0LCCC ENGLISH DAILY
Bible Quotation for today/if
they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting"
Luke 19/28-40/: "After Jesus said this, he went on in front of them toward Jerusalem. As he came near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you; as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master needs it.” They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?” “The Master needs it,” they answered, and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen: “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!” Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “command your disciples to be quiet!” Jesus answered, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting"
Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December
A fight too far? U.S. prepares Syrian opposition for battle/Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya/December 15/14
Terror in Australia: the Question No One Wants to Ask/By Peter Ahern/AINA/December 15/14
How Iraq Became a Proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran/Jonathan Spyer and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi/The Tower/December 15/14
An Empty, Token Gesture/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Alsharq Al Awsat/December 15/14
A Matter of Conscience/Hussein Shobokshi/Asharq Al Awsat/December 15/14
Syria’s Crisis and the Absence of Leadership/Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat/December 15/14
Lebanese Related News published on December 15-16/14
Papal Ambassador Says New President May be Elected 'Soon'
Saudi official calls for presidential solution
Geagea Kicks Off Saudi Visit with Talks with Deputy Crown Prince
Geagea Expresses Pessimism over Presidential Crisis, Holds Onto Candidacy
Lebanon Launches 'Crisis Response Plan' as Salam Slams Poor Int'l Support for Refugees
Doubts cast over hostage mediator appointment
Aussie bishops visit Lebanon on Mideast tour
Lebanese ISF Sergeant Arrested for 'Smuggling' Sister of al-Nusra Jihadist
Army Foils Infiltration Attempt in Outskirts of Ras Baalbek
Families of Hostages Burn Tires as IS Threatens to Execute Another Captive
Salam walks fine line to preserve Cabinet unity
Jamil al-Sayyed Says Syria Offered 'Safe Corridor' for Qalamun Militants but Lebanon Refused
Muslim Clerics Slam Interpol Bid on Egypt-Born Preacher
Army Arrests Suspects Linked to Bhannine, Tripoli Unrest
Two Syrian Infiltrators Arrested Near Shabaa
Muslim Scholars Say Ghali had Green Light to Head to Arsal, Engage in Direct Negotiations
State Fixes Milk Prices at LL1,100 after Sharp Drop Linked to Food Safety Campaign
Miscellaneous Reports And News published on
Gunman, 2 Hostages Killed as Police End Sydney Cafe Siege
Thousands join anti-Islam protest in eastern German city
ISIS fortifying positions around Mosul: Kurdish official
Iran’s Rouhani says will try to clinch nuclear deal as talks with US resume
Jihadists capture army base in northwestern Syria
Qaida Takes Two Syrian Bases in Major Blow to Regime
Jordan Says No Plan to Push for Quick U.N. Vote on Palestine
Police Storm Cafe to End Sydney Hostage Siege, two people were dead, including the hostage-taker,
Al Azhar refuses to denounce the Islamic State as “un-Islamic”
Netanyahu Applauds Christian IDF Soldiers; 'We Are Brothers!'
The Perennial Story of Gulf Oil
New Saudi ministers take oath of office
Iraqi prime minister makes first visit to UAE
Erekat: Palestinian Authority will pursue UN statehood bid alone if necessary
Canada Concerned by Raids on Turkish Journalists and Media Outlets
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada/Ensure Your Holiday Travel Goes Off Without a Hitch
Tens of thousands dead in South Sudan conflict: UN
U.S. asks Vatican for help with Guantanamo inmates
Top separatist shot dead in South Yemen
Jihad Watch Site Posts For Sunday
Sydney police commissioner on jihad flag: “We’re still trying to work out what exactly it stands for”
Australian PM Abbott: “We don’t know the motivation” for cafe siege
As jihadis took hostages in Sydney cafe, police were doing outreach at mosque
Australia: Hostages taken in Sydney chocolate shop, Islamic jihad flag seen
Islamic State tortures Christians in their own churches
Qatar broke promise with US, allowed Gitmo detainee to leave the country
Islamic State stones couple for adultery, beheads four for blasphemy
UK: New “Islamic doll” has no facial features
Mali released four Islamic jihadists in exchange for French hostage
UK: Army cadets told not to wear uniform in public amid fears of jihad attacks
Malaysia: 18 Buddhists killed in series of “mysterious and unexplained murders”
The Perpetuity of Jihad
Papal Ambassador Says New President
May be Elected 'Soon'
Naharnet /Gabriele Caccia, the papal ambassador to Lebanon, announced Monday that the election of a new Lebanese president might be imminent, noting that the circumstances are ripe for ending the protracted presidential void. “The local, regional and international circumstances are ripe for the election of a new president soon,” Caccia said during a meeting with Maronite League chief Samir Abi al-Lamaa at the embassy's headquarters in Harissa. The presidential seat -- the country's top Christian post -- has been vacant since May 25 when the term of president Michel Suleiman ended. Political differences and electoral wrangling led to a lack of quorum during 16 electoral sessions in parliament. Several media outlets have recently reported that the Vatican might be playing a role to facilitate the election of a new president in Lebanon, with some reports saying Lebanese Ambassador to the Vatican George Khoury could be the Holy See's favorite candidate. “The Vatican is exerting efforts with Lebanese politicians in order to carry out the presidential vote as soon as possible,” Caccia said. He also noted that the Holy See's top priority is “the stabilization of the security and economic situations in Lebanon.”
Geagea Kicks Off Saudi Visit with Talks with Deputy Crown Prince
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea kicked off on Monday a visit to Saudi Arabia by meeting with deputy Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz. The two officials discussed in Riyadh the political developments in the region, including the need for the election of a new president in Lebanon. The Saudi Prince stressed that the kingdom “always stand by Lebanon.” “It will continue to back it in all steps that seek to bolster the stability, sovereignty, and security of its people,” said a statement issued by the LF. For his part, Geagea thanked the deputy crown prince and Saudi Arabia for the grants to the Lebanese army, which will help enable it confront the threat of terrorism and all other dangers facing the country. Geagea and Prince Muqrin also addressed regional developments in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. The LF chief traveled to Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Geagea had made a similar visit to the Gulf kingdom on November 20. He met with al-Mustaqbal Movement leader MP Saad Hariri and Saudi officials during that trip.
Geagea Expresses Pessimism over Presidential Crisis, Holds Onto Candidacy
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea held onto his candidacy for the presidential run, considering that the Baabda Palace post is “decaying” due to the ongoing vacuum. “I will not withdraw my candidacy until we are offered an alternative to end the presidential deadlock,” Geagea said in an interview published in the Jordanian newspaper Ad Dustour on Monday. The Christian leader expressed pessimism over the presidency crisis as Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun “is insisting on reaching the Baabda Palace.”
The LF chief has recently called on Aoun to engage in talks with him over a possible compromise candidate. Geagea warned that the presidential vacuum compromises Lebanon's future, reiterating calls on Aoun to reach a breakthrough on the political standstill. “We have two options only, we either attend the upcoming parliamentary session to elect a new head of state or we launch dialogue with the FPM to bridge the gap, without putting any preconditions,” he told his interviewer. He revealed the communication channels are open with the FPM, saying that the rival parties “should agree on a compromise candidate, who is acceptable by all parties.”“The presidential post is slowly decaying and no matter what the circumstances and backgrounds are we can not go on like that,” Geagea added. He strongly criticized the parties responsible for impeding the presidential elections, saying: “Their endeavors are dragging the country to the bottom.”Aoun is still the candidate of the March 8 camp in the face of Geagea, the nominee of the March 14 forces. The rivalry between the two men has led to a lack of quorum in 16 electoral sessions in parliament, amid a boycott by the MPs of Aoun and Hizbullah. The presidential seat has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's term ended on May 25.
Lebanon Launches 'Crisis Response Plan' as Salam Slams Poor Int'l Support for Refugees
Naharnet/Lebanon and the U.N. have launched a plan that calls for an estimated $2.1 billion to help the country cope with the fallout from the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Crisis Response Plan for Lebanon announced Monday outlines the priorities of the government and international community over the next two years. It aims to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees while also expanding plans to invest in services and institutions in the most affected areas. It hopes to reach some 2.9 million people, half of them Lebanese. The plan was launched at the Grand Serail in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, Lebanese and international officials and a number of foreign ambassadors. The plan aims to “consolidate stability in the country during this critical phase.”Hailing the Lebanese people's hospitality, Eliasson noted that Lebanon is facing a burden that no single country in the world can cope with. He urged the member states of the U.N. to show solidarity by boosting their aid to Lebanon and its people.
Salam meanwhile lamented “the insufficient financial support” that has been offered to Lebanon, while noting that the international community has also failed to take “practical measures” to assist Lebanon in the face of the growing security threats. “We hope the Crisis Response Plan for Lebanon will be more than just an alarm, but rather a roadmap that allow donors to focus on certain sectors in order to make the needed difference,” the prime minister added. Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas had said in comments published Monday in al-Liwaa newspaper that “37% of the donations will be spent on the structural and financial support of the country, while the remaining 63 percent will be used to aid around one million poor families on Lebanese soil -- both Syrian and Lebanese.”
The minister pointed out that several ministries are participating in the plan in cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. According to Central Bank of Lebanon statistics, the country faces a financial burden of $4.5 billion because of the refugee crisis. Derbas told the daily that the government is seeking to avert the repercussions of a decision by the United Nations to suspend food aid to 1.7 million refugees due to lack of funds, revealing that Saudi Arabia pledged to aid Lebanon in this regard. Around 700,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon rely on the U.N. aid. The suspension is particularly troublesome for Lebanon, which hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.There are no formal camps. Many of the refugees live in encampments, collective shelters and abandoned construction sites. Many make out a living hand-to-mouth on U.N. cash aid and food vouchers. In December, the U.N. World Food Program suspended an electronic food voucher program serving refugees, saying donors failed to meet their commitments. The end of the program, which allows refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt to buy food in local shops, means that "many families will go hungry," the U.N. agency said in a statement. The WFP said it needed $64 million (51 million euros) to fund its food voucher program for December alone and that "many donor commitments remain unfulfilled." The move is a devastating blow to the conflict's most vulnerable refugees, particularly ahead of what promises to be a harsh winter. It also represents another manifestation of the world's failure to deal with the massive human catastrophe begun by Syria's civil war. Lebanon has all but shut its frontiers to new refugees, allowing only humanitarian exceptions across, and the state is beyond its absorption capacities and urgently needs other countries to share its burden.
Lebanese ISF Sergeant Arrested for 'Smuggling' Sister of al-Nusra Jihadist
Naharnet /The army arrested Monday an Internal Security Forces sergeant as he was smuggling the sister of a member of al-Nusra Front from a Lebanese region to another. “A patrol from the Lebanese army's Intelligence Directorate has arrested ISF Sergeant H. al-Fleiti along with Fatima al-Ahmed, a sister of Hmoud al-Ahmed – one of the members of al-Nusra Front who abducted several ISF members from the Arsal police station” in early August, state-run National News Agency reported. LBCI television said Fleiti was apprehended in the Bekaa border town of al-Qaa on charges of “smuggling Syrian suspects from Beirut to Arsal in return for money.” “He was trying to smuggle Fatima to Masharii al-Qaa in a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV,” NNA said. Several ISF members and army troops were taken hostage when jihadists from al-Nusra and the Islamic State briefly overran Arsal in August and engaged in fierce battles with the Lebanese army.Four captives have been executed so far, and the jihadists have threatened to kill the remaining hostages unless there is a deal to free Islamist prisoners in Lebanon.
Families of Hostages Burn Tires as IS Threatens to Execute Another Captive
Naharnet/The families of captive servicemen burned tires on Monday near the Grand Serail in Beirut's Riad Solh Square after receiving threats from Islamist gunmen. The relatives of the soldiers and policemen, who were taken hostage by al-Qaida-affiliate al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, said that they received a phone call from the abductors threatening to execute one of the soldiers. They said that the execution threat will be implemented in the upcoming two days due to the government procrastination regarding a prisoners swap deal. The state-run National News Agency reported that the wife of IS hostage Khaled Moqbel received a phone call from her husband informing her of the group's threats. One of the relatives said in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that the call was made by one of the hostages, who is held captive by the IS. The security force members were captured when the jihadists briefly overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in August, sparking fierce battles with Lebanese troops. Four have been executed so far, and the jihadists have threatened to kill the remaining hostages unless there is a deal to free Islamist prisoners in Lebanon. The IS reportedly expressed readiness to release the Lebanese soldiers and policemen in its captivity if the Lebanese state sets free five Islamist inmates in return for each captive. The cabinet had previously totally rejected any swap deal with the jihadists. The Nusra said that the four-month hostage crisis would end if 10 inmates held at Lebanese prisons would be freed for each hostage or seven Lebanese inmates and 30 female prisoners held in Syria would be released for each abducted soldier and policeman or if five Lebanese and 50 women inmates would be freed. Later, Health Minister Abou Faour and Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb met with a delegation from the families of captive servicemen. “The crisis cell has not yet decided to halt negotiations to release the Arsal captives and it is unfortunate that the talks have returned to square one,” Abou Faour said. Another meeting was held between the delegation and Kataeb party chief Amin Gemayel at the Saifi headquarters.
Former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed Says Syria Offered 'Safe Corridor' for Qalamun Militants but Lebanon Refused
Naharnet /Former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed claimed Monday that the Lebanese government had recently rejected an offer from Damascus on granting jihadists based in Arsal's outskirts a "safe corridor" to leave for areas inside Syria in return for freeing the Lebanese servicemen who are in their custody. Syrian President Bashar Assad "was willing to give the militants a safe corridor to areas inside Syria,” Sayyed said in an interview on al-Jadeed TV. Such a step would have represented “a major sacrifice by Syria towards its stance on the Syrian and Lebanese security in this region,” Sayyed noted. He pointed out that the corridors were supposed to be established “under the supervision of the United Nations.” “The Lebanese army would have been granted an international cover from Saudi Arabia and the United States in order to stitch the open wound between Lebanon and Syria,” the former security chief added. U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly “contacted a government official” and he was told that the Lebanese government had “major reservations that prevent it from giving the army a cover to turn the page on the Arsal file,” Sayyed alleged. The Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State have more than 25 Lebanese troops and policemen in their custody. The servicemen were taken hostage in August during deadly clashes with the Lebanese army in and around the town of Arsal. Al-Nusra had proposed swapping the captives for Islamist detainees held in Syrian and Lebanese prisons but the negotiations ground to a halt after Qatar announced that it was ending its mediation in the case. In his interview, Sayyed hinted that Damascus would reject any deal involving the release of inmates from its prisons. “If Syria agrees to hand over prisoners and Lebanon agrees and the detainees become in our custody, what guarantees that these groups will not go to Arsal and kidnap more soldiers?” Sayyed added. He also attributed the alleged Lebanese refusal to “foreign” influence. Foreign forces “still consider Arsal to be a window for annoying Hizbullah and the Syrian regime,” Sayyed said.
Police Storm Cafe to End Sydney Hostage Siege, two people were dead, including the hostage-taker,
By MICHELLE INNISDEC. 15, 2014
The New York Times
Netanyahu Applauds Christian IDF
Soldiers; 'We Are Brothers!'
Monday, December 15, 2014/Israel Today/ Ryan Jones
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday told a pre-Christmas gathering of Christians in Nazareth that they and the Jews are brothers, and that Israel will never cease to defend Christians against the forces that seek to harm and destroy them.
The gathering was organized by the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, whose spiritual leader, Father Gabriel Naddaf, was singled out repeatedly by Netanyahu for his untiring efforts to encourage young Christians to join the Israeli army and fully integrate with Israeli society.“On the first of December, I took my own son, Avner, to the recruitment center in Jerusalem. He volunteered to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The next day…Father Naddaf took his son, Jubran, to the recruitment enter in Tiberias. He volunteered to become a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces,” Netanyahu recounted to strong applause. “We are brothers!” the prime minister exclaimed. “We are partners! Christians and Jews and Druze and Muslims who together defend the State of Israel.”
Turning to a group of Christian soldiers attending the event, Netanyahu stated, “We are brothers in arms. I commend you on the will to be full partners in contributing to and defending this nation.” Netanyahu noted that it was not always easy for Arabic-speaking Christians to so fully join themselves to Israel, but vowed that “we will firmly support you against all that would harass you.”Echoing what Father Naddaf has been busy instilling both in local Christians and Western leaders, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel is the only place in the region where Christians find safe haven. “Christians are suffering in the Middle East,” said the Israeli leader, recalling the recent “shrinkage and disappearance of entire Christian communities, communities that were there thousands of years, since the birth of Christianity, entire communities that are erased in one fell swoop, brutally, savagely.”Netanyahu insisted that all who would criticize Israel and work toward the birth of a Palestinian state that would most likely fall to Hamas must “compare this [regional situation] to Israel, the only nation in the region where the Christian population is growing.”
Al Azhar refuses to denounce the Islamic State as
DECEMBER 15, 2014/BY RAYMOND IBRAHIM
For all its talk about “combatting radicalism,” Al Azhar University—perhaps Sunni Islam’s most authoritative voice—will not even denounce the Islamic State as “un-Islamic.”When pressed on it, an Al Azhar spokesman, Abbas Showman, recently said: “As an official entity, Al Azhar has never in all its history proclaimed anyone or any organization as un-Islamic …. being occupied by this question will not lead to anything,” because “Al Azhar will not judge ISIS or its Islam as un-Islamic, for it is not its right, neither concerning ISIS or anyone else.”But, as one human rights advocate in Egypt was quick to quip: “What, didn’t the ulema and sheikhs of Al Azhar denounce as un-Islamic Naguib Mahfouz and Farag Foda and others from among the intellectuals and writers whose activities were stopped and some of whom were assassinated due to Al Azhar’s position?”
Canada Concerned by Raids on Turkish
Journalists and Media Outlets
December 15, 2014 - Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:
“Canada is concerned by reports of recent government-ordered raids against media organizations in which journalists and other media representatives have been arrested in Turkey.
“Such actions are contrary to Turkey’s stated commitment to democratic values and respect for human rights and freedoms.
“Canada strongly believes that freedom of expression and a free and independent media are fundamental to any democracy.
“We call on the Turkish Government and President Erdogan to ensure that the Turkish people can exercise their democratic rights without fear of unfounded prosecution.”
Hostage-taker named as radical Muslim cleric Man Haron
Sheik Man Haron Monis. (AAP)
Radical Muslim cleric Sheik Man Haron Monis has been revealed to be the ringleader in the Sydney cafe siege that has seen up to 15 people held hostage since yesterday morning. Monis was born Manteghi Bourjerdi and fled from Iran to Australia in 1996 where he changed his name to Man Haron Monis and assuming the title of Sheik Haron. The self-styled sheik did not enjoy the support of mainstream Muslims, according to community leader Dr Jamal Rifi He has gained media attention in the past for a "hate mail" campaign, protesting the presence of Australian troops in Afghanistan. The campaign saw him and his partner Amirah Droudis post hate-filled letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. The family of Brett Till, an Australian solder killed by a roadside bomb in 2009, was just one of the families who received a letter. "We sat in our homes, reading these letters ... This man accusing my husband of being a child killer," widow Bree Till said at the time. 9NEWS was given police clearance to release Monis' name.
In November 2009 Monis appeared in court claiming to be a peace activist but later chained himself to the courthouse in protest of charges laid against him.Monis escaped jail time but was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond in September 2013. He again received attention from police in November last year when he allegedly organised the murder of ex-wife Noleen Pal. Ms Pal had been stabbed and her body set alight in a Werrington apartment block, allegedly by Ms Droudis.
In April this year he was charged with sexually assaulting seven women while working as a spiritual healer in Wentworthville, where he claimed to be an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic.
In October Monis was charged with an extra 40 sexual offences relating to his work as a spiritual healer. He is currently on bail and due to appear in court over indecent and sexual assault charges in February 2015.
Earlier this month Monis announced via his website he used to be a Rafidi, one who rejects legitimate Islamic authority and leadership, but “now I am a Muslim”.© ninemsn 2014
Australian hostage taker named Man Haron Monis, Iranian refugee with criminal Past
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Iranian refugee convicted of sexual assault and known for sending hate letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas is the armed man holding an unknown number of hostages in a Sydney cafe, a police source said on Tuesday.
Man Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh, remained holed up in the cafe some 15 hours after the siege began.
"There's no operational reason for that name to be held back by us now," said the police source, who declined to be identified.
(Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
Sydney siege: The new security threat:
one man, a gun and a flag
THE AUSTRALIAN /Greg Bearup
DECEMBER 16, 2014
IT wasn’t particularly complicated, but it was immensely effective. Australia has been terrified. They say a horse race stops this nation, but yesterday it ground to a halt for one man with a gun and an Arabic flag.
For months police had been howling about the danger of a lone wolf. This may all turn out to be more lone nut case, than lone wolf, but this man provided a template for others more radical, and more able, to follow. The days of elaborate plots to blow up Lucas Heights or the Harbour Bridge appear over. We may have entered the era of one evil man with one simple plan.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister and his key ministers effectively convened a war cabinet, hundreds and hundreds of armed police flooded the streets of Sydney, trains were stopped, the city took on an eerie feel as it was cleared of cars, thousands of workers were evacuated from the CBD — the economic impact was immense — while the rest of the nation stood glued to their TVs, in shock, hoping and praying that those on the inside of the Lindt cafe would make it out alive.
The taxi driver who picked me up was unwilling to take me where I wanted to go — he feared bombs had been secretly planted throughout the city and that, after this job, he was heading out to work the suburbs. He dropped me off blocks away, at Hyde Park.
IN DEPTH: Sydney siege
Michael Giannikouris, a demolition worker who had downed tools to go to the scene of the siege, said he was frightened. “I just can’t really comprehend what has happened,” he told me. “This all just seems to be escalating and I don’t know where it will end.”
It began shortly before 9.45am. Three motorcycle policemen arrived at the scene, others were charging around the corner on foot. They talked to a woman who had been trying to get into the cafe, but found the automatic doors were locked shut. She looked inside to see a man with a gun — she was frightened but very clear in her descriptions. She was adamant it was a shotgun rather than a rifle.
Across the mall, witnesses saw a man in a white shirt with his arms up at the window — they thought the gunman may have given himself up, only to realise it was the grim face of a hostage.
It was a siege. The cafe is just across the road from the Seven Network’s studio and so it wasn’t just those in the mall who witnessed this terror. When the TV network beamed live shots of two people being forced to hold up a black flag with Arabic script, it became something else entirely.
Shortly after midday the switch operators at 2GB took a call from a man who claimed to be a hostage. Ray Hadley, who was on air, came in to speak to the bloke; he thought it could be a hoax.
“I said, ‘Give me your number and I’ll call you back,” Hadley says. “So I did. I could hear the hostage taker in the background giving instructions — he had an Australianised Middle-Eastern accent. He wanted to talk to the PM. He wanted an ISIS (Islamic State) flag and he wanted the government to admit that it was a terrorist attack. He said he would release people if those demands were met. I could hear him barking those instructions and those instructions were relayed by the young bloke to me.”
Hadley called Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and Premier Mike Baird, who were on their way to a news conference. They sent over a police negotiator to handle further calls.
If it was the gunman’s intention to make people frightened, it worked.
If it was his intention to create chaos, it worked.
If it was his intention to grab the attention of the Prime Minister, it worked.
If it was his intention to show just how easily a simple act of violence can disrupt so much, he succeeded in that, too.
In September, my colleague Paul Maley and I began researching a long article on two Australian-born terrorists, Mohammed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf, who are now fighting for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We talked to a number of young radical Muslims in Sydney’s west and at that point their anger was being directed towards the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. We have no real beef with Australia, they told us.
Since then, that’s all changed. Many of these young Muslim radicals, who wanted to go off and fight Assad, have had their passports cancelled and Australia has joined the bombing of the Islamist fighters they were hoping to join.
That pent-up frustration, that angry fervour, has now been turned towards the country that offered refuge to their parents fleeing war a generation ago. What will those angry young men be thinking now?
Australians will wake this morning more fearful than they were yesterday, and that goes for Muslim Australians as well. I spoke yesterday with a moderate Muslim friend who fears a backlash against his children and his relatives. “I was at the airport the other day, chatting with some friends, and within 20 minutes the feds were questioning us. How do you think that makes us feel? This is a step back for everyone, but especially the Muslim community. If someone else commits a criminal act, it is a criminal act. If someone, who happens to be Muslim, commits a criminal act the whole of the Muslim community is tarred with that brush.”
This man, in his 40s and born in Australia, says there was no Shia/Sunni divide when he was growing up; they were all just Muslims. That is changing. He didn’t have to make a choice between moderate Islam and radical, because there was only moderate Islam.
Yesterday’s act of violence disgusted him and made him fearful, just as it did the great majority of Muslims in this country. The thing about terrorism is that you only need to attract one nutter with a gun and flag.
How Iraq Became a Proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Jonathan Spyer and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
The Tower/December 2014
The United States and its Western allies have recently undertaken airstrikes and other military measures against the Islamic State (I.S., also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq. Contrary to the spirit of most statements coming out of Washington, however, this military action cannot be properly viewed as simply an effort to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State—mainly because the Western actions are limited only to air strikes, which would be ineffective on their own in achieving that end. Rather, this campaign is quite obviously meant to help the main ground forces currently fighting the I.S.—namely, the Iraqi government and Shia militias in Iraq—in the hopes that the Islamic State may be defeated through their combined efforts.
What has been very little discussed in the West, however, is that it is the Shia militias who are quickly eclipsing the Iraqi government forces in importance in Iraq; and that these militias are largely dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, many are Iranian proxies.
In other words, the U.S. and its allies have launched an air campaign whose most important effect, if successful, would be to advance Iran's agenda of dominating Iraq and eventually becoming the hegemonic power in the region.
The U.S. and its allies have launched an air campaign whose most important effect, if successful, would be to advance Iran's agenda of dominating Iraq and eventually becoming the hegemonic power in the region.
How did this happen, and what might its consequences be?
The fall of Mosul in June to a Sunni insurgent offensive spearheaded by the I.S.—which quickly asserted decisive authority in the city at the expense of its allies—revealed the incompetence of Iraq's conventional armed forces, which are plagued by the same rampant corruption and nepotism that are pervasive in Iraq's post-Saddam political order.
The Shia militias, backed and coordinated by Iran, are now filling the vacuum left behind by the regular army. This phenomenon was rapidly if unintentionally bolstered by a fatwa from Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, on the obligation to defend the country in the face of the I.S. threat. While Sistani had intended to encourage people to enlist in the official security forces, in practice his fatwa midwifed the broad umbrella of Shia militias conventionally dubbed al-hashad al-sha'abi ("the popular mobilization") in the Iraqi press. The militias themselves, however, like to call themselves, somewhat ominously, al-muqawama al-islamiya ("the Islamic resistance").
Due to the wave of enlistment set off by Sistani and the weakness of the official security forces, there is scarcely a single area in which at least some of the Shia militias are not operating. In many cases, such as the recent successful offensive to clear the I.S. out of Jurf al-Sakhr—a predominantly Sunni area of Babil province, south of Baghdad—and the ongoing fighting to dislodge the I.S. from al-Muqdadiya in Diyala province, it is clear that the fighting has been or is being led by Shia militias.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, has effectively blessed the formation of militias.
The growing importance of the Shia militias' resistance to the I.S. in Iraq is not simply the result of their own combat skills. It is very much a product of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Iranian regime's elite paramilitary force, whose role in regional conflicts—and, it should be noted, terrorism—is large and expanding. The Shia's success in Iraq reflects the effectiveness of IRGC doctrine regarding the construction, support, and use of sectarian political and military proxies as a central tool—sometimes the central tool—of Iranian policy in the region.
Iran has displayed a peerless ability to harness and utilize forces of this kind in the Middle East. It is a major factor in Iran's ongoing success in building political influence in surrounding countries.
The prototype for this approach was the establishment and sponsorship of the Shia terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. Following the end of Syria's occupation of Lebanon in 2005, Hezbollah rapidly emerged as the dominant political actor in the country, able to conduct its own military policy of aggression against Israel without any need to consult with other Lebanese factions.
For a considerable period, Iran's success in Lebanon appeared to be unique. Its clients elsewhere were far less powerful and influential. However, the current unrest in the Middle East, characterized by the contraction or collapse of state authority in a variety of countries, has created an environment in which Iran's skills have become extremely effective.
As a result of the weakening of the central government in Yemen, for example, the Iran-supported Houthi militia is now the decisive force in the capital, Sana'a, and looks set to determine the makeup of the next government.
Most importantly, however, and most relevant to Iraq, the Iranian ability to utilize sectarian paramilitary formations was perhaps the crucial factor in turning the tide of the Syrian civil war and preserving the Iran-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The darkest days of the Assad regime were the closing months of 2012. At that time, with the rebels having succeeded in entering the city of Aleppo and the eastern suburbs of Damascus, it looked as though the regime's days were numbered.
The use of sectarian political and military proxies is the central tool of Iranian policy in the region.
The problem for the Assad regime—similar to the current government of Iraq—was that, while the Syrian dictator possessed a large army on paper, the loyalty or reliability of many units was suspect. Hence, only a certain percentage of the armed forces could be reliably deployed. Assad's power base is Syria's Alawi minority, which is relatively small in numbers. Because of this, many analysts thought that the defeat of the Assad regime in Syria was simply a matter of time, because the narrow sectarian base of the regime meant that Assad would simply run out of men willing to take a bullet on his behalf.
The Iranians, however, spotted something different: On both sides, the number of men actually engaged in the fighting was relatively small. The Syrian civil war was one of small militias, not massive conventional armies. This meant that the establishment or insertion of a relatively modest number of committed men could make a major difference. In early 2013, under Iranian supervision, the number of Hezbollah fighters operating in Syria was increased. In tandem with this, the Iranians and Hezbollah began to train members of the Alawi paramilitary groups known as the Shabiha, which were reformed into a group called the National Defense Forces (NDF).
The NDF was a light infantry force of about 40,000 men that was deployed in the spring of 2013 alongside Hezbollah and reliable elements of the Assad-controlled Syrian Army, as well as some Iraqi Shia paramilitary forces. This closed the Syrian regime's gap in manpower, and played a key role in pulling it back from the precipice.
In the summer of 2014, the army of another Iranian ally—the Iraqi government—faced a similar situation in regard to the Islamic State. At that time, a number of analysts predicted that the Iranians were likely to follow a similar strategy to that of Syria. It is now clear that Iran has pursued precisely such a policy, and with considerable success.
Almost immediately, Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC—the agency tasked with the creation and use of proxy political and military forces—was sent to Baghdad. Very clearly, his task was to coordinate the Iraqi response.
His influence appears to have been decisive in shaping the Iraqi response. Predictably, it involves the use of militias and Shia sectarianism along the lines pioneered in other countries. As an Iraqi official quoted by The Guardian put it, "Who do you think is running the war? Those three senior generals who ran away? Qassem Suleimani is in charge. And reporting directly to him are the militias." Since then, Suleimani has guided much of the fighting against the I.S., and has even been physically present at a number of key engagements.
Alongside the Quds Force leaders, there are reliable reports of dozens of IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah advisers on the ground in Iraq. In addition, Iraqi paramilitaries deployed in Syria have been returned to Iraq in order to join the fight.
So, what is happening in Iraq today is directly analogous to what happened in Syria. The Iran-aligned, Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is being protected from Sunni insurgents through the efforts and methods of the IRGC's Quds Force, the most effective instrument of Iran's regional policy. This, of course, has major implications for Western policy, which at the current time is acting as the air wing for this campaign.
Precisely who are these militias, and how is Iran aiding them?
There are, at the very least, dozens of Shia militias in Iraq. The oldest date back to the days of the U.S. occupation prior to 2011 and are clearly proxies of Iran. They receive training and weapons from the IRGC, and are dedicated to implementing Iran's ideological system of governance in Iraq.
Iran, however, does not want any of these groups to become powerful enough to break off and follow its own agenda. To prevent this, it maintains multiple proxy militias competing against each other. Among the main proxies in question are Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), which developed particularly close relations with ex-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Kata'ib Hezbollah (with its front group Saraya al-Difa' ash-Sha'abi); and the Badr Organization. All three of these organizations have deployed fighters to Syria to assist the Assad regime, and have also been participating in the Iraqi government's military efforts in Anbar since the beginning of this year, when Fallujah and parts of Ramadi first fell out of government control.
Besides these three important actors, other Iranian proxies exist, including Saraya al-Khorasani, Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Harakat al-Nujaba', all of which have also deployed in Syria. These groups make no attempt to hide their ideological affinities with Iran, featuring portraits of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on their social media sites and "martyrdom" funeral banners for slain fighters.
Besides the direct Iranian proxies, a number of other Shia militias exist, the vast majority of which can be tied to one Shia political figure or another. The most well-known of these is undoubtedly Saraya al-Salam ["The Peace Brigades"], the reconstituted Mahdi Army of Islamist political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Another interesting case is a militia known as Liwa al-Shabab al-Risali, which claims legitimacy through the Najaf-based cleric Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqoubi and ties itself to the legacy of Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr. Also of interest are Sadrist-leaning militia brands that first emerged in Syria but have since withdrawn to Iraq, such as Liwa Dhu al-Fiqar.
Elsewhere on the mainstream Shia political spectrum, there are militias linked to figures from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shia Islamic political party. These include Saraya Ansar al-Aqeeda, led by Sheikh Jalal ad-Din al-Saghir, and Saraya Ashura', led by Ammar al-Hakim. These militias appear to be an attempt by ISCI figures to create their own military forces to rival the Badr Organization, which originated as a break-off from ISCI.
Other militias exist that can be tied to figures known for strong pro-Iranian tendencies, for example Kata'ib al-Ghadab, which is tied to the pro-Iranian Da'wah Party (Tanẓim al-Dakhil). Still other groups can be readily identified as clear attempts to emulate Iranian proxies or other Shia militias, such as "Kata'ib Hezbollah – the Mujahideen in Iraq" led by Abbas al-Muhammadawi of the Abna' al-Iraq al-Ghayyara political bloc, and the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces, based on the famous Syrian Shia militia, Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas.
Naturally, the Shia militias are by no means a monolithic ideological bloc. The most obvious tension is between the Iranian proxies and those who follow the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr. This is the case even though their rhetoric often overlaps. They both emphasize the "defense of the homeland and the holy sites," and attempt to claim they are unified behind the common cause of "resistance" and Shia sectarian pride. Nonetheless, the groups that are not explicitly aligned with Iran are by no means outside Iranian influence or control. Their relationship with the Islamic Republic is simply more complex and ambiguous than others.
It is clear, however, that the overall leading role in the militia movement is played by the Iranian proxies, something that is most apparent in the appointment of Muhammad al-Ghaban of the Badr Organization as Iraqi Interior Minister under the new Abadi government. Under Badr's leadership, Operation Ashura was launched to expel the I.S. from Jurf al-Sakhr. As a source in the Interior Ministry put it to the pro-government outlet al-Masalah, "The factions of the Islamic Resistance – Kata'ib Hezbollah, Badr, AAH, recruits and the popular mobilization, along with Saraya al-Salam, participated in Operation Ashura which was launched today under the leadership of the Interior Minister Muhammad Salim al-Ghaban to cleanse the Jurf al-Sakhr district in north Babil from the Da'esh [I.S.] gangs." [emphasis ours]
In an interview with Aws al-Khafaji after the capture of Jurf al-Sakhr, the Shia militias that participated are listed as "The heroic brothers of Badr, Saraya al-Salam, Asa'ib [Ahl al-Haq], [Harakat] al-Nujaba, the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces … and some of the other Islamic factions." That Badr was mentioned first seems to confirm the group's leading role in the operation.
Needless to say, the proliferation of Shia militias in Iraq, with Iranian proxies as the strongest players, has important implications.
Due to the security situation in Iraq, the Shia militias will be necessary for the foreseeable future in the fight against the Islamic State. It is also highly unlikely that these militias will simply disband even if told to do so. Thus, it is worth assessing the implications of their rise to prominence and power.
First, it demonstrates the extent to which Iran considers the government of Iraq a client or proxy regime; one that Tehran will not allow to develop its own powerful, independent institutions and military. The government in Baghdad, like the regime in Damascus, is to be saved from those who would destroy it, but only in such a way that its future is to be an instrument of Iran's will. The Iranians' innovative use of sectarian militia power and the cultivation of a variety of paramilitary clients ensures that, if they get their way, no Iraqi government will be in a position to disobey them.
Moreover, Iran's role in Iraq is clearly part of its desire—tracing back to the regime's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini—to spread its ideology throughout the Shia population of the Middle East. What this means is that, while the new sectarian military formation being developed by the Iranians in Iraq is likely to prove sufficient to stem the advance of the overstretched I.S. forces, they are also part of Tehran's larger regional strategy to produce a contiguous line of pro-Iran states between the Iran-Iraq border and the Mediterranean Sea.
The fragmentation of Iraq and Syria may well thwart that ambition. But Iran has shown that its practice of creating and utilizing proxy political and military forces as a key instrument of policy is sufficient to defend its own interests—if not always to entirely defeat or destroy its Sunni enemies. The Quds Force is now proving this once again in Iraq.
For the U.S. and its allies, this may represent a short-term advantage, but it is a long-term threat. The Iranian proxy militias, quite naturally, also embrace Iran's ideology, which is intensely anti-American, anti-Western, and indeed, anti-Semitic. They parrot, for example, Iran's official propaganda line, according to which the I.S. is supposedly a creation of "the Great Satan" (i.e., the United States) and/or the Jews.
Nor does the eventual creation, or attempt to create, an Iranian sphere of influence across the Middle East bode well for American or Western interests. However effective they may be in fighting the I.S., Iran's proxy militias in Iraq are part of this agenda and are helping Iran pursue it.
Thanks to current Western policy, this time they are doing it with Western air support.
**Jonathan Spyer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Terror in Australia: the Question No
One Wants to Ask
By Peter Ahern/AINA
Two hostages hold up an Islamic banner in a Sydney cafe.(AINA) -- Australia, the self-styled lucky country, is joining the rest of the world in having to face up to Islamist terrorism. On Monday an ex-Shia-turned-Sunni Muslim, Man Haron Monis, took seventeen hostages in a cafe in Sydney. A sixteen hour siege followed, during which he issued a list of demands, including that police deliver to him a flag of the Islamic State. After the gunman shot one hostage, police stormed the cafe and in the ensuing firefight, the gunman and a further hostage were killed, with several others wounded.
When the siege began, Sydney Muslim community representatives lost no time issuing statements condemning the gunman and declaring that such terrorist actions had nothing to do with the religion of Islam. With concerns of a backlash against the local Muslim minority community, many Australians have joined a social media campaign offering to travel together with Muslims on public transport.
This terror drama has been reported on ad infinitum by experts and journalists. Among the mass of commentary, it is striking that there is one area of discussion where the commentators have dared not tread. One caller in a talk-back programme on radio hinted at this unmentionable topic when he claimed that in fact there was support for terror activity in the Qur'an. The radio presenter quickly cut him off, declaring that such statements were inappropriate and, besides, the non-Muslim caller was not qualified to speak about the Qur'an.
In fact, the censored caller was making an important point, about which there has been a deafening silence in the flood of commentary taking place about this incident in Australia. That is the question as to whether the violent actions of such radical Islamists have any foundation in the religion of Islam.
Intimidation and violence are solidly grounded within Islam, especially in the life of its prophet, Muhammad. Such a claim should be discussed -- but strikingly the name of Muhammad has not been mentioned at any stage in the flood of media commentary in Australia regarding the latest incident.
Islamist radicals do not look back to Napoleon as their model, nor to Julius Caesar, nor to Genghis Khan. But they most certainly do look back to Muhammad, the primary exemplar of militant activism.
Muhammad was a warrior warlord who expanded his domains through military means. According to the primary Islamic texts themselves, he personally took part in around 27 battles, and indeed was wounded. These primary texts -- the Qur'an to some degree, but especially the Hadith traditions and the principal biography -- provide a clear window into the model Jihad warrior that Muhammad was.
Ibn Ishaq's authoritative biography of Muhammad records that apart from his military conquests, he instructed his supporters on occasions to liquidate key opponents; he sanctioned a process that led to the beheading of at least 600 Jews; and he took certain wives of his opponents as concubines, serving as booty from war.
So when we read that in Iraq warriors of the terrorist Islamic State expand their domains through military action, murdering their opponents, beheading captives, and taking the women from conquered Yazidi and Christian groups as war booty concubines, there can be little doubt who these Islamic State warriors are looking back to.
Furthermore, so-called "lone wolf" attacks by radical Islamists, such as the recently concluded terror incident in Sydney carried out by Man Haron Monis, take their inspiration from the warriors of the Islamic State, who take their inspiration from Muhammad.
In Australia, which is just beginning to experience the challenge of radical Islamism -- and it will get much worse -- it is not possible to discuss the forbidden topic of the link between today's radicals and Muhammad. In order to have any hope of addressing the problem of rising Islamic radicalism, that discussion will have to take place. And moderate Muslims will need to be willing to join in the discussion in order for there to be any progress in the campaign against radical Islam.
**Peter Ahern is a British freelance writer on religion, politics and society, currently residing in Australia.
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Canada/Ensure Your Holiday Travel Goes Off Without a Hitch
December 15, 2014 - As many Canadians escape the winter cold this holiday season to visit family and loved ones or to celebrate with their toes in the sand, it is important that Canadians understand what they need to do to ensure that their well-deserved vacation does not turn into a holiday disaster.
Canada’s team of dedicated consular officials assist thousands of Canadian travellers abroad each year. We provide consular assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through more than 260 points of service in 150 countries. However, there are some situations that not even a Christmas miracle can resolve. That is why Canadians need to prepare before they travel to ensure that their vacation goes off without a hitch. Here are some tips from me to you this holiday season:
1.A Canadian Passport Is Not a “Get-Out-of-Jail-Free-Card”
Canadians should recognize that they are subject to the local laws of the country they are travelling, which are often different from those in Canada. Canada cannot intervene in foreign judicial processes, just as we would not accept a foreign government intervening in ours. Canadians abroad are expected to adhere to local laws, just as they would in Canada. We keep Canadians up-to-date on country-specific advice and information which can be found at: Country travel advice and advisories.
2.Say Yes to Travel Insurance
Canadians are urged to always purchase travel and medical insurance before they leave Canada. In almost all circumstances, the Government of Canada—and the taxpayer—will not help pay for a ticket back to Canada or medical treatment. Don’t let unforeseen bills ruin your vacation and your wallet. For more information please visit: Travel insurance.
3.Register With Us
Canadians can register their travel plans with our team of consular officials for free either online or through our mobile app. The purpose of registering is solely to ensure that if there is an emergency in the area you are travelling in, such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, we can reach you quickly and provide you with guidance and assistance. This quick registration will take you two minutes but will provide us with invaluable information to help assist you when you need it most. For more information on our Registration for Canadians Abroad, please visit: Registration of Canadians Abroad.
4.Know How to Reach Us
Canadian consular officials can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through our call collect number (613) 996-8885 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. We staff this line with live officials at all times. Call us immediately if you are in trouble.
5.We Love to Help—But We Cannot Supply You with Maple Syrup
Yes—Canadians have asked us to supply them with an emergency supply of maple syrup and have even asked us to arrange for a chauffeur for their pet poodle through the airport during their holiday travel. As much as we love a good Canadian breakfast staple and are pet lovers ourselves, unfortunately Canadians have an unrealistic expectation of what we are here to help them with. For a list of what consular officials can and cannot do, please visit: Consular Services: general.
Finally, from my family to yours, I would like to personally wish you warm wishes this holiday season and safe travels wherever it may take you.
Minister of State (Foreign Affairs and Consular)
An Empty, Token Gesture
Tuesday, 16 Dec, 2014 /Alsharq Al Awsat
During a hearing in the US Congress dedicated to discussing Syria and the war on ISIS, some congressmen were surprised that the American government military training program for the Syrian opposition will begin next spring and end a year later in the spring of 2016! “What are we supposed to do until then? Bomb marginal targets while the training plan continues?” they asked.
The promised training program itself is only worthy of attention on political grounds because it expresses an American stance in support of the opposition and the toppling of the Assad regime. It’s only a political position, and one that should not be seen as carrying much weight, and could be contradicted in the White House morning summary statements.
The number of members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) who will be offered training is so small that it does not exceed a quarter of the number of ISIS’s terrorist fighters, or one eighth of Bashar Al-Assad’s troops. 5,000 FSA fighters are supposed to spend one year in American training camps, and it will probably be two years before any of them can fire a bullet on the battlefield. This is due to bureaucracy and lack of urgency about the implementation of the program. Even when they become trained soldiers, what will they do in the face of jets dropping barrel bombs or cannons shelling from afar? Nothing, because they will not have the kind of weapons they need to fight back.
Despite this, Syrians will continue to resist whether they are trained or not, or armed or not, because war is not a matter of choice today and it cannot be put on hold while Syrians wait for a political solution or until the military training program is completed. There are nine million displaced Syrians inside and outside Syria, and they cannot accept the simple provision of blankets and bread and continue to sleep in the open every winter. This is why the war will continue. Many Syrians are fighting dressed in rags and using simple weapons. Even those who are tired of this cannot go home except through force. This is their only hope. The next two years may pass with the regime staying in Damascus while still depending on the support of its Iranian ally. However, the war will not stop without seeing the end of the regime, whether by war or through a political solution.
We all know that if the moderate opposition possessed advanced weapons, the regime wouldn’t have survived, and the losses of the regime’s allies would’ve exceeded their capability to continue in this bloodbath until today. There is no shortage in the number of volunteers willing to fight the Assad regime. Their number in the south alone is over 30,000, although they are poorly equipped and their arms are limited to simple weapons. It’s neither the US nor the European countries that back the FSA who are training the opposition fighting on the ground. Most of them received limited training from Turkey and the Arab countries who are supporting and helping them.
This is why we tell international mediators and Western delegates that they must understand the new reality on the ground, a reality which bears no relation to the theoretical solutions that they come up with every time in a different language. The secret lies in the nine million refugees, most of who are still in Syria itself. It’s because of them that the war will continue as the Assad regime views them as potential enemies and won’t allow them to return to their cities and neighborhoods out of fear of they will allow the opposition in, or join it. At the same time, we cannot expect them to remain neutral at a time when they’re expelled from their homes. This is exactly why the war will go on until change is achieved. What we cannot foresee today is how new political authorities will be established amongst the refugees, and what their situation will be. Will more of these lost Syrian youths join extremist organizations like the ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front? Or will they join the moderate FSA? It’s difficult to find out from afar what’s happening inside the communities of refugees. All we can say for sure is that they are a huge reservoir of angry and desperate people.
A Matter of Conscience
Hussein Shobokshi/Asharq Al Awsat
Tuesday, 16 Dec, 2014
For the past four years, the world has accepted that Syria’s neighbors are primarily responsible for its refugees. Fleeing the brutality, oppression, and criminality of the bloody regime of Bashar Al-Assad, more than four million Syrians have taken refuge abroad, mainly in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, while a few have gone to other countries, such as Iraq, Egypt, the Gulf, and Europe.
The situation of these refugees is getting worse, prompting warnings from international organizations working on this very critical humanitarian issue. Figures about the crisis are terrifying, and speak for themselves. Since 2011 more than half of the Syria population has been internally displaced in addition to the millions who have left the country. According to UN relief organizations, the Syrian crisis has become the most challenging humanitarian crisis of its kind in history.
The UN has warned that without more aid, Syrian refugees will face a severe shortage of food this winter, which will be a harsh one. The UN World Food Program (WFP) recently warned it would have to suspend issuing electronic food vouchers to around 1.7 million Syrian refugees simply because it is financially incapable of fulfilling its obligations, though it was eventually able to find a solution.
UN relief organizations are in urgent and immediate need for more than six billion US dollars just to cover the nutritional needs of Syrian refugees on a temporary basis. The countries that host the largest number of Syrian refugees have begun to announce that they are incapable of accommodating more. There are 620,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, 1.2 million in Turkey and 1.1 million in Lebanon, but real figures are much higher as many remain unregistered.
The UN says that the US, Britain and the rest of the EU are among the biggest donors, but at the same time it sharply criticized them for dealing with Syrian refugees based on the principle of keeping them away. In other words, while they are generous in sending assistance to Syrian refugees, they are unwilling to accept the idea of allowing them into their countries as they previously did with nationals from other countries that went through harsh times, such as Somalia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Chechnya for example. But it seems that the UN has grown fed up with this kind of negative policy and is trying to change the situation by forcing EU countries to accept a considerable number of Syrian refugees into their territories. Such attempts have led to reluctant responses from Germany, Britain, and Ireland. In contrast, Sweden’s response to the Syria crisis has been the finest.
On the other hand, Muslim countries, with the exception of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, did not provide services or concessions to host Syrians, or even the parents of Syrians working in their countries. Instead they put tough conditions and restrictions on their entry and residence.
Dealing with Syrian refugees is not a political issue but, first and foremost a moral, humanitarian, and social one. The world cannot claim to be seeking to solve the Syrian crisis without coming up with exceptional solutions.
Syrians are facing a regime that has left them to face an unknown fate, and if they return to Syria many will end up in prison, if not dead. The Syrian regime is sacrificing its people day and night to stay in power. Damascus continues to be supported by rogue states and criminal gangs around the world who do not hesitate to do anything in order to keep Assad in power.
Syrian refugees require help that will enable them to live in dignity and provide them with a measure of psychological stability and peace. This cannot be realized by maintaining them in makeshift tents in miserable living conditions. It is high time that more important, effective, and realistic steps were taken. The continuing deterioration of the problem of Syria’s refugees in this miserable manner is not related to host countries alone, but should force the whole world to examine its conscience.
Syria’s Crisis and the Absence of Leadership
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 15 Dec, 2014
At the same time that the US government is saying that training the moderate Syrian opposition will be a long-term process, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has announced the end of lessons in the schools of Manbij—a Syrian town in Aleppo governorate—until all teachers have completed courses in Islamic Shari’a law. How absurd!
Here, we are faced with two possibilities, either this call is part of ISIS propaganda and aims to demonstrate the jihadist group’s strength and indifference to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, or it is proof that the international coalition is not making headway against the group, as outgoing US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel claims. The latter possibility would represent a true disaster. ISIS’s decision to put a stop to school lessons in Manbij is nothing new—we saw similar decisions by the group in Deir Ezzor, Al-Bukamel and Raqqa—but it is an ample demonstration of the fact that ISIS is able to move freely and do what it likes in Syria, regardless of the anti-ISIS coalition.
Therefore, when I say that the decision that ISIS has put a stop to teaching in Manbij as absurd, what I truly mean is that this is a disaster by all accounts. More importantly, we must acknowledge that ISIS is able to do what it is doing in Syria thanks to the state of turmoil that has engulfed the US political system. Now, after previously facing issues stemming from President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to get involved, we are facing issues surrounding a general state of US weakness. This is not due to the Republican control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or Obama’s departure from office, but due to differences between senior members of the Obama administration.
We have a US Defense Secretary who has already submitted his resignation, and who previously criticized the Obama’s policy in Syria. We have a CIA chief who is facing a storm of criticism following the report on US intelligence methods following the 9/11 attacks. More than this, Obama is not standing with his CIA chief—in fact, there are significant areas of disconnect in the statements that have been issued by the president and his CIA director on this issue. In addition to this burning American domestic issue, Obama has previously directed strong criticism at the US’s foreign intelligence apparatus, saying that it failed to realize the threat that ISIS represented until it was too late.
At the same time that the US administration is riven by division, ISIS announced that it was halting school lessons in areas under its control across Syria in order to “train” teachers. What could be more dangerous than this? There is one issue that has not received much political or media attention over the past four years of the Syrian crisis, and threatens to create a “lost generation” of Syrian children who will not be given the education they require—whether in Syria or beyond its borders. This means that Syria, and the region, will in a few years find itself confronted with a new generation of uneducated Syrians who could fall prey to extremist ideology—whether out of anger regarding their situation, or out of general ignorance. This is something that will only serve to further complicate the already complex situation surrounding the Syrian crisis.
Even if Assad eventually loses power, the reality is that we will still be faced with major problems that require urgent solutions. All of this has happened due to international negligence, particularly on the part of Washington. The Syrian crisis will not be resolved simply by the passage of time, as some believe. We need real international leadership to solve this, and that is the one thing that is absent today.
Thousands join anti-Islam protest in
eastern German city
AFP, Dresden/Al Arabiya
Monday, 15 December 2014
Thousands demonstrated Monday in eastern Germany against “criminal asylum seekers” and the “Islamisation” of the country, in the latest show of strength of a growing far-right populist movement. The mass demonstration in the eastern city of Dresden was the ninth so-called “Monday demonstration” organised by the group “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” or PEGIDA. “We are the people,” chanted the demonstrators, co-opting the phrase famously shouted a quarter-century ago by East German pro-democracy protesters here in the lead-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dominated by ordinary citizens but supported by neo-Nazis and hard-right football hooligans, PEGIDA has sparked nationwide soul-searching as it has grown and spawned half a dozen clone movements across Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier Monday condemned the protests and warned Germans not to be “exploited” by extremists, saying the right to demonstrate did not extend to “rabble-rousing and defamation” against foreigners.
In the crowd, many waved the black-red-gold national flag, and one held a cross painted in the same colours, while others held up signs that said “Wake up!”, “We won’t be cheated any more” and “We are mature citizens, not slaves”.
“Seventy percent of people claiming political asylum here are economic refgees,” one of the protesters, Michael Stuerzenberger, asserted to AFP. “We don’t want to stay silent about this anymore.”“We don’t want a flood of asylum seekers, we don’t want Islamisation. We want to keep our country with our values. Is that so terrible? Does that make us Nazis? Is it a crime to be a patriot?” Hundreds of riot police kept a close watch on the demonstration, and on counter-protests nearby marching under the banners “Dresden Nazi-free” and “Dresden for All”, organised by civic, political and church groups. While several known neo-Nazis have been spotted in the PEGIDA crowds, the rallies since October have been dominated not by jackbooted men with shorn heads but by disenchanted citizens who voice a string of grievances. The anti-euro AfD party has openly sympathised with PEGIDA and several conservative politicians have argued the government must “listen” to the people’s concerns about immigration and a large influx of refugees.
A poll for news website Zeit Online showed that nearly half of all Germans -- 49 percent -- sympathised with PEGIDA’s stated concerns and 30 percent indicated they “fully” backed the protests’ aims. Almost three in four -- 73 percent -- said they worried that “radical Islam” was gaining ground and 59 percent said Germany accepted too many asylum seekers.
A fight too far? U.S. prepares Syrian opposition for battle
Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya
Monday, 15 December 2014
During a Congressional hearing session dedicated for the discussion of Syria and the war on ISIS, some congressmen were surprised that the American government military training program for the Syrian opposition will begin next spring and end a year later in the spring of 2016! “What are we supposed to do until then? Bomb marginal areas while the training plan goes on for a long time?” they deploringly asked.
The promised training program itself is only worthy of attention on the political level because it expresses an American stance in support of the opposition and the toppling of the Assad regime. It’s only a political stance that must not carry any further weight or interpretation, and it can be contradicted in the White House morning summary statements.
“The number of Free Syrian Army members promised to undergo training is so small that it does not exceed a quarter of the number of ISIS terrorist fighters”
The number of Free Syrian Army members promised to undergo training is so small that it does not exceed a quarter of the number of ISIS terrorist fighters or one eighth of Bashar al-Assad’s troops. Five thousand FSA fighters are supposed to spend one year in American training camps and it will probably be two years before any of them can fire a bullet in the battlefield. This is due to bureaucracy and lack of urgency about the implementation of the promised task. Even when they become trained soldiers, what will they do in the face of jets dropping barrel bombs or cannons shelling from afar? Nothing, because they are deprived of defense weapons.
Continue to fight
Despite that, Syrians will continue to fight whether they are trained or not, armed or not, because war is not a matter of choice today and it cannot be paused while Syrians wait for a political solution or until military training ends. There are nine million Syrians displaced inside and outside Syria and they cannot accept the simple provision of blankets and bread and continue to sleep in the open every winter. This is why war did not stop and will not stop. Many Syrians are fighting dressed in rags and using simple weapons. Even those who are tired of this cannot go home except through force. This is their only hope. The next two years may pass with the regime staying in Damascus while still depending on the support of its Iranian ally. However, the war will not stop without marking the end of the regime whether by war or through a political solution.
We all know that if the moderate opposition possessed advanced weapons, the regime wouldn’t have lasted and the losses of the regime’s allies would’ve exceeded their capability to continue in this bloodbath until today. There is no shortage in the number of volunteers willing to fight the Assad regime. Their number in the south alone is more than 30,000 although they are poorly equipped and their arms are limited to simple weapons. It’s neither the United States nor the European countries in support of the FSA who are training the opposition fighting on ground. Most of the latter received fast-track training in Turkey and Arab countries who support and help them.
This is why we tell international mediators and Western delegates that they must understand the new reality which doesn’t harmonize with theoretical solutions that they come up with every time in a different language. The secret lies in the nine million refugees mostly found inside Syria itself. It’s because of them that the war will continue as the Assad regime views them as rivals and won’t allow them to return to their cities and neighborhoods out of fear of handing them over to the opposition or them fighting with the opposition as well. At the same time, we cannot expect them to remain neutral at a time when they’re expelled from their homes. This is exactly why the war will go on until change is achieved. What we cannot know in the near future is how power will be established amongst the refugees and how their situation will be. Will more of these lost Syrian youths join extremist organizations like the ISIS and al-Nusra Front? Or will they join the moderate FSA? It’s difficult to speculate what’s happening inside the communities of refugees and those displaced from afar. All one can say is that they are a huge and angry human reservoir.