Lebanese army and the state-run National News Agency reported.
The attack did not cause any casualties, they said. Army units deployed in the area where the rockets landed to specify their type and the exact source of the attack, the military said in its communique
The residents of al-Labweh and other Shiite towns blame Arsal for rocket fire on their villages. Arsal is a Sunni town which is now home to 40,000 Lebanese and 52,000 Syrian refugees.
The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility for the rocket attack on al-Labweh. The extremist group has previously claimed many assaults against Shiite towns and the Lebanese army.

Hariri Congratulates Moqren for Being Named Saudi Future King
Naharnet /Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday congratulated Saudi prince Moqren bin Abdul Aziz, who has been recently named second in line for the Gulf kingdom's throne.
According to a statement issued by Hariri's press office, the two men met at the prince's office at al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh. The ex-PM congratulated Prince Moqren on “the royal confidence he gained by being chosen as deputy crown prince,” said the statement. For his part, the prince thanked Hariri for his gesture and the meeting was “an occasion to exchange points of view,” the press office added.
The prince, who was chosen on March 27, is a confidant of King Abdullah who has trusted him to carry out several sensitive diplomatic missions. He will be proclaimed sovereign "if the posts of crown prince and king become vacant," according to a decision taken by "more than three-quarters" of the 34-member Board of Succession, comprised of the princes of the royal family.

Salam, Sleiman urge reforms alongside wage hike
April 14, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam Monday urged lawmakers to come up with a series of administrative reforms before passing the controversial public sector wage hike to limit possible negative effects on the economy. “Stemming from our keenness to preserve the right of citizens, discussions in Parliament should focus on creating a balance between revenues and expenditures so that the wage hike will not negatively affect the economy and burden citizens with additional taxes,” Sleiman and Salam said in a joint statement.
“This issue should be accompanied by administrative reforms to end corruption and control spending, which would safeguard the treasury and pave the way for a serious and practical discussion on how to apply the salary scale,” they added. The statement came after a meeting between Salam and Sleiman at Baabda Palace to discuss the wage hike draft law, a day before Parliament is set to convene to pass the disputed proposal, estimated to cost the treasury some $1.6 billion annually. The Union Coordination Committee has called for a general strike Tuesday ahead of the Parliament session.
The decision by the UCC, which represents civil servants and teachers in public and private schools, is aimed at exerting pressure on lawmakers to approve the salary scale draft law without slashing the wage hike demanded by the UCC or rolling out the hike in installments. The Association of Banks in Lebanon and the Economic Committees, a body representing the private sector, have opposed the wage hike, saying it would lead to inflation and burden the country’s economy already reeling as a result of the crisis in Syria.

Renewed Tension at Tyre's al-Bass Camp
Naharnet/An armed dispute in a Palestinian refugee camp in the southern city of Tyre renewed on Monday, forcing the army to deploy on its outskirts to contain the incident, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the sons of Jaafar Hajou – a man injured during a fight in al-Bass camp on Sunday - opened fire near the house of Youssef Draz, who fired back in the air. No one was injured in the incident, the agency said. But the army deployed near the camp and blocked the road leading to it to prevent any deterioration in the security situation. Palestinian factions worked to contain the incident, NNA added. The gunfight between the members of the two families erupted on Sunday after three brothers Youssef, Hussein and Salim Draz stabbed Hajou, who is their uncle, over financial disputes and old problems.

Mutilated Bodies Discovered in Shouf, Ouzai as Hanging Child Found in Shhim
Naharnet/A Syrian was stabbed multiple times before his body was set on fire in the Shouf district, the state-run National News Agency reported on Monday. The body of Muhannad al-Aatli, 45, was found inside his room in the area of al-Saadiyat, it said. The agency said that the killer of al-Aatli had stabbed him many times all over his body and then burned his body. Forensic experts inspected his corpse and members of al-Saadiyat police station launched an investigation into the murder, NNA added. In a similar crime, a chopped up body was found in a garbage container in the Ouzai district of Beirut's southern suburbs. Police are seeking to identify the victim. Later on Monday, LBCI TV said the body of Syrian child Nimr Khaled al-Dous, 6, was found hanging from a tree outside his family house in Shhim's al-Karm al-Atiq neighborhood, also in the Shouf district. It said the body was transferred to the Mazboud Central Hospital. Last month, a Syrian was found stabbed to death in North Metn district with a message written in his blood saying he was killed to avenge the fall of the central Syrian town of Yabrud. Ali Moussa Harmoush's body was discovered covered in blood in his room in the town of Fanar.
Yabrud was taken by Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops last month with the support of Hizbullah fighters.


Lebanon objects to Arab League final statement
April 14, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil Monday voiced his country’s reservation and opposition to a recent resolution by the Arab League that he said failed to mention the Palestinian right of return, a crucial item for Lebanon. During a news conference, Bassil said the ministry sent a letter of objection to the regional organization and held contacts with its head, Nabil Arabi, and the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry to amend the statement, which was released on April 9. “We gladly accepted the Arab League invitation to listen to the president of Palestine on developments in the negotiations with the Israeli side under the sponsorship of the U.S.,” Bassil told reporters. “In that ministerial meeting, we supported the decisions which were expected to be in the final statement because it preserved the tripartite formula of the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said, referring to the need for Israel to withdrawal to the 1967 borders, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right of refugees to return. However, he added: “We were surprised to see that the right of return, or at least rejection of nationalization in Lebanon, was dropped from the final statement ... therefore, we announce our reservation and opposition against what happened."Lebanon hosts more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in a number of camps across the country.
“The right of return is a permanent Lebanese stance and that position can change if [Palestinians] abandon such a right. Lebanon's stance, then, will be outright rejection of nationalization,” he said.
Bassil argued that the right to return is guaranteed on the domestic, regional and international levels, citing decisions and agreements that oppose such a move. The Lebanese Constitutional forbids nationalization, Bassil said, adding that such a move would damage the country’s demography. He also cited Articles 2 and 4 of the Arab Peace Initiative, which he said guaranteed an opposition against attempts to nationalize Palestinians.“Internationally, Article 11 of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 stipulates that refugees seeking to return should be allowed to, and compensation would be paid for those who decide to stay,” Bassil said.  “This represents the biggest obstacle for people attempting to impose nationalization in Lebanon. There is no power in the world that can change the will of two peoples [Palestinian and Lebanese] in solidarity over a rightful issue “This also means that Lebanon is not concerned with any other agreement between Palestine and Israel,” Bassil said, adding that international law stipulates that any agreement between countries cannot be imposed on a state that is not a signatory party.  “The world will never understand the right to return in light of Israel’s stubbornness unless it threatens international peace and stability. Consequently, If Israel continues as such then the goal of the United States for stability in Lebanon will not be achieved,” he said.

Cabinet to Appoint Civil Service Council Chief on Wednesday
Naharnet/The cabinet is expected to appoint the new head of the Civil Service Council during a session scheduled to be held on Wednesday, several newspapers said. Fatima Sayegh Owaidat is expected to take the helm of the Council, they said. The cabinet, which will be chaired by President Michel Suleiman at Baabda Palace, has a 27-item agenda, including the appointment article.
Informed sources did not confirm whether the government of Premier Tammam Salam would make other appointments of civil servants. But they told al-Joumhouria newspaper that the cabinet would approve several decisions taken by the government of former Prime Minister Najib Miqati between March 22 last year and January 15, 2014.


Captagon pills/A bitter pill to swallow
April 14, 2014/The Daily Star /The latest police seizure of Captagon pills, around 12 million this time, must be commended, but until the problem is addressed at the source, the story looks set to continue, and the market will continue to overflow with the drug. Every week or so, it seems, another consignment of the amphetamine is found, whether at the airport, the border with Syria, or at the port. This latest haul was discovered at the Beirut port, and two of the four individuals arrested were port staff themselves. Allegedly headed for the United Arab Emirates, and hidden in bags of corn, this huge quantity of drugs raises many questions. Estimated at a street value of around $500 million, the sheer amount of drugs seized reveals that they were part of a major operation. Producing such quantities of drugs requires a lot of physical space – in terms of factories or plants – and a large network of individuals involved. It is clear that such facilities must exist in areas outside of government control, or that they are being allowed to operate, with certain local authorities or figures choosing to turn a blind eye to the phenomenon. As with the food and medicinal drug scandals of recent years, this Captagon story is indicative of the endemic levels of corruption at play in Lebanon. Those at the source are being protected by certain people of authority, or, at the very least, security services are afraid to crack down on them for fear of others who are protecting the producers. But until those at the source of the issue are rooted out, the drugs will continue to proliferate, and the lowest level gang members will remain in jail while the ringleaders reap the benefits

Berri Seeks to Reassure Jumblat over Wage Scale Burden on Economy
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri sought to appease Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat who has expressed fears over the state's failure to fund a new wage scale deliberated by lawmakers.
In remarks carried by local dailies on Monday, Berri said: “When Mr. Walid checks the chart, he will be reassured and find the reform articles that have been introduced (to the draft-law) to prevent waste and corruption.”Jumblat has stressed the importance of reform at public administrations to ensure the success of the implementation of new wage scale. He told An Nahar daily on Sunday that his parliamentary bloc will vote against the draft-law “if it lacked clear means of funding.” “We will not advocate the scale, despite the legitimate need for it,” he said. In similar remarks to As Safir newspaper on Monday, the PSP chief, who is the head of the National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc, warned against any “irrational move.” “We waited for a long time. So we can have a little more patience to consolidate the scale and protect the economy,” he said. The joint parliamentary committees have given the green light to the pay raise which has been put on the agenda of the legislature on Tuesday for approval.  Despite the move, the Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, called for a protest near the parliament in downtown Beirut on Tuesday to pressure MPs into approving the pay raise without slashing the 121 percent wage hike demanded by the grouping or making the payments in installments. But Berri said a middle-ground solution was found to make the installments over a span of three years so that the economy would be able to cope with the burden. The SCC, which has held several protests, has also warned of holding an open-ended strike and of boycotting the correction of official exams if parliament failed to meet its demands.


Army Frees in Arsal Man Kidnapped in Syria's Qalamoun
Naharnet /The abductee Mahmoud Samir Hleihel was freed Sunday in the Bekaa border town of Arsal, after he was kidnapped three months ago in Syria. “Army intelligence agents in northern Bekaa managed to liberate Mahmoud Samir Hleihel in a mountainous area,” state-run National News Agency reported. LBCI television said Hleihel was freed in the Arsal region. “Hleihel was abducted in February at the hands of armed men in the Syrian region of Qalamoun,” NNA said. At the time, his family received a phone call from a Syrian number, during which the kidnappers said he was being held in the Syrian town of Yabrud. The family had said that the man, a Baalbek-based merchant, was transporting a quantity of flour to Qalamoun when he went missing. “Hleihel has arrived in the town of al-Labweh and he's on his way to his house in Baalbek,” NNA said on Sunday evening, noting that the man looked “extremely frail.” On Thursday, the army deployed in several areas in the Bekaa region at the start of an unprecedented security plan that was approved by cabinet in a bid to restore law and order in several regions, especially northern Bekaa and the city of Tripoli.

Syria Army Retakes Christian Town of Maalula
Naharnet /Syrian troops retook the ancient Christian town of Maalula from rebels Monday, a day after President Bashar Assad said the three-year old civil war was turning in his favor.
"The army has taken full control of Maalula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamun," a security official told Agence France Presse, referring to the region in which Maalula is located. An AFP journalist in Maalula said the Al-Safir hotel, which rebels had been using as a base, was almost completely destroyed, with a facade that gave on to a cliff having collapsed.
Downhill from the hotel, the Mar Sarkis Greek Catholic monastery was also damaged, its walls pierced by mortar rounds, and icons and other religious objects strewn on the ground inside.
Those residents who had not fled Maalula in previous fighting were nowhere to be found. "The village was taken quickly. This morning we took Al-Sarkha village" on a hill overlooking the town, "then we came towards Maalula," a soldier told AFP. Maalula's capture comes after a string of successes in the strategic Qalamun region, including the seizure of the former rebel bastion of Yabrud last month.
The regime has prioritized capturing the area to protect the highway linking Damascus to Homs that runs through the region, as well as to sever rebel supply lines across the border with Lebanon.
Hizbullah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Assad's troops, has played a key role in helping the regime secure Qalamun. Maalula fell to rebel forces last December, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the regime and Hizbullah are now in "near-total control of the Qalamun area." Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said: "Pockets of opposition fighters remain near the Lebanese border, in the hills and in areas near Rankus" which fell to regime control last week. Abdel Rahman also said negotiations are underway to ensure Zabadani, a nearby town of which parts are under opposition control, is not bombarded by the army. Picturesque Maalula is considered an important symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria. After the town was captured by rebels, 13 nuns were seized from the Mar Takla Greek Orthodox convent and held by al-Qaida-affiliated fighters until a prisoner swap with the regime in March. Maalula's fall comes a day after Assad said his government was gaining the upper hand in the conflict that began in March 2011 and has left more than 150,000 people dead. "This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country," state news agency SANA quoted the president as saying.
"The state is trying to restore security and stability in the main areas that the terrorists have struck," said Assad, adding, "we will go after their positions and sleeper cells later."
The conflict began as a peaceful protest against Assad, but morphed into a brutal civil war after a brutal crackdown. The regime has systematically blamed all violence on a foreign-backed "terrorist" plot.
Elsewhere in Syria on Monday, warplanes struck parts of the central city of Homs that have been under suffocating government siege since June 2012, said the Observatory.
Activist Abu Ziad, who is trapped inside, told AFP via the Internet that there has been a marked escalation in the bombing of besieged areas, with the army "trying to storm (the rebel areas)... under cover of fire." Earlier this year the U.N. oversaw the evacuation of around half of some 3,000 people trapped in the area. According to Abu Ziad, some 180 civilians including 60 activists and more than 1,200 rebel fighters, remain inside. Meanwhile, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syria has surrendered "65.1 percent" of its chemical weapons arsenal, "including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals." Under the terms of a U.S.-Russia brokered deal reached last year, Syria has until the end of June to destroy its chemical weapons.
The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks near Damascus last August that killed hundreds. The West blamed that on Assad's regime which, in turn, pointed the finger at rebels.
Source/Agence France Presse


Syria Chemical Arms Handover Nearly Two-Thirds Complete
Naharnet/Syria has surrendered almost two-thirds of its chemical weapons with the resumption of transfers from the war-torn country, the global chemical watchdog said Monday, although it again pressed Damascus to step up efforts."The Syrian government has completed the delivery of the 13th consignment of chemicals," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said.
"The deliveries have raised the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 65.1 percent, including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals," it reported in a statement in The Hague.
Damascus had temporarily halted the transfer of its chemical stockpile, citing security reasons, but resumed the operations earlier this month. Under the terms of the U.S.-Russia brokered deal reached last year, Syria has until the end of June to destroy its chemical weapons if it wants to ward off the threat of U.S. air strikes. The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on President Bashar Assad's regime. Sigrid Kaag, who coordinates a combined U.N.-OPCW mission in Syria to oversee the transfer, told the U.N. Security Council on April 3 that Damascus could still make the June 30 cut-off. But she warned any delay would make it "increasingly challenging" to stick to the deadline, diplomats in New York said. OPCW chief Ahmed Uzumcu said the latest shipment out of Syria was "necessary and encouraging," but again warned that efforts had to be stepped up if the deadline was to be met. In a statement, he said "both the frequency and the volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly" if the transfers are to be finished "against the projected time frame". Norwegian as well as Danish naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials from the port of Latakia in western Syria, the most dangerous of which are to be transferred to a U.S. Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.
Source/Agence France Presse

Hizbullah Shifts Tactics, Narrative for Syria Fight
Naharnet /Hizbullah is gaining new combat experience in Syria, shedding its guerrilla tactics to fight alongside an army, and shifting its narrative to explain the battle against "Sunni extremists".
Its forces, who used their homeground advantage and methods such as underground tunnels against Israel's army in Lebanon, are now the targets of unconventional warfare on unfamiliar terrain in Syria.
And the mothers of many of its fighters, who once sent their sons to battle the "Zionist enemy," now pray for them to be martyred fighting extremist Sunnis who make up part of Syria's opposition.
The engagement in Syria has given the Shiite group a chance to initiate new recruits, experts say. "A new generation of Hizbullah fighters is getting 'blooded' in Syria," Andrew Exum, a former Lebanon desk officer at the U.S. Defense Department, told AFP. "I imagine they're getting very good at small unit tactics and battle drills against a live opposition."
Hizbullah is believed to have about 5,000 fighters in Syria at any given time, with thousands more preparing to deploy. Their officials say so many men signed up last year that they are no longer actively recruiting for the Syria front. Initial training for those who pass scrutiny of their religious credentials and background checks, is carried out in Lebanon, where courses last from 40 days to three months.
Additional training is provided in Iran for about two months, with a focus on heavy weaponry and preparing members for command positions.
Fighters who have battled both Israel and the rebels in Syria seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad describe them as very different experiences. "When I fought against Israel in 2006, it was clear who the enemy was," said Abu Ali, a fighter in his 40s. "In Syria there are many enemies, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army. "We know our land well and command it easily, but in Syria the terrain is not as familiar to us, and there is a lot of variety: desert, mountains, valleys." Syria's conflict, wrote former U.S. defense intelligence official Jeffrey White this January, is giving Hizbullah "valuable knowledge of irregular warfare and actual combat experience".
"Hizbullah is conducting operations, including offensive ones, and not just fighting tactical battles," he wrote in a Combating Terrorism Center report. "This is warfare of a different kind... involving larger formations, longer periods of time, in more complex maneuvers." Hizbullah's engagement in Syria has also seen it take on a significant role training Syrian forces, who its members say are woefully unprepared.
Hizbullah fighter Abu Hussein describes the army opening fire on its Lebanese allies accidentally more than once. "They have no experience in urban warfare or how to deal with a guerrilla force, so we lead the way in battle and have trained them on how to conduct themselves and use certain weapons," he said. That experience, as well as the chance to introduce new fighters to combat, is "valuable" for the group, an April report by the Institute for the Study of War said. "Hizbullah now has a cadre of fighters that has experience conducting offensive operations in urban environment.
"Hizbullah units have also gained experience coordinating with allied forces in combat, as well as logistical sustainment over longer periods."
But the conflict has not been without costs for Hizbullah, which has lost about 300 fighters in Syria. Experts say not all the group's experience in Syria, where it is allied with the better-equipped party and on the offensive, will be relevant to any new defensive conflict with Israel. And the group's intervention has made it the target of an unprecedented wave of attacks by extremist Sunni groups against its Lebanon strongholds. Hizbullah has also been forced to shift its narrative away from a traditional singular focus on Israel. In multiple speeches, Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said the group is fighting extremists in Syria to prevent them entering Lebanon. He has also worked to tie the group's old enemy Israel to its new one, referring to the rebels as an "American-Israeli-takfiri project," using a term for Sunni extremists. For many Hizbullah fighters, the battle is cast as a way to protect Shiite holy sites in Syria and their sect more broadly, according to Philip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who focuses on the movement. "The conflict is being presented as a defensive jihad for Shiite shrines combined with an undercurrent regarding the existence of the sect in the region," he told AFP. The narrative and the group's involvement has stirred sectarian tension between Lebanon's Shiites and Sunni residents who back Syria's uprising. But among the Hizbullah faithful, there is little sign supporters are losing patience with the intervention.
In one Lebanese village, the yellow flags of Hizbullah flapped overhead as a mother received condolences on the death of her son in Syria. Her three other sons are still across the border fighting. Source/Agence France Presse

Three Dead, Suspect Caught in Shootings at U.S. Jewish Sites
Naharnet/A gunman shot three people dead Sunday at a Jewish community center and a retirement community in Kansas, drawing widespread condemnation and consternation on the eve of Passover.
The 70-year-old white male suspect, who is in custody, was not local and did not know the victims, Overland Park Police Department Chief John Douglass told reporters. The bearded man used a shotgun in the assault and investigators, who are being assisted by the FBI, are trying to determine whether a handgun and assault rifle were involved. The suspect was heard yelling "Heil Hitler" as police officers escorted him away at an elementary school, local NBC television affiliate KSHB reported. Douglass refused to confirm the report. FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste said investigators were looking into the incident as a "hate crime." "We haven't ruled out anything," Kaste added. "I don't want to say the terrorism word; this is three hours into it. It's only wise and prudent we use every resource we have." Douglass refused to be drawn on whether the "unexpected" shooting was a hate crime, however. "We know it's a vicious act of violence and you know, obviously, at two Jewish facilities one might make that assumption. We have to know more about it," the police chief said. President Barack Obama condemned the "horrific" shooting, and pledged the federal government's "full support" in the investigation and to the community. The initial reports are heartbreaking," he said in a statement offering his condolences to the families of the victims.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the murders, saying they bore the hallmarks of anti-Semitic attacks. "We condemn the murders, which according to all the signs were committed from hatred of Jews," said a statement from his office, which added that Netanyahu had sent condolences to the victims' families.
"The state of Israel, together with all civilized people, is committed to fighting this pestilence," he said. The first shooting at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City took place around 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) as youths auditioned for a play. Rabbi Herbert Mandl, who serves as chaplain for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNN that the suspect asked people whether they were Jewish before opening fire. He killed two people there -- one died on the spot and the other succumbed to injuries at a hospital. The man then got in his car and headed to the Village Shalom assisted living center, where he killed a woman in her 70s about 15 minutes after the first shooting. In addition to the three people killed, the suspect shot at two other people but missed them. "Today is a very sad and tragic day and certainly, there are no words to express the senselessness of what's happened this afternoon," Douglass said. At the Jewish community center, the shooting took place in a parking lot just outside a theater where local media said 75 people, most of them children, were inside. They had been auditioning for "KC Superstar," a local singing competition based on "American Idol." The Jewish center said all programs were canceled and it would be closed for the rest of the day Sunday and Monday. It was earlier placed on temporary lockdown but program participants were later released. "Our hearts go out to the families who have suffered loss on this tragic day," the center said on its website. The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Monday. According to the FBI, nearly two thirds of anti-religious hate crimes in the United States target Jews or Jewish sites. A total of 674 incidents took place in 2012 alone, bureau data showed. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a major U.S. Muslim group, said it stood with the Jewish community after the killing spree. "We are saddened by this vicious act of hatred," CAIR said. "Americans of all faiths must join together to reject the kind of extremist ideologies that can lead to such inexcusable and unconscionable acts."
Source/Agence France Presse

Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators Meet Wednesday with U.S. Envoy
Naharnet/Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are to meet again Wednesday with U.S. mediator Martin Indyk in a bid to try and save the peace process from crumbling, a Palestinian official said.
Indyk would travel to the region to oversee the meeting, the second three-way talks since last Thursday, said the official who requested anonymity. There was no immediate confirmation from officials in Israel, which observes the seven-day Jewish holidays of Passover from sunset on Monday. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat met on Sunday his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy Yitzhak Molcho on Sunday. That meeting was "difficult" and there are still "big gaps" between the sides, the Palestinian official said.
The talks hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release as agreed a group of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.
The peace process suffered a new blow last week after Israel said it would freeze the transfer of duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinians in retaliation for their diplomatic offensive.
The monthly 80 million euros ($111 million) in taxes collected by Israel represents about two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority's income. Israel also reportedly plans to suspend its participation with the Palestinians in developing a gas field off the Gaza Strip and to put a cap on Palestinian deposits in its banks. Direct peace talks were kick-started in July by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who shuttled back and forth to the region to revive a peace process that had been dead for three years. They have since hit obstacle after obstacle and further deteriorated just weeks ahead of an April 29 deadline.
Source/Agence France Presse

Egypt's Sisi Submits Bid for President
Naharnet/Egypt's ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday officially submitted his bid to run for president, with his lawyer handing over the required documents to the authorities, a spokesman said.
Sisi, who is riding on a wave of popularity after ousting Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi in July, is widely expected to win the May 26-27 election. The 59-year-old had declared his intention to run for president in late March. "Lawyer Abu Shoqa submitted the required documents on behalf of Sisi that include endorsements by citizens, medical reports, and an application for his candidacy," Ahmed Kamel told AFP. Under Egyptian law, candidates hoping to run for president need to collect at least 25,000 signatures. "Sisi has already received more than 460,000 signatures from citizens across the country endorsing his candidacy," said Kamel. The electoral commission is to announce the final field of candidates on May 2, and official campaigning starts a day later. Leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi and Mortada Mansour, a harsh critic of activists who led the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, have also declared their intention to stand for president. European Union monitors will supervise next month's election. Sisi ousted Morsi after millions of people took to the streets protesting against the Islamist's single year of turbulent rule.
Source/Agence France Presse

Iran asks U.N. Chief to Intervene in Envoy Row
Naharnet /Iran on Monday urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene directly in a row sparked by America's refusal to give Tehran's chosen U.N. envoy a visa.
The spat over Hamid Aboutalebi has undermined a cautious thaw in relations after decades of enmity following the storming of the U.S. embassy in 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis.
"We ask Mr Ban Ki-moon to step in and take the necessary action for resolving this issue," deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the official IRNA news agency.
"The foreign ministry fully supports its pick and considers him an efficient, experienced and qualified person for this post and does not intend to nominate a new person," he said of Aboutalebi, who is a former ambassador to Australia, Italy and Belgium. As the host government, the United States is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the United Nations. Aboutalebi has previously attended sessions at the U.N. headquarters in New York. Washington has said it will not issue a visa to Aboutalebi because of his links to the students who seized the U.S. embassy just months after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Aboutalebi has insisted he was not part of the hostage-taking although he has acknowledged that he served a limited role as a translator for the students. The row comes as Tehran and world powers engage in negotiations aimed at transforming a temporary accord on Iran's nuclear program into a permanent agreement. Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham reiterated the Islamic republic's position. "The official mechanisms for lodging the complaint at the United Nations have been activated, and are under way," she said in remarks published on state broadcaster IRIB's website.
It is believed that the U.S. has never previously denied a visa for a U.N. ambassador, although Tehran withdrew its nominee once in the early 1990s.
Source/Agence France Presse

Ex-Egyptian general wants The UNESCO listed site of St. Catherine’s Monastery demolished
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
Monday, 14 April 2014
Citing the supposed threat posed to national security, a retired Egyptian army general has filed a legal case in his efforts to see UNESCO-listed heritage site St. Catherine’s Monastery demolished, Ahram News website reported Sunday.
Ahmed Ragai Attiya claimed the monastery, in south Sinai, was not historic but built in 2006, adding that the area had become a haven for “foreigners.” Attiya also urged for the deportation of the monastery’s Greek monks as he claimed they jeopardizing Egypt’s national security.
The monastery’s lawyer, Ihab Ramzy, said that in May 2012 Attiya obtained 71 administrative orders to demolish the historic site’s multiple churches, monk living quarters, gardens and other places of interest in the grounds.
Attiya, who founded the Egyptian army’s special operations unit in 1978, said in an interview with private channel ONTV on Thursday that he had recently reinitiated his efforts to destroy the monastery.
The 76-year-old former general said he used the 71 orders to officially file a suit against the monastery and 10 other Egyptian related authorities, including the president, ministers of tourism and antiquities and the governor of the southern Sinai region.
He said he filed the legal case in the northeastern city of Ismailiya’s administrative court.
He alleged that the monks have changed the names of landmarks in the surrounding area and tried to hide an underground water source known as Moses’ Well, or Oyun Moussa, in Arabic.
He expressed agitation over the monastery’s raising of the Greek flag and foreigners occupying Egyptian land, which he described as a breach of national security and the country’s sovereignty.
Since Attiya needs to provide evidence for his allegations, the court has referred the case to a panel of experts to decide whether or not the monastery is historic and if Moses’ Well lies beneath the site.
The case has been postponed until June 2014, pending the findings of the panel.
Ramzy, meanwhile, rejected Attiya’s claims in an interview with Ahram Online.
He said Egypt’s authorities have long treated the monastery as a historic site, adding that the abbot and monks were not even authorized to paint a wall without permission from Egypt’s antiquities ministry.
He described the personnel on site as guards to protect the monastery.
He added: “[It’s] one of the oldest, continuously inhabited, Christian monasteries, with a history that can be traced back over 17 centuries, and is under the supervision of Egypt’s antiquities ministry and UNESCO.”
In 2012, South Sinai’s antiquities department cleared the claims against the monastery, the lawyer said.

To believe, or not to believe? Seymour Hersh’s Syria allegations
Monday, 14 April 2014
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiyia
When American investigative journalist and author Seymour Hersh writes an article accusing Turkish intelligence of getting involved in the chemical attack in Syria’s suburb of Ghouta last summer, we must pause and reconsider previous accusations made against the Syrian regime of being involved in the crime. This journalist has a hefty record of achievements: in the late 1960s, he exposed American troops’ involvement in massacres in Vietnam. He also wrote about one of the most famous scandals in U.S. history; Watergate. Ten years ago, he was behind exposing American soldiers’ torture of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. Hasn’t everyone who welcomed what Hersh wrote about the Syrian affair based their response on this sequence of achievements? And now, media outlets in support of the Assad regime celebrate Hersh’s article.
It’s enough to search for Seymour Hersh’s name online, on Twitter for example, to find tweets on his piece on Syrian chemical weapons accompanied with a short sentence saying that Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Such a sentence along with the tweets is enough to convince many that the Turkish intelligence killed the Syrians in Ghouta and not the Syrian regime. Thus there’s no need to double check the man’s article. But double checking, in Seymour Hersh’ case in particular, is necessary, and believing his recent article without thoroughly researching it puts one in danger of ignoring facts which some desire to evade. Yes, Hersh has more than one scoop that gained him global awards but there’s more to the man than this. The credibility of what he says also calls for considering his record of failures - a record that’s actually as important as the record of his achievements.
Casting doubt
In 1974, Seymour Hersh wrote that America’s envoy in Chile was involved in a coup. Years later, Hersh apologized and said what he wrote wasn’t true. A book he wrote on former American President John Kennedy contained several fallacies based on a specific source. Also years later, Hersh himself described his source as a liar. In 2004, Hersh said he documented information that George Bush’s administration would launch a war on Iran. It turned out that none of this was true. During America’s occupation of Iraq, he said that $1 billion disappeared and that a television station was under the threat of being shut down because it had posed embarrassing questions for the-then first lady Laura Bush. None of these claims were proven true.
The truth is, he who desires to examine the man’s achievements will find plenty of them and he who wants to examine the man’s failure will not be disappointed. This is necessary to note when reading Hersh’s recent piece on Syrian chemical weapons as he based his report on what he described as a single “well-informed” source without presenting any document, photo or even official report.
Prominent newspapers like The Guardian, The New York Times and the Washington Post refused to publish Hersh’ recent report because it does not meet the required journalistic standards. Many Western media outlets ignored this report as well. The report was, however, celebrated by leftist groups tempted by the idea that the article included an accusation against the American administration. As for the Syrians, they are not waiting for Hersh’ article to find out who killed them using chemicals. They know the murderer very well but they are currently busy escaping his barrel bombs.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 14, 2014.

Arabs must unite before seeking a permanent seat at the U.N.
Monday, 14 April 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiyia
Since the beginning of the new century, Arabs have demanded a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. The demand came in response to the U.N.’s promises of reform. The U.N., as its high-ranking officials have confessed, is an organization that has aged and became weak and outdated. The reasons of its establishment since the fall of the axis powers have changed.
Kuwait’s permanent delegate to the U.N., Mansour al-Otaibi, voiced the Arab group’s demand for a permanent seat. He reminded everyone there that the number of Arab states that exist had grown from five in 1945 to 22 today. The truth is, we Arabs deserve more than a seat, not because of our big number but because of our numerous problems and causes. Whether we like it or not, our issues occupy most international organizations, from the Security Council, to the General Assembly, to the Refugee Agency, to the International Court of Justice, to the Human Rights Council, to the Food and Agriculture Organization, to UNESCO and the World Health Organization.
Arab vs. Arab struggle
Despite that, I wish I could hear Otaibi’s opinion on how the Arab vs. Arab struggle over a permanent seat will be resolved, that is if we assume that the U.N. has decided to grant a seat to us in the first place. Will the seat belong to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Algeria or Morocco? It’s a very important position. Saudi Arabia’s experience of rejecting the U.N. Security Council seat - though it was honorable and temporary - will not be repeated.
We must reform our reality before we reform the U.N.
Allow me to remind you of what happened a few weeks ago in Kuwait when a dispute over the Syrian seat erupted during the Arab League summit meeting. Although the Arab League had already made up its mind and deprived Bashar al-Assad’s regime of the seat, because he killed around a quarter of a million of his citizens and displaced five million others, the summit left the entire Syrian population without any representation - although the major topic of discussion was that of the Syrian crisis. This is because Algeria and its allies on one side and Saudi Arabia and its allies on the other argued over who has the right to represent the Syrian people. What a scandal! The Algerians succeeded in preventing the Syrians from being represented and the seat remained vacant.
Disputes are not only played out among governments but sometimes within one government. For example, the Lebanese foreign minister used to express his government's positions but he votes against those positions and in line with Hezbollah's agenda.
Arab countries will not agree
In brief, the Arab countries at the U.N. will not agree on anything. They won’t even agree on the Palestinian cause as when it came to this issue, Arab delegates have always been divided into two camps according to their governments’ positions.
Despite that, I am not saying that the U.N. should ignore the Kuwaiti envoy’s demand. What I am saying is that we must reform our reality before we reform the U.N. We know that no permanent seat will be granted to any country that’s not a superpower. The reform project failed ever since continental and regional demands increased. Second of all, the Security Council has proven it’s like a movie theatre consisting of 15 seats - a mere room to grant legitimacy to the decisions of superpower countries which had already made up their minds anyway. For example, if the U.S. really wants to attain authorization from the Security Council to topple the Assad regime, it would have managed to do that by resorting to several tactics. One of these could have been supporting the Syrian opposition well enough on the ground so as to convince the Russians to accept a U.N. resolution that achieves a peaceful transition in the country. More importantly, if Arabs had been a coherent political bloc, this would have been reflected in their presence at the U.N. In this case, their political stance of acceptance or rejection, and not the dream of a U.N. permanent seat, will be the matter of international consideration.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 14, 2014.