December 18/14

Bible Quotation for today/God Is Love
1 John 4l07-21: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 17-18/14
The Terrorist in the Café/Ali Ibrahim /Asharq Al Awsat/December 17-18/14
The Russians will not let go of Assad and neither will we/Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya/December 17-18/14
The witch-hunt reaches Turkey’s media/Mahir Zeynalov /Al Arabiya/December 17-18/14

Lebanese Related News published on  December 17-18/14
Alleged Hezbollah Mossad spy ‘was Nasrallah bodyguard’
'Mossad spy' headed Nasrallah's security
Better Late Than Never: State Finally Approves Healthcare Plan for Artists
Aoun Proposes Tasking Officers from ISF, Army to Keep Families Informed of Arsal Captives Case
Gas File Put on Right Track after Initial Agreement to Revive Exploration
Mustaqbal Delegation in Riyadh to Tackle Presidential Deadlock
Berri Says LF Stance Does Not Impede Electoral Draft-Law Discussions
Masri Says Nusra Front Pledged to Release Prisoners if State Tasks Him with Negotiations
UK Vows to Help Lebanon Face Challenges 'with Deeds, Not Words'
Soldier Injured as Army Seizes Drugs in Hermel
Ministers, Economic Committees Launch Food Safety Training Center
Security Forces Arrest Several Suspected Terrorists
Fuel Prices Plunge Further in Lebanon, Affected by World Wide Crisis
Moody's Downgrades Lebanon's Rating; Outlook Negative
Gunmen Briefly Abduct 18-Year-Old in Baalbek
Security force busts Ain al-Hilweh theft and drug ring
No party would veto Amine Gemayel for presidency: Kataeb deputy head
Hariri condemns Pakistan school massacre
Irani Leadership: Losing moral high ground

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on  December 17-18/14
Pope congratulates Cuba, US on new ties
After Alan Gross release, Obama seeks to resume full diplomatic ties with Cuba
Turkey's Erdogan to start chairing cabinet meetings, extending power
Russia welcomes U.S. move to normalise ties with Cuba: deputy foreign minister
European Parliament wants Palestinian state as part of two-state solution
EU court says Hamas should be removed from terror list
Netanyahu: Hypocritical Europeans have 'learned nothing' from Holocaust
France Muscles into Israel-Palestine Debate
Huthi Militiamen Seize Yemen State Offices
U.S.-led coalition conducts 67 air strikes against Islamic State: task force
Mass Grave of 230 Killed by IS Jihadists Found in Syria
Afghanis Fighting in Syria alongside Regime, Says Monitor
Syria, U.N. Discuss 'Freeze' in Aleppo Fighting
Iraq Kurds in push to retake Sinjar area from ISIS
IS Jihadists Kidnap Two Kurdish Reporters in Syria
U.N. Extends Syria Aid Deliveries
Iraqi president announces steps towards national reconciliation

Jihad Watch Site Posts Latest News
Pakistan school: Jihadis screamed “Allahu akbar” as they murdered children
Islamic State beheads 150 women, some pregnant, for refusing to marry jihad terrorists
Video: Robert Spencer at Restoration Weekend 2014 on what US foreign policy should be
Sydney jihadi’s ex-wife sought refuge in US before she was murdered
300 Muslims from China have joined the Islamic State
Islamic State propagandist’s parents: “Our son is a devout Muslim. He had learnt the Quran by heart.”
Robert Spencer in PJ Media: 6 New Examples of Muslim Outreach to Jews and Christians
Swiss magazine hacked, needs guards after posting article calling Quran “core of the problem”
Danish TV on German anti-Islamization demo: “German middle class demonstrated”
UK soccer fan who ripped Qur’an at match banned from every stadium
Raymond Ibrahim: ‘Muslim Reformers’ — Forever Talking the Talk, Never Walking the Walk
Robert Spencer in FrontPage: Did Muhammad approve of torture?
Pakistan: Jihadis burn teacher alive in front of students, behead children

Better Late Than Never: State Finally Approves Healthcare Plan for Artists
Naharnet /Following years of demands, the ministers of health and culture on Wednesday launched a long-awaited healthcare plan for artists.Under the plan, artists who are members of their respective syndicates would be granted cards entitling them to receiving healthcare at the expense of the Ministry of Health. “The Lebanese personality is part of the Arab personality and its features are remarkable in the fields of art, poetry and literature. If these characteristics fall, Lebanon itself would fall,” Health Minister Wael Abou Faour announced at a press conference to launch the plan. “The decision was very simple and it did not cost the state a lot,” he added, noting that the ministry has signed contracts with hospitals and that it would cover the entire expenses. “I address a 'kiss of apology' over the past and the culture minister and I promise you that the state will pay attention to the affairs of artists,” Abou Faour added. He stressed that it is “unacceptable” to push artists to beg for healthcare “at the doors of politicians, ministers and influential figures.” The minister emphasized that card holders must be treated in a respectful manner at all hospitals and health institutions. “Our ambition is to give a health card to every Lebanese citizen in order to break the relation of clientelism between the citizen and the state,” Abou Faour added. Several artists have died of illness in recent years without receiving any healthcare from the state. Some of them could not afford medical treatment and were even denied admission into hospitals, such as the late actress Amalia Abi Saleh who was not covered by Social Security.

Aoun Proposes Tasking Officers from ISF, Army to Keep Families Informed of Arsal Captives Case
Naharnet/Head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun met on Wednesday with a delegation from the families of the servicemen who were kidnapped from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. He said after the talks: “An officer from the Internal Security Forces and another from the army should be tasked with keeping the families up-to-date with the developments linked to the case.” The MP hoped that the ministerial crisis cell tackling the issue would take his proposal into consideration. He declared that the families have the right to know what is happening with their loved ones. “We discovered that we have wronged them because we know nothing of the negotiations,” Aoun said. “We should change our attitude towards the families, who should be in on the truth,” he stressed. Asked by reporters if the state should carry out negotiations with the gunmen to release the captives, he replied: “Any negotiation has a price.” The policemen and soldiers were abducted by Islamic State and al-Nusra Front gunmen from Syria in the wake of clashes in Arsal. A few of them have since been released, while four were executed and the rest remain kidnapped. Muslim Scholars Committee member Sheikh Wissam al-Masri revealed on Wednesday the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front pledged to release a soldier or more servicemen in its captivity if the state officially tasks him with the negotiations, a day after the group denied that he has been asked to mediate with the cabinet. On Tuesday, a prominent al-Nusra Front leader denied the appointment of al-Masri to negotiate the captives' release. The group 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.

Gas File Put on Right Track after Initial Agreement to Revive Exploration
Naharnet /The offshore gas exploration file is being put on the right track following Speaker Nabih Berri's campaign to adopt decrees that are necessary to stop Israel from drilling oil from Lebanon's reserves. Local dailies on Wednesday quoted Berri as saying that an agreement was reached among Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian, the head of the parliamentary energy committee, MP Mohammed Qabbani, and the members of the Petroleum Administration to revive the file. Last August, the government postponed for the fifth time the first round of licensing for gas exploration over a political dispute. The disagreements were over the designation of blocks open for bidding and the terms of a draft exploration agreement. But the newspapers quoted Berri as telling his visitors that he agreed with Nazarian, Qabbani and the Petroleum Administration during a meeting they held on Monday to adopt a series of measures to reactivate the file, including the adoption of the decrees in parliament and the cabinet. The conferees have also agreed on the designation of blocks, with priority given to those in Lebanon's territorial waters near the border with Israel. Berri warned on several occasions that the Jewish state is “stealing” huge amounts of gas through a pipeline that runs along Lebanon's waters. The speaker has been also calling for the demarcation of the southern territorial waters. As Safir daily asked United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson about the international community's possible assistance in the demarcation process. Eliasson said he discussed the issue with Berri during his visit to Beirut. “I also remember very well that we talked about the same subject two years ago.” “We are now in the same situation and I understand the worries of Speaker Berri,” he said. “We agreed to remain in contact about this issue. But any U.N. mediation in that regard requires a request made by the Lebanese and Israeli sides,” Eliasson told As Safir. “We haven't so far received any such Israeli request,” he said.

Berri Says LF Stance Does Not Impede Electoral Draft-Law Discussions
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri has said that the suspension of the Lebanese Forces' participation in discussions on an electoral draft-law would not impede the work of the parliamentary subcommittee that is dealing with the matter. Berri told his visitors that the LF stance “does not end the work of the committee nor suspends the deadline set for it until the start of the new year.”LF MP George Adwan said on Tuesday that “the subcommittee is only passing time until a settlement is reached regarding the presidential post.” Adwan called on the rival parties to head to the parliament to vote on a new electoral law whether a breakthrough is reached or not. But Berri, whose remarks were published in local dailies on Wednesday, said that the parliament could not adopt the law in the absence of a president. “We should wait for his election so that he has a say in it,” said the speaker. “We can't head to parliament as the LF is asking us to do so that we don't overrun the role of the president,” he added. Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May over political differences between the rival parties. Berri met on Wednesday with MP Robert Ghanem, the head of the 11-member parliamentary subcommittee, which has been tasked with discussing a hybrid electoral draft-law.
"The speaker will continue his consultations in hope for a breakthrough in the discussions over a new electoral law," said the lawmaker after his talks with Berri in Ain el-Tineh. He added the subcommittee's meeting, which was scheduled to be held on Thursday, was postponed until after the holidays. Berri was asked by his visitors about the much anticipated dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement. “There is still hope to hold the dialogue's first session between Christmas and New Year,” he said. The rival parties have agreed on his proposal to put the presidential deadlock and the electoral draft-law on the agenda of their talks, he said. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who is Berri's aide, and Nader Hariri, the adviser of al-Mustaqbal movement Saad Hariri, met on Tuesday to discuss the agenda.

Mustaqbal Delegation in Riyadh to Tackle Presidential Deadlock
Naharnet/A high-ranking al-Mustaqbal movement delegation traveled Wednesday to Saudi Arabia to discuss Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's possible withdrawal from the presidential run. According to state-run National News Agency, the delegation was led by head of al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora and Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq. The two men were accompanied by former MPs Ghattas Khoury and Bassem al-Sabaa and former premier Saad Hariri's adviser Nader Hariri. According to As Safir newspaper, the delegation will join discussions regarding the presidential elections, upon a request by ex-PM Hariri. Sources told the daily that the withdrawal of Geagea's candidacy is one of the options that will be tackled with Saudi officials. The sources said that the retraction of the LF leader's candidacy will be accompanied by the nomination of another. On Tuesday, Hariri held talks with Geagea, who is currently in Saudi Arabia on an official visit, in Riyadh. A statement issued by Hariri's office said the meeting underlined the need to “continue consultations and discussions aimed at overcoming the current political crisis and electing a president as soon as possible.”The LF leader had arrived in the Gulf kingdom on Sunday. Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun is still the candidate of the March 8 camp in the face of Geagea, the nominee of the March 14 forces. Political differences and the rivalry between the two men have 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.

UK Vows to Help Lebanon Face Challenges 'with Deeds, Not Words'
Naharnet /Britain on Wednesday stressed that the international community must not “underestimate the challenges facing Lebanon,” promising to maintain its support for the country. “I confirmed the UK's long-standing support to Lebanon’s security, stability and prosperity,” British minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail. “I also spoke of our appreciation for the Government and country’s response to the humanitarian situation,” Ellwood added, in reference to the Syrian refugees in the country. The minister noted that British support for Lebanon “alone now totals $273 million,” adding that “this support is helping build the army’s capacity (and) assisting Lebanon in hosting over 1 million refugees from Syria through humanitarian and development activities.”  The UK is now the largest donor to the World Bank/Government of Lebanon Trust Fund, with a contribution of $30 million, according to Ellwood. “We are backing Lebanese stability, not just in words, but also in deeds,” the British official underlined. “We must not underestimate the challenges facing Lebanon. We will continue to stand beside the Lebanese state to combat terrorism,” he pledged. Turning to the issue of the presidential vacuum, Ellwood urged Lebanese leaders to engage in dialogue to elect “a new president who can lead Lebanon in facing today’s many challenges.” Separately, the British official noted that London stands ready to “help Lebanon take full advantage of the gas reserve located offshore.” “A British company, Spectrum, is helping with the surveying as we speak,” he added.

Alleged Hezbollah Mossad spy ‘was Nasrallah bodyguard’
Kuwaiti report says Lebanese terror group has dismissed several officials since exposing the Israeli agent
By Marissa Newman and Elhanan Miller December 17, 2014/The Times Of Israel
Since Hezbollah exposed the collaborator, it has also dismissed several other officials from its ranks, the report said. A report in a Lebanese news agency on Tuesday said Hezbollah recently exposed a senior spy working for the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency within its foreign operations branch. According to Kuwaiti daily al-Rai, the double agent, a southern Lebanon businessman known only by the acronym M. Sh., guarded Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah in the past. Nasrallah is though to be a top target for Israel and rarely makes public appearances for fear of assassination. The Kuwaiti report also backed up claims of an earlier Lebanese report which said the alleged mega-spy was involved in the Lebanese terror group’s foreign operations unit, and played a role in the 2008 assassination of senior Hezbollah member Imad Mughniyeh. Unnamed sources told the El-Nashra news outlet Tuesday that the “collaborator,” exposed a few weeks ago, was an official in unit 910, responsible for “external operations against specific Israeli targets.”
The spy worked as a traveling businessman and was recruited by the Mossad in a “western Asian country,” El-Nashra reported. Lebanon’s security agencies periodically report the exposure of Israeli-recruited agents in the country, as well as of listening devices planted in the south of the country. According to the original report, the collaborator had been working for Israel for years and succeeded in thwarting a number of Hezbollah operations planned to avenge the assassination of Mughniyeh in February 2008, ostensibly by Israel.
He also reportedly exposed other Hezbollah agents, including Mohammed Amadar, arrested in Peru in late October with TNT and detonators following a Mossad tip-off; Hossam Yaacoub, convicted in Cyprus for planning attacks against Israeli tourists in March 2013; and Daoud Farhat and Youssef Ayad, arrested in April 2014 in Bangkok for planning terror attacks against Israeli tourists in Thailand. El-Nashra reported that the collaborator is also suspected of taking part in Mughniyeh’s assassination in Damascus, using an explosive device placed in his car seat, as well as the assassination of Hezbollah official Hassan al-Laqis in December 2013. Mughniyeh’s assassination was considered a major blow to the terror group. Israel has never claimed responsibility, but Hezbollah has blamed Jerusalem for the attack and vowed to take revenge.

No party would veto Amine Gemayel for presidency: Kataeb deputy head
The Daily Star/Dec. 17, 2014 /BEIRUT: Kataeb deputy head Sejaan Azzi encouraged Wednesday his party’s chief and former president Amine Gemayel to make another run for the country's top post, pointing out that no major party had issued a veto against his candidacy. “I think the developments are heading towards having Kataeb Party chief Amine Gemayel as one of the main candidates for presidential elections,” Azzi said in comments published by Middle Eastern News Agency. “We have made all the necessary calls and not heard any veto against former President Amine Gemayel. “Gemayel is the figure able to absorb all the Lebanese contradictions and transform the disputes to consensual projects.” Azzi, who is also the labor minister, underlined Gemayel’s recent visit to south Lebanon as a sign that the Christian leader can build bridges between different parties and communities. “It is a message of openness and confirmation that the Kataeb is present all over the Lebanese nation, and that it is accepted by all religious and political powers in Lebanon,” he held.
Azzi stressed that the warm reception of Gemayel by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement “was honest,” and that the party’s relations with the two groups is “honest too.”He compared the visit to the south to the Future Movement’s expected dialogue with Hezbollah, saying all such efforts fortify the strength of the March 14 coalition.

Irani Leadership: Losing moral high ground
The Daily Star/Dec. 17, 2014
Iran has influence in Arab states, stretching from Yemen to Lebanon.
The comments by Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Ali Khamenei, come as no surprise to people in this part of the world, but the West should contemplate this description of today’s wretched state of affairs.
Iranian officials no longer remain silent nor deny their intervention in other countries’ affairs. On the one hand, the pronouncement can be mocked – should Iran be proud of influencing events in places that suffer from economic underdevelopment, political tension, massive corruption and horrific violence, as in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, to name the “brightest” examples? Has Tehran produced anything of value in these places without the benefits being restricted to a certain sect? Does it inspire anyone to adopt Iran’s culture, political model, health care or economic system? While it’s fairly easy to poke holes at the type of influence of which Iran is boasting, the tougher questions should be addressed to Western politicians who have aided and abetted this situation. U.S. officials have adopted a mindset of “let Iran do what it wants” in Arab countries, as long as a deal can eventually be reached on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. Such an agreement will generate billions of dollars in business, after all. But the decision to indulge the whims of Iran’s regime comes at a heavy price, including the West’s absolute lack of credibility. What else can result when countries talk about the importance of issues like sovereignty and democracy while tacitly supporting a regional bully that respects none of these things?

Islamic Republic & ISIS: The lesser of two evils is still evil
by SLATER BAKHTAVAR /Family Security Matters
December 16, 2014
In light of the multitude and severity of troubles being caused in the Middle East by ISIS, particularly in Iraq and Syria where that group is based, it is only natural for the United States to consider Iran as a potential ally in confronting the threat. The most basic consideration, of course, is the fact that Iran has a powerful first-world military headquartered in the region, and the means to deploy it to the nearby areas where it would be needed. Additionally, with ISIS being a Wahhabi Sunni Islamic organization comprised mainly of Arabic people, they find themselves at odds with the majority Persian, Shia-style Muslims of Iran, who have reason to feel threatened by the rapid advancement and empowerment of ISIS.
What is particularly interesting to note is that, prior to 1979, the United States would likely have never questioned enlisting Iran's aid in this battle. For the majority of the 20th century, the US and Iran enjoyed close, friendly relations, with the Shah of Iran benefiting from his country's alliance with the powerful Americans, while the Americans enjoyed cordial ties with a major Middle Eastern power situated near their Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union. The friendship between the United States and Iran would almost certainly have lent itself perfectly to the formation of an American-Iranian coalition against so obvious and so mutual a threat as ISIS, a group which would be unlikely to survive the perfect storm of precision air raids from the US and powerful ground incursions by Iran.
Alas, things have changed in the three decades since the Islamic Revolution. In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown, ending a tradition of secular monarchy that had held in that country for over 2,500 years. What took its place was Iran's Islamic Republic, a fundamentalist Muslim regime that demands conformity to religious law and has become openly hostile to the United States. This is ironic, because while Iran's government has regressed so that it now arguably languishes in a historic dark age, the people of Iran who are subjected to it are more progressive and free-thinking than ever. A majority of Iran's population is constituted by young people under the age of 35, who actually admire the United States and its ideals of liberty and democracy, and would be generally amenable to resuming the friendship that existed between the two nations before 1979. Their government - over which they themselves have next to no direct control, despite the existence of an elected figurehead Iranian "President" who is almost totally impotent to enact actual policy - considers the United States a hated enemy. They do not.
This currently prevailing dynamic between the United States and Iran - and between Iran's government and its people - makes any American-Iranian collaboration unwise, even in light of the mutual threat posed by ISIS. Iran's use of ground forces against ISIS - the most solid contribution they could potentially make - would put its government in the position of legitimately projecting military power into Iraq and Syria, an opportunity it would surely use to its advantage. The potential is strong for Iran's regime to destabilize Iraq's already fragile government and reshape it from a secular administration into an Islamic theocracy. Meanwhile, in Syria, Iran may well choose to bolster al-Assad's position and secure him as dictator, or - perhaps worse yet - install a new ruler of their choosing. Any of these scenarios would be a disaster for the West and the Iranian people alike, as they would serve to advance the interests and goals of a brutal and repressive regime that in no way represents its own progressive population. Worst of all, the cooperation of Western superpowers would legitimize that regime.
It is imperative, also, that the United States takes care not to allow Iran to use its potential assistance as a bargaining chip in diplomacy. There are critically important negotiations ever ongoing concerning the attempts of Iran's regime to acquire nuclear weapons, and the temptation for their government to promise support against ISIS in exchange for less stringent attention from the US and the world community is strong. The two issues must be kept separate; Iran's help is not the boon it may appear to be.
However, it should never be questioned that Iran - an ancient, venerable civilization with glory in its past and future far outshining its current-day difficulties - has every right to empower and strengthen itself. It is only the rulership of its present regime that makes it necessary to contain Iran in the moment. Fortunately, there is hope that this can change. There are those who would advocate drastic action to this end on part of the West, including military intervention and the use of economic sanctions against Iran, but both of these ideas would be disastrous if implemented, as ultimately they would only hurt the people they seek to help: The citizenry of Iran. Moreover, such direct involvement by the West in the politics of Iran - which are, in the end, the business only of that nation and its people - are unnecessary as well as potentially counterproductive. As previously noted, Iran's people are largely young, progressive in their ideologies, and unsympathetic to the myopic religious extremism of their government. Their open-armed embrace of modern technology has equipped them with powerful tools, which arguably caught even their brutal regime off-guard with the advent of the hugely popular Green Movement and its successful use of social media and other 21st century communications technologies. These kinds of advances should continue to be encouraged as the strongest and surest means of enabling Iran's people to share ideas, discuss their place in the world, and ultimately - of their own will and accord - to decide that it is time to sweep away the repressive regime under which their currently suffer.
***Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney, journalist, author and political commentator. He is author of “Iran: The Green Movement”.

Turkey's Erdogan to start chairing cabinet meetings, extending power
Source: Reuters - Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:11 GMT
By Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz
ANKARA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will begin chairing cabinet meetings in January, senior officials told Reuters on Tuesday, extending his power as head of state even without the full presidential system he has long coveted.
Erdogan, who dominated politics for more than a decade as prime minister, became Turkey's first directly elected president in August and has vowed to wield far greater influence than predecessors, who took a largely ceremonial role.
The cabinet is expected to convene in January with Erdogan chairing it for the first time, two senior officials told Reuters, although it was unclear how often he would do this.
"This authority is given by the constitution, but because it has not been exercised (before), we will see together what the framework of his chairmanship will be," one of the officials from Erdogan's office said.
The Turkish leader has made no secret of his desire to change the constitution to introduce a presidential system, a move that would be made easier if the ruling AK Party wins a large enough majority in parliamentary elections next June.
Opponents fear his authoritarian tendencies, which they say were highlighted by the October inauguration of a lavish 1,150-room presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital, would become even more pronounced if he had presidential powers without a parliament strong enough to rein him in.
Erdogan has made clear he believes that the direct nature of August's vote - in which he won 52 percent - enables him to exercise stronger powers even without changing the constitution, maintaining his presence at the heart of Turkish politics.
The officials said he planned to establish a "mini cabinet" of advisers within the presidency, likely to include ministers due to step down after the June election because of a three-term limit for ruling party deputies.
The presidency will also be restructured, expanding its departments from four to more than 10, covering sectors such as energy, foreign policy, internal affairs, investments, press and security, the official in his office said.
Senior officials told Reuters in June that, if elected, he would establish a "council of wise men" to help him oversee government business, effectively relegating some ministries to technical and bureaucratic roles. (Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Dominic Evans)

After Alan Gross release, Obama seeks to resume full diplomatic ties with Cuba
By Olivier Knox/White House Correspondent/Yahoo 17.12.14
In a move to wipe away one of the Cold War’s last vestiges, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that the United States and Cuba will start talks on restoring full diplomatic relations for the first time in a half-century since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
“Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of thepast, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for theAmerican people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” Obama declared at the White House.
The stunning shift came directly after Cuba released imprisoned US aid contractor Alan Gross and a U.S. intelligence asset, while the United States freed three convicted Cuban spies in a tit-for-tat that U.S. officials insisted was not a “swap.”
Some Republicans and Democrats vowed to oppose Obama’s new policy, which will also include making it easier for Americans to travel to the Socialist-run island 90 miles from Florida beaches and return with consumer goods – including Cuba’s fabled rum and iconic cigars.
“To those who oppose the steps I'm announcing today, let me saythat I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty anddemocracy,” Obama said. “The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do notbelieve we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades andexpect a different result.”
The dramatic announcement capped 18 months of secret negotiations – early diplomatic flirtations in the Spring of 2013, a first meeting of top officials hosted by Canada, a series of furtive exchanges there and at the Vatican, a rare letter from Pope Francis urging Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to find common ground, a final meeting at the Holy See this fall, and ultimately a phone call between Castro and Obama on Tuesday. Fidel Castro was not a part of the negotiations, top U.S. officials told reporters.
“I want to thank His Holiness,Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuingthe world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the worldas it is,” Obama said.
That conversation, which U.S. officials said ran between 45 minutes and an hour, was the first such contact since the 1959 Cuban revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power, quickly aligned Havana with Moscow, led to a punishing U.S. economic embargo. The collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War did not lead Washington to end its punitive sanctions, ultimately driving a wedge between the United States and much of Latin America, as well as allies like Canada and most nations of Europe.
“I look forwardto engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting theembargo,” Obama said. But that was sure to be an uphill fight in the Republican-controlled Congress that convenes in January. Both parties include members who support the embargo or lifting it, while business and agricultural interests in the United States have increasingly lined up behind removing the economic restrictions.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who will take the reins of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, vowed to scrutinize the new policy but stopped well short of opposing it.
“The new U.S. policy announced by the administration is no doubt sweeping, and as of now there is no real understanding as to what changes the Cuban government is prepared to make,” Corker said in a statement. “We will be closely examining the implications of these major policy changes in the next Congress.”
But the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democratic Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was expected to deliver a full-throated denunciation of the policy.
And Republican House Speaker John Boehner blasted the decision as "another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies."
The White House cannot completely lift the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba -- that will require action by Congress. But Obama unveiled executive actions to ease restrictions on trips by U.S. citizens to Cuba. Those travelers will also be able to buy Cuban goods for personal use, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco products, meaning that at least some Americans will be able to bring home some of the island's famous rum and iconic cigars.
“We cannot completely lift the travel ban" without Congress, one official said on a conference call organized by the White House. "We are authorizing as much travel as we possibly can within the constraints of the legislation.”
In practice, that will mean granting travel licenses to all travelers in categories that Congress has already designated as permitted to go to Cuba. Those include family visits, official U.S. government travel, journalism, professional research or meetings, educational exchanges, religious activities, public performances (including sporting events), humanitarian work, and others.
Obama will also expand financial connections between the United States and Cuba, notably raising the amount of "remittances" -- essentially, tranfers of cash from Cuban-Americans to relatives in Cuba -- allowed from $500 every three months to $2,000.
The scope of the policy shift was a surprise, but the Obama Administration had previewed the potential change when longtime Obama foreign policy aide Antony Blinken testified in a Senate hearing in November on his confirmation to the number-two job at the State Department. Blinken was confirmed Tuesday.
It was not clear whether Obama's much-discussed December 2013 handshake wtih Raúl Castro at a memorial service for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela was part of the warming relations.
Gross had been sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison in connection with an effort to create a communications network outside Cuban government control. Cuba freed him on humanitarian grounds as part of a broader deal that saw each side free intelligence assets.
The United States and Cuba have had no embassies -- or ambassadors -- since 1961. Each side has an "interests section" housed in another country's embassy.


European Parliament wants Palestinian state as part of two-state solution
Ynetnews /Associated Press /Published: 12.17.14/ Israel News
Compromise resolution supports 'in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood' but as part of two-state solution with Israel.
STRASBOURG - The European Parliament has stopped short of pushing for outright recognition of a Palestinian state on Wednesdat, urging renewed peace talks instead.
Legislators voted 498-88 in favor of a compromise resolution supporting "in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood" - but as part of a two-state solution with Israel. The resolution supports two states on the basis of 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. After years of deadlock in Mideast peace efforts, a growing number of European leaders and lawmakers want to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. Supporters hope that would force negotiations to resume.
Israel's government argues recognition would discourage the Palestinians from negotiations and make peace harder to achieve. The issue is divisive and prompted shouting and emotional arguing in Wednesday's debate in the European Parliament.
The vote, that was scheduled for last month, was postponed over disagreement on the wording of the notion. Left-wing parties who proposed the motion - the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats - want to recognize Palestine now, and believe such recognition could help lead to a peace accord with Israel. On the other hand, the European People's Party, a center-right party which requested the postponement, wants to condition recognition of Palestine on first reaching a two-state solution through peace talks with Israel. "The right-wing parties, who represent a majority in the European parliament, wanted a wording similar to the Spanish decision, which reads that recognition will be declared after Palestinians and Israelis reach a peace agreement," PA official Nabil Shaath told Palestinian news agency Ma'an.
The move comes on the heels of Sweden and Ireland's decision to recognize Palestine and symbolic votes on the topic in Spain, Britain, Ireland and France. It reflect mounting frustration in the EU at Israel's expanding settlement program on land the Palestinians want for a state following the collapse of US-sponsored peace talks.  Reports received by the Israeli Foreign Minister indicate similar votes on recognition of a Palestinian state are expected in other European parliaments in coming weeks, among them Portugal, Italy and Slovenia.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said that "this is an avalanche" and that Israel does not have a lot of tools to deal with such a wave because of the freeze in diplomatic talks.
Israel has been working to foil the decision, with officials warning that if the motion passes, the country will view Europe’s decision as anti-Israeli. Israel's ambassador to the European Union David Walzer and members of his delegation held urgent meetings recently with the parties' political advisers. The ambassador also held an urgent briefing meeting with dozens of members of the European Parliament. After Sweden officially recognized the state of Palestine in October, the Social Democrats announced its widespread support of the move, and the president of the center-left party stated that such a decision would be the only solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it would benefit both parties. He claimed that the EU should be more involved in the peace process and recognize Israel and Palestine as two nation states living side-by-side. He also said that the French faction in the European Parliament would push for recognition of a Palestinian state, as well as some other left-wing factions.
Ambassador Walzer, however, stressed that a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will not help in bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiation table but will only push the two sides further away.
The GUE group's draft text “urges all EU member states … to recognize the state of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital”. Itamar Eichner and Ynetnews contributed to this report.

Netanyahu: Hypocritical Europeans have 'learned nothing' from Holocaust
Attila Somfalvi/Published: 12.17.14/Israel News/Ynetnews
After European Union General Court removes Hamas from terrorist list on technicality, Netanyahu slams 'European hypocrisy'.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said Europeans appeared to have learned nothing from the Holocaust, condemning the European Union's decision to remove Hamas from its terror list.
In Luxemburg the European court removed Hamas from the list of terrorist organisations, Hamas that has committed countless war crimes and countless terror acts," Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying.
He went on to say that "It seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil six million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing."
But we in Israel, we've learned. We'll continue to defend our people and our state against the forces of terror and tyranny and hypocrisy," he said at the start of a meeting with US Republican Senator-elect Joni Ernst.
The European Union's second highest court annulled on Wednesday the bloc's decision to keep Hamas on a list of terrorist organizations, but temporarily maintained the measures for a period of three months or until an appeal was closed.
The General Court of the European Union said the contested measures were not based on an examination of Hamas's "acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities" but on imputations derived from the media and the Internet.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly called on Europe to maintain the ban. "We expect them to immediately put Hamas back on the list," he said in a statement from Jerusalem, denouncing Hamas as "a murderous terrorist organization".
The EU court did not consider the merits of whether Hamas should be classified as a terror group, but reviewed the original decision-making process. This, it said, did not include the considered opinion of competent authorities, but rather relied on press and Internet reports.
"The court stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group," the court said in a statement.
It therefore ruled that the asset freezes should stay in place for three months, pending further EU actions, in order to ensure that any possible future freezing of funds would be effective.
The court's decision followed an appeal filed by Hamas against its inclusion in the European Union's blacklist.
The EU is considering its next steps. It has two months to appeal.
The terrorist list designation bars EU officials from dealing with the group, and requires that any of the group's funds in EU countries be frozen.
Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq welcomed the decision. "This is the correction of an error and an injustice that was caused to Hamas, which is a national liberation movement."
Salah Bardawil, another Hamas official, called the decision a "strong, good shift" that he said would ultimately lead to European action against Israel.
Netanyahu slams Geneva conference
Netanyahu also lambasted an international conference in Geneva that he said sought to probe accusations of Israeli war crimes.
Among the concerns raised in the 10-point declaration adopted Wednesday are that Israel should "fully and effectively" respect the Fourth Geneva Convention meant to protect civilians during times of war including in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories.
"Today we witnessed staggering examples of European hypocrisy," Netanyahu said. "In Geneva they call for the investigation of Israel for war crimes."
Both the United States and Israel shunned the talks, held amid mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, warning that the event threatened Switzerlands role as neutral arbiter.
Paul Fivat, Switzerland's special ambassador for the Geneva Conventions, said that the intention was "not to accuse, it was not a tribunal.. it was a place simply for the parties to reiterate what is international law".
"This declaration is a signal that is being sent to conflicting parties, especially the civilian populations, that there is a law which is protecting their interests," he told reporters.
But the Israeli foreign ministry said the talks undermined international law and confers legitimacy on terrorist organisations and dictatorial regimes wherever they are.
The conference convened today in Geneva was a political exercise, lacking any basis in the Geneva Conventions, the ministry said in a statement. It added: It wont stop Israel from implementing its primary obligation to its citizens — to provide them with security and protect them from merciless and fanatic terrorists (who) do not hide their desire to see Israel wiped off the map of the Middle East.
The US also boycotted the conference, saying that it risks politicising the Geneva Conventions.
The Palestinians warn that they may seek to sign up to the International Criminal Court and have threatened to file a suit against Israel over its July-August war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians.
**Itamar Eichner, Elior Levy, Roi Kais, Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

The Terrorist in the Café
Ali Ibrahim /Asharq Al Awsat
Wednesday, 17 Dec, 2014
The recent attacks by fanatical individuals in different cities and capitals across the world in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) beg some important questions: are they just random terrorist attacks by psychologically fragile individuals, or is there some force coordinating them? What about the targets, which seem to have been selected without rhyme or reason, except for propaganda purposes?
The latest such incident was the armed attack and hostage-taking at a café in Sydney, Australia. The attacker held hostages at gunpoint, forcing them to raise an Islamic banner in the café’s window before the police eventually stormed the place.
Before this, we saw a similar incident in Abu Dhabi where a veiled woman entered the women’s restrooms at a mall and killed an American expat without any clear motive. This is not to mention two other incidents announced by the Saudi authorities recently revolving around the shooting of foreigners, and the arrests of those involved.
These incidents may be strange, difficult to understand, or remind us of old horror or science fiction movies where individuals turn into criminals after being brainwashed. However, we cannot separate these events from the bigger picture, which has features we don’t yet fully understand. Here, I am of course talking about ISIS and its ongoing war across Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has attracted a lot of followers, particularly youth afflicted with a lack of direction, mental instability or a thirst for adventure, and after they fall into the trap of extremist ideology and takfirist views they travel to Iraq and Syria to join the group.
People in Iraq and Syria are finding themselves under the control of foreign fighters, whether Chechens or fighters from Western or other Arab countries. We must ask questions about how ISIS is able to continue to receive oil payments from black market oil—using the money to arm itself and secure enough ammunition to continue its daily fight, not to mention paying the salaries of its fighters—although these are questions that we do not have good answers to.
The terrorist attack on the Sydney café, with early reports suggesting that the man behind the siege was mentally unstable, is a microcosm of the larger problem that we are facing, namely the new form of terrorism of which ISIS is the exemplar. ISIS is an organization like Al-Qaeda that exploits new media and social media platforms to deliver its message and spread fear and terror. In Sydney, were it not for the media coverage and the ensuing impact of this crime, then the terrorist attack and siege would have been irrelevant to the wider struggle against ISIS. While the perpetrator may have been mentally unbalanced, those who, no doubt, incited him to action, whether directly or over the Internet, knew what they were doing. The perpetrator, in their view, was nothing more than a tool to carry out their evil purposes. The problem is the political backlash that occurs against Muslims after every attack, particularly in societies where there is only a small minority of Muslims, such as Australia. Unfortunately, the majority of the most high-profile terrorist attacks that have taken place over the past few decades have been carried out by Muslims. In the nineties and the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was Al-Qaeda that spread fear and terror wherever it went. When it appeared that this group was growing weaker, particularly after many of its senior leaders were killed, we saw the rise of ISIS. This group is now using even more violent practices, exploiting complex sectarian circumstances in Iraq and Syria. Like Al-Qaeda, ISIS has no future, but its actions today are many and harmful.
ISIS’s defeat is certain, particularly given that it is a group that is based on a nihilistic, malevolent worldview. However, the war against ISIS needs to be taken more seriously, especially in terms of gathering resources. The longer ISIS survives the bigger the problems the world will face later on. For example what is to be done with the youth who have been deceived by ISIS’s rhetoric? As for Arab and Islamic states, the longer this war against ISIS continues, the more incidents that distort the true image of Muslims will occur, such as is the case with the Sydney café siege.

The Russians will not let go of Assad and neither will we
Abdulrahman al-Rashed /Al Arabiya/17.12.14
To understand the recent changes, we may have to re-evaluate the political and military situation in Syria. We may also have to ask the following question: If Russia hadn’t sided with Bashar al-Assad’s regime and hadn’t supported it, would this have changed the course of the Syrian revolution? The Russians played a major political role, one that is more than a decisive military role. This should not make us underestimate the massive support which Moscow has presented to the regime in Damascus to help it defeat the opposition forces in many rebellious areas. However, Assad could have acquired advanced weapons from the warehouses of his major ally, Iran, which in effect handled and coordinated Syrian defensive needs procurement and financing from international markets through different methods.
“The most important role Russia has played is political – they succeeded in obstructing and sabotaging various international political projects”
The most important role Russia has played is political – they succeeded in obstructing and sabotaging various international political projects. They also overindulged in using their veto power to obstruct decisive U.N. Security Council resolutions and made it easier for hesitant and opposing Western parties not to support the Syrian opposition. Therefore, we can see that Moscow has, for more than three years, played a dangerous game by obstructing change in Damascus. Moscow is behind the extension of the Syrian humanitarian tragedy, a tragedy which the region has not hitherto seen the likes of.
Harboring a delusion?
Burhan Ghalioun, member of the Syrian coalition, rightly criticizes his comrades in the Syrian opposition for boarding the first plane to Moscow whenever they receive an invitation, harboring a delusion that President Vladimir Putin has changed his mind and is willing to cooperate. Ghalioun says: “Russia’s stance on Assad has never changed. However, some of us don’t understand the meaning of the Russians’ statements. Since the first meeting with them in 2011, after the establishment of the national council, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said they’re not married to Assad and they don’t have special relations with him and that Assad has in fact visited Western countries more than they ever have. Ghalioun clarified that when the Russians indicate that they are not defending Assad and that they do not back him in particular, they don’t actually mean they are willing to abandon him.
The Russians mince their words but their stance is always the same. They are with Assad as long as he’s alive and in the presidential palace in Damascus. The region’s countries communicate with Moscow and supply services in hope that the latter will soften its stance, but this has not yielded any results worth mentioning. Even Moscow’s stance regarding Egypt is a foregone conclusion - i.e. it’s with Cairo against Washington, or rather with the standing regime. Regarding the dangerous challenge which the Russian regime faces due to the Western siege, Russia is not a party that deserves all this attention from the Syrian opposition. Russia will not alter its stance in Syria or toward any other zone of conflict. And as Ghalioun says: “In every meeting with Lavrov, the Syrian opposition falls in the trap and spreads illusions again before realizing Moscow’s trick and deceit. Moscow has not changed its stance.”
The opposition’s option is to organize its ranks and place its bets on the ground military option. It is the only way the Russians and the Americans will listen. The Russian and American governments, caught between besieged Assad and brutal terrorism, have no other choice but to deal with the opposition.

The witch-hunt reaches Turkey’s media
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Mahir Zeynalov /Al Arabiya
“If this is a witch-hunt, yes, we will carry out this witch-hunt,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a few months ago to confront criticism that his government has gone too far in removing police officers and prosecutors who carried out a corruption investigation against his ministers and son.
That witch-hunt has now set foot into the realm of the outspoken media, prompting a world-wide scolding. Perhaps it will intensify until the Turkish authorities completely seize power ahead of next year’s key parliamentary elections. The outcome of that election could allow Erdogan to shift the nation’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, granting the country’s divisive president with extensive powers.
Busting a newspaper
Standing bold and defiant, most of the staff of Zaman and Today’s Zaman spend nights at its headquarters, tweeting their photos to their followers. More than a dozen Turkish journalists were arrested on Sunday, including the editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s best-selling daily, Ekrem Dumanli. Police officers stormed his office and took him into custody, live on TV. Alarmingly, Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu endorsed the move. Erdogan scorned the arrested journalists on Monday: “They thought they would be immune to arrest within their newspapers.” A pro-government newspaper, Star published this headline: “[Erdogan] Entered Their Lairs.”
“The media is a barometer for democracy in any country”
Police raided the country’s largest newspaper and its editor was taken live on TV - glowing evidence of how far the government could go in crushing dissent with almost sheer impunity. A lack of support within Turkey presents another set of challenges for those in danger and shows how the public is influenced by TV networks that are owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law.
The raid on the newspaper prompted reactions from all around the world. The White House expressed concerns while the European Union condemned the assault on journalists as “unacceptable.” International press advocacy bodies as well as rights groups denounced the arrest of journalists and called on the Turkish government to ensure that investigations are conducted in a swift and consistent way.
“We have no concern about what the EU might say. Whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your wisdom to yourself,” Erdogan responded to the EU on Monday. Why would Erdogan be troubled over what the EU or the U.S. say about the way he rules the country? Neither EU nor the U.S. has any effective or substantial leverage with which to punish Erdogan when he acts in ways that many see as unacceptable. He has successfully demonstrated that his moves go unpunished, no matter what allegations are thrown against him.
Not a power struggle
Some news outlets in the West have characterized the recent developments in Turkey as a “power struggle.” They assumed that sympathizers of the Gülen movement are very powerful within the judiciary and police and that Erdogan is wrestling to take control of parts of the state that are controled by Gülen. If that is true, why could the Gülen movement not help halt a full-fledged blitz of the authorities on the Gülen movement from its schools and dorms. Another case in point: In judicial elections in October, a pro-government bloc won an overwhelming majority in the top judicial body - a clear example that sympathizers of the Gülen movement within the judiciary have little clout, if any.
Because the government subdues anyone who sides with the Gülen movement, a deafening silence accompanied the crackdown. And as the world has viewed the process as a “power struggle,” no one abroad wanted to “take part” in this “power struggle.” But as the clampdown hit the media close to the Gülen movement, the international community suddenly stood up to say “stop” to Ankara. Sunday’s raid, for the first time, demonstrated to the world that Erdogan’s crackdown has the signs of a witch-hunt that takes its toll on millions who promote democratic values, cherish freedoms and want to live in a society that put its leaders accountable during wrongdoings.
The Gülen movement is not without sin, in my view. No one is perfect. But being at odds with Erdogan could not justify a ruthless crackdown on his movement.
The media is a barometer for democracy in any country. Turkey was already infamous for its intolerance to journalists, but raiding a newspaper is a new step for a country that had once been touted as a model for other Arabs, but now represents one of the failed cases of a Muslim democracy.