December 23/14

Bible Quotation for today/The Parables of the Mustard Seed, the Yeast,The Narrow Door
Luke 13/18-30: " Jesus asked, “What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with?  It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed and plants it in his field. The plant grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.” Again Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God with?  It is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”Jesus went through towns and villages, teaching the people and making his way toward Jerusalem.  Someone asked him, “Sir, will just a few people be saved?”Jesus answered them,  “Do your best to go in through the narrow door; because many people will surely try to go in but will not be able.  The master of the house will get up and close the door; then when you stand outside and begin to knock on the door and say, ‘Open the door for us, sir!’ he will answer you, ‘I don't know where you come from!’  Then you will answer, ‘We ate and drank with you; you taught in our town!’  But he will say again, ‘I don't know where you come from. Get away from me, all you wicked people!’  How you will cry and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, while you are thrown out!  People will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Then those who are now last will be first, and those who are now first will be last.”

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/14
The Winners and Losers in the Qatari–Egyptian Accords/Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat/December 22/14
Alwani’s Execution will Fuel Sectarianism/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/December 22/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 22-23/14
Larijani Describes Hizbullah as Effective Movement
Jihadi captors still receiving foreign support: Larijani

Lebanese dairy factory caught importing Syrian milk
Beirut awaits Ankara response in bid to free hostages
Reports: Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue Starts Tuesday

Rifi Says Fleiti Trustworthy as Mashnouq Says 'Doors Open' for Any Mediator
Kataeb Urges Taking Decisive Action in Arsal Captives Negotiations
Geagea Vows not to Give up on Dialogue with Aoun
Stable currency, low inflation shield economy: Salameh
Berri Says Cabinet to Discuss Oil Exploration Decrees Soon
Derbas Says Number of Refugees Declining, Lebanon Has Lost $20 Billion
Food safety law to be finalized after holidays: MP
Lebanon publishes 'lexicon' for gender equality Lebanon publishes 'lexicon' for gender equality
Lebanon Grand Mufti meets Saad Hariri in Riyadh
Hollande urges 'utmost vigilance' after attacks
Lebanon Grand Mufti meets Saad Hariri in Riyadh

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 23-23/14
Pope in blistering critique of Vatican bureaucrats
ISIS executes 100 foreigners trying to quit
20 jihadis killed in failed east Syria airport attack
IS Arrests 'Extremists' Accused of Plot against Group

Veteran Essebsi Wins Tunisia's First Free Presidential Vote
EU Congratulates Essebsi on Winning 'Historic' Tunisia Vote
Officials: Pakistan Plans to Execute 500 Terror Convicts in Coming Weeks
Syria Claims Downing of Israeli Spy Drone

Jazeera Shuts Egypt Channel as Doha-Cairo Tensions Thaw
Record 17,000 rally against 'Islamisation' in Germany Israel Charges 8 Palestinians over Facebook Incitement
Gaza Ripe for New Explosion, Analysts Warn
Four Children Dead in Syria School Bus Strike
Iraq says Jordan to begin training Iraqi troops soon Five killed as Libyan forces and Islamist fighters clash in Benghazi Abadi concludes Kuwait visit Exit poll: Ex-regime official is Tunisia’s new president

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Pope in blistering critique of Vatican bureaucrats
Dec. 23, 2014/Nicole Winfield| Associated Press
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis issued a blistering critique Monday of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing how some people lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that has made them forget they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.
Francis’ Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was no joyful exchange of holiday good wishes. Rather, it was a sobering catalog of 15 sins of the Curia that Francis said he hoped would be atoned for and cured in the New Year.
He had some zingers: How the “terrorism of gossip” can “kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood.” How cliques can “enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body” and eventually kill it by “friendly fire.” About how those living hypocritical double lives are “typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that no academic degree can fill.”
“The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fulfill its mission,” he said. “But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailments, dysfunctions, illnesses.”
Francis, who is the first Latin American pope and never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected, has not shied from complaining about the gossiping, careerism and bureaucratic power intrigues that afflict the Holy See. But as his reform agenda has gathered steam, he seemed more emboldened to highlight what ails the institution.
The cardinals were not amused. The speech was met with tepid applause, and few were smiling as Francis listed one by one the 15 “Ailments of the Curia” that he had drawn up, complete with footnotes and Biblical references.
The annual greeting comes at a tense time for the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. Francis and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient.
The Vatican’s finances are also in the midst of an overhaul, with Francis’ finance czar, Cardinal George Pell, imposing new accounting and budget measures on traditionally independent congregations not used to having their books inspected.
Yet it was perhaps Pell that Francis had in mind when he complained about the temptation to lust for power even if it means defaming or discrediting others “even in newspapers or magazines, to show themselves as more capable ... in the name of justice and transparency.”
Pell recently penned an explosive essay in Britain’s Catholic Herald in which he said his team had discovered that the financial situation of the Holy See was “much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet.”
The Vatican later clarified that the money hadn’t been hidden and that nothing illicit was going on, just that the funds didn’t appear on the Vatican’s balance sheet. Over the weekend, the Jesuit magazine America reported that an internal Vatican memo had undercut Pell’s claim of having found the cash in the first place, saying the funds kept in the Vatican Secretariat of State were well-known, duly reported, were used to cover Vatican losses and special projects and actually had been well-managed over the years.
Francis started off his list with the “ailment of feeling immortal, immune or even indispensable.” Then one-by-one he went on: Being vain. Wanting to accumulate things. Having a “hardened heart.” Wooing superiors for personal gain. Having a “funereal face” and being too “rigid, tough and arrogant,” especially toward underlings – a possible reference to the recently relieved Swiss Guard commander said to have been too tough on recruits for Francis’ tastes.
Some critiques could have been seen as worthy of praise: working too hard and planning too much ahead. But even those traits came in for criticism as Francis noted that people who don’t take time off to be with family are overly stressed, and those who plan everything to a “T’’ don’t allow themselves to be surprised by the “freshness, fantasy and novelty” of the Holy Spirit.
“How good it is for us to have a healthy sense of humor,” he said.

Beirut awaits Ankara response in bid to free hostages
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/Dec. 22, 2014
BEIRUT: Lebanon is waiting for a response from Turkey on whether it was willing to join efforts to free the 25 Lebanese servicemen held hostage by Islamist militants on the Syria border, a senior security source said Monday. The source told The Daily Star that security authorities sent a letter to Ankara about 10 days ago asking for help in the hostage crisis, but Turkish officials have not yet responded. He said Turkey and Qatar are the only two countries that could help end the nearly five-month-old crisis.
The source said contacts held with Doha and Ankara since the beginning of the August crisis did not yield any results. ISIS and Nusra Front briefly overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in early August. As they retreated they took with them more than 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen captive in the hopes of swapping them for Islamists held in Roumieh prison and Syrian jails. They have since released eight and killed four. The source had doubts about a happy ending in the near future, saying the captors “are not serious and are divided among themselves and do not want to free the hostages.” “They will continue to blackmail Lebanon and the hostage families through this precious card.”The source said the kidnappers had no explicit demands, adding that information that they seek to swap the hostages with prisoners in Lebanese jails was inaccurate. “Information leaked to Lebanese authorities is that the [captors’] main demands were large amounts of cash,” he said. On Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s remarks about “serious efforts” made by the captors that will likely end the hostage ordeal, the source said a similar proposal made earlier by PSP minister Wael Abu Faour had been rejected. The source did not want to reveal details of the offer.  He said Prime Minister Tammam Salam and his government were in favor of a comprehensive solution to the crisis, something which seems almost impossible. The source said one of the strongest cards the government holds – to execute Islamist prisoners with death sentences issued against them – requires political consensus, which does not exist. He stressed that the government would not collapse in the event of any negative development in the crisis. “But the government could enter a state of paralysis and lack of productivity.”The source said Jumblatt’s action was due to the pressure exerted on him by his own community given that seven of the hostages are Druze. He ruled out rumors about ISIS’s military ability to replace Nusra in the hostage crisis, saying Nusra Front was stronger and that Nusra commander Abu Malek Al-Talli holds the upper hand in the Arsal area.

Says Fleiti Trustworthy as Mashnouq Says 'Doors Open' for Any Mediator
Naharnet/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi announced Monday that he “personally” trusts Arsal deputy municipal chief Ahmed Fleiti, who has embarked on a mediation mission in the case of the captive servicemen, while noting that the man has not yet received an official authorization from the government. “We're concerned with the freedom of the servicemen, whose release must be secured as soon as possible,” said Rifi after meeting at the ministry with a delegation representing the families of the hostages. “The freedom of the servicemen has priority over everything else and all politicians support a swap deal,” he added. The minister noted that the families' recent meetings with state officials “have resolved major obstacles in the case,” as he stressed that “the government has not spared any effort.”“There are negotiations with Daesh (Islamic State) and al-Nusra (Front), and we hope they will be efficient,” Rifi revealed. In response to a reporter's question, the minister pointed out that “Fleiti has not been officially tasked” with mediating in the case. “But I can personally say that he is a trusted man who enjoys credibility. There is another channel of communication with al-Nusra but I will not disclose it,” Rifi added. The families had earlier in the day met with Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq. Sheikh Omar Haidar, a spokesman for the families, thanked the minister after the talks for his “transparency and honesty.”Haidar quoted Mashnouq as saying that “the doors of negotiations are open for any person seeking to play a positive role in the case.”
The minister also noted that the government is still seeking an “unconditional” swap deal. “We support every effort that is being exerted in this case to secure the release of our brothers, the servicemen, … topped by the endeavor of Mr. Ahmed Fleiti,” Haidar said, in the name of the families. Around 25 policemen and soldiers are being held by the IS and the Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front. Four hostages have been executed by the two groups. The servicemen were kidnapped in early August during clashes between the jihadists and the Lebanese army in and around the northeastern border town of Arsal. The militants have demanded that Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jails be released in exchange for the hostages. After Qatar ended its mediation on December 7, the distressed families called for a role for the Muslim Scholars Committee in the negotiations, but the government has so far refrained from giving the committee an official authorization. However, the name of another mediator, Sheikh Wissam al-Masri, surfaced later in the month in media reports before he eventually visited the IS captors and the hostages in Arsal's outskirts. Masri announced that the nine IS-held captives are in good health except for two who are suffering from inflammations. As for Fleiti, he announced Sunday that he had been tasked to mediate in the case by Health Minister Wael Abou Faour. Answering a question about Masri, the spokesman Haidar said: “We have not received any statement from the Islamic State group or anyone else. Ahmed Fleiti has been designated and they support him and back “I believe that Mr. Ahmed Fleiti is communicating with both al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State, but he started with the file of the IS and he will eventually move to the file of al-Nusra Front,” Haidar added.

Kataeb Urges Taking Decisive Action in Arsal Captives Negotiations
Naharnet/The Kataeb party demanded on Monday putting an end to the “confusion” stemming from the numerous mediation efforts aimed at releasing the servicemen abducted from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August. It said in a statement after its weekly politburo meeting: “Decisive action should be taken regarding the negotiations in the file in order to end this confusion.” “All efforts should be united in and limited to one official side,” it added. Furthermore, the ministerial crisis cell tackling the case should “take the initiative out of the hands of the captors”, and clarify its vision of a mechanism to hold negotiations and later resolve this file “in a manner that will preserve the dignity of the state.” Commenting on the ongoing presidential vacuum, the Kataeb party demanded that all internal and foreign efforts be exerted to elect a president. The servicemen were abducted by Islamist gunmen in August in the wake of clashes with the army in Arsal. A few of them have since been released, four were executed, while the rest are still being held.
The families of the captives have repeatedly accused the state of failing to exert enough efforts to release them. Efforts have been ongoing in recent days to appoint a negotiator to the case, with Ahmed Fleiti, the deputy municipal chief of Arsal, saying he had a serious proposal to resolve the crisis.

Geagea Vows not to Give up on Dialogue with Aoun
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea has said that he “intended” to meet with his rival Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, vowing not to give up on the talks easily. “There is no set date but the intention is there,” Geagea told al-Akhbar newspaper in an interview published on Monday. “The LF has a decision to continue with dialogue on all issues even if we did not reach any result. Dialogue between us will include all issues and is not limited to the presidency,” he said. Geagea stressed that he could agree with Aoun on several issues even if they failed to strike a deal on the presidential deadlock. The country's top Christian post at the Baabda Palace has been vacant since President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May. Both Aoun and Geagea have announced their candidacies for the presidency. Their rivalry and the failure of the different parties to agree on a compromise candidate caused the vacuum at the presidential palace. Geagea stressed that the LF insists on dialogue despite Aoun's announcement in an interview with al-Akhbar last week that he was holding onto his candidacy. “I am a candidate and I will not vote for anyone or give up (my candidacy) for anyone,” said Aoun. But the LF chief stressed that the lawmaker “will no longer hold onto his candidacy when he realizes that this will lead nowhere.”“That's why we will give dialogue its time and we will not give up easily,” Geagea said. He added that the presidential post should not remain vacant if Aoun did not hold a chance to be elected. Geagea told his interviewer in response to a question that the MPs failing to head to parliament to elect a new president are responsible for the vacuum. “The parliamentary blocs that are causing lack of quorum are responsible for” the deadlock, he said in reference to Aoun's Change and Reform bloc, Hizbullah MPs and several other lawmakers from the March 8 alliance.

Lebanon Grand Mufti meets Saad Hariri in Riyadh
The Daily Star/Dec. 22, 2014 /BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian visited during his trip to Saudi Arabia Monday Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, who revealed a Saudi admiration of Derian’s moderate religious speech.
“I am glad to receive the echoes of Mufti Derian’s visit to the Kingdom, and to know that the Saudi religious authorities and people are comforted with the mufti’s personality and his moderate and balanced speeches,” Hariri said after the meeting at his residence in Riyadh.
The mufti in turn praised Hariri’s decision to hold dialogue with his political rival Hezbollah, saying the initiative will bring “much goodness to Lebanon by defusing sectarian tension and paving the way for other dialogues that lead to the election of a new president.”
During his second day in Saudi Arabia, Derian also met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. The meeting was also attended by the ambassadors of the two countries. Faisal said the kingdom was “eager to protect the security, safety and stability of Lebanon in light of the fiery regional climate surrounding it.”Derian also met with his Saudi counterpart, who was briefed on the activities of Lebanon’s top Sunni Institution, Dar al-Fatwa, which Derian presides over.

Lebanon publishes 'social lexicon' for gender equality
The Daily Star/Dec. 22, 2014/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry and the National Commission for Women's Affairs announced Monday the release of a "social lexicon" that states the most essential words and terms related to gender and gender equality.
“This project is part of the Social Affairs Ministry’s efforts to enhance women’s participation in local government and development,” said the commission’s executive president Joumana Mefrej at the inauguration. The dictionary, she explained, aims at setting the terms and concepts that should exist in any discourse on equality between men and women. “The main purpose of the lexicon is to clarify the concepts related to women’s affairs and to create a common language for any women's rights activist to use,” she said. Mefrej added that the project is funded by the Italian government.

Jihadi captors still receiving foreign support: Larijani
The Daily Star/Dec. 22, 2014
BEIRUT: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Monday his country was putting effort into helping Lebanon secure the release of its 25 captive servicemen, but said the jihadi captors were still receiving foreign support. “We are making the necessary efforts, but the primary responsibility is that of states supporting these [extremist] groups,” Larijani said at a press conference in Beirut. The Iranian official, who accused states that he did not name of supporting the fundamentalist groups operating in the region, ruled out the possibility of that ISIS could take over Lebanese territory.  Answering a question about Iran’s opinion of the French initiative to end the Lebanese presidential vacuum, Larijani said Iran supports all efforts towards that end. Reaching a solution for the seven-month-long presidential deadlock is mainly the responsibility of Lebanon’s Christians, he said, but added that it was not Iran's right to get involved in the matter. Earlier in the day, Larijani met with his Lebanese counterpart, Speaker Nabih Berri. The Iranian politician praised Berri’s efforts in facilitating the anticipated dialogue between Lebanon’s rival factions. During a joint press conference with the speaker, Larijani praised “the role Berri played in converging the views of the Lebanese," adding that "dialogue would make way for joining [rival] views and would resolve many political issues.” Commenting on his meeting with Berri, Larijani said the two discussed terrorism and its implications on the region. Larijani said that every regional force that believes in Lebanon's resistance should focus on addressing Israel and rampant terrorism, which, according to Larijani, are “two sides of the same coin.”He noted that the lack of agreement between countries over using political tools to address these two central problems serves to aggravate their threat. Larijani used the Syrian crisis as an example, stressing that Iran had consistently called for political settlements that would curb the rise of widespread extremist movements. For his part, Berri sided with the Iranian speaker on how airstrikes in Iraq and Syria will fail to resolve security challenges.
With regards to Syria, Berri noted that the only an internal political settlement could resolve the crisis, highlighting the unlikelihood of such a resolve as long as militants are being smuggled into the country.
“Democracy is built slowly and not through violent revolutions,” he said. Earlier in the day Larijani said regime change in Syria cannot be achieved under military pressure. “Political and social reforms cannot be achieved under tank [fire],” Larijani said as he delivered a lecture at the Lebanese University – Faculty of Law in the Beirut suburb of Hadath.  “Each time the U.S. comes and occupies an area, a terrorist movement emerges, just as what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this is the result of the militarization of the crisis,” Larijani said. “And after four years, they were convinced that solving the Syria crisis comes through a political solution,” he added. Larijani admitted that the Muslim world today is different from the past.
“The Muslim world is now passing through exceptional circumstances, facing dangers different from the past,” he said, while stressing the need for unity among Muslims. He agreed that the “awareness” and “the new shift” were a new phenomenon in the Muslim world.
“During the past years we have seen awareness among the Muslim generation that was manifested in these live actions,” he went on to say. “We have not seen such acts in past decades.” Larijani pointed to the presence of some political groups that “are more effective” than many countries, citing Hezbollah as one of them. “Hezbollah is an effective organization in the Middle East and the resistance is considered a powerful symbol, just as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are both considered as strong resistance symbol.”
He lamented the emergence of “terrorist, destructive organizations like ISIS.”“We must not overlook these movements,” Larijani warned. He praised Muslim countries for having the “natural and human power” to determine their own fate. “Our assessment of the events in the Muslim world is positive despite confronting takfiri and terrorist movements,” Larijani said. Turning to Lebanon, Larijani reiterated Tehran’s support for the small country “at difficult times, because Lebanon is an influenti

Larijani Describes Hizbullah as Effective Movement
Naharnet/Iran's visiting Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Monday that Hizbullah is an active movement and plays a positive role in the region. “Some movements are more effective than states. Hizbullah is an example. It plays a positive role in the region,” he said.
“Lebanon is the country which has confronted the Zionist enemy and taught it an important lesson,” Larijani said during a lecture at the Lebanese University's Faculty of Law. “The resistance of the Lebanese people against the enemy is an honor for the Islamic World,” he added. The Iranian official later held a press conference at the Phoenicia Hotel, during which he noted that “Lebanon's Christians must play the main role in the issue of the presidential elections.”“Iran wants to see a quick solution for this crisis,” Larijani added.
“Some consultations have taken place in this regard and we were contacted regarding the French endeavor to resolve the presidential crisis,” he revealed. Ruling out any incursion into Lebanon by the extremist Islamic State group, Larijani pointed out that “the main responsibility in the issue of the abducted Lebanese servicemen must fall on the shoulders of the states that supported the terrorist groups.” The official, however, expressed his country's willingness to offer help in this regard. Larijani arrived in Beirut on Monday. He was accompanied by the Iranian foreign minister's deputy for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. He first met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail and then went into talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh. He is scheduled to meet with other top Lebanese officials. Larijani met in Damascus on Sunday with Syria's President Bashar Assad, who told him that his regime is working on "reconciliations" to end the brutal civil war, state news agency SANA said. However, Assad also said that Syria will continue to fight "terror" -- a term the regime has used for its opponents, both armed and peaceful, since the outbreak of a 2011 revolt. "Assad emphasized the Syrian people's determination to eradicate terrorism," said SANA, adding that he would also continue to press for "national reconciliations... all over Syrian territory,” SANA added. Agence France Presse

Reports: Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue Starts Tuesday
Naharnet /The much-anticipated dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement is scheduled to start on Tuesday, media reports said, although Speaker Nabih Berri did not confirm the date. Local dailies published on Monday said the representatives of the two parties will meet in Ain el-Tineh under Berri, who will later withdraw from the talks to pave way for the rivals to discuss controversial issues. Nader Hariri, who is the adviser of al-Mustaqbal movement chief Saad Hariri, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and MP Samir al-Jisr are expected to represent al-Mustaqbal in the talks. Hussein Khalil, the aide of Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and MP Hassan Fadlallah will likely be Hizbullah's representatives. Despite the reports that the dialogue's first session will take place on Tuesday, Berri reiterated that the talks will be held before the New Year. He told his visitors on Sunday that he will only preside the first session. Berri did not rule out the presence of his aide Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil in all the sessions. “The most important aspect of it (the dialogue) is direct contact between the two sides without the interference of a mediator,” he said. “The dialogue will be serious and we will work on its productivity,” Berri told his visitors. He stressed that the talks will help ease tension between Sunnis and Shiites in the country. Berri said the dialogue's agenda will be open except for certain issues that the two sides have agreed to keep aside, such as the Syrian crisis and the arsenal of the resistance. “It's natural to discuss about the presidential crisis from the aspect of (finding) a consensual president and not dealing with names,” he said. Lebanon has been without a head of state since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Al-Mustaqbal is at odds with Hizbullah over its involvement in Syria's civil war. The party has sent its members to fight alongside troops loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebels seeking to topple him. The movement has also repeatedly called on Hizbullah to hand over its weapons to the Lebanese state similar to what the country's militias did at the end of the civil war.

Veteran Essebsi Wins Tunisia's First Free Presidential Vote
Naharnet/Veteran anti-Islamist politician Beji Caid Essebsi was declared the winner of Tunisia's first free presidential election on Monday, capping off the transition to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.n But in a sign of the challenges ahead, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths who burned tires in protest at the result. Essebsi, an 88-year-old former official in previous Tunisian regimes, took 55.68 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent Moncef Marzouki in Sunday's run-off, the electoral commission said.
Essebsi had claimed victory shortly after polls closed but Marzouki, a long-exiled 69-year-old rights activist, refused initially to concede defeat. On Monday, however, Marzouki's spokesman said on Facebook the outgoing president had congratulated his rival.
A first round of voting on November 23 had seen Essebsi in the lead with 39 percent of the vote, six points ahead of Marzouki. Participation in the second round was 60.1 percent, electoral commission chief Chafik Sarsar said, after authorities had urged a high turnout.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Essebsi and hailed the vote as "a vital step toward the completion of Tunisia's momentous transition to democracy", a White House statement said. Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, said: "Tunisia has provided a shining example to the region and the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process." The vote was seen as a landmark in Tunisia, which sparked the Arab Spring mass revolutions with the 2011 ouster of longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, the campaign was bitter and divisive, with Marzouki insisting a win for Essebsi would mark the return of Tunisia's old guard of ruling elites. Essebsi in turn accused his rival of representing the moderately Islamist party Ennahda that ruled Tunisia after the revolution and which installed him as president. Continued divisions were clear as some 300-400 protesters clashed with police in El Hamma in the south, where Marzouki had widespread support.
Protesters "set fire to tires and tried to attack a police station by throwing stones. Security forces responded with tear gas," interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said. Several police were wounded in the clashes, which began late on Sunday, Aroui said.
After declaring victory on Sunday, Essebsi had urged Marzouki to "work together for the future of Tunisia". The vote was the first time Tunisians have freely elected their president since independence from France in 1956. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday congratulated the country on its "milestone" vote.  "The successful staging of this presidential election confirms Tunisia's historic role," he said in a statement. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in neighboring Algeria also congratulated Essebsi and the "maturity" of the Tunisian electorate. The weekly Tunis Hebdo said the vote would "enhance Tunisia's reputation as the only Arab Spring country that has managed to survive". The revolution that began in Tunisia spread to many parts of the Arab world, with mass protests in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. In every country except Tunisia the revolution was followed by violent turmoil or, as in Syria's case, a devastating civil war.
Sunday's vote was largely peaceful, though troops guarding ballot papers in the central region of Kairouan who came under attack shot dead one assailant and captured three, the defense ministry said.
The authorities had deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and police for polling day. Ahead of the vote, jihadists had issued a videotaped threat against Tunisia's political establishment. Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes party won parliamentary polls in October and he promised to begin the process of forming a government after the presidential vote. Under a new post-revolution constitution, the powers of the president have been curbed to guard against a return to dictatorship. Ennahda came second in the general election and has not ruled out joining in a governing coalition.  The next government will face major challenges. Tunisia's economy is struggling to recover from the upheaval of the revolution and there are fears that widespread joblessness will cause social unrest. A nascent jihadist threat has also emerged, with militant groups long suppressed under Ben Ali carrying out several attacks including the killings of two anti-Islamist politicians.

Officials: Pakistan Plans to Execute 500 Terror Convicts in Coming Weeks
Naharnet/Pakistan plans to execute around 500 militants in coming weeks, officials said Monday, after the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in terror cases following a Taliban school massacre. Six militants have been hanged since Friday amid rising public anger over Tuesday's slaughter in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which left 149 people dead including 133 children. After the deadliest terror attack in Pakistani history, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ended the six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstating it for terrorism-related cases. "Interior ministry has finalized the cases of 500 convicts who have exhausted all the appeals, their mercy petitions have been turned down by the president and their executions will take place in coming weeks," a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. A second official confirmed the information. Of the six hanged so far, five were involved in a failed attempt to assassinate then military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2003, while one was involved in a 2009 attack on army headquarters.
In Karachi, the Sindh High Court suspended the death warrants of two terror convicts just a day before they were due to go to the gallows.
"The Sindh High Court suspended the death warrants of two terrorists today," additional advocate general Mustafa Mehsar told AFP. Defense attorney Abdul Razaq confirmed the news. "We had filed a petition in the Sindh High Court and the second review petition is pending in the superior courts and till the decision of the petition, the death penalty could not be implemented," Razaq told AFP. Both the accused were sentenced to death in July 2004 for killing a doctor in Karachi in July 2001.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party leads the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, faced tough questions Monday from the relatives of those killed.
Angry parents accused PTI of neglecting its duties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in favor of months of protests in Islamabad aimed at bringing down the national government. Shahabuddin, the father of one student killed in the attack, told Khan: "We had voted for you to bring about a change, but you gave us nothing but politics of dharna (sit-in protest)." Police, troops and paramilitary rangers were deployed across the country and airports and prisons put on red alert during the executions and as troops intensify operations against Taliban militants.
Sharif has ordered the attorney general's office to "actively pursue" capital cases currently in the courts, a government spokesman said.
The "prime minister has also issued directions for appropriate measures for early disposal of pending cases related to terrorism," the spokesman said, without specifically confirming the plan to execute 500 people. Pakistan has described Tuesday's bloody school rampage, claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as its own "mini 9/11," calling it a game-changer in the fight against extremism. Political and military leaders vowed to redouble efforts to stamp out the scourge of terror in the wake of the attack, which the TTP said was revenge for the killing of their families in an army offensive in the tribal northwest. The offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies has been going on since June. But a series of fresh strikes since the Peshawar attack, in which dozens of alleged militants were killed, suggest the campaign is being stepped up. Adding to an outcry by rights groups, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein on Monday called on Pakistan to re-impose the moratorium."The crime rate, historically, is not lowered by the imposition of capital punishment," he said, calling the resumption of executions "very unfortunate".Pakistan began its de facto moratorium on civilian executions in 2008, but hanging remains on the statute books and judges continue to pass death sentences. Before Friday's resumption, only one person had been executed since 2008 -- a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012. Rights campaigners say Pakistan overuses its anti-terror laws and courts to prosecute ordinary crimes. Agence France Presse

Syria Claims Downing of Israeli Spy Drone
Naharnet /The Syrian army has claimed it shot down an Israeli reconnaissance drone flying near the occupied Golan Heights, state media said Monday. "A military source announced on Sunday night that an Israeli unmanned Skylark-1 model drone had been shot down in Quneitra province, close to the village of Hader" near the Golan Heights, the official Sana news agency said. It added that the downed aircraft had a range of 20 kilometers (12 miles) and had been piloted remotely from a ground station. An Israeli military source contacted by AFP would not comment on the reported downing but did not deny the incident. Israeli jets in March targeted military positions in the Quneitra region that borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Syria and Israel are officially in a state of war, and Israel has since 1967 occupied the Golan Heights. The occupation is not recognized by the international community. Agence France Presse.

The Winners and Losers in the Qatari–Egyptian Accords
Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 22 Dec, 2014
With the exception of the 369 days during which the former Egyptian president and senior Muslim Brotherhood member, Mohamed Mursi, held the reins of power in Egypt, relations between Cairo and Doha have in recent years been strained to say the least. This relationship began to deteriorate during the latter years of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, becoming even worse when Adly Mansour became interim president following Mursi’s ouster in July 2013, and reaching its nadir after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was elected almost a year later, with the tensions becoming so inflamed that enmity became the rule and not the exception. Cairo deemed itself in the right, claiming that Doha was seeking to destabilize Egypt through its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had become public enemy no.1, while Doha vehemently denied it was supporting the Islamist group or interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs. Neither country took a single step forward in bridging the gulf that had opened up between them, both were content to put relations on hold, even if the gap became interminable, and resign themselves to the inevitable.
Despite this, Saturday’s meeting between President Sisi and the special envoys of the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, did not come as a surprise. For since the resumption of relations in November between Doha and its Gulf neighbors—brokered once again by King Abdullah—this meeting has very much been on the cards. King Abdullah’s message then was crystal clear: Gulf support for Egypt is a must, and patching up Cairo’s relationship with Doha a priority. Since then, everyone has been on the lookout for the first signs of light piercing the grey clouds hanging between both these capitals.
One must commend the Emir of Qatar for making such a gesture of respect and esteem for the Egyptian president by sending his envoy, as one must commend the country for its level-headed foreign policy seeking to patch up regional and Gulf ties, and for taking this first step in breaking its almost-sacred ties with the Brotherhood. One must also praise President Sisi for his magnanimity, especially given the large segment of the Egyptian population strongly opposed to the resumption of ties with Qatar. He also did not make the matter a personal one, despite all the attacks on him issuing from media outlets belonging to or allied with Doha.
Just one day before this meeting, Qatar’s Emir was in Ankara meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a joint “Supreme Strategic Committee” between both countries. Given Erdoğan’s current enmity toward all that is Egyptian, some may accuse Doha of double standards here, but I don’t see it that way at all. Doha has every right to maintain its own independent foreign policy—so long as this does not harm its fellow Gulf countries or Egypt. And I do not believe that the development of this relationship between Ankara and Doha will negatively affect Qatar’s relationship with its Gulf neighbors. I have no doubt Erdoğan is fuming over the resumption of these ties, whether those between Doha and Cairo or those between it and the Gulf countries; but the Turkish president’s direct provocations against Egypt, and indirect ones against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are another matter entirely, and it is not relevant to discuss them here.
King Abdullah has called on numerous occasions for the media to play a positive role in helping improve relations between different countries, and in calming disputes, giving special attention to the role media outlets associated with both Qatar and Egypt can play in helping heal the rift between both countries. It is natural, especially during crises, that media organizations adopt different tacks on various issues, ones conforming to their editorial policies and differing viewpoints, and these can be debated and differed over depending on where one’s own loyalties lie. However, aggressive, deliberate media campaigns, with their attendant insults and lies, are not easily forgotten. Here, the role played by more serious, sober-minded outlets is ever more important, with their ability to treat political developments—no matter which way they turn—with equanimity and professionalism, eschewing all manner of deception and dishonesty.

Alwani’s Execution will Fuel Sectarianism
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Monday, 22 Dec, 2014
There is a widespread conviction among the majority of Sunnis in Iraq that Iraqi MP Ahmed Al-Alwani’s death sentence was rooted in sectarianism of Nuri Al-Maliki’s government, which persecuted many of its opponents. Maliki’s government accused all those it saw as enemies of terrorism, forcing them to flee or be imprisoned. Therefore, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi shocked everyone when he said that he would not interfere in the workings of the judicial system, despite appeals from international organizations and Iraqi and Arab figures. The aim of these appeals is not to convince Abadi to interfere in the course of justice in Iraq, or prevent the judiciary from making rulings. Rather, people are calling on Iraq’s prime minister to take into account the circumstances of Alwani’s arrest and the nature of the evidence presented against him. When he was sentenced, the security, military and intelligence services were all under the control of Maliki’s authoritarian government, which did not hesitate to fabricate cases and evidence against its opponents.
We also cannot forget how catastrophic was Maliki’s stance against the Albou Alwan tribe and its leaders in the Anbar province during that period proved to be; when he pushed army troops to hunt down his opponents, including those who gathered in public squares to protest, instead of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Maliki used state funds and resources to suppress those who disagreed with him, especially in the last four years of his rule. Alwani was not the only pursued in this way, because Maliki also targeted other rivals such as Tariq Al-Hashemi, Rafie Al-Issawi, and Saleh Al-Mutlaq. Maliki had previously accused Iyad Allawi of plotting a coup against him. In light of this, Abadi ought to reconsider the prosecution in the Central Criminal Court, especially since investigators affiliated to Maliki did not hesitate to fabricate cases and threaten the opposition during his rule. Alwani was an outspoken opponent of Maliki and his government as well as many Shi’ite leaders like Muqtada Al-Sadr. Alwani was among the few Sunnis who entered the political process and represented his province in the Iraqi parliament, defying criticism of extremists in Anbar who refused to have anything to do with the Iraqi state. Sentencing Alwani to death on sectarian charges is unjust, especially as extremist sectarian killers like Qais Al-Khazali, Watheq Battat and Ali Al-Yasiri are roaming the streets of Baghdad, just because they are Shi’ites. These imbalances are the reasons behind the chaos, terror and the emergence of ISIS. They are dragging the country towards more violence, and this threatens the unity and stability of Iraq.
If Iraq’s prime minister refuses to consider all these facts, he will disappoint a large segment of Iraqi people, who were optimistic about his assumption of power and hoped that justice would reign and sectarian feuds would end. This will be a setback to attempts by Abadi to broker reconciliation between the parts of Iraqi society, and will bolster the position of sectarian Sunni and Shi’ite figures. It is time for the government to act, rather than talk, about an Iraq for all.