December 10/14

Bible Quotation For Today//Clergymen are God’s Servants & must be blameless
Titus 01/I, Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,  and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.  One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith  and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 09-10/14
ISIS: The product of Syria’s cult culture/Halla Diyab/Al Arabiya/December 09-10/14

Saudi Cabinet Changes Suggest Domestic Discontent/Simon Henderson/December 09/14

Israel air strikes wiped out Russian hardware for thwarting US no-fly zone plan over Syria/DEBKAfile/December 09/14
Freezing the Syrian Crisis/Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Al Awsat/December 09/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 09-10/14
Future wants to expedite dialogue with Hezbollah
Bahrain FM Accuses Hizbullah of Killing of Policeman in Damistan
Shishani's Wife Referred to General Security as Baghdadi's Divorcee Kept in Custody
STL to Include Jumblat, Journalist Ali Hamadeh to List of Witnesses in Hariri Assassination
Rifi Criticizes Arrest of Women, Children as Nusra Says Crisis Cell Endangering Lives of Captives
Army Kicks Off Military Operation on Outskirts of Arsal, Causing Casualties in Ranks of Militants
Report: Nusra Captures Three Hizbullah Fighters in Qalamun
Source: No Hezbollah captives in Nusra's hands
Lebanon indicts Baghdadi’s ex-wife
Israel set to keep targeting Hezbollah arms
STL: Jumblatt to testify on Hariri assassination

Tempo of Army offensive on militants increases
Jumblatt to discuss appointment of Muslim Scholars
Report: Indirect Talks between FPM, LF Leaders under Bkirki's Auspices
State does not oppose swap deal: Muslim Scholars
Girault Continues Meetings with Officials, Presidential Elections a Focal Point

Kahwagi, Fletcher discuss border monitoring project
Report: Army Averted Strife in Bekaa after Bazzal's Death, Slams Attempts Create Division with ISF
Jumblat Urges 'Unconditional' Swap as Muslim Scholars Seek Pledge on Halting Executions
Aoun Vows to Stay in Presidential Race if Negotiations are Not on 'Republic Survival'
Beauty parlor investigated for cosmetic blunder

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 09-10/14
Vatican: Bishops should be led by pope on family
Islamic Extremism, Oil Slump to Dominate Gulf Summit
Senate Report Says CIA Misled Congress, White House over 'Brutal' Interrogations
Hagel in Iraq as US sees momentum against ISIS
Amnesty Says Saudi Extended Detention of Women Driving Activists
Rights Groups Urge Release of Abducted Syria Activists
Iraqi PM Appeals to U.S. for More Air Raids, Weapons
U.N. Envoy Holds 'Constructive' Talks with Syria Rebels
Israel Says Arrested U.S. Man Planning Anti-Muslim Attacks
Bomb Kills One, Wounds Another in Bahrain
Saudi Executes 77 Drug Traffickers this Year

Abu Qatada directs fierce criticism against ISIS
UAE hands long jail terms to 11 Islamists
King of Saudi Arabia orders major cabinet reshuffle
Houthis and Al-Hirak leader seek two-region federal Yemen: sources
Egyptian cleric Qaradawi denounces Interpol arrest warrant

Jihad Watch Site Posts For Monday
Upper Egypt: Christian Copts pay 120 million Egyptian pounds in ransom money

Raymond Ibrahim: Ten Ways the Mafia and Islam are Similar
Islamic State releases pamphlet justifying sex slavery of infidel women
Taliban indoctrinates kids with jihadist textbooks paid for by the U.S.
Palestinian” atheist imprisoned, beaten for criticism of Islam
Montreal: Muslim arrested on terror charges after arriving from Tunisia
UK Home Office using theatre workshops to stop Muslim “radicalization”
Feminist blisters Reza Aslan for claiming women have equality in many Muslim countries
Video: Jihadis bemoan the “cunning and mighty TSA”
Iraq: UK jihadi murders dozens in jihad suicide bombing at police meeting
UK: Sikh teacher forced out by Muslims for teaching British values
Muslim preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Jews: “We shall slaughter you”

Vatican: Bishops should be led by pope on family
Nicole Winfield| Associated Press/Dec. 09, 2014
VATICAN CITY: The Vatican urged bishops Tuesday to be guided by Pope Francis and the "turning point" of a recent meeting on family issues that sought to provide better pastoral care for gay and divorced Catholics and those living in civil unions.
The Vatican just sent a new questionnaire to bishops' conferences around the world seeking input on a host of family issues. Their responses will help form the basis of debate for the next stage of Francis' agenda: A big October meeting of top churchmen who will make final recommendations to Francis about how the Catholic Church can better tend to its families. Among other things, the questionnaire asked how the church can care for families with gay children and discern "positive and negative elements" in heterosexual civil unions.
It asked how the church can better provide sacraments for Catholics who divorce and remarry outside the church to avoid "unnecessary" impediments. Church teaching holds that without an annulment, or a church decree that the first marriage was null, these Catholics are living in sin and thus ineligible to receive communion. Francis has sought to end what he calls "de facto excommunication" for these Catholics, and the issue was a source of debate during the first family synod last October. More progressive bishops want an opening in current practice, while conservative ones don't want to see any change. The new questionnaire urges bishops to "let yourselves be guided by the pastoral turning point that the extraordinary synod began to sketch out, rooting itself in Vatican II and the magisterium of Pope Francis."
The October 2014 synod was marked by deep divisions over how to welcome gays and Catholics not living in sacramental marriages while also insisting on church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage between man and woman.-

STL: Jumblatt to testify on Hariri assassination
Kareem Shaheen| The Daily Star/Dec. 09, 2014 /BEIRUT: Judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Tuesday that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt would be allowed to testify in The Hague about the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Jumblatt, a close ally of Hariri and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, has indicated in the past that he would be willing to testify before the U.N.-backed tribunal. Judge David Re, the president of the trial chamber, ruled that Jumblatt’s evidence, which will cover the breakdown of relations between Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad, was relevant to the case and could help clarify the motive behind the assassination. Judges also allowed the prosecution to summon Ali Hamade, a journalist at An-Nahar newspaper and confidante of Hariri, to testify. The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and led to protests that ended Syria’s tutelage over its smaller neighbor. Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted in the case, but prosecutors are now focusing on Syria’s role in destabilizing Lebanon ahead of the assassination.

Bahrain FM Accuses Hizbullah of Killing of Policeman in Damistan
Naharnet /Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa blamed on Tuesday Hizbullah for the attack that killed a policeman in the town of Damistan, southwest of Manama. "Another policeman falls martyr in Bahrain," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "He was killed by a bomb made by Hizbullah, the terrorist party". The interior ministry had said Tuesday one policeman was killed in a "terrorist" attack in Damistan. The attack occurred Monday night in Damistan, southwest of Manama, while the officer was "doing his duty", the ministry said, adding that an investigation was under way. Security forces set up a cordon around Damistan and tightened checks on the road leading to the village, residents said. It was the first deadly attack on the security forces since parliamentary elections in November, boycotted by the main Shiite opposition group which is calling for democratic reforms in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. The vote was the first in the Gulf state since Sunni authorities crushed pro-democracy protests led by the majority Shiites in 2011.
The main opposition Al-Wefaq movement quickly distanced itself from the Damistan attack, reaffirming its "rejection" of violence in a statement. Attacks against the security forces have increased this year, with three policemen, including one from the UAE, killed in a bomb attack in a Shiite area on March 3. Another policeman was killed in a bomb attack in a Shiite village in February during protests marking the third anniversary of the protest movement. Small but strategic Bahrain, home base of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years after the month-long protests. Agence France Presse
STL to Include Jumblat, Journalist Ali Hamadeh to List of Witnesses in Hariri Assassination
Naharnet/The Special Tribunal for Lebanon's Trial Chamber decided on Tuesday to include Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat and journalist Ali Mohammed Hamadeh to the Prosecution's list of witnesses in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Trial Chamber assessed that Jumblat and Hamadeh can provide evidence in the case due to their contact with the slain premier before his death. Some members of the Defense objected to the inclusion, saying that it will hamper the proceedings of the trial, while others did not oppose it. Presiding Judge David Re however said that the Trial Chamber believes that the inclusion will not impede the trial. The Prosecution is still compiling the documents linked to summoning Jumblat and Hamadeh. They will be not be summoned before 2015, said Re. Jumblat's name was frequently mentioned by MP Marwan Hamadeh while providing his testimony before the court. The MP then concluded his testimony before the Prosecution, recounting the last day he saw Hariri, minutes before his assassination on February 14, 2005. Legal Representative of the Victims Peter Haynes then began the questioning of Hamadeh as a victim of an assassination attempt. He described the details of the attempt against his life on October 1, 2004 and the injuries he sustained. The Defense however objected to the amount of details Haynes went into in his questioning of the injuries, saying that it detracts from the main case of Hariri's assassination. Re agreed, urging Haynes to move on to other issues. Hamadeh then discussed his relationship with the Hariri family before and after the former premier's assassination, as well as life in Lebanon after February 14, 2005. “Life in Lebanon changed after the attack,” he said. “The attempt against my life is a minor detail. Our lives turned from a normal one to a worsening hell,” he added. He then spoke of the political divide that emerged following the March 8 and March 14, 2005 demonstrations, the former in support of Syria and the latter in opposition to it, saying that this division persists to this day.

Future wants to expedite dialogue with Hezbollah
Dec. 10, 2014
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The parliamentary Future bloc called Tuesday for starting a long-awaited dialogue with Hezbollah with the aim of ending the 6-month-old presidential vacuum and defusing sectarian and political tensions fueled by the war in Syria.
Meanwhile, the new EU foreign policy chief called after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam for the election of a new president.
Salam is scheduled to begin a four-day official visit to Paris Wednesday for talks with President Francois Hollande and other senior French officials on the situation in Lebanon, including the presidential deadlock, the Syrian refugee crisis and regional developments, a source close to the premier told The Daily Star.
Salam, accompanied by Deputy premier and Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, is also expected to discuss with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian military cooperation between the two countries and the implementation of a $3 billion Saudi gift to equip the Lebanese Army with French weapons.
His visit comes as Jean-François Girault, head of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department, ended a two-day trip to Lebanon Tuesday during which he had met with the country’s top leaders and rival politicians to urge them to accelerate the election of a president. He also said France was ready to facilitate an agreement on the election of a president.
Before his departure Tuesday, Girault held talks with MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, and Ammar Musawi, Hezbollah’s official in charge of international relations.
The Future bloc lamented the continued vacuum in the presidency post and the aggravating crises at various levels.
Despite its staunch opposition to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and its arsenal, the bloc voiced support for the planned talks with the Shiite party in a bid to facilitate the election of a president and reduce sectarian tensions.
“Although it is fully convinced that there are several thorny issues in the relationship with Hezbollah concerning its arms and its involvement in the war in Syria ... the bloc, aware of the increased dangers surrounding Lebanon, aggravated by the failure to elect a president, underlines the importance of starting contacts with Hezbollah for dialogue aimed at opening the horizons of consensus to end the presidential vacancy, and subsequently elect a new president,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
“The election of a president will lead to a quick return of all constitutional institutions, and consequently help in reducing tensions in the country and paving the way for confronting the worsening crises at various levels,” it added.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been pushing for the Future-Hezbollah talks, said he was fully assured about the outcome of the dialogue.
Berri, according to visitors, said he hoped a preliminary session of the planned dialogue would be held before the end of the year. “There is no retreat from commitment to dialogue by the two sides.”
On his meeting with Girault, Berri said the French official did not carry any initiative to break the presidential deadlock but stressed the need to quickly elect a president.
Berri said Girault briefed him on the results of his recent visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Vatican to discuss the Lebanese crisis.
Meanwhile, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, vowed the EU’s support to help Lebanon meet security and political challenges linked to the Syria conflict.
“We in the European Union realize that Lebanon is going through difficult times in terms of security challenges, particularly on the border [with Syria] and inside its territory due to the fallout of the crisis in Syria and due to the challenges caused by extremists on its territory. Lebanon needs support,” Mogherini told reporters after meeting Salam at the Grand Serail. The meeting was attended by Angelina Eichhorst, EU’s ambassador to Lebanon.
She said she had assured Salam of EU’s support for Lebanon to cope with the challenge of more than 1 million Syrian refugees on its territory.
The EU official said she discussed with Salam internal issues, including the presidential deadlock. She underlined the need for the rival factions move ahead to reach results over the presidential election.
Noting that the election of a president is a matter of international and European concern, Mogherini said: “We will provide all support in order for Lebanon to overcome its crisis, thus allowing Parliament to hold new elections.”
Mogherini said that her visit serves to express the EU’s deep ties to the Lebanese people as well as its state institutions.
Before leaving Wednesday, Mogherini will meet with several officials and discuss the role the EU plays in supporting Lebanon during this critical phase.
For his part, Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, who has refused to withdraw from the presidential race, said he was ready to negotiate to save the republic.
“The election of a president is a purely Lebanese issue. I am ready to negotiate for the sake of the republic, or else I am staying in the [presidential] battle,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc in Rabieh, north of Beirut.“The problem is not about electing someone to the presidency of the republic. Our problem is about electing a republic and the survival of this republic.”
Aoun’s comments came in response to March 14 accusations that he was not ready to accept anyone other than himself in the country’s top Christian post.
He rejected foreign interference in the presidential vote. “The problem cannot be resolved anywhere [in the world,] it can only be resolved on Lebanese land,” Aoun noted. He said his political rival, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, was welcome in Rabieh.
The FPM leader criticized the performance of Lebanon’s political leaders, stressing that the positive items of the 1989 Taif Accord, which he had opposed, were never implemented. “There is no equal share of power in Parliament or in [government] posts. There is no partnership and no electoral law that respects the National Reconciliation Charter,” Aoun said, referring to the Taif Accord.

Girault Continues Meetings with Officials, Presidential Elections a Focal Point
Naharnet /The series of meetings held by the director of the department of the Middle East and North Africa at the French Foreign Ministry, Jean-François Girault, with Lebanese officials since his arrival indirectly backed the election of MP Robert Ghanem as Lebanon's president, reported al-Akhbar daily.
On Tuesday, Girault continued his meetings with Lebanese politicians. He met with former President Michel Suleiman who praised “any effort that would lead to attending a parliament session to elect a president.”
Later the Frech diplomat met with the Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, and afterwards with Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel.
Gemayel said after talks with Girault that “we should exert efforts locally to elect a new president otherwise all foreign efforts are useless.”Since his arrival, Girault held meetings with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, former PM Najib Miqati, al-Mustaqbal bloc head MP Fouad Saniora, Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat.
The diplomat is also expected to meet with Hizbullah's International Relations Officer Ammar al-Moussawi.
According to unnamed sources, “Girault has raised a profile of the next president very much close to that of MP Ghanem,” basing his suggestions on the “lack of opportunities for Geagea and Aoun which presses the necessity to find another candidate without requiring a constitutional amendment.”
The French official arrived in Beirut on Sunday for meetings with Lebanese leaders to discuss the thorny file of the presidential elections, media reports said.
The only statement made by Girault was after his meeting with Salam, when he stressed that: “France is concerned about the presidential vacuum in Lebanon,” and that it is exerting all efforts to help the nation cross that stage.
Sources close to the Lebanese officials that met Girault said that months ago when France discussed the issue of the presidential elections in Lebanon with Iran, the latter used to say that there is still plenty of time, the daily added.
But the new Iranian initiative kicked off three weeks ago when Tehran contacted France and expressed interest in the presidential elections which encouraged the French side to start consultations with Lebanese officials. Lebanon has been left without a president since May, when the tenure of President Michel Suleiman ended, because of sharp differences between the rival March 8 and March 14 alliances.

Aoun Vows to Stay in Presidential Race if Negotiations are Not on 'Republic Survival'
Naharnet /Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun on Tuesday called for negotiating with him over “the survival of the republic,” stressing that he will not withdraw from the presidential race if there is no “key change in the practices of power.”
“The problem is not over electing a certain person as president of the republic but rather over 'electing the republic' and the survival of the republic,” Aoun told reporters after the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc in Rabieh.
“I will only negotiate with anyone according to this principle, or else I will stay in the (electoral) race,” he added. Aoun is still the candidate of the March 8 camp in the face of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the nominee of the March 14 forces. The rivalry between the two men has led to a lack of quorum in 15 electoral sessions in parliament, amid a boycott by the MPs of Aoun and Hizbullah. The presidential seat has been vacant since president Michel Suleiman's term ended on May 25. “Upon every attempt to form a new government, we faced the same problem. They said we didn't have the right to obtain a sovereign ministerial portfolio or high-ranking posts in state administrations,” Aoun lamented. “There is no equal power-sharing in the parliament. There is no partnership or balance and there is no electoral law that respects the stipulations of the Document (of National Accord). There is no balance in implementing the developmental projects, and in short, the main articles of Taef (Accord) are not being implemented,” the FPM leader decried. Warning that the situation in the country is “critical,” Aoun noted that foreign bank deposits “will start diminishing in Lebanon if there is no key change in the practices of power.” “What can justify this deterioration in practicing power? The (Taef) Accord will not remain in place if its stipulations are not being respected,” he cautioned. “Why haven't we extracted oil until now? Why haven't we built a gas pipeline? Is it because it costs $400 million and can generate $1 billion in revenues? Why has our deficit in the electricity sector reached $28 billion?” Aoun wondered. “Why don't we have water? How can our homeland survive if we continue in this manner? The Taef Accord was not implemented and the malicious approach is not ethical,” he went on to say. Aoun vowed to keep struggling “until the last moment” against any foreign interference, noting that any hegemony “is not in Lebanon's interest.” “We are ready for negotiations and our history is a guarantee for all citizens,” he added.

Shishani's Wife Referred to General Security as Baghdadi's Divorcee Kept in Custody
Naharnet /The Military Court on Tuesday referred the wife of top jihadist militant Anas Sharkas, aka Abu Ali al-Shishani, to the General Security, as it issued an arrest warrant for Saja al-Dulaimi, a detained divorcee of Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Military Court chief Brig. Gen. Khalil Ibrahim confirmed to state-run National News Agency that “arrest warrants were issued for al-Dulaimi and he Palestinian husband,” denying reports that they had been referred to the General Security. Ibrahim's remarks were echoed by Muslim Scholars Committee chief Sheikh Salem al-Rafehi, who quoted Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi as saying that only Ola al-Oqaili, al-Shishani's wife, was referred to the General Security. According to Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Saja al-Dulaimi is an Iraqi national who had been married to al-Baghdadi in the past. Their daughter, Hajar, was also arrested by the army. Al-Dulaimi, her Palestinian husband and Hajar were arrested at a checkpoint on al-Madfoun Bridge in the North. The arrest took place last month and was kept a secret until the media put it out to public. Ola al-Oqaili, the wife of Sharkas, was arrested two months after her surveillance. She was apprehended along with her brother Rakan in the Zgharta area of Hilan in northern Lebanon at a public school hosting Syrian refugees. In retaliation to the arrest, Sharkas, aka Abu Ali al-Shishani, threatened to start kidnapping the wives and children of soldiers until the Lebanese authorities release his spouse and two children, announcing the suspension of negotiations in the case of the abducted servicemen.
The soldiers and policemen were abducted when militants from the two groups briefly overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. The fighters withdrew after a truce negotiated by clerics, but took with them 30 hostages, four of whom have been executed.

Report: Indirect Talks between FPM, LF Leaders under Bkirki's Auspices

Naharnet /An inter-Christian dialogue kicked off recently to bridge the gap between the rival parties, in particular, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces. Ad Diyar newspaper reported on Tuesday that Maronite General Council Chairman former Minister Wadih Khazen is carrying indirect contacts between FPM chief Michel Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea to reach common grounds on controversial issues, especially the presidential elections. The daily said that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi is closely following up the talks, which could develop into bilateral meetings at Bkirki or talks between the four Maronite leaders, Aoun, Geagea, Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel, and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh. The presidential post has been empty since May 25, when former president Michel Suleiman's term ended. Regional divisions and political stalemate in the country's parliament have left lawmakers unable to agree on a successor.

Army Kicks Off Military Operation on Outskirts of Arsal, Causing Casualties in Ranks of Militants
Naharnet/The Lebanese Army carried out precautionary military operations against posts controlled by gunmen on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal and the Lebanese al-Qalamoun region, the state-run National News Agency reported on Tuesday.
According to NNA, the military operation was carried out in the towns of Mar Tayba, Wadi Mira, al-Rahwa, Wadi al-Khayl and Wadi Hmeid. Army helicopters and surveillance planes accompanied the movement of soldiers that inflicted casualties in the ranks of gunmen after illegal crossings were blocked with sand barricades, the news agency reported. The military also prevented the wounded from entering the town of Arsal, except for Mohammed Hassan al-Hujeiri, who was wounded along with his family members in a room used by gunmen in Wadi Ajram. NNA said earlier that three people were killed and two others were injured in a raid by Syrian planes on the outskirts of Arsal in a shelling that directly targeted a house in al-Ajram area. However, al-Nusra Front issued a statement accusing a Lebanese drone of targeting the house of Mohammed Hujeiri. The group said that Hujeiri and one of his children were killed while his wife and the remaining children were injured. Arsal Municipality chief Ali Hujeiri told An Nahar newspaper published on Tuesday that warplanes raided the house of shepherd Mohammed Hussein Hujeiri, without confirming the number of casualties or the side responsible for the attack. The town's peripheries have come under frequent Syrian raids ever since the revolt erupted in March 2011 in the neighboring county. Arsal has become a key conduit for refugees, rebels and wounded people fleeing strife-torn Syria. The border posts went up several weeks ago in the town, which was briefly overrun in August by Islamic State group and al-Nusra jihadists. After days of clashes with Lebanese troops, the jihadists withdrew into the mountains along the border following a truce negotiated by clerics. But they took with them security force members as hostages. Four have been executed and a fifth died of wounds sustained during the clashes.

Report: Nusra Captures Three Hizbullah Fighters in Qalamun
Naharnet /Al-Nusra Front reportedly captured three Hizbullah fighters in the border region of Qalamun in Syria, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Tuesday. The daily identified the three Hizbullah members as Hassan Mansour, Ali al-Husseini and Mohammed Abbas. However, Hizbullah didn't deny or confirm the report. Hizbullah has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian regime against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad. Regime forces recaptured most of the Qalamun region in April, with many rebel fighters withdrawing from the strategic area or slipping across the border in Lebanon. But pockets of opposition fighters, including jihadists, have remained in the mountainous region.

Rifi Criticizes Arrest of Women, Children as Nusra Says Crisis Cell Endangering Lives of Captives
Naharnet/The crisis cell tackling the case of the Arsal captives focused during its latest meeting on the arrest of women and children linked to the Islamist kidnappers, reported As Safir newspaper on Tuesday. Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told the daily: “I was clear that I am against the arrest of any man, woman, or child. I support the arrest of a perpetrator no matter who he may be.”He added that he will not divulge further details of the crisis cell talks in order to maintain the secrecy of the government efforts to release the soldiers and policemen abducted from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. Meanwhile, the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front, one of the groups behind the servicemen's kidnapping, announced via Twitter on Monday that the crisis cell “is claiming that it seeks to save the lives of the captives.”“The cell however is starting to head down a path that may threaten their lives due to its excuses over the so-called dignity of the state,” it added. The government has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front to release the detainees. A Muslim Scholars Committee delegation had held talks on Monday with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan to tackle the case of the captives. It had requested that the government officially task it with negotiating the release of the detainees, while demanding that direct negotiations be held. Daryan told As Safir that the Committee's initiative should be presented to cabinet in order to avoid “losing the plot” over how to tackle the affair.The issue should be proposed to cabinet and the crisis cell, he added, while voicing his solidarity with the families of the captives and urging intensifying efforts to release them. Sources monitoring the situation told An Nahar daily Tuesday that consensus will not be reached at cabinet over the Committee's request therefore ruling out the possibility that it will be officially tasked with tackling the affair. It also ruled out the possibility that “an open swap would be held, especially since the kidnappers are demanding the release of dangerous terrorist detainees, such as Omar al-Atrash and Naim Abbas.”
The Muslim Scholars Committee is meanwhile scheduled to continue its talks with officials by meeting with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Rifi, General Security chief General Abbas Ibrahim, and head of the Military Tribunal Khalil Ibrahim. Ministerial sources had revealed to An Nahar that Prime Minister Tammam Salam is likely to chair an extraordinary cabinet session to address the Arsal captives case ahead of his planned trip to Paris on Wednesday. Lebanese authorities have arrested a divorcee and child of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They have also apprehended the wife and two children of another militant commander in Syria, Abu Ali al-Shishani.

Report: Army Averted Strife in Bekaa after Bazzal's Death, Slams Attempts Create Division with ISF
Naharnet/The army exerted “all possible efforts” to prevent strife in the eastern Bekaa region in the wake of the execution of policeman Ali al-Bazzal, a military source told al-Joumhouria newspaper on Tuesday. He said: “Tensions were very high in the area, but they calmed after the army intelligence carried out contacts with local political and religious authorities.”Coordination is ongoing, “at the highest levels,” between the army, Internal Security Forces, the ISF Intelligence Bureau, and military intelligence. “Some sides are attempting to create divisions between the army, ISF, and other state security agencies,” he noted. Commenting on efforts to release the servicemen kidnapped by Islamist gunmen from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August, the military source said: “Negotiating their release is in the hands of the government.”He refuted to al-Joumhouria claims that the military institutions “have abandoned their sons because they did not play a direct role in the negotiations.” “Military Intelligence chief Brigadier General Edmond Fadel is taking part in the crisis cell meetings on the case and the army is carrying out raids and arrests against suspects,” it added. “The military holds strong negotiation cards to place in the hands of the government,” it explained. “This indicates that we are doing the impossible to release our sons,” the source said. “Being dragged towards strife is forbidden and we are therefore doing all we can to thwart the schemes of terrorists,” he stressed. Tensions were high over the weekend following the execution of Ali al-Bazzal, one of the servicemen abducted by the Islamic State and al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Angry protesters in his hometown of al-Bazzalieh blocked roads in the area in order to cut off aid to the outskirts of Arsal, where the servicemen are reportedly being held. Assaults were reported against Syrian refugee encampments in the Bekaa and the northern region of Akkar over the weekend.

Jumblat Urges 'Unconditional' Swap as Muslim Scholars Seek Pledge on Halting Executions

Naharnet /Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat reiterated Tuesday from the Riad al-Solh Square his support for a swap deal in the case of the captive servicemen who are being held by jihadist groups. “My stance is clear and it's similar to that of (Speaker) Nabih Berri -- I support an unconditional swap deal,” Jumblat said after a brief meeting with the families of the hostage troops and policemen in Riad al-Solh. Noting that he is in favor of tasking the Muslim Scholars Committee with negotiating a swap deal with the kidnappers, Jumblat revealed that a delegation from the Committee will visit him in the afternoon. “We have hope in God and in MP Jumblat, who has promised us to follow up on the case with the needed speed in order to safeguard the lives of the servicemen,” the families said after meeting the PSP leader. “Jumblat has not rejected any negotiator and he was modest enough to visit us in person in order to feel our pain on the ground,” one of the relatives said. Earlier on Tuesday, a delegation from the Muslim Scholars Committee held talks with Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi. “A lot of the (Islamist) detainees (in Lebanese prisons) have suffered major injustice, and had the youths been released from the very beginning, we would not have reached such developments in the case of” the abducted servicemen, Committee chief Sheikh Salem al-Rafehi said after the meeting. He said talks focused on “the arbitrary arrest of Sunni youths, the thing that pushes some of them to extremism and to losing confidence in the state.” “They are facing insults in prisons and they have the impression that there is discrimination against them. There must be justice and this thing must be the demand of all politicians, so that our sons can feel that they are the sons of this country,” Rafehi added. He claimed that the northeastern border town of Arsal is “besieged nowadays due to the procrastination in the case of the abductees.”“The justice minister told us that (Abu Ali) al-Shishani's wife (Ola al-Oqaili) is not facing any charges and that she will be referred to the General Security before being released a few hours later,” Rafehi revealed. Referring to another detained woman, the divorcee of Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, the cleric added: “If it turns out that the sister Saja (al-Dulaimi) is not involved in any offenses, who will bear the responsibility of the blood of the (executed) soldier Ali al-Bazzal?” “It will be those who took the decision to arrest her without evidence and without asking the judicial authority,” he went on to say. “Upon the release of al-Oqaili and al-Dulaimi, we would exert strenuous efforts to obtain a pledge from the Qalamun-based armed groups that they will totally stop the executions,” Rafehi added. The extremist al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups have so far executed four captive servicemen while around 27 troops and policemen are still in their custody. The servicemen were taken hostage during deadly clashes with the Lebanese army in and around Arsal in early August.Following negotiations involving several parties, Qatar announced Monday that its mediator Ahmed al-Khatib was ending his endeavor, shortly after al-Nusra announced the execution of Ali al-Bazzal.

Senate Report Says CIA Misled Congress, White House over 'Brutal' Interrogations
Naharnet/The CIA's interrogation of al-Qaida suspects was far more brutal than acknowledged and did not produce useful intelligence, a damning and long-delayed U.S. Senate report said Tuesday. The Central Intelligence Agency also misled the White House and Congress with inaccurate claims about the program's usefulness in thwarting attacks, the Senate Intelligence Committee said. As the 500-page declassified summary of the committee's report was released, President Barack Obama admitted that the CIA's actions had been counterproductive and "contrary to our values." Current CIA director John Brennan defended his agency's adoption of tough tactics under the president George W. Bush in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks on U.S. cities.
He insisted that, while mistakes were made, brutal techniques like waterboarding "did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives." U.S. embassies were on alert as committee chair Senator Dianne Feinstein pushed ahead with publication, despite Secretary of State John Kerry warning that it could provoke anger around the world. The summary is the most extensive detailing of the CIA's brutal interrogation of al-Qaida suspects yet, although Obama admitted in August that: "We tortured some folks. Feinstein told the Senate that at least 119 individuals were subjected to "coercive interrogation techniques, in some cases amounting to torture." The detainees were rounded up by U.S. operatives beginning in 2001 after al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon and through to 2009.  They were interrogated either at CIA-run secret prisons in allied nations or at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Feinstein said some around the world "will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence."  "We can't prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law, and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say 'never again'." While heavily redacted, the report is damning. "The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others," it said. The report -- a review of more than six million pages of documents -- concluded "the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation." Seven of the 39 detainees known to have been subjected to the enhanced interrogations "produced no intelligence while in CIA custody," while others "provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques."
The report noted that in many cases "there was no relationship" between cited counterterrorism successes and information obtained during the enhanced interrogation. "In the remaining cases, the CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee 'as a result' of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques."Since coming to office in 2009, Obama has sought to distance the United States from past deeds and outlawed harsh interrogation. In April, Feinstein's committee voted overwhelmingly to release the severely critical executive summary and 20 conclusions of the secret document. But first the lawmakers had to negotiate with the White House on redactions -- something Feinstein pledged to do. The undertaking caused deep friction between the intelligence community and the lawmakers and Senate staffers. "We've declassified as much of that report as we can," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. "The president believes that on principle it's important to release that report so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired." The State Department h as put its missions around the world on watch, and asked them to review security arrangements ahead of the report's release. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill supports the report's release, calling it "a gut check moment for our democracy." Former Bush vice president Dick Cheney staunchly defended the interrogation program, telling The New York Times it was "absolutely, totally justified." "When we had that program in place, we kept the country safe from any more mass casualty attacks, which was our objective," he said. But rights advocates hailed the exposure of the secret program. Human Rights Watch national security counsel Laura Pitter said: "We hope the release of the summary will be the beginning, not the end, of investigations into U.S. torture to ensure it never happens again."Agence France Presse

Islamic Extremism, Oil Slump to Dominate Gulf Summit
Naharnet/Leaders of energy-rich Gulf monarchies meet on Tuesday to hammer out a common strategy to fight the threat from Islamic extremism and plunging oil prices. The newly reconciled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is gathering for its annual summit in Qatar, whose support for the Muslim Brotherhood caused months of acrimony with fellow members Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. "The simple fact that the annual summit is taking place is already a success," a Qatari official told Agence France Presse, alluding to earlier doubts about the event being convened in Doha. The leaders of GCC members, which also include Kuwait and Oman, are also expected to discuss relations with neighboring Iran, economic integration as well as unrest in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The summit, which is due to start at around 6pm (1500 GMT), has been shortened to just one day, from two previously scheduled, according to organizers who gave no reason for the reduction. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have returned their ambassadors to Qatar after recalling them in March in protest at Doha's perceived interference in their internal affairs with its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar is still providing shelter for many Brotherhood leaders, especially from Egypt. Security issues are likely to dominate the Doha summit. Most GCC states are members of the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria. Saudi and UAE warplanes have carried out a number of raids on IS targets while Kuwait has provided logistical support to the coalition. The summit will study steps to implement an earlier decision to form a joint military command, based in Riyadh, to coordinate regional military cooperation and achieve "defense integration", according to the GCC secretariat. It will also consider the establishment of a naval force to be stationed in Bahrain and a joint police force with its headquarters in the UAE. Another key issue is the plummeting price of oil, which makes up around 90 percent of GCC public revenues. The price of oil has fallen by about 40 percent since June, putting GCC states at risk of losing about $300 billion in income compared with last year's oil revenue of $730 billion. Oil prices have extended their losses since OPEC kept its production unchanged last month, under pressure from Gulf members led by Saudi Arabia seeking to defend their market shares. Agence France Presse

Amnesty Says Saudi Extended Detention of Women Driving Activists
Naharnet/Saudi authorities have extended the detention of two women's rights activists, one of whom tried to drive into the kingdom in defiance of a ban, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive. Loujain Hathloul and Maysaa Alamoudi "have been detained for 25 further days" the London-based watchdog said in a statement. "Jailing a woman for simply driving a car is preposterous," Said Boumedouha, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, was quoted saying in the statement. The Interior Ministry has still not commented on the case of the two women. Border officers stopped Hathloul when she tried to drive from neighboring United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia on November 30.
Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, later arrived to support her. They were arrested and are being held in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Relatives of the two women declined to comment on Tuesday. Hathloul was trying to make a point in her unusual attempt to drive through the border and knew that she would not be allowed to pass, an activist has told Agence France-Presse. Women drivers in the kingdom have previously been arrested and cars have been confiscated but the detention of Hathloul is already among the longest given to any female driver in the kingdom recently, activists told AFP. In 2011, Manal al-Sharif was held for 10 days after posting a video of herself driving in the eastern city of Khobar. Activists have started a petition calling for the release of Hathloul and Alamoudi. During October dozens of women drove in the kingdom and posted images of themselves doing so as part of an online campaign supporting the right to drive. In response, the Interior Ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone undermining "the social cohesion."Activists say it is not actually against the law for women to drive and that the ban is linked to tradition and custom in the kingdom. Agence France Presse

Saudi Executes 77 Drug Traffickers this Year
Naharnet/Saudi Arabia beheaded on Tuesday a convicted drug trafficker, the 77th state execution in the oil-rich kingdom this year despite international concerns. Nasser bin Amiq Ali al-Inzi was convicted of trying to smuggle "a large amount" of amphetamines into the country, the interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. He was beheaded in the northern Jawf region. Last Friday authorities carried out the death sentence on another Saudi, also found guilty of amphetamine smuggling.
The interior ministry said last week that authorities had seized more than 41 million amphetamine tablets during the Islamic calendar year that ended in October. Rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are also punishable by death under the kingdom's strict version of Islamic sharia law. Agence France Presse

U.N. Envoy Holds 'Constructive' Talks with Syria Rebels
Naharnet /The U.N. envoy to Syria held "constructive" talks with rebel groups on a plan to suspend fighting in the country's second city of Aleppo, his spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday. A day after Staffan de Mistura's meetings in Gaziantep, Turkey, one rebel chief said he was awaiting a "written proposal from the U.N., with all the details, before announcing a decision". De Mistura's spokeswoman, Juliette Touma, said the envoy had found his six meetings "with representatives of the most important armed and unarmed groups from Aleppo to be constructive." De Mistura announced his plan for a "freeze" in fighting in late October, following a series of failed international efforts to negotiate an end to Syria's conflict which erupted in March 2011. He has since said Aleppo is a "good candidate" for the bid. Aleppo has been divided between regime control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012. De Mistura's initiative does not include "all the required mechanisms and guarantees," said Qais Sheikh, head of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), a coalition of several dozen moderate and Islamist opposition groups. The envoy "has built his plan on a series of convictions that are different from ours," said Sheikh, one of the leaders who met with de Mistura. "So we asked him for a written plan that includes all the details so that we can discuss it in the RCC and with our allies in the opposition," he told Agence France-Presse. The Syrian government, for its part, has responded with "constructive interest" to the Aleppo plan, de Mistura said last month after talks in Damascus with President Bashar Assad. De Mistura's deputy, Ramzi Ezzedine Ramzi, is to visit Damascus at the end of this week for further discussions on the plan. Agence France Presse

Israel Says Arrested U.S. Man Planning Anti-Muslim Attacks
Naharnet/A U.S. man has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of preparing attacks on Muslims, police said Tuesday. "Shin Bet (internal security) and police arrested an American citizen on November 19 who was illegally in Israel, for possession of weapons and planning terrorist attacks," a statement said.Agence France Presse

Egyptian cleric Qaradawi denounces Interpol arrest warrant

By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Tuesday, 9 December 2014 /Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi denied Monday inciting murder on his personal Facebook page after Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest. “I did not kill and I never incited to murder so that Interpol would put me on the wanted list,” Qaradawi wrote on his page. “Those who killed thousands of innocent people at the Republican Guard headquarters, Manassa and Rabaa, al-Nahda, Ramsis and others are known and are being invited to Western capitals,” he added. Qaradawi’s statements came following the international police agency claimed that he made an “agreement, incitement and assistance to commit intentional murder, helping prisoners to escape, arson, vandalism and theft.” Qaradawi, who is in his late 80s, is wanted by Egypt's authorities and faces being tried in absentia. He is seen as a spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood, the group ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi hails from and is the head of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated International Federation of Muslim Scholars (IFMS). Egypt has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization” and launched a brutal crackdown on Mursi's Islamist supporters since his ouster last July 3. Qatar had close ties with Egypt during Mursi's turbulent single year in power, but relations nose-dived after his overthrow.

ISIS: The product of Syria’s cult culture?
Tuesday, 9 December 2014
Dr. Halla Diyab/Al Arabiya
The poignancy of the deadlock in the Syrian crisis was summed up by Kofi Annan at Geneva Palais des Nations at the end of June 2012. “History is a somber judge,” he said, “and it will judge us all harshly if we prove incapable of taking the right path today.” The right path is not to “wield tremendous power and change the direction of [the] crisis” as Annan puts it but rather to exert power to create a political leadership that can pull the country together.
The stalemated nature of the Syrian crisis bizarrely fed the culture of cults in the country because the Syrian crisis tossed the country into two extreme cults, or factions. The international community cannot keep watching the Syrian bloodshed without doing anything otherwise the humanitarian disaster will get worse. Also, the risk of a U.S. airstrike on Assad’s regime could jeopardize the relative political stability in Damascus. It also seems that in the absence of an alternative to Assad on the ground, Damascus could fall in the hands of ISIS or the armed militias who will unleash chaos similar to the Libyan scenario. As more arms and ammunitions reach the Syrian rebels, there is a high possibility they will also reach the extremists among the rebel factions as well.
“The ISIS cult started as a trend adopted by those who were “going over” to stop the killing of their fellow Muslims”
However, pursuing diplomacy and political solutions means more time is given to Assad to strengthen his domestic power and more exhaustion of the Syrian infrastructure will occur. People are getting desperate and are looking for any hope to end the crisis. The Syrian crisis fails to empower community leadership as a mechanism of survival and the only way left for people is to be divided according to their political, sectarian and religious loyalties. Some wish to belong to a cult that can secure their survival.
The four-year conflict has produced a leadership that is sustained by a culture predicated on the supposed right to be violent and the right to kill. The harsher and more bloody the leader can be, the more chances he will have to survive in power. Driven to the extreme, the leadership takes the form of a cult and this provokes doubts on the subjectivity of the leadership born out of the Syrian revolution. It also brings out doubts on the longstanding binary opposition of good vs. evil, strong vs. weak, innocent vs. guilty and heroes vs. criminals.
Assad’s cult
Assad’s cult is more personal and individualistic. Bashar al-Assad is not keen on the cult of personality and his dislike of his father’s fascination with statues implies that Assad is innately reprogramming Hafez’ personality cult of totalitarianism into a cult grouping of the Assad aides, domestic allies and siblings favorites. The security services and the palace’s protocol office are in charge of Bashar’ public image.
The rise of the Islamic fundamentalist cult of ISIS is not only the result of political chaos in Syria, the prolonged civil war and the collapse of secular nationalism but is also due to the inability of people in Syria to participate in the political spectrum and be loyal to Assad’s “cult”. People pursue ways of identifying themselves, becoming allied with others and participating in something they can be part of. With people’s inability to participate in public sphere, or in functional political organizations, they find in religious fundamentalism a way out.
The ISIS cult started as a trend, a fashion of those who were “going over” to stop the killing of their fellow Muslims. Soon they were transformed into savages and intruders who beheaded Syrians in their homeland. ISIS as a cult is not only a product of a barbaric war that has been brutalizing people throughout the last four years, but is also a product of Assad’s cult of personality. ISIS is not an intruder cult but the product of the very society which witnessed its rise. When people are suppressed and dehumanized in the fascist pyramid of state power, they are transformed into perpetrators themselves, they become agents of suppression the moment they are liberated being at the bottom.
The ISIS cult
Unlike the Assad cult, the ISIS cult operates upon patterns of religious ideological lines. They identify with signs, flags, idioms and emblems. The external façade of their barbaric ruthlessness, limitless violence and hostility is based upon their own self-made fantasy that they are soldiers who pubish those who oppose their ideology.
Unlike Assad’s cult, which seeks the continuity of the dynasty and the power of Assad’s family, for ISIS it is the territorial existence of their fanatic narrative which offers them hope, acceptance and an identity. While survival is at the core of Assad’s cult, death is the ISIS cult’s main cause. The self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sacrifices ISIS cult followers for the cause. As with other cults, the ISIS cult draws people to fear, obedience and ultimate sacrifice.
They put their life in the hands of a man who will decide their destiny. ISIS cult followers are willingly and voluntarily besieged in order to be closer to the cult and to be cut off from the outside world.
The ISIS cult will never develop into a deep-rooted religion, everlasting ideology or a solid state. It will gradually collapse into a tragedy or to a disaster. A very similar example is Guyana 1977, as Jim Jones dragged his cult in Jonestown to self-destruction so will Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Saudi Cabinet Changes Suggest Domestic Discontent
Simon Henderson
December 10, 2014
The sudden removal of several ministers is most likely a response to popular dissatisfaction with the government's performance at home.
Earlier today, a series of royal orders in the name of King Abdullah announced that eight new members had been appointed to the Saudi Council of Ministers, an unusually large turnover. Although the news coming out of the kingdom in recent weeks has concentrated on falling oil prices, the threat of the so-called "Islamic State" (also known as ISIS or ISIL), and Sunni jihadist attacks against the country's Shiite minority, the latest cabinet changes were apparently spurred by other factors. In particular, the shakeup seems to reflect Riyadh's need to deal with mounting domestic discontent over the performance of several government ministries.
Six men have replaced ministers who each resigned at their own "request" -- a standard formulation that, under the current circumstances, suggests the contrary. Two other men were appointed to fill vacancies. None of the ministers who have stepped down are members of the royal family, which retains the top posts of prime minister, deputy prime minister, and second deputy prime, as well as the defense, foreign affairs, interior, national guard, education, and municipal affairs portfolios.
Public criticism of the Transport and Health Ministries has been especially evident of late. The construction of road and rail links has prompted complaints taken up by the kingdom's Consultative Council, an appointed advisory body. And the Health Ministry has been led by the labor minister for several months because his predecessor was judged to have performed badly in coping with the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Also notable is that the outgoing minister of Islamic affairs, who was from the influential ultraconservative al-Sheikh extended family, was not replaced by another al-Sheikh, meaning that for the first time in decades this group does not have a ministerial portfolio. Balancing the religious establishment's influence is a perpetual challenge for the king -- the information minister was sacked a month ago after he closed down a hardline religious television station that had applauded the murder of Shiites. The station was allowed to resume broadcasting a day later.
Some of the cabinet changes may also stem from allegations of corruption -- a persistent issue in Saudi Arabia, but one that the leadership never deals with openly. Last year, the kingdom's Grand Mufti stated that corrupt officials should not be exposed publicly, reflecting the Saudi preference for closing ranks when facing possible criticism.
The changes do not affect the Oil and Finance Ministries, even though Riyadh is no doubt concerned about oil prices that fell to a five-year low today, with U.S. crude closing at just below $63 per barrel. This suggests that King Abdullah is not unhappy with current Saudi oil and macroeconomic policies, nor their apparent ripple effects abroad.
More broadly, the cabinet reshuffle highlights the potentially significant role that Saudi domestic opinion could play in the challenges facing ninety-one-year-old King Abdullah and the senior royals who advise him. The new appointments suggest the monarch is still an active decisionmaker. They also serve as a reminder to the rest of the world that what is happening inside the kingdom remains an important part of Riyadh's calculus.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

Israel air strikes wiped out Russian hardware for thwarting US no-fly zone plan over Syria
DEBKAfile Special Report December 9/2014
High-ranking American military sources revealed Monday, Dec. 8, that Israel’s air strikes near Damascus the day before wiped out newly-arrived Russian hardware including missiles that were dispatched post haste to help Syria and Hizballah frustrate a US plan for a no-fly zone over northern Syria.
The advanced weapons were sent over, as DEBKAfile reported exclusively Sunday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin learned that the Obama administration and the Erdogan government were close to a final draft on a joint effort to activate a no-fly zone that would bar Syrian air force traffic over northern Syria.
The Kremlin has repeatedly warned - of late in strong messages through back channels - that the establishment of a no-fly or buffer zone in any part of Syria would be treated as direct American intervention in the Syria war and result in Russian military intervention for defending the Assad regime.
According to the US-Turkish draft, American warplanes would be allowed to take off from the Turkish airbase of Incirlik in the south for operations against Syrian warplanes, assault helicopters or drones entering the no-go zone. Thus far, Ankara has only permitted US surveillance aircraft and drones the use of Incirlik for tracking the movements of Islamic State fighters in northern Syria.
The Obama administration was long deterred from implementing a no-fly zone plan by the wish to avoid riling Moscow or facing the hazards of Syria’s world-class air defense system.
But Washington was recently won over to the plan by a tacit deal with Damascus for American jets to be allowed entry to help Kurdish fighters defend their northern Syrian enclave of Kobani against capture by al Qaeda’s IS invaders.
However, the US administration turned down a Turkish demand to extend the no-fly zone from their border as far as Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, over which Syrian army forces are battling rebels and advancing slowly into the town.
The no-fly zone planned by US strategists would be narrow – between a kilometer and half a kilometer deep inside Syria. However Moscow is standing fast against any such plan and objects to US planes making free of Syrian airspace, a freedom they are now afforded over Kobani.
To drive this point home, the Russians delivered a supply of advanced anti-air missiles and radar, whose use by the Syrian army and transfer to Hizballah in Lebanon were thwarted by the Israeli air strikes Sunday.
Moscow reacted swiftly and angrily with a Note to the United Nations Monday accusing Israel of “aggressive action” and demanding “that such attacks should not happen again… Moscow is deeply worried by this dangerous development, the circumstances of which demand an explanation.”
The Assad regime has held back from reacting to past Israeli air raids for preventing advanced weaponry from reaching Hizballah. This time, spokesmen in Damascus warned that their government’s response would be clandestine and cause Israel "unimaginable harm."

Freezing the Syrian Crisis
Ali Ibrahim /Wednesday, 10 Dec, 2014
Asharq Al Awsat
Some may find the ideas promoted by the UN’s Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura frustrating, despite the fact they are highly realistic and pragmatic. His proposal to “freeze” the fighting in northern Syria before moving on to a political solution to the crisis as a whole may be the only realistic plan available, though it is likely to anger the Syrian opposition that participated in the Geneva I and II conferences in the hope of reaching a solution based on replacing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
De Mistura’s plan, however, does not offer a clear political goal or a way forward. Instead, it would entrench the status quo, currently characterized by the inability of either side to turn the tables on the other. It is based on the idea of minimizing the loss of human life and stopping the bloodshed but unless a radical shift takes place in terms of flow of weapons and regional and international support for either side, the fighting will continue and will only lead to more deaths and further destruction without reaching a resolution.
The problem with Syria is that the crisis has become extremely complex, so much so that nobody can control it. The battle is gradually becoming one between two equally bad sides, including militias that follow extremist organizations, exporting terrorism to the entire region. The truth is that the Syrian government is responsible for the crisis becoming this complicated. Had it dealt with protesters in 2011 through political means and met their demands, things would not have reached this point.
The complexity of the Syrian conflict is not limited to the situation on the ground, but can also be seen in the air, with the airstrikes being carried out simultaneously by both the Syrian government and the US-led international coalition, and Israel recently joining in. Despite this, the differences between the sides involved in the Syrian crisis are far greater than any similarities, particularly when it comes to Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebukes Washington every now and then for not responding to his request to impose a no-fly zone along the Syrian border.
Here we should pause and consider the extent to which the discourse regarding Syria has changed over the past two years. If all sides concerned with the Syrian crisis examine this issue, it may serve as a beginning to the solution. What was proposed at the Geneva I and II conferences seems to have been based on incorrect information and distorted perceptions. Obviously, it was a major mistake for many in the opposition or the region to believe that there would be an international intervention in Syria similar to the NATO intervention in Libya, which would have tipped the balance against Assad. Muammar Gaddafi lacked what Assad has: a network of allies who are prepared to provide him with support and weapons for more than three years of intense fighting.
All of this is history now, today we are facing what is widely perceived as a global terrorist threat, one that requires a comprehensive response if it is to be defeated. Such a response would include training moderate rebel factions and dealing with the growing flow of refugees, who number in the millions. Many of Syria’s neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon, groan under the weight of this problem while humanitarian relief agencies are running out of resources.
In both cases, treating only the symptoms of the crisis will not lead to a comprehensive solution. Airstrikes may continue for years in order to combat terrorists who use guerrilla tactics and take advantage of the security vacuum in the areas they operate in. The worst case scenario for any person would be to find oneself living abroad in a refugee camp, not knowing when, and if, you will be able to return home, and gradually becoming a burden to others. In view of this situation, reaching a political solution that would reduce the suffering of the people of Syria becomes urgent. Perhaps, freezing the conflict may open the door for such a solution after all.