December 15/14

Bible Quotation for today/A Rest for God's People
Hebrews 03/07-16: " So then, as the Holy Spirit says, “If you hear God's voice today, do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were when they rebelled against God, as they were that day in the desert when they put him to the test. There they put me to the test and tried me, says God, although they had seen what I did for forty years.  And so I was angry with those people and said, ‘They are always disloyal and refuse to obey my commands.’  I was angry and made a solemn promise: ‘They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest!’” My friends, be careful that none of you have a heart so evil and unbelieving that you will turn away from the living God.  Instead, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must help one another every day, as long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us.  For we are all partners with Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning. This is what the scripture says: “If you hear God's voice today, do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were when they rebelled against God.” Who were the people who heard God's voice and rebelled against him? All those who were led out of Egypt by Moses.  With whom was God angry for forty years? With the people who sinned, who fell down dead in the desert.  When God made his solemn promise, “They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest”—of whom was he speaking? Of those who rebelled. We see, then, that they were not able to enter the land, because they did not believe."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 14-15/14
Haidar al-Abadi's fearless vow to fight corruption/
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/December 14/14
Pollster: Netanyahu Could Lose This Election/Ryan Jones/Israel Today/December 14/14
Of fear, loathing and tortured bodies and souls/Hisham Melhem /Al Arabiya/December 14/14
Egypt faces a war on several fronts/Osman Mirghani/Asharq Al Awsat/December 14/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 14-15/14
Hezbollah, FPM against Salafist group leading hostage negotiations: report
Aoun, Geagea may meet soon for presidential talks: MPs
France pushing for electing consensus president
Hundreds rally for Lebanon's captive servicemen
Nusra, ISIS appoint new hostage mediator: report
Israel began stealing Lebanon's oil 7 years ago: Hezbollah MP
Army detains Muslim Scholars member in Arsal
Northeast Lebanon gunmen release Arsal resident
Tripoli residents rally for reconstruction
Lebanese soldiers shoot cell phone shop robber
Jumblatt renews calls to legalize marijuana
Hezbollah 'against' Salafists leading hostage talks
There is a plot to destroy Arsal: mayor
Christmas bells still ring in southern suburbs
Fugitives arrested on way to Arsal militants
Chouf residents protest new landfill proposal
Two Syrian toddlers die after fire in tent

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 14-15/14
ISIS regaining ground in western Iraq: local officials
Peshmerga, Shi’ite forces coordinating in Jaloula: Kurdish commander
ISIS shoots down Iraqi helicopter
France says it has 'neutralized' 200 jihadists in Sahel
British MPs want access to redacted parts of CIA torture report
Collision kills 13 Egyptian fishermen in Gulf of Suez
U.N. stresses need to catch attackers of Israel embassy
Climate talks adopt format for carbon pledges
Egypt sends 439 to military trials over violence
Egypt bars entry of U.S. scholar critical of govt
Yemeni army kills five Al-Qaeda suspects near Saudi border
Fighting near Libya's main border crossing to Tunisia
US Congress passes Russia sanctions, arms for Ukraine
U.S. credibility on the line
Palestinians seek U.N. resolution on occupation

Jihad Watch Site Posts For Saturday
France: Muslim parents told, “It’s pork or nothing”
UK foreign aid millions helped Iran hang 3,000 in reign of terror
Islamic State storms town in western Iraq, kills 19 police
Yemen kills ‘al-Qaeda militants disguised as veiled women’
Turkish imam joins the Islamic State
UK: Soldiers told not to yell at or use “insulting words” with terror suspects
Islamic State shoots down Iraqi helicopter
Australia: Two Muslimas flee to Islamic State to become jihadi brides
Islamic State jihadi murdered 70 because “they were saying bad words about Aisha”
FBI, DHS issue bulletin for law enforcement warning of lone wolf domestic terrorism
Indian manufacturing exec ran the most influential Islamic State Twitter account

Hezbollah, FPM against Salafist group leading hostage negotiations: report
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement are wary over the prospect of allowing a Salafist group lead negotiations over the release of Lebanon's 25 captive servicemen, a report said Sunday. Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah quoted sources close to the parties as saying they were against the Muslim Scholars Committee being tasked by the Lebanese government to handle the case after Qatar ended its mediation last week. However, a March 8 source told The Daily Star that the report's content was false, and that Hezbollah did not make such a statement. Regardless of Hezbollah's "well known stance" toward the Muslim Scholars Committee, the source added, the party has not voiced any objection to tasking the committee with the negotiations, and the government has not yet discussed this issue. Also Sunday, Al-Jadeed TV reported that the Nusra Front and ISIS have assigned a new mediator, Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, to carry out the negotiations after Qatar pulled its negotiator last week. Qatar's move came as a result of the killing of policemen Ali Bazzal by the Nusra Front earlier this month. The Muslim Scholars Committee asked the government to formally put the group in charge of the file after Qatar quit. But the government has yet to issue a decision. The servicemen have been held hostage by Nusra and ISIS militants on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal for more than four months.

Geagea visits Saudi Arabia for talks on presidential void
Dec. 15, 2014/Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea traveled to Saudi Arabia Sunday on an official visit for talks with senior Saudi officials likely to center on the 6-month-old presidential stalemate. During his visit, he is also expected to meet former premier Saad Hariri to discuss how to end the void in the country’s top Christian post, an LF source told The Daily Star. Hariri has called for the election of a consensus president as the only way to break the deadlock. This is Geagea’s second visit this year to Saudi Arabia, which wields great influence in Lebanon with its support for the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition. The visit comes as efforts have been stepped up to arrange a meeting between Geagea, the March 14-backed presidential candidate, and his arch political foe, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition for the presidency. Geagea’s trip also coincided with intensified attempts to launch a dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah with the aim of facilitating the election of a president and defusing sectarian tensions stoked by the war in Syria.
Speaker Nabih Berri said the finalization of the dialogue agenda would lead to holding the first session between officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah before the end of the year after the return of Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s staff, from the United States.
Berri, according to visitors, said he would open the oil and gas file with all its details early next year in light of credible information that Israel has begun stealing gas reserves from Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone from a marine area it had seized as a result of its agreement with Cyprus. In preparation, Berri is to meet Monday with the parliamentary Energy Committee in the presence of the Petroleum Administration, experts and technicians to gather all information related to the file. He will also meet with the UNIFIL commander in the south for this purpose. He was quoted as saying the dispute over the licensing for offshore gas exploration in five Lebanese blocks has been resolved. “The licensing should cover the five blocks.” Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged the four rival Maronite leaders – Aoun, Geagea, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel and Marada Movement chief MP Sleiman Frangieh – to make sacrifices to facilitate the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman. “Patriarch Rai is fully convinced that the four Maronite leaders should make sacrifices in order to ensure the election of a consensus president,” a senior source close to Bkirki told The Daily Star Sunday night. This was viewed as an implicit call by the patriarch on the four leaders to withdraw from the presidency race in favor of a compromise candidate. The source said Rai, who has harshly criticized parliamentarians for failing to elect a president in the past six months, did not support a presidential candidate from either the March 8 or March 14 camp. “The patriarch is seeing that the entire region is on the boil, while the [Syrian] fire is spreading to Lebanon. Therefore, the election of a president is urgently needed to prevent the regional conflagration from engulfing Lebanon,” the source said.
Referring to long-simmering political divisions within the Christian community in general, and the Maronite sect in particular, he said: “The patriarch is continuing his efforts to arrive at the election of a president. For this purpose, he is working to close Maronite ranks with a view to reaching comprehensive national unity through the election of a president.”MPs from the LF and FPM said efforts were underway to bring Geagea and Aoun together soon. “There is nonstop communication between the FPM and LF which might lead to a dialogue and most probably it will lead to that,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc told LBCI TV. “We will discuss the presidential election.” LF MP Antoine Zahra said a meeting between Geagea and Aoun might take place at any moment. “We refuse a dialogue between the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement for the sake of wasting time and taking pictures,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

France pushing for election of consensus president
Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star/Dec. 15, 2014
France, out of its commitment to protect Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty and free decision-making, is determined to push for the election of a consensus president as the only way to end the deadlock that has left the country without a head of state for more than six months, diplomatic sources said. The sources said last week’s visit to Beirut by Jean-Francois Girault, chief of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department, underscored France’s increasing concern over the Lebanese presidential stalemate that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening to cripple the government’s work.
Girault, who attended most of premier Tammam Salam’s meetings with senior French officials in Paris last week, is expected to leave for Iran soon and later for Saudi Arabia as part of his shuttle diplomacy to resolve the presidential crisis in Lebanon, the sources said.
Regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia wield great influence in Lebanon, where Tehran and Riyadh back opposing sides.
During his two-day visit to Beirut, Girault warned rival Lebanese leaders he had met of the dangers surrounding Lebanon as a result of the continued presidential vacuum and the war in Syria, now in its fourth year. He also said France was ready to facilitate an agreement among the rival factions on the election of a consensus president.
France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, will not allow the country to collapse and is closely following up the situation, either through its envoys to Beirut, the French Embassy’s reports or by keeping track of the Lebanese crisis from Paris to propose necessary solutions, the sources said. On this basis, sources in the French capital said that Paris had formed a parliamentary panel from the Foreign Affairs Committee with the participation of heads of rightist and leftist blocs who would visit Beirut soon for talks with Lebanese officials on Lebanon’s military, economic and technical needs.
One major outcome of Salam’s three-day official visit to Paris last week and his talks with French President Francois Hollande was that the latter had ordered the acceleration of a French arms delivery to the Lebanese Army paid for by a $3 billion Saudi grant.
The diplomatic sources who participated in Girault’s meetings in Beirut said that the French envoy’s activity was exploratory, as is the case with most foreign envoys who visit Lebanon in an attempt to examine the paralysis that has hit the presidency.
The sources said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s meetings with rival Lebanese leaders in Beirut earlier this month were not merely to discuss the presidential crisis.
Russia, like Iran, is suffering from lower oil prices and is trying to employ its efforts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in order to improve the conditions of negotiations with the West over the Ukraine crisis, the sources said.
Similarly, Iran is obstructing a political solution in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria until it is rewarded in its negotiations with Western powers over its nuclear program, they added.
At the peak of regional complexities, there are internal Lebanese demands for holding the presidential vote without waiting for months for external agreements to speed up a political solution in Lebanon.
According to the sources, the few remaining weeks of this year will witness stepped up activity by foreign officials in tandem with internal political moves, mainly the planned talks between the Future Movement and Hezbollah and attempts to hold an inter-Christian dialogue between Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea aimed at setting the stage for the election of a consensus president.
Among the foreign officials to visit Lebanon could be an envoy from the Vatican to convey its call on Lebanese officials to quickly elect a president, the sources said.
Parliamentary sources in both the LF and FPM said if the ongoing internal attempts, backed by regional and international powers, produced results, the election of a president could be expected next spring. While contacts continue between Christian politicians, and between Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and Maronite political leaders, sources familiar with these communications said that most of the Christian leaders have become convinced that Lebanon’s next president will be a consensus candidate. This virtually rules out both Aoun and Geagea as candidates for the presidency. The sources quoted Aoun’s visitors as saying the FPM leader was inclined toward this conviction, but asked what other choice he would be given if he accepted to pull out of the presidency race. For his part, Rai was quoted as expressing cautious optimism about the election of a compromise president in the first three months of the new year.
Nusra, ISIS appoint new Lebanon hostage mediator: report
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/BEIRUT: The kidnappers of Lebanon's 25 captive soldiers and policemen have appointed a new mediator to conduct negotiations with the government, Al-Jadeed television reported Sunday. The channel, citing unnamed sources, said the Nusra Front and ISIS selected Sheikh Wissam Masri last Wednesday to communicate their demands to Lebanon. The news came a week after Qatar withdrew its mediator who had been tasked with the negotiations. Al-Jadeed said Masri had delivered new demands by the captors to Lebanese intelligence agencies, but that the government had not yet responded. The new demands include the release of the ex-wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the wife of ISIS commander Anas Sharkas, better known by his nom-de-guerre Abu Ali al-Shishani. Nusra and ISIS are still holding at least 25 servicemen hostage on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal.

Fugitives arrested on way to Arsal militants
Nizar Hassan/Hashem Osseiran/The Daily Star/Dec. 15, 2014
BEIRUT: Two wanted Syrians, one of them wearing an explosive belt, were arrested by the Lebanese Army Sunday en route to meet militants holding 25 Lebanese servicemen on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal. Late Sunday, the Lebanese Army clashed with militants on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Ras Baalbak. The Army’s airborne regiment sent reinforcements to the area, the National News Agency reported. The two fugitives were among five men – including a Lebanese Muslim Scholars Committee member – arrested by the Army as they were headed to the outskirts of Arsal in a Nissan Armada SUV. The Army also confiscated an explosive belt and weapons packed in their car. Syrian sheikhs Mohammad Hussein Yahia and Mohammad al-Mohammad are wanted fugitives, security sources told The Daily Star. Yahia, who is close to a Nusra Front emir in the Qalamoun region Sheikh Abu Malek al-Tali, was wearing an explosive belt ready for detonation, the sources said. From inside the car the Army seized two hand grenades, three rifles, four handguns and ammunition, the military said in a statement.
The Army detonated the explosive belt and handed over the suspects to the relevant authorities. An Army source told The Daily Star that Committee member Sheikh Hussam Ghali, who is also the general coordinator for Lebanon’s Islamic Medical Association, was among those detained. Ghali was released Sunday evening but his two bodyguards remained incarcerated, security sources confirmed. Ghali told Al-Jadeed TV that the group was going to the outskirts for talks with the captors of 25 Lebanese hostages. The two Syrian sheikhs, Ghali said, were militants tasked with facilitating the Committee member’s voyage to the outskirts and escorting him to the captors’ headquarters. Ghali added that weapons confiscated from the car belonged to his bodyguards but denied knowing that Yahia was wearing an explosive belt.
Muslim Scholars Committee member Sheikh Adnan Ammama told The Daily Star that Ghali attempted to go to the outskirts in an effort to receive a pledge from the captors to stop killings and threats. “Though we have not been officially appointed by the government Sheikh Hussam was keen on carrying out this humanitarian duty,” he said. The Muslim Scholars Committee, a gathering of Salafist sheikhs, brokered a cease-fire that ended five days of clashes between the Army and militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front who overran Arsal in August. The jihadis withdrew from the town, but took with them more than 30 Army soldiers and Internal Security Forces personnel as hostages.
Last week the Committee said that it wanted to be in charge of mediation efforts with the captors, but that it would only do so if it was formally commissioned by the government to manage the talks. As sharp differences of opinion over the handling of the hostages file surfaced in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the families of Lebanon’s 25 captive soldiers and policemen slammed the government for failing to bring back their men, threatening to take matters into their own hands. “This is a failed government that cannot bring the sons of its institutions back to their mothers,” Omar Haidar, a member of the captives’ families committee told hundreds of people at a solidarity rally for the hostages in Downtown Beirut. Haidar criticized lawmakers for agreeing to extend their own mandates and “insulting the Lebanese people’s dignity,” but failing to stop the killings of captive servicemen. “The baby who was born while his father was absent will ask you, Mr. prime minister: What have you done to my father?” Haidar said, warning that the families have trusted the authorities for too long, and that their patience was running out. “We will become [like] ISIS if we have to,” he said, suggesting they would resort to violence.
The families Saturday said they had commissioned Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt – who supports a swap deal to free the captives – to speak on their behalf during talks with the Lebanese government as he has “proved to be the sincerest” in dealing with their case.
At the rally, the crowd was most touched by a speech from the 6-year-old daughter of captive Abbas Msheikh. “I miss you so much, my father. You know that I love you a lot. Where are you?” she said. “You used to get me anything I asked for. This time I am I asking you to come back. Why don’t you? “You grew up living as an orphan and living without a mother. Why do they want me to live as an orphan as well?”“I do not want to go the park, I do not want presents or new clothes,” the girl said. “I want you to come back and hug me, father.”Sabrina Krumba, the wife of captive Ziad Omar, made another emotional speech, recounting to the crowd the story of Ali Bazzal’s killing as told to her by her husband when she visited him recently in Arsal’s outskirts.
She said Ali was called in during the morning like each time the kidnappers had threatened to kill him, but he was not expecting to actually be murdered that day. “Do not have lunch without me, I’m coming back. I come back every time,” Bazzal told his fellow captives before being taken out of their holding room, she said. Krumba said that her husband and the hostages have become almost hopeless, and have lost trust in the government’s ability to free them. “Our government has left us. It has given us up,” she quoted her husband as saying. – With additional reporting by Nidal al-Solh

Hundreds rally for Lebanon's captive servicemen
Nizar Hassan/The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014
BEIRUT: The families of Lebanon's 25 captive soldiers and policemen slammed the government Sunday for failing to bring back their men, threatening to take matters into their own hands. “This is a failed government that cannot bring the sons of its institutions back to their mothers,” Omar Haidar, a member of the captives’ families committee told hundreds of people at a solidarity rally for the hostages in Downtown Beirut. Haidar criticized lawmakers for agreeing to extend their own mandates and “insulting the Lebanese people’s dignity,” but failing to stop the killings captive servicemen. “The baby who was born while his father was absent will ask you, Mr. Prime Minister: What have you done to my father?” Haidar said, warning that the families have trusted the authorities for too long, and that their patience was running out. “We will become [like] ISIS if we have to,” he said, suggesting they would resort to violence. Hecklers booed and shouted for several minutes after MP Naji Gharios from the Change and Reform bloc took the podium, which led to the intervention of security guards, highlighting the level of animosity among the families towards the government.  But Gharios resumed his speech after the crowd calmed down, telling them that he considered the captives his relatives too, and that his bloc never stopped supporting them.
Speakers from organizations representing a variety of religious groups addressed the crowd of supporters who held banners in support of the Army and security forces, as well as pictures of the captives. The speakers stressed on the unity between the different communities of Lebanon around the cause, and called for a quick solution that can put an end to the ongoing crisis and bring back the hostages alive. “We should not thank those who attended today, because this is the minimum of their duties,” TV host Rima Karaki said, speaking at the gathering. “We should rather name those who did not.” “We have done very little to deserve this Army,” Karaki said.
Pastor Tony Khadra, head of a Christian NGO called Labora, urged the creation of a shadow cabinet to monitor the authorities’ performance on the crisis. Such a shadow government, he said, must include figures from parties and groups who are not represented in the Cabinet, especially NGOs and civil society activist groups. Among the visitors of the families were a group of student representatives belonging to various political parties who spoke in support of the families and their actions, calling on authorities to intensify their efforts.
Sabrina Krumba, the wife of captive Ziad Omar, recounted to the crowd the story of Ali Bazzal’s killing as told to her by her husband when she visited him recently in Arsal’s outskirts. She said Ali was called in during the morning like each time the kidnappers had threatened to kill him, but he was not expecting to actually be murdered that day. “Do not have lunch without me, I’m coming back. I come back every time,” he told his fellow captives before being taken out of their holding room. Krumba explained that her husband and the hostages have become almost hopeless, and have lost trust in the government’s ability to free them. “Our government has left us. It has given us up,” she quoted her husband as saying. The angry speaker compared ministers to mummies, saying they only cared about their posts in the cabinet and lost all sense of compassion. “You are not Lebanon, we are Lebanon,” she said, addressing the government. “We will bring them back if you fail to.”

Aoun, Geagea may meet soon for presidential talks: MPs
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement are in continuous dialogue, and a session joining the two parties’ chiefs is expected to take place soon, lawmakers from both parties announced Sunday.
“There is nonstop communication and dialogue with the [Lebanese] Forces, and this is expected to lead to more dialogue,” Reform and Change Bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan said in a TV interview Sunday morning. “We will attempt to agree on a common vision despite the healthy democratic competition between us.” Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra confirmed Kanaan’s comments in an interview with local radio sation Voice of Lebanon 93.3. “The meeting between [FPM chief] Gen. Michel Aoun and [LF head] Dr. Samir Geagea might happen at any moment,” he said. Zahra stressed that he opposed a merely symbolic dialogue between the FPM and the LF, and that the dialogue should only be held with the purpose of imrpoving ties. “We refuse that the dialogue between the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement be for the sake of wasting time and taking pictures,” he said, adding that Aoun’s insistence on reaching the presidential post and his rejection of any other candidates has been hampering the dialogue. Lebanon has been without head of state since May 25, when former president Michel Sleiman left office at the end of his term. Aoun and Geagea are March 8 and March 14’s respective presidential candidates, but neither of them have enough parliamentary support to be elected.

Israel began stealing Lebanon's oil 7 years ago: Hezbollah MP
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/BEIRUT: Israel has been dipping into Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas reserves for years, Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi warned Sunday, days after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri made a similar statement. “The Israeli enemy had started drilling for oil more than seven years ago,” the MP said in a statement released Sunday. Musawi said that Israel has been violating 860 square kilometers of “Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone,” noting that the violation has yet to receive a governmental response that would allow Lebanon to reclaim the area. Israel believes it has a claim over the area, while the U.N. considers the same region to be a disputed zone between the two countries, Musawi added. The U.N. position means that all parties should refrain from drilling, exploration or any other form of activity, he added. But Lebanon should immediately begin exploring the reserves and extracting what it can, especially if the oil were to be deemed a shared resource, since Israel's seven-year head start puts it at an advantage to sell. He also warned of the possibility that Israel is using horizontal drilling to access reserves that belong exclusively to Lebanon. “It is the duty of the government to make it a top priority to preserve Lebanon’s oil resources.” Last week, Berri told Al-Akhbar that he had received credible information from an unnamed “international scientist” that Israel had started siphoning off gas from one of Lebanon’s reserves in an area close to the southern border with Israel. The oil and gas is being siphoned off at a very low cost, he told the daily, vowing to raise the issue of licensing for offshore gas exploration at the start of the new year. Last August, the Lebanese government postponed for the fifth time the first round of licensing for offshore gas exploration due to political disagreements. The dispute was over the designation of blocks open for bidding and the terms of a draft exploration and production agreement. Experts had warned that some international companies were re-evaluating the situation in light of the repeated delays of the licensing round.

Lebanese soldiers shoot cell phone shop robber
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/BEIRUT: Lebanese Army soldiers shot a man early Sunday who fired at them after they caught him breaking into a cell phone store, the military said in a statement. The Army said it shot Elie Jamal in the Mount Lebanon town of Faytaroun, about 35 kilometers northeast of Beirut, before moving him to a hospital. The statement said Jamal fired shots at soldiers using a hunting rifle after they caught him trying to rob a cell phone shop.No soldiers were wounded in the incident.

Tripoli residents rally for reconstruction
Antoine Amrieh| The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Residents of Tripoli’s embattled Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood Sunday protested delays in the reconstruction of their homes and shops destroyed during a military offensive against jihadist militants in October. Speaking on behalf of area residents, lawyer Saleh Mukaddam warned that “a social explosion is often stronger than political and security disputes,” while stressing that Tripoli’s security plan could not be completed without balanced growth and reconstruction.
He said residents are still waiting for the reconstruction of their homes ravaged by four days of fierce battles that pitted the Lebanese Army against militants across north Lebanon. Mukaddam also expressed his fears that the dossier would be riddled with political considerations which, in turn, could contribute to prolonging the execution of rehabilitation projects. Despite the concern, he expressed his “full trust” in Secretary-General of the Higher Relief Committee Maj. Gen. Mohammad Khair, urging him to expedite reconstruction.
Displaying compensation checks issued to some of the residents, Mukaddam pointed out that not a single check exceeded LL 200,000 ($132), when the cost of repairing the damages is tens of thousands of dollars. Lebanon’s Cabinet declared Bab al-Tabbaneh a “disaster-stricken area” after the October clashes, allocating $20 million in compensation and reconstruction projects. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri followed suit with his own $20 million pledge to affected areas.

Jumblatt renews calls to legalize marijuana
The Daily Star/Dec. 14, 2014 /BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt has renewed calls to legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. In a tweet late-Saturday, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party wrote that the time has come to sanction pot and end the state's prosecution of its sellers. "It is time to allow for the cultivation of marijuana, and to drop the right to issue arrest warrants against people who work in this field," the prominent Druze leader said. Jumblatt caused a stir in May when he announced unequivocally that he was for legalizing marijuana. At the time, he told Al-Jadeed television that he supported the cultivation of the drug to help struggling farmers. “Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley,” Jumblatt had said. “Let’s legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation,” the politician said. Once a thriving multi-billion-dollar business, cannabis cultivation was targeted by the Lebanese government in the early 1990s due to international pressure. Crop substitution programs devised by the Agriculture Ministry in coordination with the United Nations and other international organizations have failed to yield positive results and Lebanese farmers continue to grow the lucrative crop despite yearly crackdowns by the state.

Pollster: Netanyahu Could Lose This Election
Sunday, December 14, 2014/ Ryan Jones/Israel Today
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month set in motion the process of early elections against the backdrop of public opinion polls showing his Likud Party cruising to an easy victory. But more recent polls have revealed an opposite trend, and a leading pollster now says Netanyahu is by no means a shoe-in for Israel’s next prime minister. Last week, a pre-election poll for the first time showed Likud coming in second to the leftist Labor Party and its new alliance with former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua faction.
According to that poll, carried out by the Knesset Channel, if elections were held today, Labor would win 23 seats, while Netanyahu and his Likud would take 21, meaning Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog would most likely be tapped by President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government. Subsequent polls have again shown Likud on top, just barely, but Netanyahu also appeared to be losing the support of several centrist and right-leaning parties, meaning that even if Likud scores more seats, Herzog could still have the best chance of cobbling together a coalition. Of note, both Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party and former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon’s new Kulanu faction have expressed willingness to join a Labor-led coalition. Current centrist powerhouse Yesh Atid, which is expected to take a nosedive in the upcoming vote, would also almost certainly join with Labor, as would the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, for the right price.
Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, who conducts political polls for Channel 10 News and Ha’aretz, told a press conference organized by the Jerusalem Press Club that “it is no longer guaranteed that Netanyahu will be the next prime minsiter.”
Fuchs explained that up until about a month ago, Netanyahu remaining in the prime minister’s chair was considered a “1”, a statistical certainty. Today, said Fuchs, that number had dropped to somewhere between “0” and “1”, though he believed Netanyahu still had a better chance than any other candidate of heading the next government. Fuchs further noted that the overall trend among Israeli voters is to the right, though parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu crossing political lines could still bring a left-wing government to power. The professor also pointed out that the public’s growing distaste for Netanyahu notwithstanding, a plurality of voters still view him as the best candidate for prime minister

Haidar al-Abadi's fearless vow to fight corruption

Sunday, 14 December 2014
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Was Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi sending a message to his rivals or crying out to his allies when he frankly spoke a few days ago about defying "them" –his rivals-even if this led to his assassination? Abadi is waging simultaneously a war on many fronts. He's fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and terrorist groups spreading like cancer cells in northern and western Iraq. He's also trying to stop inciting campaigns against him led by his predecessor, Nouri el-Maliki. The third front is cleansing the state of what's perhaps the biggest corruption operation in the world that destroyed most of the state resources and threaten it with bankruptcy especially with the decline in oil revenues.
Abadi was clear in linking the cleansing operation with the threat against his life. It's as if he meant specific people in his speech and he defied them saying he won't stop pursuing them even if this will cost him his life. Truth be told, his life was in danger the minute he dared to announce that he will run for the premiership last August while other candidates went into hiding out of fear of Maliki who refused to step down. One of them traveled to London and announced from there that he will reject the task of the premiership if assigned to him. It was said that another traveled to Beirut while a third candidate did not pick up any calls. Abadi was thus the only courageous man left to accept the challenge. It's due to Abadi's willingness to assume this post that Maliki thundered and said he's the only candidate for the position and that he won't submit to other options. However, Shiite clerics, the United States and some European countries warned him against that. Abadi was quickly assigned to the post in a brief ceremony where even his oath taking pictures looked bad. Since that moment, the dangerous mission of the new Iraqi prime minister began, and he doesn't know where the treacherous bullet will come from.
Emerging victorious?
Any follower of the battles with the ISIS will be realize the magnitude of the challenge and will thus be surprised at how expanded and violent it all became. It is also clear that the Iraqi forces are not likely to emerge victorious in the near future despite the support they're receiving from the U.S. There's a huge war with ISIS today - a war which U.S. troops may have seen nothing like even during their battles with al-Qaeda in the previous years. This raises serious questions regarding the Iraqi state's ability to withstand the battles in rebellious zones. The crisis is a direct result of the failure and corruption of the Maliki administration who gained the enmity of Sunni provinces and who at the same time built a weak army dependent on sectarian and personal interests. Abadi vows he will continue to reform what he inherited from Maliki - i.e. the corrupt state which he says was paying certain people billions of dollars and which provided fake contracts within the context of a wide and organized operation.
“Abadi does not have many options as the battles are intertwined and necessary for the current regime to survive”
Abadi does not have many options as the battles are intertwined and necessary for the current regime to survive. Fighting corrupt men is as important as fighting ISIS because Abadi's government will become bankrupt and collapse without the financial resources that enable it to pay employees and fund its activities and fate determining war. Some funds are also being smuggled to political parties who compete with the government and work on toppling it. This is happening at a time when most Iraqis don't have governmental jobs and when the government is still underperforming in its duties towards its citizens - duties linked to education, medication and implementing promised construction plans of which only building few football fields and some facilities have been constructed in Basra.
There's no doubt that Abadi is risking his life and a lot more at a time when his rivals are also afraid of harming him after their scandals became well-known to the Iraqis and a source of overwhelming public anger.

Of fear, loathing and tortured bodies and souls
Hisham Melhem /Al Arabiya
Saturday, 13 December 2014
Americans and people all over the world have long known that the United States government, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, engaged systematically and illegally in abducting and torturing al-Qaeda, Taliban and other detainees suspected of terrorism in its custody. This happened alone and in collaboration with many governments and used subterfuge, deception and outright lies to keep Americans and the world in the dark. However, very few knew the extent of the catalogue of depravity and cruelty visited upon these prisoners, many of whom were violent, dangerous men. This cruelty was carried out by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and other contractors to whom the CIA outsourced torture after giving it the Orwellian name “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” That was until the Senate Intelligence Committee issued what amounts to an indictment of the CIA and its political enablers in the form of its report on “Central Intelligence Agency detention, Interrogation Program.”
The report brings to the fore very disturbing questions about what Americans call the intrinsic values of their unique republic; enlightenment, human dignity, justice, rationality, freedom and moderation. The report is a painful reminder that in the climate of fear and loathing that followed the worst foreign violent violation of the mainland ever, America went into a dark territory where its elected leaders invoked the elastic concept of National Security, just like religion was invoked for centuries by leaders elsewhere, to wage unrestrained wars.
This is a tale of leaders and institutions running amok in times of war, of a sullen and fearful public willing to suspend its critical judgment of the unbridled ambitions of its leaders and letting them escape moral, legal and political accountability. Finally, the report raises a daunting question about a uniquely American dilemma: How can a colossus power, an empire in fact with strategic and economic interests all over the world reconcile defending these interests with maintaining its democratic ethos?
A chronicle of horrors
The more than 500 pages of summary, based on more than 6000 pages still classified study, is a shocking chronicle of horrors that was far more brutal than the CIA has admitted to policymakers, congress and the American public. The details of “enhanced” torture are stomach-turning and sickly sadistic. They included waterboarding, (which the U.S. classified during the Cold War as a form of torture) sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours at a time, mock executions, beatings, forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs, threats of physical and sexual abuse of family members, pouring cold water on naked bodies chained to concrete floors, (one detainee died of hypothermia) and performing on at least five detainees, what can only be called pornographic torture in the form of rectal rehydration or rectal feeding for no apparent medical reasons.
Cruelty went hand in hand with incompetence. The Agency at times did not know how many were incarcerated in its far flung dungeons. The report reveals that at least 26 of the 119 documented CIA prisoners were “wrongfully held,” including an “intellectually challenged” detainee, who was held, according to the report, solely to intimidate or convince a next of kin to provide information the CIA was seeking. The grisly details make a mockery of President Obama’s bland admission last summer that “we tortured some folks.”
An international confederacy of torturers
Traveling in that dark territory along the United States in the years that followed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were many co-conspirators, in fact there existed a confederacy of international torturers that included 54 countries, some of them providing, the aptly named “black sites,” secret prisons where local henchmen and professional torturers were unleashed on detainees who were abducted overseas then through a process known as “extraordinary rendition,” were moved to prisons abroad solely for the purpose of torturing them. The infamous case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent captures the absurdity and cruelty of this practice. In 2002 Mr. Arar was detained at JFK airport in New York on his way home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia on suspicions of belonging to al-Qaeda. After detaining him for 12 days without charges during which he was interrogated and denied access to a lawyer, U.S. authorities decided to “deport” him not to Canada, the country whose passport he was traveling on, but to Syria, a country known for its brutal torture. Mr. Arar was reportedly imprisoned in Syria for a year during which he was subjected to severe abuse and torture. No charges were ever leveled at Mr. Arar, and he received no compensation from the United States government.
Most Arab states were members in this confederacy of torturers. It is as if their motto was: we torture your prisoners, so that we can torture our prisoners with impunity, now that we are partners in crime. The “extraordinary rendition” program, suspended by President Obama, meant that the U.S. during the presidency of George W. Bush had pioneered what might be called the “globalization of torture” by using a wide international network of prison systems, to help capture, interrogate, transport and outsource torture to foreign government, and engage in practices it cannot engage in on American soil.
‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein addressed the climate of dread that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001, which were used by the Bush administration to justify the “enhanced” measures against the suspected terrorists. “It is worth remembering the pervasive fear in late 2001 and how immediate the threat felt”. She added “pressure, fear and expectations of future terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken…in the name on national security”.
“The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the “war on terrorism” have diminished the republic and tarnished American exceptionalism”
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned Americans in 1933 at the height of the Depression, that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself, he was telling them that fear itself was making their economic predicament much worse, he called it “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It was this kind of paralyzing fear of imminent threats that was invoked by the Bush administration to justify its war on terrorism and later the invasion of Iraq. Former vice President Dick Cheney said as much following the release of the report in a television interview “I think you’ve got to remember partly what was going on as well too during that period of time, we had reporting that al-Qaeda was trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons…we had the anthrax attacks, and we had every reason to expect to have a follow on attack…”
The U.S. and the rest
Many people outside the United States did not appreciate initially, the impact of the attacks on America’s collective sense of impenetrable security, and the rage many people felt when in the next days that followed we were told that the number of victims was likely to be very high, and certainly more than the 3000 documented later. Europeans and Arabs had to be reminded that one reason for America’s wrath in Afghanistan was due to the fact that their security was violated in an unprecedented way. No American city was ever, bombed, strafed or besieged a fate that befell practically every major city or capital in Europe, the Middle East and all the way to Tokyo in the twentieth century.
The bloodiest battles on American soil were those fought by Americans against fellow Americans in the epic Civil War. But as Senator Feinstein implied, even in wars there are impermissible forms of violence and violations. And in the “war on terrorism” the enhanced interrogation program and the attendant torture were immoral, illegal and unnecessary to obtain information. Republican senator John McCain, who was subjected to severe torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, rejected invoking fear because of imminent threats or using potential attacks to engage in torture, because that argument would vindicate North Vietnam’s torture of American prisoners. If another nation, even in a state of war had abducted individuals overseas, transported them illegally to foreign jails were they were subjected to torture, one could easily see the U.S. spiriting to defend the victims, denouncing torture, weighing military intervention and the imposition of economic sanctions.
Digging up bones
This is not the first time the CIA finds itself investigated for illegal activities inside and outside the U.S. In 1975 -76 The Church Committee, named after Democratic senator Frank Church issued 14 reports on the alleged abuses of law by Intelligence services particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, such as attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, as well as spying on American citizens on behalf of the Nixon administration. Those reports included recommendations for reform, in contrast with the current report by the Intelligence Committee.
The other “flaw” in the current report is that it did not include any recommendations for further reform to guarantee that these abuses will not re-occur, particularly if the President’s political party controls also both houses of congress.
Did you say accountability?
The absence of recommendations and lack of calls for prosecuting those responsible for designing, implementing and protecting these grizzly practices means that the current report is at best cathartic, allowing senator Feinstein to say that “America is big enough to admit when it is wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes.” President Obama and his Justice Department have made it very clear that heads will not roll as a result of these abominations. President Obama can be satisfied by showing his moral indignation and condemnation of torture, provided that CIA comeuppance will not exceed the moral dimension to include legal punishment.
Focusing only on the CIA and its failings during the “war on terrorism” lets the whole political class off the hook. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were overwhelmingly supported by the democratic members of congress. After 13 years of the invasion of Afghanistan (a worthy objective had it remained limited only to punishing Al Qaeda perpetrators and their Taliban enablers) and 11 years after the disastrous invasion of Iraq, none of the senior Bush administration officials expressed even a whiff of mea culpa. None of the people who ordered the invasions that led to the death and wounding of tens of thousands of American soldiers, and a countless number of Afghans and Iraqis is willing to own their decisions, or to engage in serious introspection or self-criticism. Most of them published convenient, selective memoirs to essentially re-write, or obscure history and in the process made money. Some of them still have the audacity to go on television to pontificate and give advice as to what to do now in Iraq and Syria. At times the U.S. looked and behaved like a third world country: the leadership commits costly and literally bloody blunders, and everybody’s heads remained intact. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the “war on terrorism” have diminished the republic and tarnished American exceptionalism. There is after all something rotten and scandalous in this land.

Egypt faces a war on several fronts
Osman Mirghani/Asharq Al Awsat
Sunday, 14 Dec, 2014
The measures that some Western embassies in Egypt took this week—closing their doors and warning their citizens of potential terrorist attacks—remind us once again of the extent of the threats facing the Egyptian state, and the gravity of the events taking place not only in Egypt but the region in general. Terrorism, along with wars, has been a key tool in undermining regional security and exhausting and isolating states, by either making them collapse or drown in internal chaos.
Terrorist attacks in Egypt have escalated remarkably since the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Most of the attacks have targeted the army and police, especially in the Sinai Peninsula, which some militants are seeking to turn into a base for terrorism and extremism. This was evidenced by Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis’s declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), before it started referring to itself as the Islamic State of Sinai. The connection between these two groups is perhaps what was behind the warnings issued by Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, and the US, as ISIS recently threatened to target the countries participating in the US-led international coalition carrying out airstrikes against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq.
In a step obviously prompted by its support for the Brotherhood, ISIS threatened Egypt in June over its participation in the US-led airstrikes.
Some have accused the Western countries that issued warnings of conspiring against Egypt in a bid to weaken it and portray it as an unstable state. But this interpretation overlooks the fact that the precautions taken by these embassies do not apply to Egypt alone and had already been applied in other countries where terror threat levels vary at different times and for different reasons.
Western states are not alone, almost all countries take terrorist threats seriously in order to protect their interests, citizens and security, particularly at a time when terrorism has become an international obsession. The countries that announced the recent precautionary measures have their own reasons that range from threats posed by ISIS, such as is the case for Britain, to fears of violent reactions to the release of a report accusing the CIA of using brutal interrogation techniques against detainees and using unreliable testimonies after the declaration of the “War on Terror” following the September 11, 2011 attacks.
There are serious terrorist threats to Egypt and the country is in a state of war with extremists who have escalated their attacks after the ouster of the Brotherhood from power. More dangerously, terrorist threats have coincided with the upsurge in extremism after the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Since then, jihadist groups have managed to establish a strong armed presence in several countries, from Libya and Yemen to Syria and Iraq. After ISIS captured large swathes of Syria and Iraq, the Houthi takeover of Yemen, and attempts by extremist groups to take control of Libya, the aspirations of these groups undoubtedly began to expand. Given its regional significance, Egypt remains at the top of the list in militant groups’ dreams and aspirations.
The battle against terrorism overlaps with Egyptian efforts to reform its economy, a fundamental pillar of stability. As a result, friends of Egypt have rushed to provide support while its opponents have joined hands to hamper its economic recovery. Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, have offered Egypt more than 10 billion US dollars in aid, and were keen to include the stability of Egypt on the agenda of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s recent summit in Doha. After the Egyptian economy recently started to show signs of recovery, the World Bank gave Egypt a positive assessment and predicted it would achieve almost four percent growth by next year. Therefore, hampering Egypt’s economic recovery has become an important objective for any entity that does not wish stability for Egypt. The tourism sector, along with the Suez Canal and remittances from expatriates, is the most significant source of hard currency, and has always been an easy target for terrorists. In this respect, one can understand the threats against embassies and tourists.
Having recently focused on targeting the armed forces, terrorists will without doubt try to impede Egypt’s economic recovery, as their aim remains the destabilizing and weakening of the country by targeting its security, economy and social fabric. They certainly do not want to see achievements made by the government they want to undermine. Egypt is fighting a multi-faceted battle on different fronts.