December 20/14

Bible Quotation for today/we cannot do a thing against the truth, but only for it.
02 Corinthians 13/01-13: " This is now the third time that I am coming to visit you. “Any accusation must be upheld by the evidence of two or more witnesses”—as the scripture says.  I want to tell those of you who have sinned in the past, and all the others; I said it before during my second visit to you, but I will say it again now that I am away: the next time I come nobody will escape punishment.  You will have all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. When he deals with you, he is not weak; instead, he shows his power among you.  For even though it was in weakness that he was put to death on the cross, it is by God's power that he lives. In union with him we also are weak; but in our relations with you we shall share God's power in his life.  Put yourselves to the test and judge yourselves, to find out whether you are living in faith. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you?—unless you have completely failed.  I trust you will know that we are not failures.  We pray to God that you will do no wrong—not in order to show that we are a success, but so that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to be failures.  For we cannot do a thing against the truth, but only for it. We are glad when we are weak but you are strong. And so we also pray that you will become perfect.  That is why I write this while I am away from you; it is so that when I arrive I will not have to deal harshly with you in using the authority that the Lord has given me—authority to build you up, not to tear you down.  And now, my friends, good-bye! Strive for perfection; listen to my appeals; agree with one another; live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with the kiss of peace. All of God's people send you their greetings. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 19-20/14
Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and the Fog of Uncertainty/Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat/December 19/14
Iran adores the CIA torture report/Majid Rafizadeh /Al Arabiya/December 19/14
How Western Media Enable Islamic Terrorism/Raymond Ibrahim/December 19/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 19-20/14
Report: ISF Arrests Baathist Network that Kidnaps Anti-Assad Syrians
IS Threatens to Execute Soldiers Held Hostage, Slams Hizbullah 'Allies
Jumblat Urges IS to 'Appreciate' His Stance, Says Won't Give Up Efforts for 'Swap Deal'

ISIS threatens to execute Lebanese soldiers held hostage
Lebanon to receive Air Algerie crash victims Sunday
Police begin enforcing new speeding law
Swap deal on the table: Berri to hostage families
In Lebanon, Syrian newborns risk statelessness
Bassil hails Uruguay for accepting 42 Syrian refugees

Report: Army Intelligence Detains Prominent ISIL Leader
Berri Inquires U.S. about Role in Lebanon-Israel Maritime Border Dispute
Mustaqbal Delegation Returns to Beirut after Meeting Hariri in Riyadh

Larijani in Lebanon over Weekend En Route to Damascus
Al-Rahi Asks Religious Court Judges for Speedy but Fair Trials
2 Syrians Held for Attacking Army in Arsal Clashes

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 19-20/14
Canada Condemns Chemical Attacks by Assad Regime
The historic development in U.S.-Cuba relations: Money talks, ideals walk

US places Ajnad Misr and senior Al-Qaeda official on terror list
Iraqi Kurds liberate besieged Sinjar mountain, freeing hundreds
Fifteen US-led strikes target ISIS militants
WHO: 1m Syrians injured, diseases spreading
US not fully prepared for nuclear terrorist attack
Iraq Kurds press fightback as top jihadi reported killed
US to formally blame North Korea for Sony hack
FIFA will not reopen 2018, 2022 World Cup votes
China says does not support 'cyber illegalities'
100M euros in assets seized in Rome mafia probe
Palestinians ready for further negotiations on UN resolution
Israel relaxes travel restrictions for Palestinian Christians
Israeli military says Gaza rocket hits Israel
Kuwait court jails three ISIS supporters
Obama Tells Sisi of U.S. Concern over Egypt Mass Trials

Canada Condemns Chemical Attacks by Assad Regime

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Nigeria: Islamic jihadists screaming “Allahu akbar” murder 35 people and kidnap 185 more

Lebanon to receive Air Algerie crash victims Sunday
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014 /BEIRUT: The bodies of 20 Lebanese nationals killed when their plane crashed in Mali over the summer will arrive in Lebanon Sunday, the prime minister's office said, announcing a national day of mourning. The coffins will arrive at Rafik Hariri International Airport at 7 p.m. Sunday, accompanied by Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and an official from the Higher Relief Committee. Air Algerie Flight 5017 crashed in Mali in July after taking off from Burkina Faso. All 116 people on board the aircraft were killed in the crash.

Canada Condemns Chemical Attacks by Assad Regime
December 19, 2014 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement in response to the release of the final report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission in Syria:
“Canada is greatly concerned by the evidence presented in the OPCW mission’s final report on its investigation of allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria. Again, the OPCW report indicates that toxic chemicals were very likely used to cause grave harm to the Syrian people. “The mission’s findings make it unequivocally clear that only the Assad regime could have been responsible for committing these crimes.
“Canada strongly condemns the Assad regime for such atrocities, and we will work diligently with like-minded countries and the international community to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their criminal actions.”

Report: ISF Arrests Baathist Network that Kidnaps Anti-Assad Syrians
Naharnet /The Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch has arrested a network allied with the Syrian regime that kidnaps opposition members and hands them over to the authorities in Damascus, al-Mustaqbal daily reported on Friday. The newspaper quoted a high-ranking security official as saying that the cell is led by Majed Mansour, a Baath Party official in the West Bekaa. The group, which includes Baath party members, had been recently abducting Syrian opposition members and smuggling them to Syria to be executed later on, the source said. Their latest victim was Syrian Mohammed Ahmed al-Naamani who was kidnapped five days ago from an area in the West Bekaa and was handed over to intelligence officers in Damascus. The official, who was not identified, told al-Mustaqbal that the Intelligence Branch carried out coordinated raids on Thursday to arrest the cell's members. Mansour was able to escape but his brothers Khaled, Alam and Mansour were arrested, the official said. The ISF also apprehended Syrian Mahmoud Hassan and seized arms from the house of the cell leader. Other network members were arrested during raids in several Lebanese regions. So far, seven suspects are in custody, the official said, adding that security forces are pursuing three others. But LBCI said the number of arrested suspects rose to nine on Friday. One of them was seized after he was injured during a raid carried out by the ISF in the West Bekaa, it added.

Mustaqbal Delegation Returns to Beirut after Meeting Hariri in Riyadh
Naharnet/A Mustaqbal Movement delegation returned overnight to Beirut aboard a private jet after a short visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, the state-run National News Agency reported on Friday. The news agency said that the delegation, which was headed by head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Saniora, discussed with the movement's chief Saad Hariri the latest developments in Lebanon. The delegation was comprised of Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, ex-MP Ghattas Khoury, an adviser to Hariri, ex-MP Bassem al-Sabaa, and the director of Hariri's office in Beirut Nader Hariri. The delegation's arrival in Beirut coincided with the return of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to Lebanon after a five-day official visit to Riyadh, were he met with prominent Saudi officials and Hariri. Media reports have said that the delegation headed to Riyadh to discuss with Hariri Geagea's possible withdrawal from the presidential run. Hariri held talks with Geagea on Tuesday. 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.

IS Threatens to Execute Soldiers Held Hostage, Slams Hizbullah 'Allies'
Naharnet/A French-speaking jihadist threatened Friday to execute Lebanese soldiers held hostage by the Islamic State group, saying three prominent anti-IS Lebanese politicians would be responsible for their deaths. The threat was made in a video Agence France Presse obtained from a Salafist cleric, Wissam al-Masri, who is mediating the release of 25 police and soldiers held by IS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaida the al-Nusra Front. Four hostages have already been executed. The video, filmed in a field with hills in the background, shows three men in blue uniforms, each kneeling in front of a fighter holding a knife to his throat. The unidentified speaker, was wearing a hood and his companions' faces were uncovered. From his speech, it was not possible to determine if he was from Lebanon, where French is widely spoken, or a third country. Thousands of fighters from France and countries in North Africa where French is spoken have flocked to IS ranks. The speaker attacked the politicians for what he said is their support for Hizbullah, whose fighters are aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war against largely Sunni Muslim rebels that include IS. "To the allies of France in Lebanon – (Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad) Hariri, (Lebanese Forces leader) Samir Geagea and (Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid) Jumblatt -- the Islamic State is at war with Hizbullah, which is meddling in the affairs of Muslims in Sham (Syria) and has killed our women and our children," he says. "You are certainly criminals, but you have added to your crimes today by your collaboration with Hizbullah and your transformation of the Lebanese army into a mere puppet in the hands of Hizbullah, with which it oppresses Sunnis." IS is a radical Sunni organization that considers Shiite Muslims to be heretics. It has murdered many of them in a campaign of atrocities in areas under its control in Syria and neighboring Iraq. "You are therefore responsible for the fate of your fellow citizens. Their future, their life and death, depends on your next decision," he said without making any specific demands of the three men.
However, the jihadists have demanded that Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails be released in exchange for the hostages. Masri told AFP that he had met with IS leaders Thursday in Qalamoun, Syria, near the Lebanese border and seen nine of the soldiers.
"Two of them are in a very fragile state of health," he said. Lebanon has tried to insulate itself from the effects of the war in neighboring Syria, but has been wracked by increasing instability and spillover from the nearly four-year conflict.
Last week, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said 16 police and soldiers were still being held by al-Nusra, and nine by IS. "We have tried to negotiate with them... but things are very difficult."

Jumblat Urges IS to 'Appreciate' His Stance, Says Won't Give Up Efforts for 'Swap Deal'
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat responded Friday to a threat from the Islamic State group that held him along with two other top Lebanese leaders responsible for the possible execution of three of the captive Lebanese servicemen.
“We have not and will not give up the mediation role, according to the principle of a swap deal, under any circumstances,” Jumblat said on his official Twitter account, citing the IS' threat that was announced in a video message.
“I do not understand the accusation of the Islamic State's representative regarding France or parties other than France … We have nothing to do with what others are doing or saying,” Jumblat added.
“I'm not saying this to offend (al-Mustaqbal movement leader) Saad Hariri or (Lebanese Forces chief) Samir Geagea,” the PSP leader went on to say, referring to the two other leaders who were described in the IS' video as “the allies of France in Lebanon.”
Jumblat noted that his close aide, Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, “has exerted efforts and will continue to do so according to the approach of a swap deal, away from the calculations of the others.”
“I hope the Islamic State will appreciate this stance,” Jumblat added. The IS' threat was made in a video distributed by a Salafist cleric, Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, who is mediating the release of 25 policemen and soldiers held by IS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaida the al-Nusra Front. Four hostages have already been executed by the two groups. The men were kidnapped during August clashes between the jihadists and the Lebanese army in and around the northeastern border town of Arsal. The speaker in the video attacked the three politicians for what he said is their support for Hizbullah, whose fighters are aiding Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war against largely Sunni Muslim rebels that include IS. "You are certainly criminals, but you have added to your crimes today by your collaboration with Hizbullah and your transformation of the Lebanese army into a mere puppet in the hands of Hizbullah, with which it oppresses Sunnis," he says.
The jihadists of the IS and al-Nusra have demanded that Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails be released in exchange for the hostages.

Al-Rahi Asks Religious Court Judges for Speedy but Fair Trials

Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi called on Friday on the judges of spiritual courts to speed up religious trials but issue fair rulings by preserving justice. “It is up to the judges to achieve justice, which is the essence of peace,” al-Rahi told the judges during his yearly meting with them in Bkirki. “The social system should be improved to focus on the truth and seek justice.”“You are makers of justice, then you are the makers of peace,” he told the judges. Al-Rahi reminded them that the church urges judges to speed up their rulings. He also called for the respect of deadlines in issuing rulings and for avoiding procrastination. But al-Rahi stressed that a speedy trial doesn't mean the verdict should not be fair. The judges should study the evidence well, he said. Al-Rahi also stressed that the parties involved in a dispute should not fall victim to the lawyers' ignorance. Al-Rahi said some citizens are complaining about the high prices that the divorce lawyers are asking for. The court's fees and the lawyers' demands are two different things. The patriarch added that lawyers are banned from asking for more fees under the excuse that they would bribe the judges. Last year, al-Rahi slammed lawyers helping Catholic couples divorce by converting to other sects. “Any lawyer who seeks to change the sect of the couple to get divorce, would be sacked from the spiritual court,” he said.

Berri assures hostage families that swap deal on the table
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014 /BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri assured Friday a delegation of the families of Lebanese captive servicemen that the swap deal is an option under scrutiny for liberating their loved ones, noting that he had received positive information in that regard.“Be assured that all Lebanese regardless of their religion, sect or faction consider the cause of the captive soldiers as their own,” Berri said, stressing that “the swap deal is being considered in principle.” Berri told the delegation who visited him at his residence in Ain al-Tineh that he was coordinating on the issue with MP Walid Jumblatt, noting that he had received information that “matters were improving” towards ending the soldiers’ four-month-long ordeal. The speaker reiterated his stance calling for complete discretion on the progress of negotiations leading to the aspired outcome. ISIS and Nusra Front militants have been holding 25 troops and policemen hostage on the outskirts of Arsal since overrunning the northeast border town in early August. They seek to trade them with Islamist detainees held in Lebanese and Syrian prisons.

Lebanon FM hails Uruguay for accepting 42 Syrian refugees
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014/BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil discussed Friday the Syrian refugee crisis with his Uruguayan counterpart, thanking the Latin American country for accepting 42 Syrian refugees from Lebanon.  “Uruguay has taken a positive step by receiving 42 Syrian refugees,” Bassil said after visiting Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Luis Almagro in the country’s capital, Montevideo. Bassil hailed Uruguay’s move as a way of maintaining “humanitarian communication with Lebanon,” and said it set a good example for other countries to follow. “We are in agreement that Uruguay’s, or any other country's reception of refugees... is not a solution for the Syrian crisis,” he added. “The [solution] rather lies in keeping the Syrians in their own country and this can only be achieved through a peaceful, political solution in Syria.”Almagro in turn praised Lebanon for its “humanitarian approach” in dealing with the huge flow of Syrian refugees, saying many countries could learn from its experience. Bassil and Almagro also discussed the possibilities of enhancing economic trade between the two countries, acknowledging the presence of at least 90,000 Uruguayan citizens of Lebanese origin. The Lebanese minister said while his country imports a good amount of products from Uruguay, the size of its exports to the Latin American nation is “very minor,” stressing on the need to achieve relative balance. Bassil also gave a lecture at the Uruguayan foreign ministry, titled “The Foreign Policies of Small States.” The lecture was attended by Lebanese and Uruguayan diplomats and scholars.

Lebanon energy minister presses for oil exploration bids
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014 /BEIRUT: Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian underlined Friday the urgency of approving decrees to launch offshore oil and gas exploration auctions, cautioning that further delays would allow Israel to siphon off Lebanon’s resources. “It is of utmost importance that the Cabinet passes the decrees, in order to launch prospecting bids,” Nazarian said. “We cannot delay the matter anymore, because we would then be giving Israel more time to tap into the reserves belonging to Lebanon,” he said. Nazarian spoke at the end of a meeting on the stalled issue that grouped Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Parliament's Water and Energy Committee and the Petroleum Administration Committee.
“We hope the government will [settle the issue] and give it as a present to the Lebanese people for the new year,” Nazarian said. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has accused Israel of stealing Lebanon’s offshore gas wealth and called on UNIFIL to help Lebanon preserve its rights to its exclusive economic zone for exploiting maritime reserves. Lebanon and Israel are at loggerheads over 870 kilometers in the southern territorial waters. Lebanon insists this disputed zone is part of the Lebanese territorial waters and is not willing to concede a single kilometer to Israel.

Lebanon traffic police begin enforcing new speeding law

The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014/BEIRUT: Police Friday began enforcing a new traffic law that imposes hefty penalties for motorists who exceed the speed limit by 60 km per hour or more. In a statement, the Internal Security Forces said it had busted 55 people Friday morning alone who were caught violating the speed limit by more than 60 km per hour. Violators will be slapped with a LL1 - LL3 million ($660 - $2,000) fine and have their vehicle confiscated. Starting in April violators will also serve jail terms ranging from one month to two years, depending on how fast they were travelling.

In Lebanon, Syrian newborns risk statelessness
Ryan Lucas| Associated Press/Dec. 19, 2014
BEIRUT: Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland. The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual's identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.
"If you can't prove your nationality, it means you can't get legal documentation, can't cross borders legally, can't enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too," said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. "So the consequences are obviously huge."
The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years.
Syria's civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.
The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents' marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes. At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.
Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement.
"It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We're thinking we may not register him," she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. "My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn't have time to go through the whole process. We're waiting for a miracle to register Yousef." For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities.
"I want to register my two youngest," she said. "The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can't go back."
Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities. In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.
Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.
The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can't even get the birth notification that starts the process. "We're getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand ... and there are barriers that cause people problems," said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee's office in Beirut.
"I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they're not really sure what to do." The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children. The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered. U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon."If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country," UNICEF's Castrogiovanni said.

The historic development in U.S.-Cuba relations: Money talks, ideals walk
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014 /The historic development in U.S.-Cuba relations this week shows that ultimately the superpowers of the world are motivated not by ideology but by economics, and this will not be welcome news for Israel. Admitting that 50 years of isolation had not worked, Obama ushered in a new era of U.S.-Cuban relations, and it may well pave the way for similar seismic changes in the Middle East. As hard as Russian President Vladimir Putin might be trying to rekindle the Cold War climate, being on good terms with more states opens up the potential for new markets. While diplomatic motives were mentioned by Obama, trade ties must be seen as the most crucial factor behind the development. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was looking forward to being the first in his position to visit Cuba in 60 years. It might be too optimistic to think he will also be the first to visit Iran, but how far away are we from that reality? The U.K. is already increasing diplomatic ties with Iran, and economic links with other European countries are increasing as some sanctions are eased. Iran is a hungry market of 80 million people, a large portion of whom are eager for a huge variety of products and services. The United States may on paper be allergic to Iran, but that frostiness cannot continue indefinitely, for it is neither in Iran’s nor America’s interests. However, Tehran must take certain key steps to win any easing of sanctions, and cannot be rewarded for its behavior and its intransigence on certain issues. Even the U.S. cannot be seen to be that hypocritical when it comes to abandoning its principles.

Tourist numbers rise ahead of Christmas and New Year’s
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014/BEIRUT: Passenger traffic at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is expected to total nearly 7 million by the end of the year due the expected arrival of large numbers of Lebanese and foreign nationals who will spend Christmas and New Year’s in Lebanon. The airport saw the arrival of 14,673 passengers Wednesday and it is expecting the same figure every day until around Dec. 28, an airport official told The Daily Star. According to an airport official, the 7 million figure is a year-on-year increase of 11.7 percent from 6,264,368 in 2013.Moreover, statistics provided by the Ministry of Tourism revealed that the year-on-year number of tourists visiting Lebanon from April to September this year increased. In particular, 142,163 visitors came for Eid al-Fitr in June, compared to 136,256 in June 2013. Europeans topped the list of tourist arrivals in the first nine months of 2014, with 344,875 tourists, followed by 328,774 arrivals from Arab countries. The official said that the total number of passengers from January to November reached 5,994,852, a year-on-year increase of 4.18 percent. In November specifically, the total number of passengers experienced a year-on-year increase of 4.79 percent to 427,403. Commercial flights increased by 1.07 percent to reach 4,355 in November, while the number of private jets dropped 21.67 percent year-on-year to 470 during November, registering a year-on-year drop of 21.67 percent. Cargo shipments through the airport in November dropped by 20.58 percent to 6,923,183 tons.

Charges filed over alleged fuel scam
The Daily Star/Dec. 19, 2014
BEIRUT: Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim filed charges of embezzlement of public funds and bribery against a police officer and the owner of a fuel company for overcharging the government for diesel. The National News Agency said Friday that Al-Sahraa Petroleum Company’s owner and an officer from the Internal Security Forces were accused of overbilling the ISF directorate and Rafik Hariri University Hospital for supplying diesel. Health Minister Wael Abu Faour had filed a complaint with the financial prosecutor earlier this week, asking him to investigate the wider files related to the fuel company, which is owned by Hussein Halloum. In addition to Rafik Hariri University Hospital, six other public health facilities were allegedly short-changed as well, including in Nabatieh, Rashaya al-Wadi, Sidon, Bint Jbeil, Meis al-Jabal, Baalbek and Western Shahar.

Is a new Cold War sweeping Lebanon?
Nayla Tueni/Al Arabiya
Friday, 19 December 2014
The proverb “the more the cooks the worse the pottage” applies to the presidential elections in Lebanon. Many countries have dispatched envoys on the matter but no results have been achieved and so far and these seems to be little hope that there will ever be any results. These envoys have been dispatched to solicit opinions and actually there is a Lebanese consensus on the importance of electing a president, knowing that no one seems to be in a rush to elect one. It’s as if they have gotten used to the vacuum and to the institution working without a head. If the situation continues as such for a long time, it will mean that the presidency is no longer an important requirement and that the president is a mere figurehead, good for little more than official reception dinners. If this is the actual reality, it’s become necessary to think of reconsidering the Taif Agreement in order for the presidency to restore its role. “Since Damascus’ role has regressed and since Tehran overtook it as a regional player, Russia intervened”So far, the international activity towards Lebanon appears lacking as none of the envoys have announced launching a serious initiative regarding the presidency issue. However, perhaps what’s more dangerous than all of this is the overlap in powers or contradiction of initiatives and the return of the Cold War. The Russian activity regarding the Lebanese presidential issue is relatively new as Moscow has not been a direct major player in such affairs and has left these issues to its allies in the region - particularly to Damascus which has been the major player for years. Since Damascus’ role has regressed and since Tehran overtook it as a regional player, Russia directly intervened in order to exert influence. This Russian activity may clash with the French activity which is mostly supported by the United States and the process of electing a president would thus be further obstructed. Therefore the optimism in all this activity towards Lebanon may be totally wrong! All we have to do is wait for serious foreign communication that may help us exit this dilemma by communicating with active parties in international decision making circles.

Turkey says training of Syrian opposition may start before March
Reuters/Dec. 19, 2014
ANKARA: Turkey could begin training and equipping moderate Syrian opposition fighters before March, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday.
The U.S. State Department said in October that Turkey had agreed to support the program, a core part of President Barack Obama's strategy in Syria to field local forces to hold and eventually roll back ISIS insurgents.

US not fully prepared for nuclear terrorist attack
Hope Yen| Associated Press/Dec. 19, 2014
WASHINGTON: The U.S. government isn't fully prepared to handle a nuclear terrorist attack or a large-scale natural catastrophe, lacks effective coordination, and in some cases is years away from ensuring adequate emergency shelter and medical treatment, congressional investigators have found. The report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, obtained by The Associated Press before its release, found that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, did not always keep track of disaster efforts by agencies, hampering the nation's preparedness even after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. That storm hit a large swath of the eastern U.S. that received federal disaster money.
"FEMA is not aware of the full range of information," according to the report. The investigation relied in part on internal documents from the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, including previously undisclosed details from a 2013 disaster plan that highlights needed improvements in the event of an attack from an improvised nuclear device.
The Government Accountability Office said it would still take one to five years to develop a strategy to determine whether people were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation and five to 10 years to plan for a full medical response. Guidance also was lacking as to communication among first responders and making shelters and other basic needs available. Investigators said FEMA, which leads an interagency group in creating a disaster response plan, needs to set clear deadlines and estimated costs to ensure that agencies fulfill the goals. It is one of several reports that the office plans in the coming months on the U.S. level of disaster readiness. "This report makes clear that there are some areas of our country's preparedness that need strengthening up," said Sen. Bob Casey, who co-chairs the U.S. Senate Caucus on Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism. As to natural catastrophes, the report said FEMA should take a bigger responsibility in leading a coordinated response, setting clear minimum standards for agencies and collecting regular status reports. It said the Energy Department did not effectively coordinate with state agencies and the private sector during Superstorm Sandy, which was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65 billion in damage.
It also cited a lack of coordination among federal agencies in deciding whether to send law enforcement personnel to the affected region.
Jim Crumpacker of Homeland Security said the agency would work to put into place GAO recommendations by June but noted it did not have legal authority to compel other agencies to take action. "FEMA will continue to coordinate and collaborate with other federal departments and agencies," Crumpacker wrote in a response included in the GAO report. The report says 39 of 102 corrective actions identified by federal agencies after Superstorm Sandy remain undone, including improving emergency coordination with states, boosting training in the use of electronic medical records, and ensuring adequate transportation of injured victims. Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee and will be the panel's senior Democrat next year, said he was concerned about the findings and would work to make sure that agencies fix the lapses. "Whether a disaster is natural or man-made, large or small, our federal government needs to be prepared. This report makes it clear that federal agencies need to do a better job," he said.

Iraq Kurds press fightback as top jihadi reported killed
Abdelhamid Zebari/ Agence France Presse/Dec. 19, 2014
NAHYAT AL-AYADHIYA, Iraq: Kurdish forces pressed their biggest offensive against ISIS so far Friday, buoyed by U.S. reports that jihadi supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's top aide in Iraq has been killed. Kurdish peshmerga forces were securing the surroundings of Mount Sinjar after breaking a months-old jihadi siege of the northwestern region while fighting was also reported near the city of Tal Afar further east. The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. strikes had killed several top leaders of the group that proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq six months ago and rose to be the world's most feared jihadi organisation. "I can confirm that since mid-November, targeted coalition air strikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
U.S. officials said among those killed was Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, who was Baghdadi's deputy in charge of Iraq and would be the most senior ISIS leader to fall this year. Kirby said strikes against the group's leadership were disrupting the jihadis' "ability to command and control current operations against" Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces. The leaders of autonomous Kurdistan described the operation they have spearheaded since Wednesday as the most successful so far against the jihadis. After the U.S.-led coalition paved the way with some 50 airstrikes, around 8,000 peshmerga reclaimed some 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) in the Zumar and Sinjar regions in two days. ISIS fighters fleeing
Late Thursday, they reached Mount Sinjar, where thousands of fighters and civilians from the Yazidi minority had been besieged for months. "The peshmerga have liberated around 70 percent of the areas around Mount Sinjar, but the southern part of the Sinjar region is still under ISIS control," said Faisal Saleh, a Yazidi who has been stranded on the mountain with his family. "The peshmerga are currently offering assistance to those who need it the most and they are planning to take them to Kurdistan but that hasn't happened yet," he told AFP by telephone. Khalaf Shamo, a Yazidi fighter also on the mountain, said the jihadis were destroying positions before withdrawing. "We can see ISIS fighters blowing up houses in Sinuni and Khan as-Sur, we can see it clearly," he said, referring to two villages north of the mountain. Mount Sinjar in August saw one of the most dramatic episodes of the six-month-old conflict in Iraq when tens of thousands of Yazidis were trapped there without food nor water. Fears of a genocide against the small Kurdish-speaking minority were one of the reasons U.S. President Barack Obama put forward for starting an air war against the jihadis. The peshmerga also closed in on Tal Afar, a large city from which huge numbers of Shiite Turkmen were displaced when ISIS fighters attacked in June.
But residents said the Iraqi army's elite counter-terrorism unit - known as the Golden Brigade - was leading operations around the city.
"There's fighting going on, it started last night. I can hear shooting and explosions not that far away even as we speak. I can sometimes hear fighter jets," said Abu Hussein, a 26-year-old who was a teacher before the jihadi offensive.
"Where I live, in the Kasek neighborhood of Tal Afar, I can see many ISIS members preparing to flee the city," he said. According to a U.S. military statement, two of the five airstrikes carried out by coalition warplanes Thursday targeted ISIS vehicles near Tal Afar.
The Iraqi portion of the jihadis' caliphate has shrunk in recent weeks, with central government troops and Shiite militia making significant gains in the east of the country and south of Baghdad. Kurdish officers have said the latest peshmerga-led operation forced many ISIS militants to seek refuge across the Syria border or in their main hub of Mosul, Iraq's second city, around which they have been building berms and trenches.

Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and the Fog of Uncertainty
Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 19 Dec, 2014
By all accounts, the United States is in need of new leadership capable of providing it with some direction in an age of uncertainty. Led by President Barack Obama into a dense fog of incertitude about its place in the world, the US today vacillates between the perceived comfort of isolation and the very American aspiration to leadership. As conventional wisdom would have it right now, most Americans are willing to vote for almost anyone as long as he or she is not Obama—hoping to forget the Obama episode and treat it like a bad dream. If that view is correct, both Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner as the nominee of the Democratic Party, and Jeb Bush, who has just hinted he might seek the Republican nomination, would have a good chance. In other words, we might yet witness another Clinton-Bush duel. The trouble is that conventional wisdom could be as wrong as non-conventional speculation.
Like classical Greek tragedies, American presidential elections may appear to have the same format but always end up developing their own specific and unexpected features. Both Mrs. Clinton and Governor Bush have the potential to be strong candidates. They have at least four things in common. The first is name recognition, always an advantage in American politics. The average voter who has a short memory span need not scratch his head to remember who they are. The second is that both are discipline politicians who take their professions seriously. Over the years, whenever I met either of the two I found them extremely well-prepared on the issues slated to be discussed. In one meeting with Mrs. Clinton when she was a senator, for example, I was surprised to see how well-briefed she was on the details of tribal life in Iraq. As for Jeb Bush, partly thanks to his family background, he has been nurtured on international politics from childhood. The third thing the two have in common is a strong support base within the central organizational machines of their respective parties. The Clintons have been building their base since the late 1980s. In fact, it was a surprise that Obama managed to beat that machine and prevent Hillary from winning the nomination in 2008. As for Jeb, he is already established as a leading figure in the Republican establishment. Such an advantage would enable both Hillary and Jeb to build a much bigger war chest than any of their potential rivals are likely to achieve. And in American high politics, money not only talks, it also outshouts the adversary.
Finally, both could claim substantial experience, Jeb as governor of Florida, which has the fourth largest economy of the 50 US states, and Hillary as a senator and Secretary of State.
Apart from these commonalities, no two people could be more different than Jeb and Hillary. Strange though it might sound, it is Jeb, the quintessential offspring of a political dynasty, who could project himself as a president of the people with least difficulty.
Last time I had lunch with him in Miami he suggested we take a stroll along the promenade to continue our discussion. Soon, the stroll came to resemble a campaign walk with people coming to shake Jeb’s hand and stop to have a chat with him. It was obvious that the ex-governor was in his element when in direct contact with his electors.
In contrast, Hillary always appears cold, distant and reserved. This is perhaps partly due to the fact that for years she had to stand in the shadow of her charismatic husband, governor and then President Bill Clinton. The result is that she appears to be a political “insider,” unable to transmit much warmth. Both Jeb and Hillary might find their surnames both an advantage and a handicap. Until Obama inspired a new degree of hatred, no name so enraged the Republicans as that of “Clinton.” During the war in the former Yugoslavia I arranged a meeting with Senator Alfonse D’Amato, then a big shot Republican figure, to see whether the US might intervene to stop the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Soon, however, it became clear that the senator would oppose any move that might give President Clinton any credit on humanitarian grounds. Similarly, it is enough to see Obama’s almost pathological hatred of the very name “Bush” to perceive a mirror image of that affliction among Democrats. A couple of years ago, I was present at a luncheon when President Obama inaugurated a new wing of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas in the presence of some three hundred guests. Obama spoke for 15 minutes, with the help of his ever-present teleprompter, taking care not to use the word “Bush.” In fact, Obama built his entire presidency on his real or feigned hatred of George W. Bush, thus becoming one of the most divisive presidents in US history.
A Clinton-Bush duel is certain to galvanize the most radical elements on both sides of the American political divide. That could derail the whole debate by unleashing sinister energies for revenge in the style of the showdown at the OK Corral.
The increasingly partisan nature of US politics over the past two decades has generated a degree of bitterness unprecedented in American political history. The outside world is astonished at the degree of hatred on show in a system that, theoretically at least, is designed for understanding, compromise and cooperation. A United States that is at war against itself, even though this is a political and cultural war, cannot be a force for peace in the wider world. It becomes, at best, irrelevant, and at worst dangerous.
After three increasingly divisive presidents since the 1990s, the US needs a healer to take at least some of the poison out of American politics, tone down the cultural civil war, and reclaim a position of leadership in a new world order, the contours of which are not easy to define.

Iran adores the CIA torture report
Majid Rafizadeh /Al Arabiya
Friday, 19 December 2014
The Islamic Republic appears to be in high spirits, capitalizing on and celebrating the release of the U.S. senate’s report on CIA torture. Several high level Iranian officials began slamming the U.S. for its human rights record. For both Tehran and Washington, the question at stake is who can claim the moral and ethical authority in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon? Is Iran the role model or the U.S.? A Twitter account linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei joined in with the #torturereport trend. The Twitter account @khamenei_ir posted several tweets bashing the U.S.: ”Look at how humanity is being treated by dominant powers w flashy propaganda&in the name of #humanrights, democracy&freedom, #TortureReport.”
As well as: “Today, U.S. govt. is symbol of tyranny against humanity;even American ppl are faced w cruelty #ToutureReport #HumanRightsDay #Ferguson 7/28/07”
And: “They claim they’ve a prideful nation; U.S. govts. debased & misguided their ppl who aren’t aware of many realities.#TortureReport”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham called the CIA torture report “shocking“ and called for the prosecution of those responsible. She stated: “the content of this shocking report shows violence, extremism, and secrecy as institutionalized in the U.S. security system.” Some of the contents of these messages can be viewed as totally accurate, but what are other underlying reasons behind such criticism? Moral authority and geopolitics
The claiming of moral legitimacy and authority by dominant powers, particularly in countries in which they enjoy geopolitical, economic, religious, and strategic interests (or in countries directly or indirectly occupied), is significant. In this case, being a legitimate state actor morally and ethically in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria is crucial for Iranian and American politicians. “The CIA torture report overshadows Iranian engagements and involvements in the region ”
Although Iranian forces have been directly, and indirectly, cooperating with the U.S. in combating the fighters of ISIS, both countries are in a war and competition to win the hearts of the civilians of countries that Tehran and Washington bear a considerable amount of political, economic and strategic influence.
Although geopolitics and national interests are at the epicenter of Tehran and Washington’s foreign policies in several Middle Eastern countries, nevertheless, projecting an ethical and moral authority is crucial for gaining legitimacy and facilitating the achievement of their regional hegemonic ambitions. Domestically speaking, the Iranian government has also been utilizing the CIA torture report to challenge those who view the United States as a role model. As both Iran and the U.S. have long been attempting to question and shake the moral and ethical superiority of the other, propaganda tools have become critical in achieving those objectives. These propaganda tools are strong a platform for both Tehran and Washington to tell the Lebanese, Afghanis, Syrians, Yemenis and others that either the U.S. or Iran is a credible and reliable nation to trust.
Is the pot calling the kettle black?
In addition, Tehran is investing in overshadowing several issues by the CIA torture report. The Islamic Republic itself has come under fire by the United Nations human rights agency for their activities. An unprecedented level of executions, approximately 1,100 executions, have been carried out since President Rowhani assumed office. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, stated in a recent report that the executions of some Iranians are carried out solely “for exercising their protected rights, including freedom of expression and association.” Human rights investigators, including Shaheed have been repeatedly denied entry into Iran to inspect the human rights conditions.
According to the Reporters without Borders, the Islamic Republic is currently the “world’s leading jailer of female journalists and netizens.” In addition, in an interview with Al Arabiya, Nobel laureate, Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, said the human rights conditions in Iran “[have] not progressed at all” under the presidency of Hassan Rowhani. On November 18, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee has adopted a new resolution, which calls for protecting and promoting human rights condition in the Islamic Republic. The CIA torture report overshadows Iranian engagements and involvements in the region including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Tehran continues to financially, militarily, through advisory and intelligence means, assist President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war which has led to the death of roughly 150,000 people and millions of refugees.
It is accurate to make the argument that the foundations of American moral and ethical authority has long been shattered among many local people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But the question is whether these local people accept the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic’s involvement in their country, and whether they view Iran as a reliable alternative and role model to the U.S.. On the other hand, from the domestic prism, the Iranian leaders’ capitalization on the CIA torture report and the American lack of moral and ethical authority will hardly change the view and resistance of the disenfranchised youth and Iranian people towards their government.

How Western Media Enable Islamic Terrorism
By Raymond Ibrahim
December 19, 2014 in Muslim Persecution of Christians, Other Matters
FrontPage Magazine
As the West experiences a rise in the sort of terror attacks that are endemic to the Islamic world—church attacks, sex-slavery and beheadings—it is only natural that the same mainstream media that habitually conceals such atrocities “over there,” especially against Christians and other minorities under Islam, would also conceal the reality of jihadi aspirations “over here.”
As The Commentator reports:
[T]he level of the [media] grovelling after the tragic and deadly saga in Sydney Australia over the last 24 hours has been astounding.
At the time of writing, the lead story on the BBC website is of course about that very tragedy, in which an Islamist fanatic took a random group hostage in a cafe, ultimately killing two of them.
He did this in the name of Islam. But you wouldn’t get that impression if you started to read the BBC’s lead story, which astoundingly managed to avoid mentioning the words Islam, Islamic, Islamist, Muslim, or any derivations thereof for a full 16 paragraphs. The New York Times, which led by calling the terrorist, Man Haron Monis an “armed man”, waited until paragraph 11.
In the Guardian’s main story – whose lead paragraph simply referred to a “gunman” — you had to wait until paragraph 24.
If you’d have blinked, you’d have missed it. [...]
In the wider media, reports about Muslim fears of a “backlash” have been all but ubiquitous.
If these are the lengths that Western mainstream media go to dissemble about the Islamic-inspired slaughter of Western peoples, it should now be clear why the ubiquitous Muslim persecution of those unfashionable Christian minorities is also practically unknown by those who follow Western mainstream media. As with the Sydney attack, media headlines say it all. The 2011 New Year’s Eve Coptic church attack that left 28 dead appeared under vague headlines: “Clashes grow as Egyptians remain angry after attack,” was the New York Times’ headline; and “Christians clash with police in Egypt after attack on churchgoers kills 21” was the Washington Post’s—as if frustrated and harried Christians lashing out against their oppressors is the “big news,” not the unprovoked atrocity itself; as if their angry reaction “evens” everything up. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times partially told the story of an Egyptian off-duty police officer who, after identifying Copts by their crosses on a train, opened fire on them, killing one, while screaming “Allahu Akbar”—but to exonerate the persecution, as caught by the report’s headline: “Eyewitness claims train attacker did not target Copts, state media say.”
A February 2012 NPR report titled “In Egypt, Christian-Muslim Tension is on the Rise,” while meant to familiarize readers with the situation of Egypt’s Christians, prompts more questions than answers them: “In Egypt, growing tensions between Muslims and Christians have led to sporadic violence [initiated by whom?]. Many Egyptians blame the interreligious strife on hooligans [who?] taking advantage of absent or weak security forces. Others believe it’s because of a deep-seated mistrust between Muslims and the minority Christian community [what are the sources of this “mistrust”?].”
The photo accompanying the story is of angry Christians holding a cross aloft—not Muslims destroying crosses, which is what prompted the former to this display of Christian solidarity.
Blurring the line between victim and oppressor—recall the fear of “anti-Muslim backlash” whenever a Muslim terrorizes “infidels” in the West—also applies to the media’s reporting on Muslim persecution of Christians.
A February 2012 BBC report on a church attack in Nigeria that left three Christians dead, including a toddler, objectively states the bare bone facts in one sentence. Then it jumps to apparently the really big news: that “the bombing sparked a riot by Christian youths, with reports that at least two Muslims were killed in the violence. The two men were dragged off their bikes after being stopped at a roadblock set up by the rioters, police said. A row of Muslim-owned shops was also burned…”
The report goes on and on, with an entire section about “very angry” Christians till one confuses victims with persecutors, forgetting what the Christians are “very angry” about in the first place: nonstop terror attacks on their churches and the slaughter of their women and children. A New York Times report that appeared on December 25, 2011—the day after Boko Haram bombed several churches during Christmas Eve services, leaving some 40 dead—said that such church bombings threaten “to exploit the already frayed relations between Nigeria’s nearly evenly split populations of Christians and Muslims…” Such an assertion suggests that both Christians and Muslims are equally motivated by religious hostility—even as one seeks in vain for Christian terror organizations that bomb mosques in Nigeria to screams of “Christ is Great!”
Meanwhile, Boko Haram has torched 185 churches—to say nothing of the countless Christians beheaded—in just the last few months alone.
Continuing to grasp for straws, the same NYT report suggests that the Nigerian government’s “heavy-handed” response to Boko Haram is responsible for its terror, and even manages to invoke another mainstream media favorite: the poverty-causes-terrorism myth.
Whether Muslim mayhem is taking place in the Islamic or Western worlds, the mainstream media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games, key phrases, convenient omissions, and moral relativism to portray such violence as a product of anything and everything—political and historical grievances, “Islamophobia,” individual insanity, poverty and ignorance, territorial disputes—not Islam.
As such, Western media keep Western majorities in the dark about the Islamic threat, here and abroad. In short, the “MSM” protects and enables the Islamic agenda—irrespective of whether its distortions are a product of intent, political correctness, or sheer stupidity.

Obama Tells Sisi of U.S. Concern over Egypt Mass Trials
Naharnet /U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday and expressed concern over mass trials and the continued detention of journalists and peaceful activists. During a telephone call, the White House said, Obama encouraged Sisi to "invest in the political, economic, and social aspirations of the Egyptian people." "President Obama also expressed concern about mass trials, the status of NGOs, and the continued imprisonment of journalists and peaceful activists in Egypt," the statement said. In early December, an Egyptian court sentenced 188 people to death for the murder of 13 police officers -- the latest in a series of mass trials launched by authorities amid a crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been sentenced to die in swift trials the United Nations has called "unprecedented in recent history." Egypt has also cracked down on the press, sentencing several journalists including three from international news network Al-Jazeera to lengthy prison terms. In June, Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian Mohamed Baher were convicted of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the United States has faced a dilemma in Egypt. Washington regularly expresses dissatisfaction over the country's poor human rights record, but also relies on its military alliance as a centerpiece of American diplomacy in the Arab world. During Thursday's telephone call, Obama emphasized the importance of cooperation between Washington and Cairo "to promote shared interests in counterterrorism and regional security.""The president affirmed the United States’ continuing commitment to the strategic partnership with Egypt and emphasized the importance of bilateral cooperation," the U.S. leader said. Agence France Presse