April 28/14


Bible Quotation for today/Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe

John 20,26-31/A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For April 28/14

Two Mid East intelligence chiefs, Gen. Kochavi and Prince Bandar, were wrong about Syria/DEBKAfile/April 28/14

Will the Syrian cause benefit from the Russian absence/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/ April 28/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For April 28/14

Lebanese Related News

Pope Francis presides over historic day of 4 popes
Pope Francis Declares John Paul II, John XXIII Saints
Suleiman, Al-Rahi Attend Canonization Mass of Popes John Paul II, John XXIII

Mustaqbal Dismisses Reports of Imminent Aoun-Hariri 'Presidential Deal'
Report: Int'l Powers Leaning towards Central Bank Governor's Election as Centrist President

Lebanon's Arabic Press Digest - April 27, 2014
ISF: Headmaster Was Not Assaulted at Tripoli School, Died of Natural Causes

Hezbollah: President must be 'friend' of resistance

Swift Reconciliation between Meqdad, Nasseredine Families after AMAL-Hizbullah Efforts

Soldier Killed, 5 Wounded in Northern Road Accident

Moussawi: Presidential Candidate Must Unite the Lebanese, Support the Resistance

Pro Axis of Evil Lebanese Media facilities slams STL over accusations

Police says detain 20 in Lebanon's Tripoli

Assad meets former Lebanese security chief Chief Jamil al-Sayyed

March 14 list wins industrialists association polls

Actor George Clooney engaged to a Lebanese Dorzi Lawyer: report

 Miscellaneous Reports And News

Obama warns Russia as tensions spike in Ukraine

Russian and Ukrainian armies shaping up for initial military clash over Slavyansk
Ukraine Rebels Present Captured OSCE Observers to Media

At Yad Vashem, Netanyahu links West's indifference to Holocaust with Iran nuclear program

Israel Cabinet Divided over Palestinian Unity Deal

EU Says Israel-Palestinian Peace Bid 'Must Not Go to Waste'

Ashton backs Hamas-Fatah deal, but says new Palestinian government must recognize Israel

OPCW: Syria Chemical Deadline Passes, 8 Percent of Arms Remain

Abbas Says Holocaust 'Most Heinous Crime' of Modern Era

Iraqi Helicopters Hit Jihadist Convoy in Syria

Iran cuts portion of gasoline subsidies

Iran FM Says People Would Support Fair Nuclear Deal

Iraq’s sham elections 

Pope Francis presides over historic day of 4 popes
By Daniela Petroff /Associated Press
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis declared his two predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints before some 800,000 people on Sunday, an unprecedented ceremony made even more historic by the presence in St. Peter's Square of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Never before have a reigning Pope and a retired Pope celebrated Mass together in public, much less at an event honoring two of their most famous predecessors. Benedict's presence was a reflection of the balancing act that Francis envisioned when he decided to canonize John and John Paul together, showing the unity of the Catholic Church by honoring Popes beloved to conservatives and progressives alike. Francis made that point clear in his homily, praising both men for their work associated with the Second Vatican Council, the groundbreaking meetings that brought the 2,000-year-old institution into modern times. John convened the council while John Paul helped ensure its more conservative implementation and interpretation. " John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries," Francis said. He praised John for having allowed himself to be led by God to call the council, and he hailed John Paul's focus on the family - an issue Francis has taken up himself.
"They were priests, bishops and Popes of the 20th century," Francis said. "They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them."
It was Benedict who put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood just weeks after he died in 2005, responding to the chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Now!" that erupted during his funeral Mass. His canonization is now the fastest in modern times.
Francis then tweaked the Vatican's own saint-making rules, deciding that John could be made a saint without the necessary second miracle usually required for canonization. Francis took a deep breath and paused for a moment before reciting the saint-making formula in Latin at the start of the ceremony, as if moved by the history he was about to make in canonizing two Popes at once. He said that after deliberating, consulting and praying for divine assistance "we declare and define that Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church." Applause broke out from a crowd that stretched from St. Peter's to the Tiber River and beyond. "This is such a historic moment," marveled the Rev. Victor Perez, who brought a group from the John Paul High School in Houston, Texas and waited for nearly 12 hours to get near St. Peter's. " John Paul was so impactful on the church. He completed the work of Vatican II. Today honors the last 50 years of what God has done in the church."
In John Paul's native Poland, bells tolled as soon as Francis pronounced the two men saints.
"He changed Poland and he changed us with his teaching and with his visits here," an emotional Maria Jurek said as she watched the proceedings on giant TV screens at a sanctuary dedicated to John Paul in Krakow. Yet the atmosphere in St. Peter's seemed somber and subdued - perhaps due to the chilly gray skies and cumulative lack of sleep - unlike the rollicking party atmosphere of John Paul's May 2011 beatification when bands of young people sang and danced in the hours before and after the Mass. The Vatican estimated that 800,000 people watched the Mass in Rome, with about 500,000 in the square and nearby streets and the rest watching on TV screens that had been set up in piazzas around downtown. By the time the ceremony began, Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading from the square, nearby streets and the bridges across the Tiber were packed. Polish pilgrims carrying the red and white flags of John Paul's beloved homeland had been among the first to push into the square well before sunrise, as the human chains of neon-vested civil protection workers trying to maintain order finally gave up and let them in.
"Four Popes in one ceremony is a fantastic thing to see and to be at, because it is history being written in our sight," marveled one of the visiting Poles, Dawid Halfar.
Benedict had promised to remain "hidden from the world" after resigning last year, but Francis has coaxed him out of retirement and urged him to take part in the public life of the church.
During the Mass, Benedict sat off to the side of the altar with other cardinals, though he was clearly in a place of honor. He received the Italian president and a steady stream of cardinals, as well as Francis himself at the beginning and end of the service. Benedict had arrived in the square on his own to cheers and applause, wearing white vestments and white bishops' miter.
In a dress rehearsal of sorts, Benedict attended the February ceremony in which Francis installed 19 new cardinals. But celebrating Mass together with Francis was something else entirely, a first for the institution and a reflection of Francis' desire to show the continuity in the papacy, despite different personalities, priorities and politics. Pope John XIII, who reigned from 1958-1963, is a hero to liberal Catholics for having convened Vatican II, which allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages rather than Latin and encouraged greater dialogue with people of other faiths, particularly Jews.
During his quarter-century papacy from 1978-2005, John Paul II helped topple communism through his support of Poland's Solidarity movement. His globe-trotting papacy and launch of the wildly popular World Youth Days invigorated a new generation of Catholics, while his defense of core church teaching heartened conservatives after the turbulent 1960s.
" John Paul was our Pope," said Therese Andjoua, a 49-year-old nurse who traveled from Libreville, Gabon, with some 300 other pilgrims to attend. She sported a traditional African dress bearing the images of the two new saints. "In 1982 he came to Gabon and when he arrived he kissed the ground and told us to 'Get up, go forward and be not afraid,'" she recalled as she rested against a pallet of water bottles. "When we heard he was going to be canonized, we got up." Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers from more than 90 countries attended. Some 20 Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, Italy, Francis' native Argentina and Poland were also taking part, in a clear sign of their appreciation for the great strides made in Catholic-Jewish relations under John, John Paul - and their successors celebrating their sainthood.

Pope Declares John Paul II, John XXIII Saints
Naharnet /Pope Francis on Sunday proclaimed John Paul II and John XXIII as the Catholic Church's newest saints at a ceremony joined by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims for the two pontiffs who helped shape 20th century history. "We declare and define as saints the blessed John XXIII and John Paul II," the Catholic leader said in a Latin prayer, as pilgrims and foreign dignitaries massed in St Peter's Square applauded and chanted: "Amen!"In his homily, Francis praised them as "men of courage" who worked "in renewing and updating the Church". "They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century but they were not overwhelmed by them. "For them, God was more powerful," he said. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, 87, who last year became the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages, made a rare public appearance in his white papal cassock and Francis embraced him before the ceremony. Francis was co-celebrating the mass with Benedict XVI and hundreds of bishops and cardinals -- the first time that two living popes said mass together.
It was also the first time that two Catholic Church leaders were being declared saints on the same day.
Commentators defined the event as a "four-pope day" and the Vatican said 800,000 people followed the event in Rome, including 500,000 in and around St Peter's Square.
Many faithful waved the red-and-white flags from John Paul II's native Poland and some wore Polish folk costumes while one pilgrim held a banner reading: "Two pope saints in heaven, two in St Peter's Square". "We are followers of all four popes who have all been close to the people. This is an historic day but one that you really feel inside," said Luisa Tomolo, an Italian reveling in the festival atmosphere.
Thousands watched the ceremony on giant screens set up in picturesque spots of Rome, witnessing an unprecedented event seen as a way of uniting conservative and reformist wings of Catholicism.
John Paul II was hugely popular but was also a divisive figure who alienated many leftist Catholics during his 27-year reign and has been criticized for turning a blind eye to revelations of child sex crimes by priests. His support for Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ movement who was revealed to be a serial sexual predator, was particularly controversial.
The charismatic globe-trotting John Paul helped topple Communism in Eastern Europe and John XXIII or "Good Pope John" is best remembered for launching a process of reform of the Catholic Church in the 1960s.Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl paid tribute to John Paul II in an editorial for Il Messaggero.
"He played a decisive role in making the fall of the Berlin Wall possible," Kohl said, describing him as "a fearless fighter for freedom".
John XXIII helped bring to an end official Catholic prejudice against Jews and has been credited for his pacifying role during the Cold War, including in defusing tensions during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The two new saints "played an indelible role for the development of peoples and peace", Francis said.
By sainting them together, Francis was appealing to "rival camps within the Catholic fold who see John XXIII and John Paul II as their heroes", said U.S.-based Vatican expert John Allen from the Boston Globe. Francis has said his predecessor, who lives a life of quiet prayer in a former monastery inside the Vatican "is not a statue in a museum, he is an institution". The Vatican said 98 foreign delegations were present including former Polish president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa -- an ally of John Paul II. The kings of Belgium and Spain also attended, with Queen Sofia of Spain wearing a white dress -- a dress code for the queens of mainly Catholic countries. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was also in attendance, despite a ban from entering the European Union. The interdiction does not apply in the Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state in the world. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk had been due to come but was forced to cut short his trip after an audience with Pope Francis on Saturday because of the spiraling tensions at home. Among the attendees was also Floribeth Mora, the Costa Rican woman whose apparent healing from a brain aneurysm has been declared the second supposed miracle in John Paul II's name required for sainthood status. The Polish pope (1978-2005) became a media superstar and survived an assassination attempt by Turkish extremist Mehmet Ali Agca in St Peter's Square in 1981.His sainthood was sped up and comes just nine years after his death -- the fastest canonization since the 18th century when the current rules were adopted. Francis also accelerated Italian John XXIII's candidacy, granting it with only one supposed miracle to his name. Source/Agence France Presse

Suleiman, Al-Rahi Attend Canonization Mass of Popes John Paul II, John XXIII
Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman and Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi attended on Sunday the canonization mass of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII that was held at the Vatican.
They were present at St. Peter's Square where Pope Francis I declared the two popes as saints. Earlier, al-Rahi had headed a mass in Rome on the occasion of the centenary of the Mar Maroun church.
Later on Sunday, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) announced that Lebanon will mark the first stop of a tour of the relics of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, which will kick off on May 16.
A million pilgrims attended the canonization and thousands camped out in and around the Vatican overnight, sleeping in folding chairs, praying in silence with rosary beads and singing religious chants.
Pope John Paul II was hugely popular and the first pope to be a media superstar but he also drew criticism for his clampdown on leftist movements in the Catholic Church and his failure to tackle child sex abuse. As a Vatican diplomat, Angelo Roncalli -- the future John XXIII -- has been credited with saving thousands of Jews during World War II and he ended age-old Catholic prejudices against Jews after being elected pontiff. But he is best remembered as the driving force behind the Second Vatican Council, which overhauled arcane Church rituals and doctrines including allowing mass to be celebrated in languages other than Latin.

Report: Int'l Powers Leaning towards Central Bank Governor's Election as Centrist President

Naharnet/International powers have kicked off their efforts to ensure the election of a president for Lebanon, reported the Kuwaiti daily al-Anba on Sunday. It said that they are leaning towards the election of centrist figure, namely Central Bank Governor Riyad Salameh. Their efforts are taking place with the cooperation of some local authorities, added the daily without elaborating. International powers have also highlighted Salameh's experience in the economic field as an important factor in his potential election. Lebanon staged on Wednesday the first round of the presidential elections, but neither of the candidates, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou, garnered the needed 86 votes of lawmakers to win the polls. The second round of the elections will be held on Wednesday with a candidate needing 65 votes in order to emerge victorious. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25 amid fears that the lack of consensus over a successor will lead to vacuum in the country's top post.


Mustaqbal Dismisses Reports of Imminent Aoun-Hariri 'Presidential Deal'
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal movement has poured cold water on remarks by a number of Free Patriotic Movement lawmakers about the presence of a certain “deal” with former premier Saad Hariri that would see FPM leader Michel Aoun reach the Baabda Palace, amid the insistence of FPM sources on the existence of such efforts. In remarks published Sunday in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, a prominent, unnamed Mustaqbal minister said it is most likely that the election of a new president will not happen within the constitutional timeframe, which ends on May 25, noting that a presidential vacuum is looming on the horizon. “All reports alleging that there is a presidential deal between Aoun and Hariri are implausible and inaccurate, but should they start to materialize, that would be part of a grand settlement, which does not seem to be possible in the near future,” the Mustaqbal source said.He pointed out that should Hariri decide to “return to the premiership, he would return when he wants to, without needing a deal with Aoun such as the one that is being promoted.” Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, a member of Hariri's Lebanon First bloc, said “the March 14 forces will carry on with supporting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's presidential bid.”“We will fight Geagea's battle until the end but at the same time we will make sure to evaluate it as we move forward, in light of the available circumstances and chances,” Makari said, adding that “the next steps will be decided accordingly.”For his part, March 14 General Secretariat Coordinator Fares Soaid stressed to Asharq al-Awsat that Geagea will remain March 14's candidate and that the decision is irreversible at the moment. “The battle's strategy will not change before Wednesday's session and all the parties concerned in the March 14 camp, including the Kataeb Party and its leader Amin Gemayel, have formed a collective leadership in order to oversee the coming electoral phases,” Soaid added. As for the FPM, Change and Reform bloc MP Salim Salhab on Sunday told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that Aoun “will only nominate himself for the presidency if contacts manage to turn him into a consensual candidate, because he does not want to be a confrontational nominee.” He revealed that there are consultations that might lead to choosing Aoun as a consensus candidate, emphasizing that “there are efforts to find a president who can resolve the crisis instead of merely managing it.”On Saturday, Salhab's bloc colleague MP Alain Aoun had announced that the FPM was “communicating” with Mustaqbal, without ruling out the possibility that Hariri and his movement could endorse Aoun's candidacy. Lebanon staged on Wednesday the first round of the presidential elections, but neither of the candidates, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou, garnered the needed 86 votes of lawmakers to win the polls. The second round of the elections will be held on Wednesday with a candidate needing 65 votes in order to emerge victorious. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25 amid fears that the lack of consensus over a successor will lead to vacuum in the country's top post.

ISF: Headmaster Was Not Assaulted at Tripoli School, Died of Natural Causes

Naharnet/The Internal Security Forces stated on Sunday that a school headmaster in the northern city of Tripoli had died of natural causes after reports emerged that he was beaten up while trying to break up a fight at the school. They said that the autopsy report determined that Farouq Kardofan died of natural causes and no signs of violence were found on his body. The National News Agency had reported on Saturday that the headmaster of the Beddawi Public School for Boys died after being assaulted in a clash that erupted at the school. It said that he was stabbed in the chest. The school has since suspended its classes.

Swift Reconciliation between Meqdad, Nasseredine Families after AMAL-Hizbullah Efforts

Naharnet /A reconciliation was reached Sunday between the Meqdad and Nasseredine families following mediation efforts by AMAL Movement and Hizbullah, a day after fierce clashes between the two clans left several people injured and caused extensive material damage. “A reconciliation was achieved at Mr. Rashed Jaafar's house in Beirut between members of the Meqdad and Nasseredine families who live in Rweiss, in the presence of a number of figures and dignitaries,” state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the rapprochement occurred in the wake of the gunfight that erupted Saturday and left three people wounded at the al-Jamous Street in Dahieh. Meanwhile, LBCI TV quoted sources as saying that the reconciliation happened quickly due to “strenuous efforts and contacts by Hizbullah and the AMAL Movement.” On Saturday, the army said an individual dispute over old problems between the two families escalated into armed clashes, prompting troops to deploy in the area and restore calm.
Armed clashes between families are common in Beirut's southern suburbs, which have recently witnessed deadly clashes between the Hjoula and Zoaiter clans.

Soldier Killed, 5 Wounded in Northern Road Accident
Naharnet/A soldier was killed and others were wounded when a military truck deviated on the highway in the northern border region of Wadi Khaled on Saturday. "A soldier was killed and five others were injured when their truck deviated on al-Hisha road in Wadi Khaled,” the state-run National News Agency reported. Al-Jadeed TV noted that all victims belong to the second brigade. Red Cross vehicles transferred the body of the soldier, as well as wounded troops Mohammed Sh., Mohammed S, and Ali H. to Sayidat al-Salam Hospital in the northern town of Qobeiyat, according to al-Jadeed. Agence France Presse

Media council slams STL over accusations
April 27, 2014 /The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The National Audiovisual Media Council slammed Sunday the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s accusations against local media outlets, describing the move as a “blatant violation” of Lebanon’s sovereignty and a tool of intimidation. “Lebanese laws and the Lebanese judiciary are the only institutions that can deal with the national media and this idea is derived from the Constitution and is concerned with sovereignty,” the council said in a statement. “The Special Tribunal’s selective accusation against Al-Jadeed and Al-Akhbar is a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and harms the freedom of the media,” it added. Earlier this week, the U.N.-backed court accused Al-Akhbar newspaper and Al-Jadeed television of obstructing justice and contempt after the two outlets published a list of alleged STL witnesses.  The court, which is in the process of trying five Hezbollah suspects for involvement in the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, also issued summons for the outlet’s editors. “The media council is committed to the idea that justice cannot be independent of politics unless the media does its duty in revealing facts and informing the public because that is the true expression of transparency,” the statement said. The council also expressed hope that the media landscape in Lebanon would stand united against the STL move. “... and for the executive branch to shoulder its responsibility to prevent the court from taking this violation too far which can be described as an organized intimidation operation to prevent the dissemination of facts and harm freedoms the Lebanese consider sacred,” it said.

Hezbollah: President must be 'friend' of resistance

The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah said Sunday the next Lebanese president should be a “friend” of the resistance and that the election of a candidate required the cooperation of all blocs. “The next president must be a friend of the resistance, reflect the aspirations of the Lebanese, and commit to the ministerial statement of the current government and its political content,” MP Ali Fayyad said during a ceremony in Blida, south Lebanon. “Those who opposed the ministerial statement have no place in the presidency,” he said, referring to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who also opposed taking part in a government with Hezbollah. “It is of no surprise that the Parliament’s makeup does not allow for one candidate to win without the cooperation of others because quorum is secured with the attendance of two-thirds of MPs,” he said. “Therefore we are bound to deal with reality in a responsible, national way,” Fayyad added. The Hezbollah lawmaker also said that such way of thinking required an end to what he described as “provocative candidacies,” Meanwhile, Geagea held “lengthy talks” with U.S. Ambassador David Hale about the presidential election, the LF media office said over the weekend, as the fate of this week’s parliamentary session to elect a candidate remained in question. Geagea, a presidential hopeful, and Hale discussed the political situation in the Middle East and spoke extensively about the election, stressing the need to hold the polls within the Constitutional deadline. The two met in Geagea’s residence in Maarab. Geagea, the March 14 coalition’s presidential nominee, received 48 votes in last week’s parliamentary session against 52 blank ballots mostly from the March 8 coalition which has not yet announced its own candidate. The second round of the election, in which a candidate must garner 65 votes to win, is scheduled to be held this Wednesday. Several MPs expressed pessimism regarding Speaker Nabih Berri's ability to achieve quorum, saying that contacts among rival groups have so far been fruitless. MP Michel Mussa, from Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc, said there were no new developments to shine a light on Wednesday’s session, defending the March 8 coalition's decision to cast blank ballots. "The circumstances are still the same. No quorum and no election in next week's session because things remain subject to consultations and contacts,” Mussa told a local radio station. “We cast a blank ballot because things were not clear to us yet,” he added. MP Alain Aoun, from MP Michel Aoun's bloc, said contacts were ongoing between his party and other factions. "We are holding contacts between [us] and all parliamentary blocs including the Future bloc and these may not result in anything before Wednesday,” he said. The lawmaker also noted that Aoun would only run in the election if the former General received the support of both the March 8 and the March 14 groups. Meanwhile, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, from MP Walid Jumblatt's bloc, left for Saudi Arabia Sunday, two days after his he returned from another short trip to Jeddah. His visit comes days after former Minister Jean Obeid, who has emerged as a possible consensus candidate, also left for the kingdom for talks.

Moussawi: Presidential Candidate Must Unite the Lebanese, Support the Resistance

Naharnet/Loyalty to Resistance MP Nawaf Moussawi reiterated on Saturday that Hizbullah wants a president who embraces the resistance, and who is capable of uniting the Lebanese people.
"We want the election of a candidate who can unite the Lebanese despite their divisions and differences,” Moussawi said at a party event.  "The candidate should unite people and make them take part in dialogue, and they should not be biased or taking a side,” he added. Uniting the Lebanese together would eventually lead to reconciliation, agreements between them and to building a united and just society and state, he said. "These conditions must be in the candidate's personality, their history and future aspirations.”The Hizbullah MP also reiterated that his party and its allies want a nominee for office who "accepts and adopts the resistance." "We want a candidate who can embrace the resistance and defend it against any attempts that aim at weakening Lebanon through its resistance.”
He considered that it is a “national and constitutional duty” to look for a candidate who has these characteristics. "We ask every presidential candidate, what are you liberation plans? What are your plans to defend Lebanon against Israeli violence and threats? And what is you stance on the resistance which proved to be an essential tool in liberating Lebanon and defending its land?” Moussawi said.
The first round of the presidential elections was held on Wednesday, but parliament failed to elect a new head of state after none of the candidates, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou, received the needed 86 votes of lawmakers. The second round of the polls will be held on April 30 where a candidate needs 65 votes to be elected president. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25.

Assad meets former Lebanese security chief Chief Jamil al-Sayyed

BEIRUT: Lebanon's Former Security Chief Jamil al-Sayyed held talks Sunday with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the regime's offensive near Lebanon, saying the operation would allow the Lebanese Army to better control the porous border. According to Sayyed's press office, during the meeting in Damascus the two discussed the “outcome of the regime’s military operations in Syrian towns bordering Lebanon’s Akkar and the Bekaa.” The operation was aimed at “cleansing [the region] of terrorist organizations which would give the Lebanese Army the chance to efficiently control the border in coordination with the Syrian side after three years of chaos that have transformed the border areas into an open front against Syria.” Sayyed, a controversial figure in Lebanon and close to the Syrian regime, is a former General Security head who was briefly detained for his suspected role in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Sayyed said that the presidential election in Syria was a domestic affair and that the polls would be held regardless of the situation. "Developments in Syria are moving in two parallel directions: Addressing terrorism and takfiri terrorist groups and encouraging speedy national reconciliation in various towns and villages including those which have already begun in Zabadani and Jobar,” Sayyed said, according to the statement.
“The constitutional deadlines particularly the presidential election are a Syrian affair that cannot be disrupted by ongoing events, similar to elections in other countries such as Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, and Afghanistan,” he added.

Iraqi Helicopters Hit Jihadist Convoy in Syria

Naharnet /Iraqi army helicopters attacked a jihadist convoy inside eastern Syria on Sunday as it tried to approach the border, killing at least eight people, an interior ministry spokesman said.
"The army struck eight tanker trucks in Wadi Suwab inside Syrian territory as they were trying to enter Iraqi territory to provide the (jihadist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with fuel," Brigadier General Saad Maan said. It was the first time Iraq's military has said it carried out an attack in Syria, and Maan said "there was no coordination with the Syrian regime" over the strike.
"Our responsibility now is to protect our border and to protect the border from the other side, because there is no protection from the other side," Maan said. ISIL emerged in Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and later appeared in Syria during the uprising against President Bashar Assad. The brutal methods its fighters used in Syrian areas under their control turned other opposition groups against them, and they were pushed back by other rebel groups into their stronghold in northeastern Syria, where they still hold territory. The vehicles were traveling to the western Iraqi border province of Anbar, where ISIL has been battling Iraqi security forces and controls the city of Fallujah. The group has also launched bombings in the capital Baghdad, including an attack on a Shiite political rally on Friday that killed 36 people.
Source/Agence France Presse

Ukraine Rebels Present Captured OSCE Observers to Media

Naharnet/Pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels holding captive an international team of military observers from the OSCE said Sunday they are "prisoners of war" and brought them before the media in a news conference. The group of eight men, all Europeans, were part of a 12-member OSCE military verification team deployed in east Ukraine. The other four members are Ukrainian military officers who were not brought before the press. Speaking through one of their number, a German officer, the Europeans asserted their diplomatic status to the scores of local and foreign journalists assembled in the town of Slavyansk. With armed rebels watching over them as they spoke, the group said they were in good health. They said they had been "captured" by the insurgents on Friday, around four kilometers (two miles) outside Slavyansk as they had been about to return to the regional hub city of Donetsk.
"We are OSCE officers with diplomatic status," their German spokesman said.
"I cannot go home of my free will."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it had sent a negotiating team to Slavyansk to try to arrange the entire team's release.
Earlier, the local rebel leader in the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told AFP and a small group of other reporters the OSCE observers were considered "prisoners of war".
"In our town, where a war situation is going on, any military personnel who don't have our permission are considered prisoners of war."
He added that the group's driver, who had been seized with them on Friday, had been released.
He repeated in the interview that the men would only be freed in exchange for Kiev's authorities releasing arrested pro-Moscow militants.
And he stressed that the rebels did not consider the detained men part of the main OSCE monitoring mission deployed in Ukraine.
The OSCE headquarters in Vienna has said the military verification mission is a separate unit from the main mission, and was under German command.
"I can't say that they aren't taking sides in events here, because the United States and NATO are delivering weapons and sending (military) trainers" to Kiev, and foreign private security firms were active, Ponomaryov claimed. Ponomaryov, who was wearing a pistol in a holster and was escorted by two armed bodyguards, claimed in the interview that the OSCE observers "are not our hostages -- they are our guests".
The rebel leader said all the detainees "are doing well".
Asked about Russia's promise to do everything it could to convince the pro-Kremlin rebels in Slavyansk to release the OSCE military observers, Ponomaryov said: "I have no direct contact with Moscow."
Ponomaryov also said that rebels had separately "arrested" three Ukrainian officers -- a colonel, a major and a captain -- he said had been sent towards Slavyansk on a spying mission.
"There were a total of seven in their group and we arrested three of them. We will swiftly get the four others," he said. The three captured officers were being kept in Slavyansk.
Ukraine's SBU security service confirmed the three officers had been seized.
The rebel mayor said there would be no contact with Kiev over the imprisoned Ukrainians because the pro-Kremlin insurgents see the capital's Western-backed government as illegitimate.
"There will be no contact with Kiev, only through the intermediary of the OSCE," he said. Ukraine's authorities, he said, "understand only the language of force". Slavyansk has become the epicenter of the military standoff in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian militants are defying Western pressure to exit occupied buildings. The Ukrainian army has set up a siege operation around the town of 110,000 people to prevent reinforcements reaching the rebels but has stressed it will take a measured response in its military operations in a bid to avoid civilian casualties.
Source/Agence France Presse

Will the Syrian cause benefit from the Russian absence?

Sunday, 27 April 2014 /Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov is notably absent from the Middle East. As instead of continuing to ignite the fire in Syria, he is occupied with putting one out on his country’s borders.
There is certainly no surprise there, as Ukraine is the now most important battle for Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This fight will require a lot of time, money and energy – even more so than what was spent on supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
On that note, one still doesn’t understand till this day why the Russians decided to play a destructive role in Syria over the course of the atrocious three-year war! As the Assad regime was never a real ally for the Russians and Syria wasn't of high strategic importance for the Russians anyway; particularly that Moscow found an alternative port in Greece to the one they had been using in Syria’s Tartus. Furthermore, the two countries do not even share the same rivals.
The irony is that Russia aspires to obtain Middle Eastern support, or at least a neutral position, when it comes to its battle with the West over Ukraine.
On that note, what was also surprising was Putin’s recent statement where he said he hopes that Gulf countries won't push oil prices down – and although Gulf countries don’t wish to interfere in the oil market or reduce prices, it is no secret that the region's people currently view Russia with hatred they've never felt before, given that Russia is directly responsible for the manslaughter in Syria and has supported Assad militarily and financially, as well as used its Veto rights to cover up for the regime’s crimes.
Russian-backed Assad
For its part, the Russian propaganda machine continues to justify Moscow’s stance on Syria, repeating that the position stems from being against the terrorist Islamist groups fighting there. However, there is no question that it knows the whole truth on the ground, which is that the regime planted and penetrated these groups and used them to terrorize the Syrian people and intimidate the West.
“Russia has begun to back away from Syria as its engages itself in an important battle over Crimea”
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Above all, and in order to confirm that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has nothing to do with these groups, it has been proposed to Russia that the FSA cooperates to confront al-Qaeda groups and particularly the fighters who came from countries surrounding it.
In all cases, Syria, for the Russians, has become a game of marginal gains. This is why we no longer see much of foreign minister Lavrov, now that Ukraine has been lost to the West and now that Russia will be engaged in a complicated intelligence, diplomatic, military, and economic battle that may last for years.
The obvious question here is whether Russia's absence benefits the Syrian cause. The answer is it may do so, but not immediately. After all, it is Iran, not the Syrian regime, which is bearing the real burden in the Syrian war and it seems to be willing to go on. However, the absence of Russian support means it (Iran) will inevitably get exhausted.
Iran shoulders responsibility
A clear indicator of this (that Iran is getting exhausted) is the fact that President Rowhani's government had to move towards raising fule prices for the first time in decades. And on this front, it is worth noting, that the slight relief obtained by the easing of U.S. boycott in return for Iran’s engagement in nuclear talks did not have much of a positive impact.
The suffering in Iran is mostly due to its involvement in this costly war in Syria and we will see the repercussions of this on the Iranian economy as reducing the government staple on petroleum derivates is likely to increase anger in Iran, where there has been tension since the days of the Green Revolution.
In addition, the propaganda efforts attempting to appeal to the Iranians' sentiment and to convince people that committing to protecting the Assad regime is a religious duty, a supreme national necessity and an essential measure to halt conspiracies, no longer works; as despite all these efforts, criticism over this involvement has begun to grow louder.
As the Russians back away from Syria, Iran will first be to feel the burden, and then the by Assad regime. As such, the Syrian regime’s last bullet is to try to sabotage the opposition camp so there seems to be no alternative to it. This is the game it mastered in Lebanon and this is how it succeeded in controlling the Lebanese for a long time, and it may succeed at this in Syria.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 27, 2014

Russian and Ukrainian armies shaping up for initial military clash over Slavyansk
DEBKAfile Special Report April 27, 2014/Russia and Ukraine were heading Sunday, April 27, for their first battle over the rebel-held flashpoint town of Slavyansk, debkafile’s military and US sources report. The outcome will determine who controls the Donetsk region and possibly all of East of Ukraine – the separatists or the provisional government in Kiev.
With a superior, professional and well-trained force armed with a preponderance of fire power, the Kremlin has several options to choose from for this engagement:
1. To order the 11,000 troops, based at Rostov on Don 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, to cross over and head for Slavyansk and Donetsk.
2. To send a tank column against the 15,000 Ukrainian troops deployed over the weekend around Slavyansk. According to Russian sources, the force from Kiev is armed with 160 tanks, 230 armored personnel carriers and 150 pieces of artillery and missiles.
3. To send warplanes and helicopters from the giant Russian airbase of Tsentralniy - a prospect gaining ground in recent hours. This action would broaden the engagement into a major war operation between Russia and Ukraine.
4. Moscow, Kiev and their backers may understand how such a war began, but once it is under way, no one can tell how it will end.
5. In the event of a major escalation, Moscow ill have to decide whether to throw into battle the special rapid deployment and paratroop units stationed at Tsentralniy, which are held ready for intervention in the Middle East and are now in reserve for action in Ukraine.
6. The Kremlin must decide whether to go for an overall invasion of Ukraine. debkafile’s military sources report that the force poised on the border is smaller than the 40,000 estimated by Kiev. It consists of 15,000 armored corps soldiers with T-72B tanks and one division each of infantry and paratroops.
A Russian invasion would bring about the partition of Ukraine between the Russian-controlled East + Crimea and the sector ruled by the pro-Western administration of Kiev.
Moscow would find it hard to present this as a “peacekeeping” or “humanitarian” operation.
For Kiev, it might be the last straw that undermines its already shaky rule.
The Ukrainian army’s capacity to beat the Russian invaders, or even stop them in their tracks, is close to nil. Its threat to blockade the more than a dozen towns where separatists are entrenched in official buildings is unconvincing.
Indeed, the Kiev government faces five fairly dismal prospects once a militlary collision begins:
a) A full-blown military clash will test the limits of US and European readiness to come to its aid against Russian forces. The US and NATO are more likely to pitch in with condemnations and sanctions than by sending troops to the rescue. The Ukrainian government would find itself exposed as incapable of defending itself and bereft of effective international protectors.
b) The Ukraine government has not been able to summon up international financial or economic assistance.
c) The 15,000 troops concentrated at Slavyansk have more or less scraped the bottom of the barrel of Ukraine's operational military assets. The 150,000-strong army is sizeable enough but it is not ready for war, and the loyalty of most units and their officers to the Kiev regime is questionable.
d) If the Ukrainian government opts nonetheless to enter into a lengthy battle with an invading Russian force, it will play into the hands of Moscow, which strongly objects to the May 25 general election. Any delay would further undermine the stability of the interim regime in Kiev.
e) The Obama administration would find itself in difficult straits. President Barack Obama has repeatedly warned Moscow of “costs” for failing to restrain the pro-Russian separatists’ advances in Ukraine or pull its army back from the border.
He is finding it harder than ever to follow through on a concerted US-European economic and military challenge to Russia’s military steps in and around Ukraine.
In a round of phone calls to British, French, German and Italian leaders Friday, Obama met reluctance on their part to join aggressive sanctions against Moscow over its threats to Ukraine, when they were weighed against the heavy costs to the deep and longstanding trade ties and business partnerships that Europe has developed with Russia.
Obama managed to persuade the G7 to agree on another round of penalties for Moscow but had to delay the announcement of specifics to Monday, April 28.
This frustration was registered in Obama’s remarks in Kuala Lumpur Sunday: The United States will be in a stronger position to deter Vladimir Putin once he sees the world is unified in sanctioning Russia, he said. Russia isn't abiding by a deal reached to de-escalate the conflict. "Russia has not lifted a finger to help" he said and stressed: “The US and Europe must act collectively.”
But America’s allies have made it clear that a broad international coalition for a strong stand against Russia will not be forthcoming. President Obama is left with the option of striking almost alone, or climbing down from his threats.