April 24/14


Bible Quotation for today/Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
Mark 16,15-18/Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’"

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 24/14

Qatar: the return of the prodigal son/By: Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya/April 24/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 24/14

Lebanese Related News

Lebanese Parliament fails to elect a new president

Report: Berri to Call for Second Round of Presidential Election in May

Geagea: We Will Not consent to Settlement over Presidential Elections

March 8, 14 Rivalries Strike Efforts to Avoid Presidential Vacuum as 52 MPs Cast Blank Votes
Amin Gemayel Says Geagea Still Kataeb's Candidate, Confirms Party MPs Voted for Him

Amin Gemayel to Run for Presidential Post in Second Round

Salam Lauds Presidential Polls for Being Democratic
14 Million Captagon Pills Seized in Sudan after Tip from Beirut

More rockets hit Bekaa Valley towns

Syrian Planes Raid Arsal as Rockets Land on Various Bekaa Regions
Witnesses Say Hamas, Hizbullah Helped Morsi Flee Prison

Machnouk: Palestinians must give up arms

Hezbollah let Berri do the talking on election
Miscellaneous Reports And News

Israel scraps Palestinian peace meet after unity deal: PM's aide

Russia Vows Response if 'Interests' in Ukraine Attacked, Kiev Says 'Liberated' Svyatogorsk

Palestinian reconciliation may 'complicate' US peace efforts: US

Hamas, Fatah Declare End of Palestinian Rift as Israeli Strike in Gaza Wounds 6

Bahrain Expels Envoy of Shiite Ayatollah Sistani
Syria Lawmaker Becomes First Presidential Challenger

Syrian activists accuse Assad of new gas attacks

Car Bomb Targeting Iraq Minority Group Kills 7
Qatar Says Dispute with Gulf Neighbors 'over'

Canada will send up to 500 observers to Ukraine election next month: Harper
Erdogan offers Armenians condolences

Report: Berri to Call for Second Round of Presidential Election in May
Naharnet /Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to call for a second parliamentary session set to elect a new president in May as observers are decisive that the first round on Wednesday will not lead to the election of a new head of state. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Wednesday, the speaker will call for another round unless consensus among parliamentary blocs was reached over the name of the new president. Lawmakers told the newspaper that Berri's call on the head of diplomatic missions in Lebanon and former Presidents to attend a legislative session then it would be an indication that consensus has been reached. MPs said that the speaker informed all parliamentary blocs that he is ready to call for a parliamentary session on Friday afternoon and during the weekend if he sensed that there is possibility for agreement. Wednesday's first round of parliamentary deliberations to vote for a new president is expected to fail to elect a new president amid disputes over the name of the new head of state, which threatens a vacuum at the helm of the country's most important Christian post. Parliamentary blocs will vote for two candidates on Wednesday – a March 14 official, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc member, MP Henri Helou.

March 8, 14 Rivalries Strike Efforts to Avoid Presidential Vacuum as 52 MPs Cast Blank Votes

Naharnet/Lawmakers failed to elect a new president on Wednesday, the result of rivalry between the March 8 and 14 camps as no candidate was able to garner the needed two-thirds of votes to become Lebanon's next head of state. Speaker Nabih Berri chaired the session at noon Wednesday after 124 MPs attended it, securing the required two-thirds quorum. But Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received the votes of only 48 MPs while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs cast blank ballots. Seven votes were canceled for not being consistent with rules and regulations. Berri set next Wednesday to hold the second round of the polls, stressing that a candidate should secure a simple majority of 65 votes to be elected. The MPs who failed to attend the session are Saad Hariri, Oqab Saqr, Elie Aoun and Khaled al-Daher. Geagea received the official backing of his March 14 alliance on Tuesday, but he only secured 48 votes, well below the 86 votes of the 128-member parliament, and despite the attendance of 51 MPs from the coalition. His wife, MP Sethrida Geagea, held a short press conference, expressing surprise at the number of blank votes. “What happened to the strong candidate they were calling for?” she asked. She stressed that the March 14 camp was united during Wednesday's session, vowing to "remain in this battle till the end.” “We will bless the person who wins it,” the MP said. Helou, who was on Tuesday nominated by the leader of the National Struggle Front MP Walid Jumblat, garnered the votes of the 16 centrist MPs in parliament. Jumblat, a centrist, who has said that Helou is a “voice of moderation,” stressed after the session that the Aley lawmaker will remain the candidate of centrists. Helou praised the “democratic process,” saying the voting took place without any foreign intervention. He said the only solution to electing a new president comes through “moderation.”An Nahar daily quoted sources as saying that Helou wasn't personally planning the announcement of his candidacy. The MP is afraid that “the next president would be the vacuum due to the rivalries,” they said. The sources added that he accepted Jumblat's offer because his candidacy would contribute to ending the dispute between the two camps and lead to the election of a consensual president. The March 8 alliance on Wednesday clearly stood against Geagea's candidacy by casting blank votes. The number of protest votes cast was 52 although 57 of the coalition's MPs attended the session. The coalition's stance is aimed at sending a message to its March 14 rivals on the need to elect a consensus president. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun has on several occasions said that he wouldn't announce his candidacy if the rivals didn't reach a deal on him. He withdrew from parliament along with a large number of March 8 MPs after the voting count started. “We withdrew from parliament after it became clear that there is no consensus over one candidate,” Aoun said in a news conference after the session. The presidency is reserved for Maronite Christians under the National Pact of 1943. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends at midnight on May 24. He will leave Baabda Palace the next day.

Geagea: We Will Not Acquiesce to Settlement over Presidential Elections

Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea hailed on Wednesday the March 14 camp on the success of the first round of the presidential elections, saying that it restored dignity to the polls after years of foreign meddling. He remarked: “We will not acquiesce to a settlement over the presidential elections and we will continue with the democratic process until the end.”
He made his statement after parliament held the first round of the elections in which he is a candidate. He received the vote of 48 MPs, while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb Party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel, and 52 cast blank ballots. Discarded votes included names of victims of the Lebanese Civil War. “We will not return to old habits of choosing a president behind closed doors and through foreign interference,” added Geagea in reference to Syria's influence over the elections in the past. “We will continue with the electoral process to the end and until a Lebanese-elected president is chosen,” he vowed. Asked about the names of civil war martyrs that were cast, the LF chief replied: “I was hoping that the other camp would have resorted to honorable means to express its disdain for the elections.”He criticized the manner in which the other camp “threw about the names of the victims,” accusing the March 8 alliance of seeking to obstruct and tarnish the electoral process in order to pave the way for foreign meddling in the polls. On claims that he is a confrontational presidential candidate, Geagea asked: “Do they want a president who does not have a presidential program? Don't they want a president who has answers to Lebanon's problems?” “We will cooperate with whichever president is elected as long as he is chosen through democratic means,” he added.
The Christian leader, along with several other March 14 officials and reporters, had followed up the parliamentary session from his residence in Maarab. Earlier on Wednesday, Geagea expressed regret that the March 8 alliance didn't name a candidate for the presidential elections, describing the electoral process as “normal.”“For the first time in many years the presidential elections are serious and made in Lebanon,” he told reporters. He pointed out that “the rival party has no choice but to deal with the matter seriously.” The first round of the elections failed to elect a new president amid disputes over the name of the new head of state, which threatens a vacuum at the helm of the country's most important Christian post. Parliamentary blocs will vote for two candidates - Geagea and the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc member, MP Henri Helou. A candidate needed to secure 86 votes of the 128-member parliament during the first round to be named president. A second round of elections will be held on April 30, where a candidate will need 65 votes to claim victory.

Amin Gemayel Says Geagea Still Kataeb's Candidate, Confirms Party MPs Voted for Him

Naharnet/Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel condemned Wednesday the move of a yet unidentified MP who had cast a ballot carrying his name during the first round of the presidential vote, confirming that all of his party's MPs voted for Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea. “The five MPs of Kataeb voted for Dr. Samir Geagea,” Gemayel said in an interview with LBCI television in the evening.
“I don't know who cast the ballot carrying my name and for what motive, and although the voting was confidential, our MPs respected the decision of Kataeb's politburo on voting for Geagea,” Gemayel, who is an unofficial presidential hopeful, added. During the electoral session, Geagea received 48 votes as MP Henri Helou got 16 and 52 MPs cast blank ballots. But one lawmaker who is yet to be identified cast a ballot carrying Gemayel's name. "Had it been one of our MPs, all of them would've done the same thing," Gemayel said in response to a question, describing the behavior of the unknown MP as a "suspicious act." “I would have preferred if everyone respected certain ethics instead of casting ballots in this manner,” Kataeb's leader said, noting that the move “does not honor the one who did it nor the parliamentary democratic course that we pride ourselves with.”Citing unconfirmed reports, al-Manar TV had earlier reported that Kataeb MP Samer Saade “was the one who voted for Gemayel.” However, Kataeb sources denied the reports in remarks to OTV. LBCI television said there is speculation that al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Mohammed Kabbara is the lawmaker who voted for Kataeb's leader, despite the movement's official decision to endorse Geagea's candidacy. Asked about the upcoming electoral sessions, Gemayel said the negotiations in the March 14 coalition will take place “according to the electoral course.” “We will take the decisions that can achieve our goals and this is why I'm not in the race at the moment, although my nomination has been on the table since the very beginning,” Gemayel said. “But at the moment, our candidate is Dr. Geagea,” he added. After none of the candidates managed to secure the 86 votes needed to win in the first round, Speaker Nabih Berri called for a second electoral session that will be held next Wednesday. A candidate can be elected president with only 65 votes in this session. However, it is unlikely that the session's needed quorum will be secured, in absence of an agreement among all parties on a certain candidate.

Salam Lauds Presidential Polls for Being Democratic

Naharnet /Prime Minister Tammam Salam lauded on Wednesday the presidential election process, saying it was a reflection of the country's democracy. The parliamentary session came as part of the political consensus that prevailed in the country since the formation of the cabinet, Salam said. “The stability that the national interest cabinet was able to consolidate in the country with the support of all the political parties allowed this democratic process to take place,” he said. The first round of the presidential polls “was a reflection of the Lebanese democracy despite its results,” he added. The parliament failed to elect a new head of state on Wednesday with no candidate securing the two-thirds of the vote needed to win. But Speaker Nabih Berri set the second round for next Wednesday, during which a candidate should secure the votes of 65 MPs in the 128-member parliament. Salam hoped the parliament would be able to elect the most suitable candidate within the Constitutional deadline. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends at midnight on May 24. He will leave Baabda Palace the next day.

Syrian Planes Raid Arsal as Rockets Land on Various Bekaa Regions
Naharnet/A number of rockets landed on Wednesday in the eastern region of the Bekaa as earlier a Syrian warplane raided the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal. One rocket landed between al-Taybeh and Brital regions, reported LBCI television. OTV meanwhile said that two rockets landed in a field in Brital near the farm of Qassem Mazloum, while Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said a fourth rocket landed in the Ain al-Jawzeh area, also in the Bekaa. No one was injured in the incidents. Conflicting reports had emerged over whether the shells were fired from the Syrian side of the border, but the so-called Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade later claimed responsibility for the attacks. The extremist group has previously claimed many assaults against Shiite towns and the Lebanese army.
Earlier, a Syrian warplane raided the outskirts of of Arsal and several rockets landed on the villages of al-Labweh and al-Nabi Othman, the army said in a communique on Wednesday. The military said the plane fired three rockets on Arsal's outskirts at 11:45 pm Tuesday . At 12:20 am, the nearby towns of al-Labweh and al-Nabi Othman were attacked by three rockets from an area in the eastern mountain range, the communique said. The two attacks did not cause any casualties, it said. Following the assaults, the army carried out patrols in the targeted areas, the communique added.
The rocket attack on al-Labweh and al-Nabi Othman, two Shiite towns, seems to have come in retaliation to the air raid on Arsal. The residents of the towns are supporters of Hizbullah, which is fighting alongside troops loyal to Syrian President Assad against the majority Sunni rebels. Arsal hosts thousands of Syrian refugees. The Sunni town is sympathetic with the rebels.

Amin Gemayel to Run for Presidential Post in Second Round
Naharnet/Labor Minister Sejaan Qazzi announced on Wednesday that Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel is a candidate for the second parliamentary session set to elect a new president, stressing that the March 14 alliance will cast votes to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in the first round. “Gemayel has been a candidate for months... Discussions are focusing on how to secure his victory... The upcoming stage will determine when he enters the presidential race,” Qazzi said. Minister Qazzi, who is also the deputy chief of the Kataeb party, said in remarks to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that in the light of Wednesday's parliamentary session the March 14 coalition will hold a meeting to set its strategy for the upcoming stage. However, the official said that “voting for Geagea in the first round is to stress the unity of the March 14 alliance.”On Tuesday, March 14 leaders convened at the Center House and declared Geagea as their candidate for presidency. As Safir newspaper reported on Wednesday that Gemayel is the “obvious candidate for the second parliamentary session after Geagea fails to earn the required votes in the first round.” The daily said that Gemayel and head of al-Mustaqbal movement Saad Hariri realize that Geagea has no chance to win the presidential vote. “There is a political bill that we need to repay Geagea in the first round after that we will seek to name a serious candidate,” the newspaper quoted sources close to Hariri as saying. As Safir said that Geagea's allies who will vote for him on Wednesday “are those who want to burn him.”Wednesday's first round of parliamentary deliberations to vote for a new president is expected to fail to elect a new president amid disputes over the name of the new head of state, which threatens a vacuum at the helm of the country's most important Christian post. Parliamentary blocs will vote for two candidates on Wednesday - Geagea and the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc member, MP Henri Helou.
The daily's report continues that Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun, who previously said that he wouldn't announce his candidacy if the rivals didn't reach a deal on him, will kick off “serious” discussions with al-Mustaqbal movement after the first round of voting. As Safir said that contacts were held between Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, an FPM official, and Hariri's adviser Nader al-Hariri to discuss Aoun's participation in Wednesday's session.

14 Million Captagon Pills Seized in Sudan after Tip from Beirut

Naharnet/Sudanese police has managed to seize 14 million Captagon narcotic pills that were smuggled from Beirut, following a tip-off from Lebanon's Central Anti-Drug Bureau. According to a statement issued by the Internal Security Forces, the aforementioned bureau had obtained “confirmed intel about the smuggling of five containers carrying corn and Captagon from the Port of Beirut to Sudan.” Consequently, the bureau passed on the information to Sudan's anti-narcotics authority, which managed to confiscate the containers upon their arrival at Khartoum's port, the ISF added. “A quantity of 14 million Captagon pills were found inside and three members of the smuggling gang were arrested,” the ISF said. The statement mentioned that the operation comes on the heels of seizing five million Captagon pills in Dubai following similar cooperation with its police department. Two weeks ago, around 15 million Captagon pills were seized at Beirut's port before being trafficked to Dubai.

Hamas, Fatah Declare End of Palestinian Rift as Israeli Strike in Gaza Wounds 6
Naharnet /Rival Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip forged a new reconciliation agreement on Wednesday, angering Israel at a time when peace talks are at a standstill.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for choosing "Hamas, not peace", and a Netanyahu aide said he had called off a peace meeting with the Palestinians scheduled for Wednesday evening. However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told Agence France Presse that no meeting with the Israelis had been planned for Wednesday.
He said the Palestinians would meet bilaterally with U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk in Ramallah on Thursday. Under the rapprochement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) -- internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people -- and the Islamist Hamas which rules Gaza, the sides agreed to form a "national consensus" government in the coming weeks.
"An agreement has been reached on the formation within five weeks of an independent government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas," said a joint statement read out by Hamas's Gaza premier Ismail Haniya in front of a visiting PLO delegation. The news brought thousands of people on to the streets of Gaza in celebration. Amid the jubilation, an Israeli air strike wounded six people, Hamas officials said.
It was not the first time that the Palestinian rivals have announced a deal to end seven years of separate administrations in the West Bank and Gaza. But the latest reconciliation attempt by the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership drew an angry reaction from Netanyahu. "This evening... Abu Mazen chose Hamas, not peace," a statement from Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying, using the name by which Abbas is familiarly known. not want peace."
Abbas denied the charge, saying in a statement from his office: "There is no incompatibility between reconciliation and the talks, especially since we are committed to a just peace on the basis of a two-state solution in accordance with the resolutions of international law." Shortly after the unity deal was announced an Israeli warplane attacked a target at Beit Lahiya north of Gaza City, wounding six people, one seriously, the Hamas interior ministry said. An Israeli military statement described the strike as "a joint counter-terrorism operation" by the air force and the Shin Bet intelligence agency, and indicated that it missed its intended target. "A hit was not identified," it said, without elaborating. Later in the day, the Israeli military said Palestinians fired three rockets from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel, one of which fell in the compound adjacent to the Erez border crossing. There were no reports of casualties.
The Palestinian agreement was reached during talks in Gaza City between Hamas leaders and a PLO team headed by Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in Abbas' Fatah movement. It was greeted with public celebration in Gaza City and in towns and refugee camps throughout the enclave, with crowds waving Palestinian flags and shouting "Palestinian unity!" The rival sides have announced several times before that they would make way for a coalition of technocrats, but such pledges were never implemented and analysts expressed skepticism that this time would be any different. "People have heard the same thing over and over again, and each time the agreement had been broken by either Fatah or Hamas," said Samir Awad, politics professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank. The latest announcement came as U.S.-brokered peace talks teetered on the edge of collapse. Erakat met his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, and Indyk, on Tuesday in a bid to extend the peace talks, which are due to end on April 29.
"The meeting lasted several hours but we did not manage to overcome our differences," Erakat said.
"We will continue to meet the Israeli delegation up to April 29 but clearly the Israelis don't want to move the peace process forward." Abbas has said he will extend the negotiations only if Israel frees a batch of Arab prisoners previously earmarked for release, freezes settlement building in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, and agrees to discuss the borders of a future Palestinian state. Later on Wednesday, the United States warned that the reconciliation deal could seriously hamper its efforts to forge a peace deal with Israel. Any Palestinian government must commit "unambiguously" to the principles of non-violence and to the existence of Israel, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, restating a long-held U.S. position."Absent a clear commitment to those principles, this could seriously complicate our efforts to extend the negotiations," she told reporters. "It's hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist."Washington was both "disappointed" and "troubled" by Wednesday's announcement of a rapprochement between the PLO -- internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people -- and Hamas, she added. Source/Agence France Presse

Syria Lawmaker Becomes First Presidential Challenger
Naharnet/A communist MP has registered as the first challenger for the Syrian presidency in a June election expected to return incumbent Bashar Assad to power, the parliament speaker said Wednesday.
"We have received information from the higher constitutional court that member of parliament Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar has filed his candidacy for the post of president of the Syrian Arab Republic," Mohammad Lahham said, quoted on state television. News of Hajjar's candidacy came two days after Lahham announced that Syria would hold a presidential election on June 3. It also comes after the U.N., the Arab League, the Syrian opposition and the United States slammed the election announcement as a "farce", a "parody of democracy" and an obstacle to a peace process dubbed Geneva II aimed at ending Syria's three-year war. A foreign ministry official on Monday lashed out at the United Nations and its peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for "obstructing" the Geneva II peace talks.The ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement: "The Syrian Arab Republic reaffirms that its decision to carry out presidential elections in Syria is a totally sovereign, Syrian decision that does not allow any intervention." Presidential hopeful Hajjar was born in Aleppo in 1968 and has been a member of the Syrian Communist Party since 1984, state television said. He "took part in the peaceful, popular movement at the start of the crisis," it added, referring to Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against Assad that erupted in March 2011. The protests quickly escalated into an armed uprising in the face of a deadly crackdown by Assad loyalists, triggering a descent into civil war. Assad, who became president on the death of his father Hafez in 2000 and whose current term ends on July 17, is expected to stand and win another seven-year term despite the raging conflict. It will be the first presidential election organized by the regime -- previously a referendum was held on a single candidate but that system was replaced by an amendment to the constitution in response to demands for reforms. Election rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the past decade, effectively preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing.
The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people and nearly half of Syria's population has been displaced. Violence continues to ravage many parts of the country, even reaching the heart of the capital, which has come under repeated mortar fire by opposition fighters on its outskirts. The government has not laid out how it plans to hold a credible election with large swathes of the country outside its control.
Source/Agence France Presse

Russia Vows Response if 'Interests' in Ukraine Attacked, Kiev Says 'Liberated' Svyatogorsk

Naharnet /Russia issued a sharp warning on Wednesday that it will strike back if its "legitimate interests" in Ukraine are attacked, raising the stakes in the Cold War-like duel with the United States over the former Soviet republic's future. Meanwhile, Ukraine's interior ministry said the military has "liberated" the eastern town of Svyatogorsk from pro-Kremlin separatists. The town, around 15 kilometers north of the flashpoint city of Slavyansk, was one of around 10 the rebels had been occupying for more than a week.  Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "If we are attacked, we would certainly respond." "If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law," he told state-controlled RT television, referring to Russia's armored invasion of Georgia in 2008. Moscow also insisted that Kiev withdraw the forces it has sent into eastern Ukraine to dislodge pro-Russian rebels who have seized control of government buildings in several towns. Both Kiev and Washington believe the current crisis is being deliberately fueled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to restore former Soviet glory. "The Russian side once again insists on the immediate de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine's southeast, the pullback of units of the Ukrainian army and the start of a genuine internal Ukrainian dialogue involving all of the country's regions and political formations," the foreign ministry said.
"Moscow is extremely surprised by the distorted interpretations by Kiev authorities as well as by our U.S. partners of the contents of a declaration adopted in Geneva on April 17 as a result of a four-way meeting between representatives of Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine." The Kremlin has an estimated 40,000 Russian troops poised on Ukraine's eastern border, prompting Washington on Wednesday to start deploying 600 US troops to boost NATO's defenses in eastern European states neighboring Ukraine. The first unit of 150 U.S. soldiers arrived in Poland on Wednesday, with the remainder arriving in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the coming days. Reports of two journalists -- an American and a Ukrainian -- being held in the flashpoint rebel-held town of Slavyansk have done nothing to ease the mounting tensions. The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply concerned about the reports of a kidnapping of a U.S. citizen journalist in Slavyansk, Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists". The town was also the source of gunfire that damaged a Ukrainian military reconnaissance plane on Tuesday, and the site of a crime scene for two bodies that Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said had been "brutally tortured".
One of the two victims was believed to be a local politician and member of Turchynov's party, which the president used as justification to relaunch "anti-terrorist" operations against the insurgents on Tuesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema said security forces had been activated "to liquidate all the groups currently operating in Kramatorsk, Slavyansk and the other towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions," according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency. The spiraling violence -- coupled with America and Russia both accusing each other of inflaming the situation through the use of proxies in Ukraine -- has scuppered a Geneva accord agreed last week between Ukraine, Russia and the West which was meant to move Ukraine away from the brink of civil war. Russia said it wants Kiev to pull back its army units and start a "genuine internal Ukrainian dialogue involving all of the country's regions". Lavrov accused the U.S. of orchestrating the new offensive, noting that it was announced immediately after a two-day visit from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Kiev. "The Americans are running the show," he told RT.
There were no immediate reports of any confrontation between the Ukrainian military and the pro-Moscow fighters. In Slavyansk on Wednesday, the streets were calm, with locals walking about as usual.
A handful of rebels wearing camouflage gear and ski masks but with no apparent weapons stood outside the barricaded town hall they are occupying.
In front of the building were three photos of militants killed in a weekend attack on a nearby roadblock that the separatists have blamed on pro-Kiev ultra-nationalists.
The local rebel leader, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, who styles himself as Slavyansk's "mayor" told a news conference that the two journalists being held were unharmed.
The American journalist is Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News, who used to be employed by AFP in Azerbaijan. The Ukrainian is Irma Krat, who appears to work for her own pro-Kiev outlet.
Ponomaryov asserted that Ostrovsky "is not being detained, was not abducted, has not been arrested" and claimed he was "working" in one of the rebel-occupied buildings.
However the Twitter feed of the normally prolific journalist has been inactive for over a day. Vice News said in an online statement that it was "aware of the situation, and is in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the safety and security of our friend and colleague, Simon Ostrovsky".The State Department's spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the abductions and said in a statement: "We call on Russia to use its influence with these groups to secure the immediate and safe release of all hostages in eastern Ukraine." Washington has also underlined its worry about "the lack of positive Russian steps to de-escalate" the crisis. Sanctions, on top of those already imposed on President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, will follow if no progress is made soon, it warned. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has acknowledged his nation's economy was facing an "unprecedented challenge" with recession looming, but Russia has nonetheless dismissed the threat of sanctions and insists it has the right to protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. Source/Agence France Presse

Bahrain Expels Envoy of Shiite Ayatollah Sistani
Naharnet/Authorities in Sunni-ruled Bahrain on Wednesday expelled the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the latest manifestation of tension with the kingdom's Shiite majority.
Sheikh Hussein al-Najati was among 31 Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked in November 2012 over accusations that they had undermined state security, more than a year after authorities crushed a Shiite uprising in March 2011. Najati "practiced unclear activities, without coordinating with authorities which discovered afterwards that he was Sistani's representative," the interior ministry said.
"Working as an official representative of any party necessitates a letter of accreditation that specifies responsibilities and planned activities," it said. Najati worked on "collecting funds and distributing them" in the name of the Iraq-based Sistani, one of the top Shiite spiritual guides, the ministry added. Najati was born in 1960 to Iranian parents in Bahrain, it said. He arrived on Wednesday in Lebanon, according to Bahrain's Shiite Al-Wefaq opposition association. Sistani, who is based in the Iraqi city of Najaf, in 2011 condemned Bahrain's crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests which demanded democratic reforms in the Gulf kingdom. Bahrain remains deeply divided three years after the February 2011 uprising, with persistent protests sparking clashes with police, scores of Shiites jailed on "terror" charges and reconciliation talks deadlocked.Source/Agence France Presse

Car Bomb Targeting Iraq Minority Group Kills 7
Naharnet/A car bomb exploded in a village in northern Iraq mainly populated by members of the Shabak minority on Wednesday, killing seven people, police and a morgue employee said.
The blast in Baybukh, a village north of the city of Mosul, also wounded at least 13 people. The 30,000-strong Shabak community mostly lives in northern Iraq near the Turkish border.
They speak a distinct language and largely follow a faith that is a blend of Shiite Islam and local beliefs, and are periodically targeted by militant groups. Iraq is suffering a protracted surge in bloodshed that has killed more than 2,750 people so far this year. It has been fueled by widespread anger among the Sunni Arab minority, who say they are mistreated by the Shiite-led government and security forces.
Militant groups have also been bolstered by the civil war in neighboring Syria. Source/Agence France Presse

Witnesses Say Hamas, Hizbullah Helped Morsi Flee Prison

Naharnet /Prosecution witnesses in the jailbreak trial of Egypt's ousted president Mohammed Morsi on Wednesday accused members of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Lebanon's Hizbullah of attacking Egyptian prisons during the 2011 uprising. The trial, one of three against Morsi, is part of a government crackdown that has targeted him and his Muslim Brotherhood movement since his ouster by the army in July. In the jailbreak case, Morsi and 130 other defendants including Palestinian and Lebanese militants are charged with organizing attempts to spring prisoners from jails and attacking police stations during the uprising that ousted longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak. The prosecution presented three witnesses in Wednesday's hearing, two of whom described how jails were attacked during the uprising, before the trial was postponed until April 30. Morsi, dressed in white prison uniform, appeared in a caged dock as his co-defendants sat with their backs to the judges in a separate enclosure, an Agence France Presse journalist said. Former interior minister Mahmoud Wagdi told the court members of "Hamas, (Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine) al-Qassam Brigades, (Palestinian Islamists) the Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah ... entered Egypt through the border with the Gaza Strip helped by Bedouins from Sinai" on January 28, 2011. Wagdi was named interior minister three days after the militants are alleged to have entered Egypt. He said that after crossing the border, they "destroyed" several police installations in the Sinai, before attacking "the prisons of Abu Zaabal, al-Marg and Wadi Natrun that had political elements from Hamas and Hizbullah," Wagdi said. Prosecutors charge the attacks on police stations and the jailbreaks, in which Morsi and other political prisoners escaped, were a Muslim Brotherhood-led conspiracy aimed at sowing chaos during the 2011 revolt. Nearly 850 people died during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak, most of them on January 28, 2011, when protesters battled police.
At Wednesday's hearing, prosecution's other witness Atef Sherif Abdel Salam, who was prison chief at the time, said the prisons were attacked by "elements from Sinai Bedouins."
"The prisons where the jailbreak succeeded were prisons that had political elements in them," he said. "The first prison to be attacked was the Abu Zaabal prison at 10 in the morning on January 29 ... it had elements from al-Qaida and Sinai Bedouins." He said the authorities later found "spent ammunition ... that was not used by Egyptian police or military" at Abu Zabaal prison.
Abdel Salam also said Wadi Natrum jail had around 30 leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood when it came under attack. Morsi is also on trial over the killing of protesters during his presidency, and in an espionage trial where he is accused of conspiring with foreign powers, Hamas and Shiite Iran to destabilize Egypt. A government crackdown targeting Morsi and his supporters has killed more than 1,400 people and jailed thousands. Source/Agence France Presse

Qatar Says Dispute with Gulf Neighbors 'over'

Naharnet /Qatar's dispute with three fellow Gulf states, which withdrew their envoys from Doha last month, is "over", the Qatari foreign minister said Wednesday, while insisting his country had made no concessions. "The statement issued in Riyadh on April 17 was clear ... For the brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the dispute is over," Khaled Al-Attiyah told a press conference in Kuwait after a meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah. GCC foreign ministers met last week and announced an end to months of unprecedented tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The three countries recalled their ambassadors from Doha after accusing Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Attiyah's statement was the first Qatari comment on the special ministerial meeting held in Saudi Arabia.  "Brothers in the GCC states arrived at understandings which are not considered to be concessions by any party," the Qatari minister said. Attiyah said it is now "left for the brothers in the GCC states to send their ambassadors back" to Doha. A statement attributed to Saudi Arabia that the three ambassadors would not return until Doha started to implement the agreement was "inaccurate", he said. At the meeting in Riyadh, the ministers agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine each other's "interests, security and stability". Kuwait and Oman also belong to the six-nation GCC. Attiyah declined to provide details on the Riyadh agreement but reiterated that it signaled an end to the "differences in opinion". Source/Agence France Presse

Qatar: the return of the prodigal son
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya
There might not have been a better opportunity for Qatar to find its way back to the bosom of its neighbors than the last GCC foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh. The extraordinary summit, which is owed to enormous Kuwaiti diplomatic efforts, succeeded in creating a chance of normalizing relations between Qatar and fellow GCC states: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
Many sought to analyze and interpret the recent developments as per their whims or according to what their alleged sources say. Truth is, only a few really know what the ministers really agreed on in Riyadh and what really went on behind the scenes.
Yet the one constant when it comes to dealing with Qatar is that, unfortunately, the Gulf state has proven that it cannot be trusted and that it doesn’t live up to its commitments, even when such commitments are documented and signed off on.
Prodigal son returns: Will Qatar and Gulf states truely overcome the rift? (Cartoon courtesy: Al Arab newspaper)
And while it is too late now for Doha’s old guard to make amends and enhance their reputation, the door is still open for Doha’s new guard to deliver on the required commitments.
As such, the two-month grace period which is said to have been granted to Doha sounds like a wise decision since we have not yet reached the point of no return: Qatar has not responded by recalling its own ambassadors yet, while Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have not required the Qatari representative at their respective countries to leave nor did they resort to closing borders or sought more severe punitive measures.
However, the main question is defining what exactly the required commitments from Doha are; and this certainly seems like a case where what remains hidden from public knowledge is most likely far more interesting.
Yet, what is clear so far that Qatar appears to be serious about fixing relations with its neighbors. And perhaps the most significant indicator of this intention is the recently issued flirtatious comments issued by the Doha-based controversial sheikh, Yussef al-Qaradawi. The Egypt-born sheikh seems to have taken an interesting U-turn and went from previously attacking Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to issuing a statement declaring his love for both countries.
Actions not words
Of course, it remains to be confirmed if Qatar will really end its support for the Muslim Brotherhood (an organization now classified as a terrorist group by Qatar’s neighbors) or is the intention is to put them on the shelf for a while, before using them again? And is Doha really serious about no longer using Al-Jazeera as a podium for broadcasting the Brotherhood's agenda? Or will it simply stop it at one end but continue to do so via the new Qatari media outlets being established in London?
Last but certainly not least, has the Qatari leadership finally understood that "the ends justifies the means" policy which it adopted in its endeavor to become an "international player" has resulted in more losses than gains?
“Has the Qatari leadership finally understood that "the ends justifies the means" policy which it adopted in its endeavor to become an "international player" has resulted in more losses than gains?”
I say this because the Qataris must have realized that any potential hopes of having the world’s superpower bow down to them in their capacity of chief financier of the Muslim Brotherhood has vaporized (the Qataris seem to have hoped to gain influence via propelling the Brotherhood’s state project across the region following the 2011 revolutions).
Indeed a shrewd politician should realize when it is time to end the game and how and when to cut losses. (And I am not only referring here to the billions of dollars spent on supporting the Brotherhood but to priceless losses when it came to relations with fellow GCC countries).
Furthermore, if Qatar, by seeking to irritate its neighbors, is trying to place itself as "the most suitable alternative," then it must be aware that all it's really gaining is the enmity of its traditional allies and if anything, this will weaken and not strengthen its status!
Unlike what some Qatari government advisors seem to want for their neighbors, no one wants any harm for Qatar and we - Gulf states and Arabs in general - all are genuinely happy for any success they achieve; whether on the political, economic, cultural or sports' levels. Indeed, such successes can only help enhance our status as Gulf and Arab countries, and to be honest, I can’t understand how these advisors are able to convince themselves and others that Qatar's success is not possible unless its neighbors fail!
Therefore, we should make use of this real opportunity to end the rift. The conflict must end not just for obvious historical and geographical reasons but also for the sake of security, economy and capability of confronting upcoming challenges. We need to understand that what is at stake is the potential Gulf Union project; which is the only ongoing project that is capable of serving as a safety valve, not just for securing the future of Doha itself, but for the Gulf and the entire region.