August 28/14


Bible Quotation for today/God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble

Peter's First Letter 5/1-11: " I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and who will also share in the glory that will be revealed.  Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly;  neither as lording it over those entrusted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock.  When the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the crown of glory that doesn’t fade away. Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings.  But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen


Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on August 27 & 28/14

What Christians mean to Walid Jumblatt/By: Michael Young/The Daily Star/August 28/14

Hezbollah must take back seat in fight against ISIS: analysts/By: Kareem Shaheen/The Daily StarAugust 28/14

Negotiations for Islamic State’s Lebanese hostages turn sour/By: Maya Gebeily & Carol Malouf/August 28/14

Hezbollah is no stranger to takfir/By: Alex Rowell/August 28/14

An open letter to Iraq’s PM-designate Abadi/By: Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi/28 August/14


Lebanese Related News published on August 27 & 28/14

Security Council Extends UNIFIL Mandate

March 14 accuses FPM of stirring civil war

Geagea Reiterates Proposal to Withdraw Candidacy, Calls for End of Political Impasse

Patriarchs urge end to assault on Christians in region
Patriarchs of the Orient to Urge Major Powers for Protection of Christians

Army arrests 22 Syrians in north Lebanon

Berri puts faith in Saudi-Iran talks

Salam Meets Berri: Competition among Politicians Jeopardizing Lives of Soldiers taken from Arsal

Berri puts faith in Saudi-Iran talks

Jumblatt proposes three-year presidential term

Hujeiri Denies Gunmen Infiltrated Arsal, Slams False 'Rumors'

Two Kids Struck by Car and Killed
Lebanese Kidnapped in Nigeria Released for Ransom

Berri Urges Hariri to Speed up Assistance to Lebanese Army
Caccia: Presidential Stalemate to End in September
France Detains Accomplice of Napoleon Hotel Potential Suicide Bomber

Derbas Says 8,000 Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon

Report: Jumblat Inquired Christian Officials on Possible Presidential Breakthrough

Clash Erupts in Ain el-Hilweh as Gaza Celebratory Gunfire Kills Man

ISIS: Lebanese man behind Baghdad suicide blast


Miscellaneous Reports And News published on August 27 & 28/14

Iran: Hamas 'brought Israel to its knees
Hamas' decentralized structure complicated truce
The Israeli-made Hermes 450 drone downed by Iran over Natanz took off from Azerbaijan

Israeli source: US will back Israel in UN

Phares: West can't ignore ideology of radicalization

Saudi court jails 18 for 'terrorism' offences

ISIS executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base
Rebels take Golan Heights crossing

U.N.: Executions 'Common Spectacle' on Jihadist-Held Syria
Turkey Ruling Party Confirms Davutoglu as Erdogan Successor

Top Saudi officials head to Qatar to heal breach



Patriarchs Of the Orient urge end to assault on Christians in region
Samar Kadi| The Daily Star
28 August/14
BEIRUT: The patriarchs of Eastern churches appealed Wednesday to the international community to act quickly to stop attacks on Christians by takfiri militants, deploring lukewarm stances of world powers at a time when the very existence of Christians in Iraq and Syria is at risk.
The prelates made the appeal after a meeting with U.N. Special Coordinator in Lebanon Derek Plumby and the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki, northeast of Beirut.
“The international community cannot keep silent about the existence of the so-called ISIS. They should put an end to all extremist terrorist groups, and criminalize aggression against Christians and their properties,” the patriarchs said in a statement issued at the end of the meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.
They called on the world’s big powers to deprive extremist groups of resources by compelling countries financing them to stop their support.
“The international community is requested to cooperate with Iraq and work quickly to liberate Christian towns, facilitate the return of the people to their homes and ensure their security and safety,” the statement said. “The Christians’ very existence is at stake in several Arab countries, notably in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where they have been exposed to the ugliest acts, forcing them to emigrate.
The statement said the patriarchs called on political groups to facilitate the election of a president of the republic in order to preserve Lebanon’s stability and security and keep it safe from regional conflicts.
Rai cautioned the envoys of the Big Five and the U.N. representative that the persisting presidential deadlock in Lebanon jeopardized the only Christian top post in the Arab world, at a time when Christians are being persecuted in Iraq and Syria, political sources told The Daily Star.
The sources said the patriarch explained that the explosive situation in Iraq and Syria had adverse effects on Lebanon that were bound to be further exacerbated by the absence of a head of state, hence the need for their countries to deploy their utmost efforts to help end the deadlock. The Lebanese patriarch underscored the importance of having a stable and secure Lebanon to confront threats of rampant terrorism sweeping the region. “Rai told the foreign envoys that it is in the interest of world powers to help reinforce the capacities of the national Army in order to make it better armed and equipped to combat terrorism, which is threatening to spread from Iraq and Syria,” the sources said. U.N. Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly said he assured Rai the international community was aware of the importance of preserving Lebanon’s unity and stability, especially at this time of regional upheavals.
Plumbly said he agreed with the patriarch “that a prolonged vacuum in the presidency would be a matter of grave concern” and that the urgency of the issue should be obvious to everybody.
In addition to Rai, the meeting grouped Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Aram I, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham, the head of the Evangelical Council Rev. Salim Sahyouni, and a representative of the Roman Orthodox Church. It was attended by U.S. Ambassador David Hale, British Ambassador Tom Fletcher and Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in addition to the charges d’affaires of France and China and Papal Nuncio Gabriele Caccia.
Rai headed a delegation of the Eastern patriarchs who visited Iraq earlier this month to show support and solidarity with Iraqi Christians suffering at the hands of ISIS militants in the northern city of Mosul.
International alarm has grown over the exodus of Christians from Iraq after ISIS seized large swaths of the country following its capture of the northern city of Mosul in June.
Christians, along with other Iraqi minorities, are reportedly being given the choice to convert, pay a tax for non-Muslims, leave the country or face execution.
While several Western countries, including France, have offered asylum to the fleeing Christians, the community’s religious leaders in Iraq and the region have rejected such offers, insisting that the Christian community must maintain its presence in the Middle East.


What Christians mean to Walid Jumblatt
Michael Young| The Daily Star

28 August/14
Walid Jumblatt has faced a wave of criticism in recent days over his comments on the presidential election. For the Druze leader, Lebanon needs a president quickly, and he recently observed that the presidency did not belong solely to the Christians. On Monday, in a speech in Bsharri, the parliamentarian Strida Geagea expressed her “surprise” at Jumblatt’s comments, asking “would [he] accept that the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, discuss the number of Druze parliamentary seats with the speaker of Parliament?”
Geagea’s comparison was very odd. In constitutional terms, the president is “the symbol of the nation’s unity,” so Jumblatt, like anyone else in the country, is entitled to talk about the presidency without this in any way undermining the foundations of the National Pact, as Geagea implied. If a vacuum in the presidency negatively affects Lebanon’s stability, then it is not Maronites alone who are entitled to address and remedy the situation. But reactions such as Geagea’s also show a lack of understanding of what sustains Jumblatt’s power. The Druze leader, while he exerts control over Christians in the areas he represents, is also dependent on their being effective political actors nationally. Once Christians are marginalized – so that major national decisions are taken principally by Sunni and Shiite representatives – Jumblatt and the Druze will be too.
That’s why, at their last meeting, Jumblatt warned Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, that Christians and Druze were leaving Lebanon, implying that a presidential void would only heighten insecurity and accelerate the process. And it is why Nasrallah, who has shown little sympathy for the rules and compromises of the sectarian system, and no appreciation that a Christian cushion between Sunnis and Shiites benefits both communities at a time of rising mutual tension, evaded an answer. The Maronite relationship with Jumblatt is a complex one. Many have not forgotten that the Druze leader, when he sought to improve his relationship with the Shiite community and the Syrian regime in 2009, apparently leaked a video taken on a portable telephone in which he referred to the Maronites as a “bad type” or “bad seed.” The description was harsh, even if Jumblatt’s reversal was understandable at the time, coming at a moment when Saad Hariri, at the Saudis’ instigation, was about to begin a reconciliation process with President Bashar Assad.
The paradox of Jumblatt leadership is that it has tended to work against the Maronites while depending upon them. Kamal Jumblatt was instrumental in bringing Camille Chamoun to power in 1952, though he was soon caught up in a bitter rivalry with the president. And when Fouad Chehab succeeded him in 1958, Jumblatt became a staunch ally, serving several times as a minister. The Jumblatts’ ability to gain from inter-Christian divisions has been a recurring feature of their strategy; but their preference for nonpartisan presidents has also been very clear.
That is why Jumblatt made such a big deal of his political alliance with President Michel Sleiman. To Sleiman’s credit he immediately understood this, and saw that the presidency gained by allying itself with Jumblatt in the political center. This explains why one of Sleiman’s last high-profile visits was to Mukhtara. It served as an endorsement of Jumblatt’s role as a balancer in the system and someone who could counter the extremes. Significantly, Sleiman saw a similar role for the presidency.
Jumblatt and the Druze would potentially pay for Sunni-Shiite conflict on two levels: They would be caught up in a battle taking place all around their mountains, and even several areas within. This would devastate the already vulnerable mountain economy, spurring a Druze exodus. And such an exodus would effectively terminate the Jumblatt leadership.
That explains why Jumblatt, whose militia was responsible for the expulsion of Christians from the mountains in 1983, took the lead in bringing them back once the war had ended. Economically speaking, the Christian return helped revive the mountain, while the Jumblatt leadership only lost by being perceived as having only narrow Druze appeal. Jumblatt has always sought to portray himself as the leader of a broad coalition of Druze, Sunnis and Maronites, and his insistence on keeping Henri Helou in the presidential race is a sign of this.
That is why Strida Geagea’s comments showed impetuous disdain for Jumblatt’s approach to confessional politics, even as her remarks revealed that the Geageas have not forgiven the Druze leader for failing to back Samir Geagea’s candidacy. Jumblatt’s perennial quest to keep alive his traditional family domination in the mountains has earned him many enemies, not least among Christians who may form a majority there. Walid Jumblatt may not be a modern democrat but he has done two things in the areas he controls that are worth remembering. He has chosen for his lists non-Druze who have local legitimacy and a measure of representativity; and he has preserved confessional coexistence. It has been in his political interest to do so, but that does not make his efforts any less credible.
Rarely a day goes by without Christians lamenting their future in the Middle East. If so, those who claim to worry about the Christians must realize that in a country where they still hold a major political post, the community as a whole loses if the presidency remains empty and comes to be regarded as unnecessary. When Jumblatt echoes this, he is not ignoring the National Pact. He is reminding Christians of its importance.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Hezbollah must take back seat in fight against ISIS: analysts
Kareem Shaheen| The Daily Star

28 August/14
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army must take the lead in the fight against militants linked to ISIS here as part of a regional coalition against the group, experts said, though Hezbollah is likely to remain a key player in the battle. Still, the emerging regional consensus that ISIS is a threat that must be fought is likely to help pave the way for a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could in turn revive dialogue between bickering political factions in Lebanon, the experts said. “Lebanon, specifically, is key to the dynamics of the fight against ISIS, not least because of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and because of the jihadists’ presence alongside the Lebanese border,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst at the Delma Institute who has written extensively about the rebellion against President Bashar Assad’s regime. The United States has in recent days launched airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, and carried out surveillance flights over Syria, raising the prospect of strikes there. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have also expressed a desire to crush the militant group, which has occupied large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq. The prospect of a regional coalition against ISIS has relevance to Lebanon, where the Army earlier this month fought a pitched battle for the border town of Arsal, a bastion of the Syrian opposition, which was briefly overrun by ISIS and Nusra Front militants.
Sami Nader, the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said the recent fighting in Arsal against ISIS should offer a case study on how Lebanon can contribute to the fight against the terror group. The first lesson from the battle of Arsal is that the fight cannot take on a sectarian bent. “You can’t put Hezbollah in front of Daesh,” Nader said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
While Hezbollah is better armed than the Army, has more combat experience and probably a stronger drive to fight ISIS, it cannot be at the forefront of the fight without enflaming sectarian tension. Nader said the party appeared to realize that and took a back seat in the fight against the militants in Arsal.
He said the Lebanese Army must be at the forefront of the attempts to secure the border and prevent Syrian militants from passing into Lebanon unhindered, but that the military needs the international community’s support.
Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion to help modernize the Lebanese military as it fought the Arsal militants.
Nader said the other lesson from Arsal is that an alliance with moderate Sunnis is necessary in order to combat extremist phenomena like ISIS in Lebanon and the broader region. He cited the example of the U.S. empowering moderate Sunnis against Al-Qaeda as part of the Anbar Awakening campaign during the occupation of Iraq.
Moderate Sunnis could be empowered through offering sufficient security guarantees that would allow for former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to remain in Beirut, as well as by offering support to moderate Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad, Nader said. But he warned against U.S. airstrikes that would be seen as aiding the Assad regime, likening it to “putting oil on the fire” of Sunni anger.
Hassan said that any American airstrikes against the group in Syria is likely to increase the polarization around the conflict in Lebanon, especially if Hezbollah continues to fight there, enflaming Sunni anger.
“Hezbollah’s involvement and rumors that the Americans might work with Assad against jihadists are dangerous ingredients for increased sectarian antagonism,” Hassan said. “Unless the fight against ISIS means a step forward for the Syrian opposition, any involvement of Hezbollah will backfire.”
But Hassan said Hezbollah could play a constructive, “essential” role in Lebanon, because its ideology offers a counterweight to ISIS and the party’s rhetoric condemning “takfiris” resonates among some of the Sunnis in Lebanon.
In addition, the party’s role on the border to help prevent the spillover of jihadists into the country “will be unavoidable for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Aron Lund, a Swedish journalist and analyst who authored several reports on the Syrian opposition, said Hezbollah will seek to combat the growth of ISIS cells in Lebanon as well as preventing them from crossing the border – more of what the party has been doing for the last few months.
But he pointed out that, while Hezbollah seems to be militarily effective in Syria, they do not appear to have been involved in many direct confrontations with ISIS itself.
“They’ve mostly fought other rebel factions, who are enemies of both ... [ISIS] and of Assad,” he said.
“As far as I am aware, Hezbollah’s main zones of influence in Syria are close to the Lebanese border, in Qalamoun and in the Qusair area, and in the capital Damascus, as well as in some Shiite communities elsewhere, such as in Busra al-Sham,” he added.
ISIS “hasn’t had a strong presence in these areas, although that may be changing.”
Hassan said the new anti- ISIS push will benefit Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, who are presenting themselves as the counterweight to ISIS.
“The Iranians and their allies are trying to seize the opportunity of the widespread alarmism toward ISIS to present themselves assertively as effective partners,” Hassan added.
Nader, the Levant Institute’s director, said a regional alliance involving Saudi Arabia and Iran against ISIS could pave the way for a rapprochement between bickering political factions in Lebanon, and perhaps to the election of a new president, despite long-standing differences on key issues like Hezbollah’s arms.
In addition to policing the jihadist presence, Lund said the Lebanese effort must include addressing the Syrian refugee crisis hand in hand with empowering “a responsible and inclusive central government.”
Lund said Lebanon’s problems were bigger than ISIS, and centered around the sectarian and political tension linked to the conflict in Syria. The group is “very interested in setting Lebanon alight” as a way of drawing fighters to it and feeding off of sectarian tension in the country.
“As long as [ISIS] doesn’t have a presence on the Lebanese border, one shouldn’t focus on ISIS as an organization, but rather on the growth of conflict and tension in Lebanon,” he said.
“In the end, the important thing is not whether jihadi attacks are claimed by ISIS or Al-Qaeda or the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, what matters is to prevent those attacks and reducing support for that sort of militancy.”

Jumblatt proposes three-year presidential term
The Daily Star/Druze leader Walid Jumblatt appears to be making progress in his fight to bring all Lebanese factions together to elect a new president, with a surprising proposal that is nonetheless gaining traction. Jumblatt has proposed a one-time constitutional amendment to shorten the presidential term to three years in exchange for electing a president from outside the March 8 and March 14 political coalitions, an informed political source told The Daily Star. The source said that this plan for an internal agreement began with Jumblatt’s meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, who is concerned for the fate of the constitutional institutions if politicians continue to pursue their own narrow interests at the expense of the state. The crisis in Arsal appears to have awakened politicians to the need to shore up the Lebanese state, Army and security forces in the face of widespread regional instability. Jumblatt has taken it upon himself to spearhead an internal dialogue, but has attempted to keep the specifics of his negotiations a secret for fear of undermining his own efforts. In addition to shortening the presidential term, Jumblatt’s proposal calls for holding parliamentary elections according to a “modern law” that would improve democratic representation. It rejects the extension of Parliament’s mandate before an agreement is reached on the presidential election.
The proposal also calls for updating the law of political parties to include “safety valves” to prevent the eruption of civil strife and ease political tensions on the street. According to this logic, political differences should be kept in the political arena. Political platforms should be formulated with the sincere intention of increasing legitimate popular support and giving a voice to marginalized groups that now have no choice but to resort to disruptive tactics in order to get their voices heard, as evidenced by the ongoing strikes over the wage scale.
The proposal calls for developing and updating the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and other security agencies. More recruits should be hired, and a new leadership council appointed as part of a comprehensive national security policy, rather than a series of ad hoc regional “security plans.” Jumblatt has reportedly taken to calling this interim three-year president a “salvation president” in an effort to convey the importance of electing a new head of state. In this vein, Jumblatt has recommended the election of former Minister Jean Obeid, which, he has reportedly insisted, would strengthen Lebanon to face the “regional earthquake” and allow time to resolve the internal Lebanese political sphere.
So far, most political parties have expressed openness to this plan, although most are preoccupied with regional and international developments, particularly the American proposal for an international coalition to fight ISIS. However, the main obstacle, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, the unofficial candidate of the March 8 bloc, remains. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah reportedly told Jumblatt in their meeting that Aoun would have to approve any agreement on the presidency. According to the source, the meeting between Aoun and Jumblatt in Rabieh was not entirely positive, as Aoun continues to cling to the idea of direct elections in two phases. He also is not convinced that the regional conditions are ripe for an internal agreement, despite efforts to improve Saudi-Iranian relations and an Egyptian initiative to bridge the gap between the Assad regime and Saudi Arabia.The sources said former Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed in theory to shorten the presidential term. Jumblatt and Berri are also awaiting preliminary approval from Riyadh and Paris to go forward with their plan


ISIS says Lebanese man behind suicide attack in Iraq
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: ISIS has announced that a Lebanese man carried out a suicide attack that killed 15 people in Baghdad Tuesday, the first case of its kind since the radical group expanded in Iraq.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has taken control of swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, said that Abu Talha al-Lubnani, a nom du guerre, packed his vehicle with 300 kilograms of explosives and detonated it in a crowded center in New Baghdad, east of the capital. The attack killed 15 people and wounded at least 37 people in the popular intersection during the morning rush hours, AFP reported. A picture of the alleged suicide bomber carrying a weapon with the caption "the creators of life," circulated on social media. The man was identified as Hisham al-Hajj from the northern city of Tripoli. A number of Tripoli residents have joined the ranks of the Syrian opposition including the Free Syrian Army and Nusra Front and have carried out suicide attacks against the Syria Army. Hajj is the first Lebanese to have been reported to carry out an attack in Iraq.

Berri puts faith in Saudi-Iran talks

The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday expressed hope that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran would ward off threats facing the region. “I am counting on the Saudi-Iranian meeting to fight off the danger facing the region,” Berri said during his weekly meeting with lawmakers. “We also hope that additional circumstances exist to face off the threat of terrorism,” he added, stating that dialogue was one way to address this growing crisis. Another way to deal with terrorism, according to Berri, was to “open a window for Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.” His comments came after Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held what he called a “positive and constructive” meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh Tuesday as the two regional rivals seek to counter Islamist militants in Iraq.The lightning offensive by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has seized wide swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, has spurred contacts among many rival groups to face the growing threat.

Phares: West can't ignore ideology of radicalization
Published August 26, 2014/
The brutal murder of American journalist James Foley has turned the spotlight on the role radical imams play in recruiting young men from industrialized nations to join militant fighters in Syria and Iraq.
One such imam is Anjem Choudary, a radical London preacher who has called for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and the adoption of Sharia Law in the United Kingdom.
Appearing on Fox News' "Happening Now," terrorism analyst Walid Phares explained that existing laws can do little to curb Choudary's inflammatory rhetoric.
"The problem in Western liberal societies... is that we don't act against ideology, we don't have legislation against ideology as the Germans or French have against Nazism, for example," Phares said. "And because we haven't had this possibility, we are waiting -- law enforcement are waiting for [Choudary] to make a mistake, to make a mistake with the law.
"Basically, he could do anything," Phares warned. "He could call for caliphate... he could even say, 'I support Al Qaeda'... and nothing could happen. The only thing that could happen under that law, under these laws is if he is materially, physically supporting the terrorists and he is very careful. He's doing 95 percent of the work and the last 5 percent the jihadists are doing."

Negotiations for Islamic State’s Lebanese hostages turn sour
Maya Gebeily & Carol Malouf/Now Lebanon
Lebanese hostages held by the IS and Jabhat al-Nusra are threatened with beheading as the Muslim Scholars Committee withdraws from negotiations
After some initial success, negotiations for the release of over 30 Lebanese hostages held by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra took a turn for the worse this weekend, when the Lebanese religious institution mediating the talks suspended their involvement. Citing challenges in securing the militants’ demands, the Muslim Scholars Committee said it would “make way for other intermediaries” to get involved. But with the militants reportedly refusing to work with anyone but the committee, the hostage negotiations may be in freefall.
The 38 captives, all members of either the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) or Internal Security Forces (ISF), were taken by militants during five days of clashes in Arsal earlier this month. They are being held by local branches of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in the no-man’s-land between Lebanon and Syria. The Muslim Scholars Committee had made at least one trip to Arsal’s dusty outskirts to negotiate face-to-face with Abu Talal, the local head of the IS, who is reportedly holding 11 of the hostages. Abu Malek, Jabhat al-Nusra’s local chieftain, is believed to be holding around 25. Recently-published videos appear to show the captives in good health, but visibly shaken.
After nearly two weeks of grueling negotiations, it appeared the Muslim Scholars Committee had finally gained the militants’ trust. On August 17, Jabhat al-Nusra released two members of the ISF as a good-will gesture, and the IS had promised to release an LAF soldier in the following two days. Things were looking up for the negotiators, who felt their hard work was finally paying off.
Sadly, events in the past week have led to a complete turnaround. According to Committee member Sheikh Samih Ezzedine, the IS had a sudden change of heart about its upcoming hostage release. Threatening to behead its captives, the IS told the Muslim Scholars Committee it wouldn’t release any more hostages before “seeing some positive signs from the Lebanese government.”
The IS’s hardening stance came with the withdrawal of a key interlocutor, Abu Shamel. A Syrian cleric who heads a militant group in Syria’s Qalamoun region, Abu Shamel had been central in setting up the direct talks between the Muslim scholars and the militants. In his absence, the scholars’ communication with the IS and Jabhat al-Nusra began to falter.
The Committee’s talks with the Lebanese government weren’t faring much better. Ezzedine said the government had been agonizingly slow in responding to the militants’ demands, which included the release of an unidentified number of Syrian Islamists from the notorious Roumieh prison. Although none of the names have officially been made public, it’s expected that Abu Ahmad al-Jumaa, the local IS leader whose arrest sparked the Arsal clashes, would be among them. The government has been silent on this and other, humanitarian demands that sought better treatment for Arsal’s 100,000-strong Syrian refugee population.In just one week, the Committee’s optimism over progress in the talks had turned to profound exasperation. After a nearly two-hour meeting with the Council of Ministers on Friday, the Muslim scholars decided to suspend their involvement in the negotiations.
“We have the military telling us what we did is worthless. We have the militants telling us what we offer them is worthless. I have the families of the hostages calling me every day,” said Sheikh Hussam al-Ghali, a member of the Committee who strongly favored withdrawal from the negotiations, in unofficial remarks. “We got two members of the security forces released, and people are telling me it doesn’t mean anything.”
After working to gain both the militants’ and the government’s trust, the Committee’s withdrawal deals a significant blow to the momentum of the negotiations at a time when the stakes are higher than ever. On Friday evening, Jabhat al-Nusra released a short video of the captured soldiers and ISF members, calling for Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria. “If you don’t withdraw from Syria, these people will kill us,” said one ISF officer.Those with knowledge of the talks say they don’t expect much progress if the scholars aren’t involved. “We’re very upset that they pulled out,” said Abu Ibrahim, a community leader in Arsal who had been facilitating the negotiations logistically. “We thought they’d be the ones to bring us success and bring the captives home.”
He believes the impending vacuum may be filled by Lebanon’s head of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim. Ibrahim previously worked with Turkey and Qatar to secure the release of 13 nuns being held by Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Muslim Scholars Committee believes he might prove more successful than they have been.
“We’re not a political entity – we don’t do political work,” insisted Ezzedine. “If Abbas Ibrahim gets involved, supported by Turkey and Qatar, he may be able to answer to more of the militants’ demands.” Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouk has insisted in written remarks that Lebanon would be working to free the captives without any outside help. If Ibrahim gets involved, it would mark the first direct negotiations between the Lebanese government and the Islamic State.
But the road to the captives’ release won’t be simple. According to Abu Ibrahim, Jabhat al-Nusra and the IS will refuse to release the soldiers to anyone but the Muslim Scholars Committee. Adding to the challenges, Lebanon’s Council of Ministers has adamantly expressed its opposition to “compromising” with Jabhat al-Nusra and the IS – a position the Committee said would “close the door to the negotiations.” After an initial period of hope, it seems the hostages’ release will be much more complicated – and more drawn out – than originally expected.

Security Council Extends UNIFIL Mandate
Naharnet /The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon and strongly condemned attempts to threaten the country’s security and stability. In extending the mission’s mandate until August 31 2015, the Council commended the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for helping to establish a “new strategic environment in southern Lebanon” and called for further cooperation between the force and the Lebanese army.UNIFIL was established in 1978 to monitor the border between Lebanon and Israel. Its mission was extended and enlarged to include supporting Lebanese troops after the 2006 war between the Jewish state and Hizbullah. The 15-member Council strongly called on all parties concerned to respect the cessation of hostilities, and to prevent any violation of the Blue Line and to respect it in its entirety. It also urged them to cooperate fully with the U.N. and the peacekeeping force. In a letter sent to the Council last month, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon noted that UNIFIL continues to play “a crucial role” in ensuring peace and stability in southern Lebanon, as well as full respect for the Blue Line by both Lebanon and Israel. Recent incidents of rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel and of retaliation by the Israeli army across the Blue Line “are cause for concern,” he added.

Geagea Reiterates Proposal to Withdraw Candidacy, Calls for End of Political Impasse
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea revealed on Wednesday that he will propose again his solution to the presidential deadlock, stressing that the stalemate should end swiftly.
Geagea said in remarks published in An Nahar newspaper that he will seek with his March 14 allies to suggest anew his solution to end the presidential stalemate.
He noted that his “initiative” highlights the selection of another March 14 candidate, but if the allies failed he would remain their sole nominee for the presidency. In May, Geagea proposed to withdraw his candidacy from the presidential elections if a deal was reached to back the candidacy of another March 14 alliance member.
The Christian leader considered that the camp should settle on a candidate ahead of the upcoming parliamentary session on September 2 to elect a new head of state. “We are seeking to end the enforced vacuum at the Baabda Palace,” Geagea told al-Mustaqbal newspaper. The LF chief said that the March 14 coalition has been pressing to end the stalemate through democratic and civilized means. However, he expressed regret that “the exerted efforts are being thwarted by the other team's stubbornness.”
Lebanon's top Christian post was left vacant in May this year when the rival MPs failed to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman over their differences on a compromise candidate.
The majority of the March 8 alliance's MPs, including Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun's parliamentary bloc, boycotted the sessions aimed at electing a head of state, causing lack of quorum. Concerning the growing power of the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant in the region, Geagea accused the regimes of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of supporting and nourishing it. He pointed out that efforts should be exerted to combat this “phenomenon” and eliminate it as soon as possible. Islamic State militants in Iraq have been waging a campaign against minorities in Iraq, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. Islamic State (IS) jihadists launched in early June a major offensive in northern Iraq, sweeping Iraqi security forces aside.
The militants have declared a "caliphate" straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria.

Caccia: Presidential Stalemate to End in September
Naharnet/Gabriele Caccia, the papal ambassador to Lebanon, informed the rival political parties that the country will witness the election of a new head of state in September. According to al-Liwaa newspaper published on Wednesday, Caccia, who will accompany Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi to the Vatican, said that the new president will not be from the names circulated in the media outlets.
Al-Rahi will travel to the Vatican on Thursday to meet with Pope Francis and other senior officials. Talks are expected to focus on the presidential deadlock and the exodus of Christians and minorities in Iraq and Syria. An Nahar newspaper reported that the Vatican is mulling to dispatch a high-ranking official to Lebanon to tackle the ongoing presidency impasse. However, the matter hasn't been settled yet, awaiting contacts with regional and international countries that are concerned with the polls. Lebanon's top Christian post was left vacant in May this year when the rival MPs failed to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman over their differences on a compromise candidate. Media reports had said that the Vatican considers the presidential elections in Lebanon as a battle of existence that surpasses the Maronites and focuses on the active Christian role in state posts in the country and the Middle East.

Lebanese Kidnapped in Nigeria Released for Ransom
Naharnet/A Lebanese expatriate, who was kidnapped in Nigeria, was released for ransom, reported the National News Agency on Wednesday. It said that Saadallah al-Seqlawi was abducted some ten days ago by gunmen in Nigeria. His family refused to disclose details on his release. Seqlawi hails from the town of Deir Qanoun Ras al-Ain in the southern region of Tyre. Kidnappings for ransom are common in Nigeria, with scores of foreigners, including those from the sizable Lebanese community, targeted every year.

Berri Urges Hariri to Speed up Assistance to Lebanese Army
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri urged al-Mustaqbal Movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri to speed up the Saudi military assistance to Lebanon, local dailies reported on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Hariri announced from Saudi Arabia a grant of $1 billion for the Lebanese army to help its fight against militants. This, in addition to a $3 billion grant announced by Riyadh in late December. On Tuesday, Berri summoned the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly, urging them to quickly equip the Lebanese army and security forces. He later called Hariri to urge him to implement the Saudi grants, the newspapers said. Berri has been calling for speedy military assistance since the start of the month when jihadists overran the northeastern border town of Arsal and engaged in deadly battles with the army. They withdrew several days later to Syrian territories after a ceasefire was brokered by Muslim scholars. But they took with them hostages from the army and security forces.

Two Kids Struck by Car and Killed
Naharnet /Two children were killed when they were struck by a vehicle in Beirut, the state-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday. NNA said that Fatima Wehbe Hamdan was driving her car on the Beirut Airport road when she hit two-year-old Zakaria Osama al-Tufaili and Sara Abbas Wehbi, 5. The accident happened on Tuesday night. Hamdan was arrested and her vehicle was impounded based on instructions from the general prosecutor's office, NNA added. It was not clear if the children were crossing the road and if the driver was speeding.

France Detains Accomplice of Napoleon Hotel Potential Suicide Bomber
Naharnet /Authorities in Paris have detained a man suspected of being the accomplice of a Frenchman who is originally from the Comoros islands and who was arrested in Beirut on charges of having links to the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant. The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat reported on Wednesday that the French suspect, who was detained in Paris, entered Lebanon with Fayez Bouchran, who was arrested by Lebanese authorities in June 20. Sources said that the latter confessed that a Frenchman from Moroccan origins had accompanied him to Beirut. However, the suspect had to leave Lebanon before the expiry of his passport. The report said that Lebanese security forces briefed their French counterparts on Bouchran's confessions, prompting the arrest of his accomplice. Earlier in June, security forces raided the Napoleon Hotel in Beirut's Hamra district after obtaining information on a plot to target hospitals and high-ranking security officials. Over 100 people were interrogated during the security raid but only Bouchran was arrested and has reportedly confessed to being sent by the ISIL to carry out a terrorist attack in Lebanon. Bouchran was reportedly part of a group of four would-be suicide bombers who had come to Lebanon.

Patriarchs of the Orient to Urge Major Powers for Protection of Christians

Naharnet/The patriarchs of the Orient are scheduled to meet on Wednesday with the envoys of major powers at the seat of the Maronite church in Bkirki over the crisis in Iraq, An Nahar newspaper reported. The meeting is part of the initiative made by them to preserve the role of Christians in Iraq where Islamic State militants have been waging a campaign against minorities, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. According to An Nahar, the patriarchs will send letters to the major powers on the importance of preserving the Orient's multiculturalism by protecting Christians. They will tell the ambassadors that excuses of non-intervention in Iraq are not convincing, said the daily. The letter states that the assault on Christians in the Orient is facing a similar fate in Lebanon by paralyzing the presidential elections, it said. The international community has a partial responsibility in the paralysis given its influence on the local parties, the letter says.
Last week, al-Rahi headed a delegation from the patriarchs of the Orient to the Iraqi Kurdish region of Erbil. Pope Francis has called for collective action through the United Nations to "stop unjust aggression" in Iraq.

Hujeiri Denies Gunmen Infiltrated Arsal, Slams False 'Rumors'

Naharnet/Head of Arsal Municipality Ali al-Hujeiri denied on Wednesday that Syrian gunmen infiltrated the town after the Lebanese army deployed in the area. “The rumors are inaccurate,” Hujeiri told al-Liwaa newspaper, calling on those stating the false reports to “have mercy on Arsal and its residents who have been harmed.”He pointed out that the army is the only authority in the Bekaa village, adding the “it has deployed in the town and on its outskirts.” However, Voice of Lebanon radio reported on Wednesday the army units in Arsal went on high alert and upped their security measures after gunmen infiltrated the town and intimidated its residents.” “We will resist and we reject the return of any armed men... But it's clear that there are sides that want the war in Arsal and with its residents to go on,” Hujeiri told the newspaper. Media reports said that a group of gunmen deployed on Monday in the northeastern border town, a day after militants raided the houses of residents, who are staunch supporters of the Lebanese army. Arsal lies 12 kilometers from the border with Syria and has been used as a conduit for weapons and rebels to enter Syria, while also serving as a refuge for people fleeing the conflict. However, the residents of Arsal were angered after jihadists from Syria attacked their town earlier in August. The fighting between troops and extremist fighters broke out on August 2 when jihadists from Syria attacked army and police posts in Arsal after the arrest of a militant accused of belonging to the al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front. “We insist on having the best of ties with neighboring towns and the army is keen that the lies circulated are not true,” Hujeiri said. “We demand the presence of the state in the town on security and development levels.”“The situation is normal here.”

Salam Meets Berri: Competition among Politicians Jeopardizing Lives of Soldiers taken from Arsal
Naharnet /Prime Minister Tammam Salam criticized on Wednesday the tense political rhetoric between various political powers, saying that “they do not help Lebanon in confronting the security danger.”
He said after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri at Ain el-Tineh: “Competition among politicians is putting at risk the lives of the soldiers and policemen taken captive in Arsal.” “This case should be handled with great care and the tense statements do not help our cause at all,” he stressed before reporters. “Such statements do not become the nation or the citizens,” said the premier. Moreover, he remarked that Lebanon is paying the price for the vacuum in the presidency. “The political powers' greatest crisis lies in electing a new president,” he noted. “We should focus on stances that unite the Lebanese and help the country confront this difficult and uncomfortable situation,” he added. Furthermore, Salam explained that he made it clear to the hostages' families that their case could not be resolved quickly. “We are cooperating against those who want to harm Lebanon,” he stated. Clashes broke out on August 2 between the army and Islamists in the northeastern border town of Arsal. The fighting ended with a ceasefire on August 7 and the withdrawal of the militants, who kidnapped with them a number of soldiers and policemen. Efforts are underway to ensure their release.

Report: Jumblat Inquired Christian Officials on Possible Presidential Breakthrough
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat has held telephone conversations with Christian leaders ahead of his private visit abroad, An Nahar newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Jumblat inquired on Tuesday the unidentified officials on the possibility of reaching a breakthrough in the presidential crisis following his return to Beirut, it said. The PSP chief, who also heads a parliamentary bloc, made his phone calls despite the criticism of some parties on the efforts he was exerting along with Speaker Nabih Berri to resolve the stalemate, An Nahar added. Lebanon has been without a president sine May 25 when Michel Suleiman's tenure ended with rival MPs unable to find a successor over their differences on a compromise candidate. Al-Liwaa newspaper said Tuesday that Jumblat is likely in Paris for talks with al-Mustaqbal chief ex-PM Saad Hariri. The Druze official was compelled to cancel his meetings with Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. Jumblat has been holding talks with top officials as part of his efforts to convince the rival leaders to elect a compromise president.

Derbas Says 8,000 Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon
Naharnet/Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas estimated that 8,000 Iraqi refugees fleeing the expansion of the Islamic State in their country have arrived in Lebanon. “So far 1,000 Iraqi refugees registered with the U.N. refugee agency” UNHCR, Derbas said in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper. However, he expressed belief that the number exceeds the one mentioned, pointing out that there are already 7,000 Iraqi refugees in the country. The minister said he will address means to aid the displaced Iraqis with the Chaldean Patriarch. Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said recently that Lebanon rejects to welcome Iraqi refugees, asking them to remain in their land. But we welcome Iraqi tourists in Lebanon, he said during a press conference with Iraqi counterpart Hussein al-Shahristani in Baghdad.
Islamic State (IS) jihadists launched in early June a major offensive in northern Iraq, sweeping Iraqi security forces aside. The militants have declared a "caliphate" straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
Human rights groups and residents say IS fighters have been demanding that religious minorities in the Mosul region either convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refuse. Members of minority groups including the Yazidis, Christians, Shabak and Turkmen, remain under threat of kidnapping or death at the hands of the jihadists. Lebanon currently hosts 1.1 million refugees, the highest number at 38 percent of Syrian refugees fleeing the war-torn country for other countries in the region.

March 14 accuses FPM of stirring civil war
NowLebanon/27/08/2014/BEIRUT – March 14’s General Secretariat lashed out at Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for allegedly stirring sectarian strife that would lead the country to another civil war. “The FPM is clearly accused of pushing Lebanon into [another] civil war because undermining the constitution and inciting people to adopt self-security lead to violence,” the General Secretariat said in its weekly statement released on Wednesday. March 14’s statement came after it accused the March 8 party of “calling on Christians to arm alongside Hezbollah.”
However, the General Secretariat did not refer to any specific FPM official’s statement that either clearly stated or implied what March 14 accused the Hezbollah ally of. “Defending Lebanon and its Christians, Muslims, and institutions cannot be done except by legitimate security and military forces,” the statement added. It went on to call on the Christians and the Lebanese in general to “volunteer in the legitimate security and military forces in order to contribute in defending Lebanon.”

Clash Erupts in Ain el-Hilweh as Gaza Celebratory Gunfire Kills Man
Naharnet /A young man was mistakenly killed by celebratory gunfire on Tuesday evening in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern city of Sidon, following the announcement of the end of 50-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. "Kamal al-Hallaq was killed by celebratory gunfire in Ain el-Hilweh,” the state-run National News Agency reported. Al-Jadeed television reported that Hallaq was hit by a stray bullet. Following the young man's death, a dispute erupted into a clash in the camp and resulted in the minor injury of a woman and a child, according to al-Jadeed. "They were transferred to al-Nidaa al-Insani hospital in Ain el-Hilweh,” it added. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces interfered to contain the clash. Ain el-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian camp in the country and home to about 50,000 refugees, lies near the southern city of Sidon. A long-term ceasefire agreed by Israel and the Palestinians went into effect earlier in the day, ending 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade. The agreement, which came into effect at 1600 GMT, involves an immediate halt to the violence in Gaza, which began on July 8 and has claimed the lives of 2,143 Palestinians and 69 on the Israeli side. Celebrations over the ceasefire and the “Palestinian resistance's victory” took place as well in Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut's southern suburbs. And thousands of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese citizens in the southern city of Tyre also took to the streets chanting slogans in support of the Palestinian resistance and hailing its “victory.” In the North, meanwhile, people marched in al-Beddawi camp following the evening prayers to celebrate the "resistance's achievement" in the Gaza Strip.

Rebels Take Syria Crossing with Israel-Occupied Golan
Naharnet/Syrian rebels, including al-Qaida's affiliate Al-Nusra Front, seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday, a monitoring group said.
"Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He said at least 20 soldiers and four rebels were killed in the fighting for the crossing that began earlier on Wednesday. The heavy fire strayed across the border into the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan, where the army said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded. Six mortar shells crashed into the occupied portion of the Golan within hours, the army said, adding that it returned fire. "In response to the errant fire from the internal fighting in Syria, which hit Israel earlier today and injured an IDF (Israel Defence Forces) officer, the IDF just targeted two Syrian army positions in the Syrian Golan Heights. Hits were confirmed," it said in a statement. Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq miles) of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of projectiles, mostly stray, hitting the Israeli side, prompting occasional armed responses. In June, an Israeli teenager was killed in a deliberate cross-border attack, which prompted Israeli warplanes to attack Syrian military headquarters and positions. Last year, the Quneitra crossing briefly fell to rebel forces in June, before being recaptured by Syrian army troops. Agence France Presse

U.N.: Executions 'Common Spectacle' on Jihadist-Held Syria
Naharnet/Public executions, amputations, lashings and mock crucifixion are a regular fixture in jihadist-controled areas of Syria, a U.N. probe charged Wednesday, also accusing Damascus of repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians. "Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays" in parts of Syria under control of the jihadist Islamic State (IS), the independent Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria said. In its latest report, the four-member commission detailed a litany of horrors committed by IS, including the beheading of boys as young as 15, amputations and lashings in public squares as residents, including children, are forced to watch. The group "seeks to destroy and remould humanity in its image, wreaking havoc on civilians, minorities and the basic freedoms of women and children," commission head Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva. He described how bodies of those killed were placed on public display, "creating an atmosphere of fear and terror." IS, which declared a "caliphate" in an area spanning northern Iraq and eastern Syria, is also recruiting and training children as young as 10, with teens being used in active combat and suicide-bombing missions, the report said. The jihadists, who sparked worldwide outrage last week when they released a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, are guilty of widespread crimes against humanity in Syria, the commission said. Pinheiro emphasized, though, that IS "does not have the monopoly of brutality in the Syrian conflict."In their 45-page report, covering the period from January 20 to July 15, Pinheiro and his colleagues also detailed a wide range of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian government and other armed opposition groups. The government, which during the first years of the conflict was blamed for the lion's share of abuses and deaths, had since January continued to kill hundreds of men, women and children every week due to the "indiscriminate firing of missiles and barrel bombs into civilian areas", the report found. It also said Damascus appeared to have dropped barrel bombs containing the chemical agent chlorine on civilian areas in the north on eight different occasions last April.  "Reasonable grounds exist to believe that chemical agents, likely chlorine, were used on (northern Syrian villages) Kafr Zeita, al-Tamana and Tal Minnis in eight incidents within a 10-day period in April," the report said. President Bashar Assad's regime and rebels have both accused the other of using chemical agents, including chlorine, in the bloody uprising that began in March 2011 and in spite of Damascus promising to hand over all its chemical arms.
The commission, which was created three years ago by the U.N. Human Rights Council, lamented the "atmosphere of impunity" for all warring parties in Syria. The investigators especially lashed out at the lack of international action to end the conflict estimated to have killed nearly 200,000 people.  "For three years, we have been gathering evidence against the perpetrators, and each day new crimes occur (yet) the international community does nothing," said commission member and legendary former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte. "The international community as a whole, including the U.N., is paralyzed by the unwillingness of states to act to end the conflict," Pinheiro agreed. They insisted that the only way to move towards an end of the conflict was for the U.N.'s deadlocked Security Council to refer the Syrian crimes to the International Criminal Court. The investigators, who have never been granted access to Syria, relying on interviews in the region and via Skype, as well as photographs and other documents to reach their conclusions, also stressed that their secret list of suspected perpetrators was getting longer by the day.Del Ponte suggested that the Security Council name the four commissioners to prosecute the crimes."We are ready," she said.Agence France Presse

Hezbollah is no stranger to takfir
By: Alex Rowell/Now Lebanon
As Sunni jihadists alarm the world, the Party of God seeks to brand itself a bastion of moderate Islam. Nobody should be fooled.
One has to hand it to whoever had the idea for Al-Akhbar’s interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah earlier this month. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri may have nicknamed Saad Hariri “Santa Claus” after his return to Lebanon bearing a billion-dollar gift from Riyadh, but the Future Movement leader’s goateed grin was no match for the jolly beam of the silver-bearded Sayyid at his avuncular best.
He follows the gossip on Facebook. He likes Maradona, and supported Argentina in the World Cup final, which he watched with his son. His favorite dishes include mulukhiyya. When he has time, he watches TV and reads novels or the poems of Khalil Gibran. Who knew the fearsome, black-robed warrior-sheikh from the podium was really just a regular guy like you and me?
The true knight’s move, though, was his mention that he’s been reading a lot lately on “the phenomenon of takfir;” the doctrine of jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) that holds Muslim opponents guilty of kufr (disbelief), a charge punishable by death. He wants, he says, to understand its “history, causes, and orientations.” We’re invited to picture the bespectacled scholar frowning in puzzlement at strange tracts detailing the arcane teachings, innocently gasping in horror at the thought of fundamentalists using violence to advance sectarian agenda. The whole act would almost be amusing if it weren’t inevitable that many readers, including not a few Western pundits, will have fallen for it (an English translation was also published).
It’s considered terribly crass and indecorous nowadays to bring up the early years of the Party of God, when Christians were “invited” to convert, Shiite women were forcibly veiled and men couldn’t get a drink even in famously convivial Tyre. That period was an aberration, we’re now told; all the fault of the “horrific” then-leader, Subhi Tufayli, and some “crazy” Iranians, as the otherwise supportive Asaad Abu Khalil recently phrased it. That’s all changed, it’s said, under the civilized stewardship of Nasrallah; the party has matured; been tamed; been ‘Lebanonized’ (and its Khomeinist patrons, presumably, are no longer “crazy”).Very well; let’s not dwell on the kidnapping and murder of Western journalists in Beirut in the 1980s, or the old black-and-white videos of Nasrallah calling for a regional Islamist empire (why does that sound familiar?) or his claim that “He who rejects the authority of the [Iranian Supreme Leader] rejects God […] and is almost a polytheist” (even though Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, in her highly sympathetic 2002 study, Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, says that sentence “still provides a fair reflection of the party’s conception of the [ideology] today”). The following two examples from within the past 10 years should suffice to show the Party continues to have rather more in common with takfir, and Islamist extremism generally, than its fellow travelers care to acknowledge, and that such differences as exist tend to be, at most, ones of practice rather than principle. In 2006, as anti-European riots erupted across the region following the publication of cartoons satirizing Islam in a Danish newspaper, Nasrallah took to the podium not to urge his co-religionists against the resort to violence but to say: “If a Muslim had implemented the fatwa of Imam Khomeini regarding the apostate Salman Rushdie, those despicable people would never have dared insult the Messenger of God” [italics added]. That’s to say, if only someone had murdered a British novelist for a work of fiction, artists the world over would be far too intimidated to ever consider satirizing our beliefs again (rather an odd outlook, incidentally, for someone who told Al-Akhbar he was a literature fan). Calling for a “severe” response to the cartoons (and getting his wish: days later, a mob torched the Danish consulate in Beirut and, for good measure, stoned a nearby church), he then went on to restate his belief that the Holocaust was all “fables” (asateer), as “proven” by 9/11 Truther Roger Garaudy.
Forgiving types would no doubt chalk this all up to mere ‘rhetorical posturing’ or some such formulation (as though calls for the heads of civilians were acceptable political currency). But we learn from Rushdie’s 2012 memoir, Joseph Anton, that the Party’s Hussein Musawi took the cause, as it were, very seriously at the time, threatening to kill British hostages if the fatwa weren’t carried out and offering to spare one if Rushdie were delivered to Beirut. What’s more, Rushdie was told by British intelligence that Hezbollah operatives were themselves trying to liquidate him as late in the day as 1998. True or not, in any case, the ‘Affair’ is clearly something Nasrallah is unable to let go (he brought it up yet again in 2012). The second example comes from a year later, when the journalist Thanassis Cambanis was granted permission by Hezbollah to spend a day in the company of their youth branch, the Mahdi Scouts (named, rather suggestively, after the Twelfth Imam, the messianic figure most Shiites believe will one day return from occultation to establish perfect justice worldwide). Describing the guided tour of one of the Scouts’ dozens of camps in his excellent book, A Privilege to Die, he recalls watching children as young as six enjoy activities ranging from puppet reenactments of Nasrallah speeches to Quran memorization to readings from a manual titled “I Obey My Leader.”
“The Mahdi Scouts is charged with building the interior of kids,” as scout chief Bilal Naim told him. Some 60,000 children, Cambanis writes, are thus indoctrinated year-round with Hezbollah’s “unvarnished ideology, beginning with wilayat al-faqih, the concept of absolute clerical rule first implemented by Ayatollah Khomeini.” The program is highly effective, he adds, not just at grooming future generations of fighters, but also at Islamicizing the wider Shiite public from the bottom up: “examples abound” of parents and siblings adopting the ideology acquired by their juniors at the camps. Of course, Nasrallah’s pose of religious moderation to Al-Akhbar was calculated with Syria in mind; the war next door having at different times dragged the Party in contradictory directions. Early in the conflict, Nasrallah’s speeches could be overtly sectarian, equating Sunnis to the killers of the Imam Hussein at the 680 A.D. Battle of Karbala – the very event that sparked the Sunni-Shiite schism – and, naturally, portraying Shiites as the righteous descendants of the martyr.
But in a landmark February 2013 speech, a new script was born, with Nasrallah suddenly striking an almost neoconservative tone, insisting on the urgency of “confronting terrorism” and warning without a trace of irony that Sunni jihadists in Syria sought “to transform Lebanon into a part of their Islamic state.” This theme, intended to convince the outside world that the pro-Assad camp is the comparatively secular one in Syria, has generally been kept up ever since, though the mask does slip on occasion, like when in a rousing August 2013 appearance Nasrallah thundered, “We are the Shiites of Ali Ibn Abi Talib! […] We are Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamic Party of the Twelfth Imam!”
It will no doubt be argued by ‘realists’ and their kind that the brutality of groups like the IS is orders of magnitude greater than anything done by Hezbollah today – that, whatever its transgressions, the Party doesn’t round up and crucify or behead people, or threaten minority sects with extermination. Which is true enough, even if Hezbollah-trained Shiite fundamentalists in Iraq speak of their desire to ethnically cleanse towns of Sunnis, and even if summary executions and other atrocities committed by Hezbollah in Syria have been documented, as have the killings of opponents at home like Hashem Salman. The point is rather that the very debate over which kind of heavily armed Islamists to prefer over another is a debased and degrading one to begin with. The IS may be the worst of a bad bunch, but it would be a strange sort of ‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’ indeed who would be content with Holocaust-denying totalitarians in their stead.

The Israeli-made Hermes 450 drone downed by Iran over Natanz took off from Azerbaijan
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 27, 2014,
The Israeli Hermes 450 drone downed Aug. 23 over the uranium enrichment facility in central Iran took off from Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Airbase, debkafile’s military and Iranian sources report. Tests by Iranian aviation experts and intelligence personnel indicated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commanders who originally attributed the takeoff to Saudi Arabia spoke too soon.
The Azerbaijani canton of Nakhchivan, bordering Iran, Armenia, and Turkey, hosts a small military airbase. Three years ago, another Hermes 450 used it as a jumping-off point towards Armenia, where the Armenian air defense shot it down. In his Monday Aug. 25 announcement, Revolutionary Guards Air Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said it had not taken to the skies from Israel, but did not specify its provenance. He also fell short of attributing the drone to Israel, announcing only that the plane was an Israeli-made Hermes 450 with an operational range of 800 kilometers. Iran’s Arabic television station Al-Alam displayed parts of the drone on air, but they showed no Israeli identification markings.
Armed with the fact that Israel is 1,100 flying kilometers from Iran, many Israeli military analysts misleadingly went to great lengths to claim that the images offered by the Revolutionary Guards were not of a Hermes 450 or of any aircraft in the service of Israel. Because of its wide-ranging satellite surveillance coverage, the analysts argued, Israel has no need to risk sending a drone armed with classified intelligence systems into Iranian airspace.
These claims simply don’t hold water.
debkafile’s military sources report that the Hermes 450 boasts a range of video and still cameras that can capture extremely high-resolution color images. Thermal imaging devices allow the cameras to operate in poor visibility and almost any weather condition.
Without specifying who dispatched the drone, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Deghan announced that his country would retaliate by supplying arms to Palestinians in the West Bank. He did not detail how these weapons transfers would be carried our, or for which groups they are intended.
According to our sources, this vague response points to frustration in Tehran over its general helplessness in the face of regular drone flights every few weeks from Nakhchivan over its nuclear facilities. The drones measure radioactive levels, data for the accurate calculation of the progress of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Iran has tried for two years to down these drones – without success, with this week’s incident providing a notable exception. Iran has repeatedly attempted to electronically control trespassing UAVs and down them intact, in the same way as they downed a complete American RQ-170 in December 2011. But so far, they have not obtained a complete Israeli drone.
last Saturday, the Iranians shot down the Hermes by means of an anti-air missile ambush, prompting a certain amount of boasting from Tehran. But the UAV was not a stealth craft as the Iranians claimed and much of their crowing is intended to cover up their long record of failure. Indeed, the drone was already 300 km inside Iranian airspace from Nakhchivan before it was detected

The end of the operation: Hamas blinked first
By: Ron Ben-Yishai /Ynetnews
08.27.14/Israel Opinion
No one should be deceived by the rather ostentatious displays of victory on the streets of Gaza, but Israel must be firm in its demands, and its leader should take a good hard look at their own behavior over the past 50 days. In Jerusalem and the Defense Ministry's Kirya compound in Tel Aviv they are rubbing their hands in satisfaction - and quite rightly so. After a short-lived war of attrition of just one week, even without a fresh ground incursion, Hamas blinked first and agreed to the outline of the initial ceasefire proposed the Egyptians - the outline of which it had received before Israel sent its ground troops in weeks ago. Hamas has not even received the "minor agreement" it could have secured eight days ago, before it violated the ceasefire the last time. Israel, however, has not ceded on anything, rather simply agreed to the ceasefire approved by the Cabinet back in mid-July, a few days after the start of Operation Protective Edge.
Even so, I can honestly say that I still do not know if we won or drew against the terrorist organization that initiated this war. Granted, the organization is badly wounded, has had all of its military capabilities taken away and more than a thousand of its fighters lost their lives, but Israel also lost 68 people, most of them soldiers. And yet, there is no satisfactory answer that will ensure the safety of the border communities against mortars, short-range rockets and even anti-tank missiles that could be fired on a bus carrying children to school in the Eshkol Regional Council or the Negev.
The indefinite ceasefire that took effect Tuesday evening is a tactical win that, for the moment, does not guarantee long-term, stable calm for the Western Negev communities or the whole of Israel. It was indeed Hamas who sought the ceasefire, even pleaded for it, but the organization is known to be a serial violator of ceasefires, and the need to hurt and shed the blood of the Israelis has often overcome its survival instinct and concern for the Palestinians under its control.
The Egyptian and Israeli governments did well by demanding a relatively long ceasefire of at least a month before even beginning to discuss Hamas' demands and Israel's counter-demands. Even when the negotiations do begin, we should be prepared for Hamas trying to pressure us to accept its demands by renewing its attacks. Therefore, instead of calling this a "permanent ceasefire", it is more appropriate to call it a "conditional ceasefire".
In this regard, it is important to point out that in addition to the ceasefire that began Tuesday evening, the United States is moving ahead with a Security Council resolution that would anchor the ceasefire in international law and also mention Israel's demilitarization requirements. This process, initiated by the US and the European Union within the framework of the Security Council, serves to reinforce the deal reached by the Egyptians, Hamas and Israel.
It is fair to assume that the Egyptians promised Hamas that the Rafah crossing will be opened as soon as possible, which will give Hamas an incentive to uphold the ceasefire, even if its Qatar-based political leader Khaled Mashal does try to drag it back into a resumption of fire. But Hamas will be interested in maintaining the ceasefire primarily because of the need to rebuild the Gaza Strip from the terrible rubble that remains. One must admit that the Air Force operations of the last eight days and the achievements of Israel's intelligence officials in eradicating Hamas' military wing prevent the need for Israel to send its ground troops back into Gaza to impose a ceasefire while Hamas fell apart, something that would have proven to be very costly indeed.
Another question that Israel will have to address is what to do if and when Hamas or one of the other Gazan factions violates the ceasefire – either by digging a tunnel, manufacturing rockets or planting explosives near the Gaza perimeter fence. If Israel does not respond firmly and decisively to even the slightest breach from this point on, it will lose the deterrence it has achieved in this operation. There would be no point to anything that the Air Force, ground troops and navy have achieved if Israel were to show restraint in the face of any breaches.
Hence, the true test of the ceasefire declared Tuesday evening will not just be whether Hamas, Islamic Jihad and/or the Popular Resistance Committees violate it, but how Israel responds to that first violation. Israel did not respond to violations either after the disengagement in 2005 or following its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and as a result had to wage war a few years later, under more difficult conditions. A similar situation now should be avoided at all costs.
The next test of the ceasefire will be the details of the agreement that the parties will begin to discuss next month. In fact, Israel has several demands of its own: Security arrangements to prevent attacks on the fence, mortar fire and the creation of new tunnels, and stopping Hamas from regrouping. This latter issue has actually already been recently resolved, with the Egyptians destroying the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, and Israel overseeing the humanitarian aid delivered to Gaza via the border crossings.
In the future, when the Rafah crossing is opened, Mahmoud Abbas' inspectors will ensure that weapons and munitions are not transferred from Egypt to Gaza. The question is whether the major agreement will include close inspection of the cement, building materials, pipes and fertilizers brought in to rebuild the economy and demolished buildings of the Gaza Strip so that they are not used to rebuild the tunnels. At this stage, this will be managed by the United Nations and the European inspectors for construction projects in the Strip.
A more serious international monitoring mechanism will have to be devised at some point in the future. As far as Hamas' humanitarian demands go, Israel has no problem in accepting them immediately. This is, of course, provided that materials transferred to ease the suffering of the population, deal with the water shortages and meet the housing needs of those whose homes were destroyed are not used to strengthen Hamas.
In terms of the rehabilitation of Gaza, Israel has a simple equation: Gaza reconstruction for the demilitarization of heavy weapons - rockets, mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and UAVs. Demilitarization should also include the dismantling of facilities used to produce the rockets. For despite what has been said, Israel's demand for demilitarization is not off the table.
But as stated, the tough negotiations over the agreement will take many months and their success will largely determine whether there is a long-term truce or not. Israel has a vested interest in rehabilitating the Strip, even if it takes a decade, as the citizens of Gaza and Hamas would then have something to lose. Hamas has already previously announced that it has agreed in principle to a 40-year hudna (armistice) with Israel. It stipulated, however, that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders.
It is fair to assume that if Gaza is rehabilitated, and the population does have something to lose, even Hamas will keep the hudna - at least for three to five years. A hudna, of course, is more stable than a tahadiyeh (period of calm), and this is what Israel must strive for -without giving up its demand for demilitarization. If the Security Council passes a resolution in the coming days that mentions the demilitarization of Gaza, that would be a real boost to Israel.
One can say, in conclusion, that the operation apparently did achieve its objectives. We do not know yet whether the ceasefire will hold, but if it does, then the operation will definitely have fulfilled its goals. Hamas is militarily and politically weakened, its tunnels destroyed, its rocket production system has suffered a fatal blow - and no one should be impressed by the showy celebrations on the streets of Gaza.
But Israel must take a careful look at itself - especially the government. If the Cabinet had previously ordered the IDF to enter and destroy the tunnels, which they knew about before June 2014, we might have had far fewer casualties and a shorter operation. The Cabinet had not taken into account, although they knew about it, the greatest threat posed yet to the border communities nor taken steps to evacuate them. The defense minister, prime minister and chief of staff made a mistake by not ordering the evacuation of children and anyone not required for the essential maintenance of those communities.
The Israeli government evacuated communities during and after the War of Independence, and there was no reason why little Daniel Tregerman had die so tragically from shrapnel wounds. The outrageous behavior of members of the Cabinet and the mutual exchanges of verbal fire between Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers severely hampered Israel's deterrence capabilities, possibly unnecessarily extended the war and even caused a sense of lack of purpose as they gnawed away at our national strength and bolstered Hamas' desire to keep going.
The campaign is not over, it has just moved to the political, diplomatic and international judiciary arenas. With that in mind, it is still too early to declare mission accomplished, and we may well only be praising the outcome of Operation Protective Edge years down the line.

An open letter to Iraq’s PM-designate Abadi
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Firstly, we congratulate you on your new mission and pray to God to help you take on difficult responsibilities in this critical phase in history. The legacy of your predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, is undoubtedly a difficult one.
Maliki was handed a unified Iraq, but has since left it fragmented.
Cities such as Mosul have fallen victim to the occupation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and to awful sectarianism.
Iraq now tops the list of corrupt countries, where injustice, poverty and a huge disparity in income prevail. Iraq’s internal affairs were run from other capitals, all in exchange for keeping Maliki in power.
In short, the desire to cling onto power came at the expense of principle, destroying lives and the state in the process.
Mr. Haidar al-Abadi, you have good intentions to bring unity back to Iraq, but more needs to be done, especially since you enjoy an unprecedented level of support, both internally and internationally, from bodies such as the United Nations. This support gives you the green light to take the lead and enforce difficult decisions to stop others from trying to obstruct the development process.
The attack against a Sunni mosque in the Diyala province, believed to be carried out by Shiite militias, highlights the complicated challenges and conspiracies that hinder government formation efforts and threaten to push the country into a horrific bloody conflict.
Mr. Haidar al-Abadi, you have good intentions to bring unity back to Iraq, but more needs to be done
Allow me, as an external observer with a strong passion toward Iraq’s history and its sacrifices and as someone who believes that Iraq belongs solely to the Arab world, to say the following:
•Coexistence among sects and religions should be reinforced since these various groups have always lived together in harmony. Comprehensive political policies must enforce equality among Iraqi regardless of sect or ethnicity.
•Enhancing a democratic system that focuses on equality will undoubtedly protect the state from the perils of power-hungry leaders in the future.
•Allocating positions of power based on sect will only have a negative influence on the country. Lebanon is a clear example of this. Politicians should, instead, be appointed based on their qualifications and integrity and not their religious affiliations. There needs to be a strong system of accountability for abuse of power and financial corruption.
•The government should prioritize development plans, as well as provide citizens with a decent living. Poverty, unemployment and the deterioration of basic services and infrastructure all point to the government’s lack of development planning. Solving these problems will reconcile Iraqis with their government more than any military solution ever will.
•Iraq needs to turn over a new leaf by letting go of revenge-based agendas. By this, I do not mean ignoring the major corruption that took place. A court of high integrity should be formed to hold criminals accountable and take back state property. Forgiveness is not synonymous with compromising the basic tenets of law.
•People’s needs and opinions should be discussed, even if this includes a call toward a federal state. This is a valid option that has been considered successful in many countries that have taken up such a choice. In short, power of consensus should be the ultimate deciding factor. No one should claim they have the ultimate answer.
•Iraq is an Arab country. It was the cradle of Islamic civilization for centuries and it will forever remain Arab. As such, strong and honest relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and Arabic countries is in Iraq’s interest. One of the major mistakes Maliki committed is burning important bridges with key Arab countries, while alienating others.
The fundamentals of politics dictate keeping a minimum channel of contact open. Maliki bet all his money on Iran, which eventually deserted him.
Hours after Mosul fell, the Iraqi army lost confidence in its army and its spirit was weakened by Maliki’s sectarian policies. As such, Iraq is in need of a strong, united army to eliminate militias. The Arab world is witnessing one of the toughest times in its modern history. Things began to unravel in Iraq from the time the country occupied Kuwait. It was then that hidden agendas were revealed.
Still, Iraq may be able to regain its leadership role, first by building a unified and cohesive society and then by moving toward a greater regional Arab role that will hopefully restore some of our losses and much of our dignity.