December 14/14

Bible Quotation for today/You are the salt of the earth,
Metthew 5/11-20: “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.  You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.  Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 13-14/14
Don't Get Used to Cheap Oil/Gal Luft/Journal of Energy Security/December 13/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 13-14/14
UN deputy headed to Beirut to launch refugee response plan
Former President Amine Gemayel in rare visit to south Lebanon
Machnouk: No negotiations with militants unless killing stops
Aoun & Geagea: Sacrifice for Lebanon Is Needed
Hariri’s jammer in spotlight at STL
Report: Girault Travels to Tehran, Riyadh as Part of Initiative to Resolve Presidential Deadlock
Report: French Official in Beirut Monday to Finalize List of Saudi-French Arms Deal
Report: Security Measures Intensified during Holiday Period over Terror Concerns
French President Francois Hollande orders speedy arms delivery
Jumblatt meets with families of captive servicemen
Army arrests 8 in north Lebanon raids: NNA
European Union announces completion of Lebanon tax reform project
Ex-HSBC staffer accused of trying to sell data in Lebanon
Army Confiscates Weapons, Arrests 8 in Wadi Khaled

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 13-14/14
Devotion, defiance draw millions to Iraq pilgrimage
Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves
Monitor: Kurdish Forces Kill 16 Jihadists in Syria
Israel Vote Puts PM, Center-Left on Collision Course
Multiple Attacks Kill 20 in Afghanistan as NATO Deadline Looms
U.N. Council Urges Probe of Palestinian Official's Death
PLO, Fatah leaders to meet Sunday to discuss response to death of minister
Kerry 'defusing' tension over possible UN resolutions to end conflict
Ya'alon thanks outgoing US Secretary of Defense Hagel for assistance to Israeli security
Biden, Kerry give Netanyahu campaign much material to work with
UN Security Council urges calm in wake of PA minister's death
Exclusive: An interview with controversial Arab MK Haneen Zoabi
Top Turkey Cleric Under Fire over Luxury Mercedes
Kerry aims to avert UN crisis on Mideast

Jihad Watch Site Posts For Friday
Indonesian province to expand Sharia law

Madrid’s largest mosque was jihad recruitment center led by ex-Gitmo prisoner
Robert Spencer in FrontPage: Imam Joe Biden Schools an Infidel
Syria: Islamic jihadists using UN cars for jihad terror operations
Islamic State: Shopkeepers must cut wifi during prayer times
Taliban: Malala “a soldier against Islamic society and teachings of Islam”
Questions remain over Cat Stevens’ connections to jihad terror
“Palestinian” wounds five Israelis in acid attack

UN deputy headed to Beirut to launch refugee response plan
The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014/BEIRUT: United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will arrive in Beirut Saturday evening for a four-day visit to attend the launch of the Lebanon response plan for the Syrian refugee crisis. According to the U.N., Eliasson will take part in the 2015-2016 response plan launch on Dec. 15 and hold talks with Lebanese officials, including Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam. On Tuesday, Eliasson will meet with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of the capital, and he will meet with Lebanese and Syrian students at a public school in Beirut. The official will also meet with representatives of U.N. agencies in Lebanon and hold a town hall meeting with staff at the headquarters of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Eliasson’s visit comes amid a flurry of recent diplomatic activity in Lebanon, including trips by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russia's Deputy Foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Salam said during a visit to Paris Friday that the financial support Lebanon needed to address the refugee crisis was not enough and that the international community should boost its assistance to the country.

Hariri’s jammer in spotlight at STL
Elise Knutsen| The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014
BEIRUT: One of two people authorized to handle assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s custom radio jamming equipment testified at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Friday, insisting that the electronic system had been functioning properly when the Lebanese leader’s motorcade was blown up. The functionality of the jammers, intended to block remote-controlled bombs, has emerged as a crucial detail as the defense teams seek to poke holes in the prosecution’s assertion that a suicide bomber was responsible for the attack. The defense claims that an underground bomb, detonated remotely, could have killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Ali Diab, the electronics expert who testified Friday, explained that Hariri had a special jamming system installed in his Mercedes vehicles that was “not bought from the commercial market place [and] was specifically designed.”The jamming system covered a wider range of radio frequencies than those available on the open market. Including Diab, just four people knew the precise specifications of the jammers: Saad Hariri, Yehia al-Arab and an individual identified in the court as “PRH507.” Arab was both Diab’s uncle and head of Hariri’s personal security. He died alongside the former premier in the 2005 attack. The unidentified electronics expert known as PRH507 testified before the tribunal in October, but was granted protection measures to prevent his identity from being revealed. He traveled to Beirut several times each year to ensure that the equipment was functioning correctly. Diab testified that he had checked the jamming system on Feb. 12, 2005, just two days before the assassination, and it was in perfect working order. Defense lawyer Iain Edwards, who represents top Hezbollah operative Mustafa Badreddine, has previously suggested that “catastrophic failures of the jammer system” may have occurred.
Diab repeatedly rebuffed such a possibility, however, in his testimony Friday. He said that it was extremely unlikely for the jammers to fail as he personally checked the system three or four times each week. In the 12 years that he worked on the jammers, Diab said that he had received concerns “once or twice” about their functionality. There had not been an issue with the jammers, Diab testified, since before the year 2000, and the system was regularly updated and enhanced. The system had been most recently updated in January 2005, the month before the assassination. Diab said. Throughout his cross-examination, Edwards raised questions to suggest that the jamming system had been tampered with at the time of the attack. The court was shown images taken from footage of the wreckage showing what remained of one of the jamming systems. Diab was adamant, however, that the jamming systems were in working order, and that the explosives could only have been detonated by “a wire or a suicide bomber.” Diab, who was at Hariri’s Qoreitem Palace at the time of the attack, said that the jamming device was taken away as evidence soon after the explosion and he did not see it again in person until an investigation commission called him to inspect it.

Machnouk: No negotiations with militants unless killing stops
The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014/BEIRUT: The government will only negotiate with the Nusra Front and ISIS over the release of 25 Lebanese servicemen when the two militant groups pledge not to kill any of the captive soldiers and policemen, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in remarks published Saturday. “There will be no negotiations with the soldiers' captors before they issue a clear, unambiguous statement that they will stop killing the soldiers,” Machnouk told Al-Hayat. "I have relayed this message to the Committee of Muslim Scholars and we are waiting to hear their answer.” He said the government would deal explore its options after ISIS and the Nusra Front sign the statement. "There is no way for extortion when it comes to the blood of the soldiers and they are not abandoned,” he said. Asked about the committee's request for the government to authorize it to negotiate on the bases of a swap deal, Machnouk said: "All options remain premature unless the committee gets the statement from the captors that they will not, from now on, kill any of the servicemen." He said his insistence on the vow rested on the government's experience with the captors "who turned on all their promises that the Qatari mediator would come to us with."

Report: Girault Travels to Tehran, Riyadh as Part of Initiative to Resolve Presidential Deadlock
Naharnet/Director of the department of the Middle East and North Africa at the French Foreign Ministry Jean-François Girault is expected to travel to Iran next week as part of his ongoing efforts to resolve the vacuum in the presidency in Lebanon, reported the daily An Nahar on Saturday. It said that he will then head to the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh. He is expected during his two visits to relay to Iranian and Saudi officials the details of the talks he held on the presidency during his meetings with Lebanese officials earlier this week.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam and French President Francois Hollande briefly discussed Girault's efforts, but did not delve into details because his initiative is still in its early stages, reported An Nahar. Salam had concluded on Friday a four-day visit to France during which he met with a number of high-ranking officials, including Hollande, Premier Manuel Valls, and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Girault had held meetings during his two-day visit to Lebanon 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, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat and former President Michel Suleiman. He said during his talks that “France is concerned about the presidential vacuum in Lebanon” and that it is exerting all efforts to help the nation cross that stage. Lebanon has been left without a president since May, when the tenure of Suleiman ended, because of sharp differences between the rival March 8 and March 14 alliances.

Report: Security Measures Intensified during Holiday Period over Terror Concerns
Naharnet /Security measures throughout Lebanon will be intensified during the Christmas and New Year holiday period, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. A widely-informed source told the daily: “This is a critical stage and security measures will be bolstered in all Lebanese regions without exception.” Heightened security will be introduced in light of information received by security agencies that terrorist groups may carry out an attack over the holidays. The concerns were exacerbated with the arrest of Saja al-Dulaimi, a divorcee of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Dulaimi was arrested at a checkpoint on al-Madfoun Bridge in the North, along with her husband Palestinian Khalaf and her daughter Hajar, 8. The arrest took place in November and was kept a secret until the media made it public. She is reportedly detained over her links to Baghdadi, for communicating with terrorist organizations on Lebanese territories and holding fake identification papers. Ola al-Oqaili, the wife of Anas Sharkas, aka Abu Ali al-Shishani, was arrested two months after extensive surveillance. Their arrests sparked tensions between the Lebanese state and the Islamist kidnappers of a number of Lebanese servicemen. In retaliation to the arrest, 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.

Former President Amine Gemayel in rare visit to south Lebanon
Dec. 13, 2014/Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: In a rare visit to south Lebanon, head of the Kataeb Party Amine Gemayel expressed hope Saturday that intra-Lebanese dialogue would lead to the election of a new president, saying his party maintained open, continuous contact with both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. Gemayel was on his first visit to south Lebanon since he was president in 1983, touring several villages in the formerly occupied region and meeting with Christian, Druze and Shiite figures there. “I hope that all ongoing dialogues will be successful and translate into the election of a president as soon as possible because such an election is revival of the a united, sovereign nation,” Gemayel, seated next to Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil at the latter’s residence in Khiam, told reporters.
“Today, we are not in the south for election purposes, but my visit is normal. We are committed to the south,” said Gemayel, who is a perennial presidential candidate. Khalil, who hosted a lunch at his residence in Khiam in honor of Gemayel, emphasized the need for dialogue and openness among the various political groups. “Lebanon is facing major threats from Israel and terrorism. ... The two do no differentiate between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians, but they, especially terrorism, aim to annihilate the will to live, coexistence, and openness.” “We insist on dialogue and openness, and we support communication between all political forces,” said Khalil who is also Speaker Nabih Berri’s aide. Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad welcomed Gemayel at Khalil’s residence and greeted the former president with an embrace. Sitting next to Khalil, Fayyad described south Lebanon as the region for “openness, moderation and love [that] always seeks to establish a sovereign, free and independent Lebanon.” The lawmaker said Hezbollah always adopted dialogue as a means to bridge gaps between the party and its rivals. Gemayel said his party held periodical meetings with Hezbollah parliamentarians and that Kataeb maintained open dialogue with Berri, praising the speaker for being the protector of constitutional institutions, particularly Parliament.
"We are on the same boat, and no one can save Lebanon alone. ... If we don't agree on mutual principles, we drown together," he said. Gemayel is visiting the south as part of efforts to solidify dialogue between his Kataeb Party and the Shiite parties of Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah. With tensions rising in the country due to the increasingly sectarian crisis in neighboring Syria, several Lebanese figures have launched dialogues, with the most anticipated talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement.  Although the Kataeb, one of the main Christian parties in the March 14 alliance, is critical of Hezbollah’s role in Syria, the group launched a dialogue with the resistance group to ease tensions. Political sources told The Daily Star Saturday that Speaker Nabih Berri had given his instructions to both Amal and Hezbollah officials in south Lebanon to offer Gemayel a warm welcome and accompany the Christian figure on his southern tour. Gemayel’s first stop was in the Marjayoun village of Qlaya, where dozens of people tossed rice and flowers at Gemayel and an accompanying delegation, including Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi and former Minister Salim Sayegh. "I am here in Qlaya, the land of nationalism, love and openness that has for so long embodied national unity and assimilation," Gemayel said at the Municipality building. "We are here to cooperate with any part so that the south can remain a symbol of love, unity and openness."Hezbollah and Amal Movement figures and parliamentarians welcomed Gemayel in Qlaya, only a few kilometers from the Israeli border. Gemayel called on residents of the village to remain rooted on their land, praising them for their steadfastness and describing it as the true form of resistance.  Gemayel then moved to Al-Bayadah, a predominantly Druze area, and visited places of worship there where he was greeted by Sheikh Ghaleb Qais, Hasbaya's senior Druze cleric, as well as Sheikh Salma Shajaan. Qais welcomed Gemayel to Al-Bayadah and spoke to him about the places of worship while Gemayel praised efforts by Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arsal to strengthen coexistence in the Druze community.
Before visiting Khiam, Khalil's hometown, Gemayel made a stop in Kawkaba and met with several religious figures there.

Aoun & Geagea: Sacrifice for Lebanon Is Needed
The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014
While international envoys and leaders seem to be falling over themselves to help usher in an end to the presidential vacuum here, Lebanese politicians themselves seem less prepared to give their full attention to the problem.
Or rather, they are motivated to an extent, but only so far as they believe it will benefit them. This is especially true of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea.
The two Maronite leaders are apparently unprepared to see the presidential gap for what it is – a national crisis deserving of their immediate and full attention. It seems to them little more than a nuisance, or any other political issue that they can squabble and bicker over, hoping to get the most personal capital out of it as possible.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam met Thursday in Paris with French President Francois Hollande. And high-level ministers from Russia and elsewhere have also been in Beirut in recent days to help mediate between sparring politicians and try to broker a way out of this mess.
But it seems as if Lebanon’s political leaders – particularly those holding up any progress on the presidential front – are behaving like petulant children, determined to get their own way, at whatever cost. It should be a cause for embarrassment that foreign powers – undeniably motivated by self-interest but at least prepared to move the issue forward – seem more committed to closing the presidential file than political leaders at home.
With the security situation in Lebanon in the state that it is in, now is the time for strong leaders who can make difficult decisions and, when necessary, sacrifices.

French President Francois Hollande orders speedy arms delivery
The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014
PARIS: French President Francois Hollande has ordered that the delivery of French arms to the Lebanese Army paid for by a $3 billion Saudi grant be accelerated, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Friday, adding that the needed weapons would soon be transferred.
Salam, speaking after holding talks in Paris with Hollande, also said France was ready to help Lebanon end the political deadlock that has left the country without a president for more than six months.
“Among the most important matters we discussed with France was the security file linked to the generous Saudi gift to supply the Lebanese Army with the arms it needs,” Salam said at a news conference held at his temporary residence in Paris.
“Final touches have been put to the technical part [of the Saudi deal] and what remains is the final approval between Saudi Arabia and France. The arms delivery to Lebanon will happen in a swift manner,” he added.
Salam said Hollande had issued the “necessary instructions to expedite the delivery of these arms, especially since the confrontation with terrorism is still ongoing.”
In separate remarks to reporters, Salam said the Army would receive the weapons very soon.
Salam and other Lebanese leaders have called for bolstering the capabilities of the Army, which is locked in an open battle against ISIS and Nusra Front militants, who are still holding 25 servicemen captured during fierce fighting in the northeastern town of Arsal in August.
The Army also routed Islamist militants in the northern city of Tripoli in October as part of its campaign against terrorist groups. Salam, wrapping up a three-day official visit to Paris to finalize the arms deal, said Lebanon did not provide a safe haven for terrorism, adding that the military and security forces have been able to establish security in the country. “Some had thought in the past that there is a safe haven for terrorism and extremist ideology in Lebanon,” he said. “But the decisive [military] battle that happened on the ground in Tripoli and the north has shown that there is no safe haven for any extremism and that the Lebanese are yearning for legitimacy, the state, security and safety.”
Salam’s meeting with Hollande at the Elysee Palace was attended by Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Salam also met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss the arms delivery to the Lebanese Army in the presence of senior Lebanese and French army officers. The Lebanese premier said France was ready to help facilitate the presidential election. “France will not spare any effort to help, whether at the level of the executive branch through President Hollande, or through the legislative branch through parliament and the senate.”
Asked if France was making efforts to break the presidential deadlock following talks held by Jean-François Girault, head of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa office, with rival Lebanese leaders in Beirut this week, Salam said: “France in particular is following up this file [presidential election] with us and is trying to help us ... I have felt a desire from President Hollande and all French officials that this file should be finished and that Lebanon must have a president.”
Salam said he discussed with Hollande a number of issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and the need to help the country cope with such overwhelming numbers. He also said international assistance to Lebanon has not been enough for the country.Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and a number of political leaders as part of Moscow’s new bid to relaunch Syrian peace talks. “Developments in Lebanon and the region were discussed in detail and in depth,” Bogdanov told reporters after meeting Rai in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite Church.
From Bkirki, Bogdanov headed to Maarab, northeast of Beirut, for talks with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, where the Russian official voiced concerns about the “grave situation in the region as a whole.”
Bogdanov said the meeting touched on the presidential election crisis as well as developments in the region, particularly in Syria. “We exchanged views about all these issues that are beneficial to me,” he said, adding that he would convey Geagea’s views to all the parties he planned to meet in Lebanon. The Russian envoy called on political leaders to engage in a comprehensive dialogue that would ensure Lebanon’s best interest. Following the meeting with Geagea, Bogdanov, who last week held talks with rival Lebanese leaders, traveled north for talks with Marada Movement chief MP Sleiman Frangieh in Bneshaai, in the Zghorta district. Bogdanov said the talks covered the Lebanese presidential election, regional developments and the crisis in Syria.
Later Friday night, Bogdanov met MP Walid Jumblatt at his residence in Clemenceau in the second meeting between the two men within a week. Jumblatt hosted a dinner for the Russian envoy.

European Union announces completion of Lebanon tax reform project
Dana Halawi| The Daily Star
Dec. 13, 2014
BEIRUT: The European Union announced Friday the completion of a project to modernize Lebanon’s tax administration after nearly two years of cooperation between the French and Lebanese Finance departments. The 1.85 million euro EU-funded project aimed at enhancing Lebanon’s tax collection process both quantitatively and qualitatively through administrative reform, greater transparency and efficient communication with citizens.
“Lebanon is a priority for the European Union today because the country is facing many challenges that need to be addressed,” EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst said during a ceremony held at the Grand Serail to celebrate the completion of the program.
“France was capable of bringing exceptional expertise and I hope that this big amount was very well used to improve the fiscal performance,” she said of the cooperation between the French General Directorate of Public Finances and its Lebanese counterpart to improve tax collection in Lebanon.
Eichhorst added that the EU would continue to support the implementation of reform programs in Lebanon and has agreed with the government on several future projects that will contribute to economic reform.“There always exists political reasons that stop our movement but we hope in the three years to come to be able to continue this very deep cooperation,” she said.
Head of the International Cooperation Mission of the GDPF Josiane Lanteri said the project was the fourth with Lebanese authorities, adding that it reflected the quality of exchange and the work accomplished between the Lebanon and France since 2006.
Lanteri said the project aimed to reinforce Lebanon’s fiscal administration by adopting actions based on modern principles such as risk analysis and proper infrastructure.
She added that this cooperation contributes to the restoration of a modern and efficient fiscal system in accordance with the best international practices. “This is essential for a government that aims to accomplish its duties toward citizens who need to count on stable resources and an efficient fiscal system,” she said, adding that a fiscal system of a country impacts the growth and creation of job opportunities.
Alain Bifani, director general of Finance Ministry, said the project succeeded in reaching its objectives, which include clamping down on fraud, improving tax collection and offering better services to tax payers. However, he added that other reforms should be implemented to ensure sustainability. Bifani said the project allowed Lebanese civil servants in the tax administration to gain insight into the areas of strengths in the taxation system of EU countries. “What is surprising is that we found out there are no important differences between our directorate and that of the European countries visited by our delegations.”

ISIS published female sex slave handbook
Jerusalem Post. 13/12/14
Islamic State seeks to justify
The pamphlet handed out by ISIS militants answers over 27 questions, and approves the enslavement, rape - including of prepubescent girls - and sale of sex slaves.
ISIS pamphlet
Perhaps you were wondering if all the terrible tales of sex slavery by ISIS could be true? After all, they claim to be a very religious group. Unfortunately, new evidence reveals the situation is indeed as grim, if not grimmer, than the reports.
ISIS militants recently handed out pamphlets in Mosul ,Iraq, entitled, "Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves," explaining in a clear question-and-answer format the official positions of the "Islamic State" concerning female slavery, according to CNN.
"Can all unbelieving women be taken captive?" reads one question, taken from the translation done by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
The answer: "There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [IE any non-Muslim woman]."The next question: "Can one have intercourse with a female captive?"Answer: "It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]'..."
Once laying the groundwork for the legality of female sex slaves, the pamphlet expounds upon what kind of sex.
"If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately," explains the pamphlet. "However, if she isn't, her uterus must be purified [first]…" How to purify a uterus is not explained in the pamphlet.
What about child sex slavery? ISIS has an answer for that as well.
Q: "Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?"
A: "It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."
The 27 questions and answers of the pamphlet translated by MEMRI reveal a systematic look into sexual slavery, answering a variety of questions, such as if one can sleep with two sisters , buying and selling slaves and covering up the slave during prayer.
Harrowing personal accounts from female escapees of ISIS's sexual slavery have been flowing into the media over the last few months. This pamphlet's publishing implies that questions concerning sexual slavery were becoming frequent following ISIS's rise. Unfortunately, this confirms reports of thousands of Yazidi woman and other minorities being taken into sexual slavery by the terrorist group.

Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves
December 4, 2014
The Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (ISIS) has released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves. The pamphlet, which is dated Muharram 1436 (October/November 2014) and was printed by ISIS's publishing house, Al-Himma Library, is titled Su'al wa-Jawab fi al-Sabi wa-Riqab ("Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves"). It was presumably released in response to the uproar caused by the many reports this summer that ISIS had taken Yazidi girls and women as sex slaves. Written in the form of questions and answers, it clarifies the position of Islamic law (as ISIS interprets it) on various relevant issues, and states, among other things, that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with non-Muslim slaves, including young girls, and that it is also permitted to beat them and trade in them.
The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.
The following are excerpts from the pamphlet, which was posted on a pro-ISIS Twitter account.[1]
"Question 1: What is al-sabi?
"Al-Sabi is a woman from among ahl al-harb [the people of war] who has been captured by Muslims.
"Question 2: What makes al-sabi permissible?
"What makes al-sabi permissible [i.e., what makes it permissible to take such a woman captive] is [her] unbelief. Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the imam distributes them [among us]."
"Question 3: Can all unbelieving women be taken captive?
"There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [who are characterized by] original unbelief [kufr asli], such as the kitabiyat [women from among the People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians] and polytheists. However, [the scholars] are disputed over [the issue of] capturing apostate women. The consensus leans towards forbidding it, though some people of knowledge think it permissible. We [ISIS] lean towards accepting the consensus…"
"Question 4: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive?
"It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]'..."
"Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?
"If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn't, her uterus must be purified [first]…"
"Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive?
"It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn't cause [the Muslim ummah] any harm or damage."
"Question 7: Is it permissible to separate a mother from her children through [the act of] buying and selling?
"It is not permissible to separate a mother from her prepubescent children through buying, selling or giving away [a captive or slave]. [But] it is permissible to separate them if the children are grown and mature."
"Question 8: If two or more [men] buy a female captive together, does she then become [sexually] permissible to each of them?
"It is forbidden to have intercourse with a female captive if [the master] does not own her exclusively. One who owns [a captive] in partnership [with others] may not have sexual intercourse with her until the other [owners] sell or give him [their share]."
"Question 9: If the female captive was impregnated by her owner, can he then sell her?
"He can't sell her if she becomes the mother of a child..."
"Question 10: If a man dies, what is the law regarding the female captive he owned?
"Female captives are distributed as part of his estate, just as all [other parts] of his estate [are distributed]. However, they may only provide services, not intercourse, if a father or [one of the] sons has already had intercourse with them, or if several [people] inherit them in partnership."
"Question 11: May a man have intercourse with the female slave of his wife?
"A man may not have intercourse with the female slave of his wife, because [the slave] is owned by someone else."
"Question 12: May a man kiss the female slave of another, with the owner's permission?
"A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing [involves] pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless [the man] owns [the slave] exclusively."
"Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?
"It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."
"Question 14: What private parts of the female slave's body must be concealed during prayer?
"Her private body parts [that must be concealed] during prayer are the same as those [that must be concealed] outside [prayer], and they [include] everything besides the head, neck, hands and feet."
"Question 15: May a female slave meet foreign men without wearing a hijab?
"A female slave is allowed to expose her head, neck, hands, and feet in front of foreign men if fitna [enticement] can be avoided. However, if fitna is present, or of there is fear that it will occur, then it [i.e. exposing these body parts becomes] forbidden."
"Question 16: Can two sisters be taken together while taking slaves?
"It is permissible to have two sisters, a female slave and her aunt [her father's sister], or a female slave and her aunt [from her mother's side]. But they cannot be together during intercourse, [and] whoever has intercourse with one of them cannot have intercourse with the other, due to the general [consensus] over the prohibition of this."
"Question 17: What is al-'azl?
"Al-'azl is refraining from ejaculating on a woman's pudendum [i.e. coitus interruptus]."
"Question 18: May a man use the al-'azl [technique] with his female slave?
"A man is allowed [to use] al-'azl during intercourse with his female slave with or without her consent."
"Question 19: Is it permissible to beat a female slave?
"It is permissible to beat the female slave as a [form of] darb ta'deeb [disciplinary beating], [but] it is forbidden to [use] darb al-takseer [literally, breaking beating], [darb] al-tashaffi [beating for the purpose of achieving gratification], or [darb] al-ta'dheeb [torture beating]. Further, it is forbidden to hit the face."
Question 20: What is the ruling regarding a female slave who runs away from her master?
"A male or female slave's running away [from their master] is among the gravest of sins…"
"Question 21: What is the earthly punishment of a female slave who runs away from her master?
"She [i.e. the female slave who runs away from her master] has no punishment according to the shari'a of Allah; however, she is [to be] reprimanded [in such a way that] deters others like her from escaping."
"Question 22: Is it permissible to marry a Muslim [slave] or a kitabiyya [i.e. Jewish or Christian] female slave?
"It is impermissible for a free [man] to marry Muslim or kitabiyat female slaves, except for those [men] who feared to [commit] a sin, that is, the sin of fornication…"
"Question 24: If a man marries a female slave who is owned by someone else, who is allowed to have intercourse with her?
"A master is prohibited from having intercourse with his female slave who is married to someone else; instead, the master receives her service, [while] the husband [gets to] enjoy her [sexually]."
"Question 25: Are the huddoud [Koranic punishments] applied to female slaves?
"If a female slave committed what necessitated the enforcement of a hadd [on her], a hadd [is then] enforced on her – however, the hadd is reduced by half within the hudud that accepts reduction by half…"
"Question 27: What is the reward for freeing a slave girl?
"Allah the exalted said [in the Koran]: 'And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass [hell]? It is the freeing of a slave.' And [the prophet Muhammad] said: 'Whoever frees a believer Allah frees every organ of his body from hellfire.'"
[1] Twitter.com/U112842, December 3, 2014.

Question: "Was Jesus born on December 25? Is December 25 Jesus' birthday?"

Questions.org?/Answer: Speculation as to the time of Jesus’ birth dates back to the 3rd century, when Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) claimed that Jesus was born on December 25. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, representing Roman practice, of the year 336. Later, John Chrysostom favored the same date of birth. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. The date eventually became the officially recognized date for Christmas in part because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice. The church thereby offered people a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities and eventually reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions in ways acceptable to Christian faith and practice. December 25 has become more and more acceptable as the birth date of Jesus. However, some argue that the birth occurred in some other season, such as in the fall. Followers of this theory claim that the Judean winters were too cold for shepherds to be watching their flocks by night. History proves otherwise, however, and we have historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifice were in fact kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. With that said, it is impossible to prove whether or not Jesus was born on December 25. And, ultimately, it does not matter. The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes”—and where he slept—“in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it. The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to atone for our sins, that He was resurrected to eternal life, and that He’s alive today. This is what we should celebrate, as we are told in the Old Testament in such passages as Zechariah 2:10: “'Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the LORD.” Further, the angel that announced the birth to the shepherds brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Surely here is the cause for celebration every day, not just once a year. Recommended Resources: The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel and Logos Bible Software.

Don't Get Used to Cheap Oil
Gal Luft/Journal of Energy Security
December 11, 2014
The recent slump in oil prices has sent gasoline prices below $3 a gallon, leading many Americans to believe that our energy predicament is a vestige of the past. Decades of anxiety over our dependency on Middle Eastern oil with all its economic and geopolitical trappings are giving way to a new era of complacency in our energy discourse. This growing exuberance might diminish public appetite for the newly elected Congress and the Obama Administration to pursue energy policies aimed at breaking oil's stronghold over our transportation sector. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? But such a euphoric mindset could lead to painful consequences down the road.
In the life of every commodity there are periods of ups and downs. Oil is no different. Just like a combination of circumstances – a stronger dollar, increased supply from the U.S. and Libya, and tapering demand in the developed world - have brought about the recent price drop, a different set of drivers can lead to the exact opposite outcome. A cut in OPEC production, trouble in one or more major oil exporting countries, or a slowdown in North American production due to lower prices could reverse the recent trend, sending oil prices back to the three digit level. Predicting future prices is a loser's game but even optimists would concur that any one of these three scenarios has a good chance of materializing in the foreseeable future.
A combination of circumstances – a stronger dollar, increased supply from the U.S. and Libya, and tapering demand in the developed world - have brought about the recent price drop.
OPEC's recent decision against cutting crude output reveals what might lie ahead. The cartel, whose members mostly need triple digit prices to balance their budgets, essentially decided to keep prices low for now in order undermine the North American oil industry. When asked if the organization has an answer to rising US production OPEC Secretary General Abdullah Al-Badri confirmed OPEC was in a battle over market share with America: "We answered," he said, "We keep the same production." But while rich Persian Gulf producers can weather the storm, poorer oil exporters like Nigeria, facing contentious elections in February 2015 or Venezuela, already in a state of economic disarray, could be easily destabilized as a result of insufficient income and their production could disappear from the market for months.
Another unknown is how long North American oil producers will be able to remain competitive at sub-$70 price level especially because soon they could face headwind from an unexpected quarter. Provided the U.S. economy continues to recover, which becomes more likely with low energy prices, at some point in 2015 the Fed will begin to raise interest rates, marking the beginning of the of the era of easy money. This spells trouble for the capital intensive oil industry. Higher interest rates would make debt more expensive for American producers, cutting deeper and deeper into their profit margins - Energy debt is already the biggest component of the US junk bond market. Under such unfavorable conditions more and more producers will be forced to cap their wells and prices will begin to rebound.
At that point other factors might come into play On the demand side there is China, which despite slowing down still grows its automobile population by 12-14 percent annually. China produces today one fourth of the world's vehicles and its vehicle fleet is projected to grow from 90 million cars today to surpass the U.S. fleet of 220 million in less than a decade. All these cars do not run on milk.
On the supply side, we will soon realize the impact of low oil prices on oil investments in the Middle East, where production costs are the lowest in the world. Even when oil prices were over $100 the Middle East accounted for only 15 percent of the total investment in oil and gas production. Low oil prices eroded the figure even further. Lower investment today means less oil tomorrow and hence higher price.
The convergence of these factors can again drive oil prices to a level in which they trigger economic recession as was the case in 1974, 1979, 1991, 2000 and 2008 – an average of once a decade. To shield the economy from the ruinous impact of future spikes in oil prices it is necessary for cars to be able to run on fuels derived from other energy commodities – coal, natural gas, biomass – in addition to, or instead of petroleum. This way, if oil returns to unfriendly territory consumers will be able to shift to cheaper fuels and hence drag the price back to equilibrium. All that is needed for this to happen is for automakers to be offered an option to reduce their fuel economy obligation – 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – if they open most of their cars to some sort of fuel competition, whether through flex fuel engines, electric motors, natural gas engines, fuel cells etc. The abundance of choice enabling vehicles would give rise to choice in fuels and this would be the only possible insurance policy Washington can provide the American people for the next time the oil market flips.
**Gal Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Devotion, defiance draw millions to Iraq pilgrimage
Abdelamir Hanoun/Agence France Presse/Dec. 13, 2014
KARBALA, Iraq: Millions of Shiite pilgrims defied the threat of jihadist attacks and thronged the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for the climax of annual Arbaeen mourning rituals Saturday. Some had walked for more than 12 days, from Iraq's far south or across the border from Iran, while others were bused in or crammed into lorries for the journey. Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said a total of 17 million will have gone through Karbala for Arbaeen this year, including more than four million foreigners from 60 countries.
A sea of devotees descended on the city to reach the shrine of Imam Hussein, beating their heads and chests to show remorse for not saving him from the armies of the caliph Yazid that killed and beheaded him in 680 AD. While many chanted in unison, rapt in a collective religious trance, others were keenly aware of the symbolic power Arbaeen could have in the war against ISIS. A mortar attack that killed one person Friday highlighted the huge security concerns surrounding what is believed to be one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. But the pilgrims were undeterred. "Forget mortars, even if it rains jihadists on Karbala, we will not be prevented from visiting the Imam Hussein shrine," said Kadhem Hussein, a 25-year-old who had walked from Nasiriyah, some 300 kilometers away. ISIS - led by Sunni extremists - considers Shiites to be heretics and has made targeting the community one of its main objectives. Leaders in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as well as preachers have been keen to cast the pilgrimage as an act of resistance against the jihadists who took over swaths of the country in June. Many of the million or so Iranians who flocked to Iraq for the occasion said they were performing the pilgrimage on the order of their nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Turnout estimates were hard to verify independently but all officials seemed to agree this Arbaeen was the largest they had ever seen. The local operations command chief said new access roads had to be opened to handle the flow of pilgrims converging on Karbala, a medium-sized city around 70 kilometers south of Baghdad. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite religious leader in Iraq, acknowledged that Karbala "is not, in its current state, able to accommodate such huge numbers of visitors." Aerial views of the city showed rivers of black-clad faithful, many wearing colored headbands and waving flags, as far as the eye could see. Central Baghdad has been in lockdown for much of the week as authorities restricted access and movement in order to avoid a complete logjam and minimize the risks of major bomb attacks. Some towns in Iraq's southern Shiite heartland looked emptied of their population. The security deployment has been massive, amid fears ISIS and its seemingly endless supply of suicide bombers could seek to cause maximum casualties by attacking large crowds. Iraqi officials have stressed how crucial a recent military victory against the jihadists in the Jurf al-Sakhr area has been in making the pilgrimage possible. The continued presence there of ISIS fighters would have exposed the pilgrims walking through an area that has seen some of the worst sectarian violence of the past decade and been dubbed the "triangle of death". Few incidents have been reported, however. Besides Friday's deadly mortar fire near Karbala, which fell short of the area where pilgrims were congregating, three people were killed near an Iranian border crossing. Three other people were killed and four wounded earlier this week, when a bomb exploded in Baghdad near one of the thousands of tents serving food and beverages to pilgrims.

Islamist militias form new coalition in Libya's Derna

Agence France Presse/Dec. 13, 2014/BENGHAZI, Libya: Islamist militias in the eastern Libyan town of Derna say they have formed a new coalition ahead of an expected assault by pro-government forces. "Everybody saw what happened in Benghazi: disaster; institutions destroyed; houses demolished; mosques and universities burned by the criminal hands of Haftar's supporters," said the newly formed Mujahedeen Shura Council. Forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar and Abdullah al-Thani, Libya's internationally recognised prime minister, are fighting to wrest full control of Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi from Islamist militants. The jihadist ISIS that has seized chunks of Iraq and Syria is thought to have gained a foothold in Derna amid the chaos in Libya since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In its statement issued late Friday, the Mujahedeen Shura Council called on everyone in Derna to join the new coalition. It also addressed Islamist fighters in Benghazi, saying: "We are with you in the war against the criminal Haftar and his soldiers."Ahead of the announcement, the Islamists staged a military parade in Derna, with tanks and combatants carrying black flags. Since the 2011 uprising, Libya has been sliding deeper into crisis, torn by rival governments, parliaments and powerful militias, despite UN efforts to broker talks on ending the violence. Western countries have been increasingly worried that the political turmoil could provide fertile ground for Islamic extremists. A top US military general said last week that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya and that the American military is closely monitoring the situation. Analysts say a number of factions in Derna have pledged loyalty to ISIS, but it remains unclear how much support they enjoy.

Ex-HSBC staffer accused of trying to sell data in Lebanon
Joshua Franklin/Reuters/Dec. 13, 2014/ZURICH: Switzerland has charged a former computer analyst at HSBC’s private bank in Geneva with industrial espionage and breaching the country’s secrecy laws for passing confidential client data to foreign authorities.
Herve Falciani gave prosecutors in France and Spain data on thousands of Swiss bank accounts. He has previously told Reuters that he was a whistleblower trying to help governments track down citizens who used accounts in Switzerland to evade paying tax.But Switzerland’s attorney general, which did not identify Falciani by name, said Thursday that the former IT analyst had tried to profit from the data. It accused him of trying to sell the information to banks in Lebanon. “Sometimes celebrated as a hero abroad, the Franco-Italian national is now to answer for his alleged crimes before a Swiss court. The Swiss Criminal Procedure Code does not exclude the possibility of holding a court trial of the accused person in absentia,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
The attorney general said HSBC and several bank customers were also taking part in the proceedings as private claimants. Efforts to contact Falciani through his lawyer in France were unsuccessful. In an interview with French newspaper La Croix published Tuesday, Falciani hinted at the justice probe. “The struggle against corruption has caused me a lot of trouble. I have also won the satisfaction of accomplishing, along with others, my duty as a citizen.” His former employer, HSBC, declined to comment.
Whistleblowers in Switzerland, where breaking secrecy law is punishable by jail, have typically been pursued by Swiss prosecutors. HSBC has previously disputed various aspects of Falciani’s story, including his contention that he is a whistleblower – the bank contends he tried to sell the data he absconded with and only cooperated with prosecutors when he was arrested in Spain to face extradition charges. HSBC has also denied any role in helping clients avoid taxes. The list of HSBC clients supplied by Falciani has prompted investigations across the globe. Last month, Argentina charged HSBC with helping more than 4,000 clients evade taxes via secret Swiss bank accounts and a Belgian judge charged HSBC’s Swiss private bank with tax fraud and money laundering. French prosecutors are also probing whether HSBC offered illicit products to help French clients avoid tax. Monaco-born Falciani, who has French and Italian citizenship, collected data on HSBC account holders when he worked in its information technology department from 2006 to 2008.

Monitor: Kurdish Forces Kill 16 Jihadists in Syria
Naharnet/Kurdish forces killed at least 16 Islamic State group fighters in an attack on Saturday in northeast Syria near the border with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The assault targeted IS positions south of the town of Ras al-Ain in Hasakeh province, the Britain-based monitoring group added. Ras al-Ain was the scene of fierce fighting last year before Kurdish forces ousted the jihadists from the border town. The Observatory, which relies on activists and medics on the ground for its information, also reported clashes at the jihadist-besieged border town of Kobane, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. IS fighters, who already control swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq, launched an assault on the town on September 16. But they have been held off by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militiamen, Kurdish peshmerga reinforcements from Iraq and U.S.-led coalition air strikes. The Observatory also said IS jihadists had beheaded four men in public in the central province of Homs after accusing them of "insulting God".
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with protests against the regime of President Bashar Assad, escalating into armed conflict when his forces cracked down hard on dissent.  Nearly four years of civil war ravaging the country have killed an estimated 200,000 people and also displaced half of the population. Agence France Presse

Multiple Attacks Kill 20 in Afghanistan as NATO Deadline Looms
Naharnet/Taliban insurgents killed at least 20 people in a series of gun and suicide attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday, underlining worsening security as U.S.-led NATO forces end their combat mission in the country. A suicide blast wrecked an Afghan military bus in Kabul, killing seven soldiers, while a senior court official was assassinated in the city and 12 Afghan mine clearance workers were gunned down in the south. Two NATO soldiers were also killed on Friday in an attack in the east of Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement, without identifying their nationality.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for all the attacks.
The latest bout of violence comes ahead of the official end of NATO's war against the Taliban on December 31 after 13 years of fighting that has failed to thwart the Islamist insurgency. The bloodshed has wrecked claims that the insurgency is weakening and has highlighted fears that Afghanistan could trip into a spiral of violence as the U.S.-led military presence declines. NATO's force in Afghanistan will change at the end of the year from a combat mission to a support role, with troop numbers cut to about 12,500 -- down from a peak of 130,000 in 2010. On Saturday, a suicide bomber on foot detonated explosives next to the military bus in central Kabul, destroying the vehicle in one of the busiest parts of the city as people left work. "The suicide attack on an Afghan army bus today killed seven and injured 18 more, including some civilians," General Ayoub Salangi, the deputy interior minister, said. The Taliban have often targeted buses that take government and military personnel to and from work everyday in Kabul, despite efforts by security forces to provide protection for the vulnerable vehicles.
- Worsening security -
Earlier in the day, Taliban gunmen shot dead a senior Supreme Court official in the city as he left his home.
Insurgents also killed 12 mine clearance workers in the restive southern province of Helmand in attack that President Ashraf Ghani condemned as "unjustifiable and un-Islamic".The Taliban have targeted de-mining projects before, beheading seven workers in the western province of Farah in 2011. On Thursday, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among the audience attending a performance at a French cultural centre in Kabul, killing one German national and wounding 15 others. Other recent targets have included foreign guesthouses, a female Afghan member of parliament, a British embassy convoy and three members of a South African family killed when their compound was attacked. Kabul has been hit by at least 12 suicide attacks in the last month. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on a visit to Kabul a week ago that the upsurge showed "that the international community must not waver in its support for a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan". He insisted Afghanistan would not go the way of Iraq, where another U.S.-trained army virtually collapsed in the face of an onslaught by Islamic State jihadists after American troops left the country in 2011. But Afghan officials have expressed alarm over the challenge facing the local security forces who must increasingly tackle the insurgents without NATO military assistance. Afghan soldiers and police have suffered soaring casualties, with more than 4,600 killed in the first 10 months of this year. Ghani, who came to power in September, has vowed to bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict, saying he is open to talks with any insurgent group. Ghani finally emerged as president after signing a power-sharing deal with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah. The two men each claimed to have won fraud-tainted elections in a prolonged stand-off that caused political paralysis in Kabul and fanned instability nationwide. Agence France Presse