December 25/14

Merry Christmas
From the LCCC, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the New Year with the blessings of Jesus bring justice and tranquility to our beloved Lebanon and peace of mind to our people all over the world.
Yours Truly
Eias Bejjani

Bible Quotation for today/The Birth of Jesus

Luke 02/01-20: “1 At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant,and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn. There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased! When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 24-25/14
France renews efforts to end Lebanese presidnetial deadlock: sources/Michel Abu Najm/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 24/14
Christians and Churches Attacked in the West: Muslim Persecution of Christians, September 2014/By Raymond Ibrahim/December 24/14
Israel's Gas Dream – The End Is Nigh/Gal Luft/Journal of Energy Security/December 24/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 24-25/14
Dialogue a basis to combat terrorism: Hezbollah
France renews efforts to end Lebanese presidnetial deadlock: sources
Hariri: Let new year bring new solutions for Lebanon
Al-Rahi Calls in Christmas Message for Election of Wise President to End 'Darkness'
Salam Hopes Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue Leads to Election of President
Salam presses Hezbollah, Future on president
Lebanon health minister to crack down on 'food mafias'
Berri: Expand Future-Hezbollah dialogue
Berri Expresses Satisfaction with Mustaqbal-Hizbullah Talks, Hopes for More Rounds
ISF announces heightened security for holidays
Hezbollah: U.S.-Cuba thaw proof of colonial demise
Army Arrests Lebanese for Transferring Equipment to Arsal, Syrian on Terror Charges
Shoes with cross emblem confiscated in south Lebanon
Syrian Navy Targets Lebanese Fishing Boats Off al-Arida, Detains Three Fishermen
Jumblat Lashes Out at Negligence at State Facilities, Vows Food Safety Campaign to Continue
Girl Disappears in North, Family Holds Two People
Report: ISIL to Release 4 Servicemen in Exchange for Jailed Women
French Envoy in Shuttle Diplomacy over Lebanon's Presidential Crisis

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 24-25/14
Pope Francis writes Christmas letter to Middle East Christians
Faithful flock to Bethlehem for Christmas
Egypt, Qatar Plan Reconciliation Summit, Reveals Diplomat
Likud disqualifies Netanyahu from primaries
When did Livni become the right's greatest threat?
Jordanian jet not shot down by ISIS in Syria: U.S.
Gaza's Santa spreads cheer among war-weary kids
Dash for cash as $2M spills onto Hong Kong highway
Middle EastIsrael Strikes Gaza, Killing Militant after Soldier Shot
Israel approves 380 new East Jerusalem settler homes
Rights group urges UN to stop Nigerian executions
When deterrence deteriorates – shoot fiercly
Egypt, Qatar Plan Reconciliation Summit, Reveals Diplomat
Pakistan to establish military courts for terrorism related cases
Iran foreign minister says nuclear deal ‘within reach’
National Guard project cannot easily be disavowed: Iraqi Deputy PM

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
Montreal: Muslim arrested for terrorist threats against police
Saudi Grand Mufti: Child marriages are OK
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Fearing more “mental illness,” France deploys soldiers in city centers
US government offering $5M reward for jihadi freed from Gitmo
Brandeis students rally around student who wrote: “i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered”
French prosecutor: Muslim driver who hit pedestrians screamed “Allahu akbar” “to give himself courage to act, and not out of religious belief”
FBI warns of possible Islamic State jihad terror plot in Memphis

Let The Just Rejoice, For Their Justifier, Jesus Is Born
By: Elias Bejjani
December 25/14
The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
Tonight, on the Christmas Eve let us all pray happily and loudly with St. Augustine Of Hippo, (AD 354-440) His very affectionate Christmas prayer:
Let the just rejoice, for the justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice, for their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice, for their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice, for their Liberator is born.
Let all Christians rejoice, for Jesus Christ is born.
On this holy Day, we wish everyone of you, in occupied and oppressed Lebanon, and in the Diaspora, a holy and glorious Christmas, and a very Happy New year. Our great happiness as patriotic Lebanese will reach its prime when, and only when, our beloved Lebanon, home and land of our great fathers and ancestors reclaims its confiscated independence, redeems its marginalized sovereignty, restores its oppressed freedoms, and regains its hijacked free decision-making process.
Our joy and happiness will be at their peak the day:
When everlasting peace prevails all over the world and especially in the troubled and chaotic Middle East countries.
When hundreds of our country's arbitrarily held detainees are released from the fascist Syrian jails and horrible detention centers, where they have been deprived for more then 35 years of all their basic human rights and the grace of life itself.
When our exiled people from South Lebanon are welcomed back in Lebanon, officially and publicly with open arms as heroes.
Our peaceful struggle will know no rest until Lebanon is liberated from the Iranian occupation by all means and on levels.
When Lebanon's fertile fields are again green, plowed, sowed, guarded and harvested by our men and women.
When our factories are re-opened, productive, and run only by Lebanese hands.
When our Lebanese Christian Shepherds fear God and conduct their duties and obligations accordingly.
When our borders are patrolled solely by the Lebanese army and security forces, and when all militias, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, are disarmed and dismantled, and when the law of the land and the legitimate authority of a sovereign Lebanese people are fully and independently applied and enforced on all Lebanon's soil.
When conscientious and patriotic Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected freely by our people in accordance to a just and fair electoral law.
When Lebanon's markets are open for the country's products with no foreign hegemony or unfair and arbitrary competition.
When Lebanon's judiciary is fair, unbiased and non-politicized. A judiciary and judges who respect the constitution and abide by the law of the land and the Charter of Human Rights.
When the Lebanese identity is honored and hailed by all the Lebanese communities, and is placed above all other political, regional, ethnic and religious affiliations.
Then, and only then, we can rest our case for the struggle.
It has always been the norm, with never an exception , that for the last 7,000 years our people have always been courageous and determined and never willingly accepted subjugation and domination. They lived and still live with the hope of resurrection. They never doubted or questioned their right to be free in a free and independent country. They fought every tyrant and occupying force that invaded their country, and were able time and again, to force every single one of them out in defeat and humiliation.
Today, the Lebanese people remain as tall as their mighty cedars in spite of all hardships, the hurt, and the suffering of the past four decades.
No matter what, Lebanon is on its way again to freedom, liberty and peace.
Let us all pray that the birth of Our Lord Jesus will coincide this year with the re-birth of a new Lebanon that is free, independent and sovereign.
By God's will, all the Lebanese will be able next year to celebrate Christmas and the New Year in a liberated Lebanon that is run by the Lebanese and only by them.
Best wishes for our people for A Merry Christmas & A Happy New

What is the true meaning of Christmas?" The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
The real Christmas story is the story of God's becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshipping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.
The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. "But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

France renews efforts to end Lebanese presidnetial deadlock: sources
Michel Abu Najm/Asharq Al-Awsat.
Wednesday, 24 Dec, 2014
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam calls for "utmost efforts" to elect consensus president as soon as possible
Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—France is set to send its top Middle East official on a tour of the region in early January in a fresh round of diplomatic efforts to end the presidential deadlock in Lebanon, French sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The move comes as Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Wednesday called Lebanese rival political blocs to facilitate the election of a new president as soon as possible after historical Hezbollah-Future Movement dialogue kicked off earlier this week after four years of total estrangement.
“I repeat that all factions are asked to deploy utmost efforts to ensure the president’s election, because matters cannot continue as they are at present,” Salam said following a meeting with meeting with Patriarch Beshara Rai at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki.
“The prime minister and the government are trying to fill in but the country won’t settle and matters will remain stagnant as long as the [vacuum] persists,” Salam added.
Head of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa Department Jean-François Girault will visit Riyadh on January 5 to discuss ways to resolve Lebanon’s ongoing political crisis following the latest Hezbollah-Future Movement talks, the diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to the French diplomat, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, Girault will also visit Tehran and the Vatican as part of French efforts to break the deadlock.
Lebanon has been without a president since former Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s term in office ended on May 2014. Lebanon’s parliament has been unable to come to a consensus on a successor, with the Hezbollah-led-March 8 Alliance backing Michel Aoun and the Future Movement-led-March 14 Alliance throwing its weight behind Samir Geagea.
Girault will focus his diplomatic efforts on Saudi Arabia and Iran, the only two regional powers with the clout to bring Lebanon’s rival political blocs to the negotiating table.
The French diplomatic source said that Paris is “optimistic” about the chances of ending the months-long parliamentary stalemate, citing Tehran’s recent “flexibility” on key regional issues, including the Syrian crisis, as well as the recent Hezbollah-Future Movement dialogue.
In a key shift from its staunch backing of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad over the past three and a half years, Tehran recently announced its support of Russian efforts to bring the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table.
“Moving Lebanon out of the [presidential] deadlock will not be easy given the need to untangle it from the regional crisis,” the French diplomatic source added, in reference to the conflict that is raging in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and which has spilled across the borders into Lebanon.
The crisis in Syria has taken a heavy toll on its tiny neighbor who has seen its basic infrastructure being squeezed by the constant flow of Syrian refugees into the country and its security and military forces hit by a wave of insurgent attacks.
In the worst threat to Lebanon’s security, insurgents affiliated with Syrian Islamist groups attacked the strategic border town of Arsal in August, killing dozen soldiers and kidnapping 29 security officers.
Although France does not particularly favor either of the two main candidates, Paris is seeking to bring the Lebanese sides to agree on a “consensus” figure with no domestic or regional affiliations, the French diplomat said.
Paris is counting on the Vatican to facilitate Girault’s task among Lebanon’s Christian political elite. According to Lebanon’s sectarian-based political quota system, the president of the republic must be a Maronite Christian.
The French diplomat informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Vatican informed Girault that it will seek to convince the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance to reconsider its backing of Aoun. However Girault must also convince Iran—which is backing Hezbollah—to agree on a “consensus” presidential candidate .
Meanwhile, the Vatican said it holds Lebanon’s Christian political class responsible for the ongoing presidential vacuum which is comprising the prominent status Christians used to enjoy not just in Lebanon but across the Arab Mashriq, an Arab diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Arab diplomat, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Vatican is considering an “initiative” to end the political stalemate in Lebanon, but refused to give further details.

Salam Hopes Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue Leads to Election of President
Naharnet/Prime Minister Tammam Salam expressed hope on Wednesday that the dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement would contribute to the election of a new head of state. Following talks with Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki, Salam said he had high hopes that talks between the rivals would create some kind of “reassurance” for the Lebanese people. The dialogue could reflect positively on all crises, he said, adding: “I look forward that it expands” to include all other parties. The first round of talks between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal representatives was hosted on Tuesday by Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh. Salam reiterated his call on all political parties to prioritize the presidential polls. “A body without a head is not complete,” he told reporters. “We want a Christian Maronite president,” he said. “We want coexistence to continue. One of its basic elements is the presence of a new head of state,” added Salam. He said he visited al-Rahi to extend his greetings on the occasion of Christmas and New Year. But the PM expressed regret that Lebanon is suffering from a hostage crisis during the holidays. He urged all parties and the media not to trade with the lives of the policemen and soldiers who were taken captive by jihadists when they overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in August.
“All important and necessary issues require time to be resolved,” Salam said.

Al-Rahi Calls in Christmas Message for Election of Wise President to End 'Darkness'
Naharnet /Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi called in his Christmas message on Wednesday for the election of a wise head of state who prioritizes the nation's interest and hoped that Lebanon would have competent politicians. Al-Rahi slammed the lack of loyalty to the nation that led to the violation of the constitution and the failure to elect a president. He also criticized rampant corruption and embezzlement, and slammed extremism, which he said is tarnishing Lebanon's image. He described the situation as “dark,” saying: “To end such darkness Lebanon needs a promising and wise president who is known by his practices and who forgets about his personal interests.”“Only such a president could give back priority to the nation's interest and preside a serious and transparent dialogue that would lead to a true internal peace,” said al-Rahi who delivered his message in Bkirki in the presence of Maronite bishops. Lebanon has been without a head of state since May when Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May. The Maronite patriarch also called for competent politicians who serve the citizens and have loyalty to Lebanon first. Al-Rahi said such officials should believe in democracy and work for Lebanon's institutions. He urged priests to pray during Christmas for the election of a president as soon as possible, and for the respect of the constitution and the National Pact. Al-Rahi also hoped that Lebanon would enjoy stability, and that Syria and Iraq would be peaceful.

Faithful flock to Bethlehem for Christmas
Daniel Estrin| Associated Press/Dec. 24, 2014
BETHLEHEM: Several thousand Christian pilgrims on Wednesday flocked to the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus, lifting spirits after a year of conflict and failed peace efforts.
The central Manger Square was decked out in white and yellow lights and a towering Christmas tree. On a cool, clear night, there was a carnival atmosphere: Vendors hawked corn, candied apples, watches, and balloons in the shape of cartoon characters.
Scout troops played bagpipes, horns and drums, and bands from around the world performed on a stage, singing Christmas carols and original Christmas rock ballads, mostly in English. A recording of "Feliz Navidad" blasted through the speakers, too. A Palestinian host welcomed members of Gaza's tiny Christian community, who were permitted to cross through Israel to the West Bank, eliciting whistles and applause.
"My son and I and my husband came for Christmas to see, you know, be right here where it all took place," said Irene Adkins, 63, from Lorain, Ohio, as she sat in a Bethlehem visitor's center. "It feels wonderful."
The celebrations brought a boost of holiday cheer to the area after a difficult year. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last spring, and Israel battled Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during a 50-day war over the summer. Elsewhere in the region, the Middle East's dwindling Christian community has suffered persecution at the hands of Islamic State extremists.
For residents of the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, an independent state is as elusive as ever. The Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto that Christians believe is the site of Jesus' birth, was flanked by the towering Christmas tree and a large poster in Arabic and English that read "All I want for Christmas is justice."
"Our message this Christmas is a message of peace like every year, but what we added this year is that all we want from Christmas is justice. Justice for our people, justice for our case and the right to live like all other people in the world in our independent state without the occupation," said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah.
Police and local officials said just 4,500 international tourists visited Bethlehem this year, less than half last year's number. By nightfall, perhaps 2,000 people remained in the square, most of them local Palestinians.
Fadi Kattan, a Palestinian tourism expert, blamed the downturn on the summer war in Gaza.
"Image, image, image," Kattan said. "We're looking at the attack in Gaza affecting the image of this (place) as a destination."
A wave of unrest in occupied Jerusalem, just a few miles away from Bethlehem, also has deterred visitors.
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through Israel's concrete separation barrier, which surrounds much of the town. Israel built the barrier a decade ago to stop a wave of suicide bombings. Palestinians view the structure as a land grab that has stifled the town's economy.
Twal said he hopes 2015 will be better than the past "difficult" year.
"I hope next year there will be no separation wall, and I hope we will have bridges of peace instead," said Twal, who was to celebrate Midnight Mass at the church later in the evening.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Muslim, joined the celebrations on Wednesday evening and called for an end to "extremism and terror." Abbas is locked in a power struggle with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which remains in control of the Gaza Strip even after agreeing to the formation of a unity government with Abbas early this year.
Sheldon Way, 22, of Delano, Minnesota, said the celebrations were different than what he was used to, but that he nonetheless enjoyed himself.
"Growing up in Canada and the northern U.S., Christmas was full of snow. But here everyone's outside, there's music," said Way, who came to celebrate with his mother. "It's different from what I'm used to. But it's cool."

Salam presses Hezbollah, Future on presidential election
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014/BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam called Wednesday on rivals Hezbollah and the Future Movement to facilitate the election of a new president. Speaking following a meeting with Patriarch Beshara Rai at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki, Salam said he hoped that the Hezbollah-Future dialogue, which kicked off Tuesday after four years of total estrangement, would eventually comprise other factions and lead to ending the presidential impasse. “I repeat that all factions are asked to deploy utmost efforts to ensure the president’s election, because matters cannot continue as they are at present,” he said. “The prime minister and the government are trying to fill in but the country won’t settle and matters will remain stagnant as long as the [vacuum] persists,” Salam added. Commenting on negotiations aimed at securing the release of 25 captive servicemen held by ISIS and Nusra Front militants, Salam pleaded with the media to observe discretion and prudence in their coverage, which he warned could be harmful and fatal for the captives.“Enough [media] competition and rivalry over this issue. The lives of Lebanese servicemen are at stake and it cannot be a subject of media sensations,” Salam said, stressing that the government had taken the decision to enter negotiations but would not unveil any other details.

Hariri: Let new year bring new solutions for Lebanon
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Wishing Lebanon a happy holiday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri expressed hopes Wednesday that the New Year would carry with it solutions to a set of national problems. Ahead of the holidays, the former prime minister reiterated his call for the swift election of a president and the revitalization of state institutions, according to a statement released by his office. Lebanon has been without a president since May, after lawmakers botched numerous attempts to elect a successor to Michel Sleiman.
In further aspirations, Hariri voiced hopes that the 25 Lebanese servicemen being held hostage by ISIS and the Nusra Front would be released and would return to their families safely. The former prime minister also expressed hopes that security and stability would prevail over Lebanese territory.

ISF announces heightened security for holidays
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces announced Wednesday that it would heighten security measures during the holiday season in an effort to curb congestion and preserve public safety. According to an ISF statement, security measure will involve fixed and mobile checkpoints and ISF patrols in all Lebanese regions. Security forces will concentrate near areas of worship such as churches and mosques as well as hotels, restaurants and nightclubs to prevent any security breach. The statement also reminded that radars to detect speeding cars would operate around the clock, while announcing that policemen would also set up checkpoints to test drivers' alcohol levels. In that regard, the ISF called on citizens to abstain from drinking and driving and to avoid exceeding the speed limit.

Hezbollah: U.S.-Cuba thaw proof of colonial demise
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014 |/BEIRUT: Hezbollah views Washington’s historic reconciliation with Cuba after five decades of Cold War impa/se as a popular victory against colonial hegemony, a party official said Wednesday.“The achievements of Cuba, which was firm on its principles, is a lesson for all people of the world who are suffering from American hegemony,” Hezbollah official Ammar Moussawi said after a meeting with the Cuban ambassador to Lebanon. Cuba’s success reveals how the will of the people is much stronger than a policy of sanctions, threats and intimidation practiced by hegemonic forces, Moussawi said. Moussawi also congratulated Cuba for “thwarting a political, economic and military siege which was carried out as policy by Washington against Cuba for more than half a century.”
The firmness of Cuba’s positions and the steadfastness and patience of the Cuban people has pushed the US administration to recognize the inability of the siege to force Cuba to join American colonial policies, he said. The statement was released after Washington and Cuba said last week they would launch measures to rebuild relations between the two countries, cut off since shortly after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, with first official talks scheduled for January. Moussawi met Wednesday with the Cuban Ambassador to Lebanon Rene Prats. According to a statement released by Hezbollah’s news office, “the visit was an occasion to congratulate the leadership and people of Cuba on the liberation of five Cuban youths who were detained in U.S. prisons for more than 15 years.”
In comments made after the meeting, Moussawi said that detention of the Cuban nationals by U.S. authorities unlawfully has always been a “black page” in the history of American politics. The release, according to the Hezbollah official, would not have been possible had it not been for the fact that the issue continued to be essential to Cuba’s foreign policy interests.

Berri hopes for expanding Future-Hezbollah dialogue
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014 /BEIRUT: Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri underscored the importance of dialogue between Hezbollah and Future Movement in easing Shiite-Sunni tensions, expressing hope that it would expand to other political factions at a later stage.
Berri was quoted as telling MPs who visited him Wednesday that dialogue was the only way to boost unity and achieve the common objectives that serve all Lebanese groups. Berri also raised with his visitors the issue of pending laws that had been passed by Parliament several years ago, but have never been enforced, including regulations on food security, water safety and civil aviation. He pointed out that he had appointed a parliamentary committee to follow up on unimplemented laws that he planned to reveal and expose in a news conference after the new year.

Lebanon health minister to crack down on 'food mafias'
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014 /BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour announced Wednesday that he would continue to crack down on what he deemed to be a "mafia" of food violators who benefit from lax monitoring of food-safety standards.  “Corruption in the food dossier is much greater than we imagined,” Abu Faour said during a news conference, vowing that the “battle against food mafias is at the top of our priorities.” Abu Faour said that the campaign did not just target food safety exclusively, its goal was also to abolish “corruption” in the sector. The health minister expressed fears that “greater corruption” was set to be revealed, given the lack of surveillance and monitoring of food safety. The corruption, according to the minister, springs from the “greed and ignorance” of stake-holders who constitute a “mafia” of corruption. This mafia, he argued, benefits from the lack of monitoring, possibly because they could market and profit from food that should not be viable for sale. Abu pledged that the Health Ministry would carry on with its sweeping campaign against violators as he thanked the ministry’s employees for their hard work throughout the campaign. The efforts of the ministry’s employees have restored the “value” of their work and the “prestige” of the public servant title, he said. With regards to financial compensation and extra hours, the health minister said that the privileges would only be given to active and productive employees. Abu Faour also noted that he would dismiss any inactive member of the ministry at the start of the new year. Commenting on an airport inspection that took place a day earlier, Abu Faour said that the ministry’s raid helped “close large sections of corruption in Lebanon.” On Tuesday, Abu Faour ordered the closure of food and medicine storage warehouses at Beirut's airport, citing poor hygiene and expired items found during an inspection. Abu Faour referred to the warehouse as an “execution chamber for the Lebanese citizen’s health.”The health minister also vowed to pursue the matter with the judiciary through the prosecution of negligent officials.

Future-Hezbollah dialogue a basis to combat terrorism
Dec. 24, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s number two Sheikh Naeem Qassem on Wednesday said dialogue between his party and the Future Movement defuses sectarian tensions and constitutes an adequate basis to combat terrorism.
“Today there is a dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement,” Qassem said during a graduation ceremony. “We have long called for dialogue because we know that dialogue generates appropriate solutions instead of bickering and incitement.”
The first round of talks between the two rival groups Tuesday, lasted for three-and-a-half hours, was hosted by Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence amid a total media blackout.
A statement issued by Hezbollah and the Future Movement following their first meeting said the two parties agreed during an ice-breaking meeting to start a “serious and responsible” dialogue with the aim of easing political tensions in the country and paving the way for energizing state institutions. “This dialogue is part of the social and political stability,” Qassem said. “[Dialogue] puts an end to sectarian incitement and provocation and diminishes tensions and constitutes an adequate basis to fight terrorism, which is threatening all of us.”
The deputy secretary general of Hezbollah said dialogue was an opportunity to “thoroughly” discuss all problematic issues with “frankness and transparency.” “We might find solutions for some [issues] but not be able to resolve others,” he noted, adding that the concept of dialogue in itself was a positive one. Qassem slammed skeptics, saying dialogue with the Future Movement served the interests of the Lebanese people.  Speaking about dialogue, Berri told visiting lawmakers Wednesday that the first round of talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement was “positive and encouraging.” Berri added that dialogue was the only means to bolster entente among the various components of Lebanon’s political sphere.  Hezbollah and the Future Movement said their dialogue “is not aimed at forming a new political alliance in the country or confronting any political group, hijacking the decision of another or pressuring parties to take certain stances on constitutional events.”Attending the talks on behalf of Hezbollah were Hussein Khalil, the political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and MP Hasan Fadlallah. Representing the Future Movement were Nader Hariri, chief of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and MP Samir Jisr. Media reports said on Wednesday that the next dialogue session is scheduled for January 5.

Youth and unemployment in Lebanon
Talal Azhari/The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014
According to a recent report by the International Labor Organization, “World of Work Report 2014: Developing with Jobs,” there is a global job crisis, and the crisis is especially acute among the youth. More than 200 million people are globally unemployed today, with the unemployment rate of those under 25 two to three times higher than the average. And with more than 42 million jobs required to be created every year, the report concludes, “the jobs gap is getting wider not narrower.” Perhaps nowhere is this situation more represented than in Lebanon. Lebanon is currently facing a critical unemployment situation, compounded by political instability both at the regional and national levels, and made worse by the influx of approximately 1.5 million refugees from Syria.
At present, the overall unemployment rate in Lebanon stands at 24 percent with youth unemployment exceeding 35 percent. The traditional external markets for the Lebanese work force, whether in the Gulf countries or in European or African countries, have considerably decreased their demand and apply tougher regulations that further limit employment possibilities. As a result, the outlets that have historically eased Lebanese unemployment are getting increasingly blocked.
In face of such a dramatic situation, whose negative ramifications on the economic, social and security fabric of the country are immense, innovative solutions have to be found and applied. This calls for the need to create jobs within our borders, building on the country’s talented human resources that are widely known to be competent, adaptable and resilient, with a flair for linguistics.
To help us achieve such crucial job creations, the curricula throughout the education system should be adapted to future labor market needs. Today, there is a structural gap between needs and competence. We have a surplus of doctors, engineers and lawyers that the country can hardly absorb, but a lack of specialized skilled workers. To close this gap, vocational training should be totally reviewed and restructured in close collaboration with the private sector, so as to ensure that appropriate and sufficient skilled labor is available in line with market demands. Such reforms can only be undertaken after a rigorous evaluation of the changing needs in the workforce. To this effect, a comprehensive national labor market survey should be conducted to assess the present situation, and to serve as an indicator for the future demand and supply of skilled and unskilled workers.
Parallel to the needed transformation in education and labor market upgrades, what is also essential to development is small- and medium-sized enterprises. This was confirmed by a recent World Bank report, “Jobs or Privileges: Unleashing the Employment Potential of the Middle East and North Africa (2014),” that gave utmost priority to establishing these enterprises. Such young firms and startups are the engines of job creation in Lebanon. The report also states that micro-startups between zero to four years of activity and with less than four workers generated about 66,000 jobs in Lebanon between 2005 and 2010. As important, and especially given the crucial role of information technology in today’s modern economy, is developing a viable information and communications technology sector. As a result, the private sector should be encouraged to invest in knowledge economy companies, as they can generate considerable job opportunities and are largely immune to political instability. The recent Central Bank Circular 331, giving incentives to banks in order to invest in this area, is a big step forward. The development of such niche markets increase job offers and wages, as they cater for international markets and are exposed to worldwide demand.
Last but not least, every effort should be made to speed up the process of finalizing the oil and gas exploration and production projects. Such a sector would create massive employment opportunities at all levels on a sustainable basis. Government and Parliament action is here urgently needed. By creating job opportunities at the national level, Lebanon’s economy would be considerably enhanced and it would be in a far stronger position to weather any political instability. But success is not easy and there are preconditions for it to happen. In this respect, the World Bank report recommends introducing legal and administrative reforms, including policies that favor open markets, safeguard competition, ensure equal opportunities for all entrepreneurs, and, overall, ease the climate for business in the country.
In conclusion, we cannot exaggerate the importance of creating remunerative and durable jobs for the youth of Lebanon, who represent the future and hope of this country. And any national plan to provide youth with credible jobs and to combat the unemployment crisis should be a collective effort, requiring the full involvement and commitment of the government as well as all organs of civil society: the private sector, unions, universities and society at large.

Shoes with cross emblem confiscated in south Lebanon

Mohammed Zaatar/The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014/SIDON, Lebanon: Police raided a shoe shop in the town of Ghazieh in south Lebanon, confiscating hundreds of pairs that carried a cross emblem Wednesday, to prevent provoking Christians, security sources told The Daily Star. The sources said shoppers who had bought the shoes alerted police to the religious symbol placed on the back of the shoe, which they considered a defamation of Christianity. Police arrested the shop owner and started an investigation to identify the source of the items, whether they were imported or manufactured locally, and if the choice of the emblem aimed at provoking Christians, the sources added.

Jordanian jet not shot down by ISIS in Syria: U.S.
Reuters/Dec. 24, 2014/BEIRUT: ISIS captured a Jordanian pilot Wednesday after his warplane from the US-led coalition crashed while on a mission against the jihadists over Syria. A senior Jordanian military official said the pilot was taken hostage by the "ISIS terrorist organisation" in its northern stronghold region of Raqa. Both the jihadists and activists reporting to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile. But the US military dismissed the claim, saying "evidence clearly suggests that ISIS did not down the aircraft." "Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming," the U.S. military's Central Command said in a statement, using another acronym for the group. US Central Command, the body overseeing the coalition air war over Iraq and Syria, gave no reason for the "crash", and confirmed ISIS militants had taken the lost jet's Jordanian pilot captive. The crash was the first coalition warplane lost since air strikes on ISIS began in Syria in September, and marks a major propaganda victory for the Sunni extremist group. Coalition warplanes have carried out regular strikes around Raqa, which ISIS has used as its de facto capital since declaring a "caliphate" in June straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS posted photographs online purportedly showing its fighters holding the pilot. One showed a man being carried from a body of water by four gunmen. Another showed the same man on land, surrounded by almost a dozen militants.
A photograph was also released of the pilot's military identification card, showing his name as Maaz al-Kassasbeh, his birth date as May 29, 1988, and his rank of first lieutenant. The jihadists claimed to have shot down the warplane with a heat-seeking missile.
Images distributed by ISIS supporters of the alleged aftermath of the crash appeared to show the distinctive canopy of an F-16 fighter jet.
- Deadly Iraq suicide blast -
The pilot's father, Youssef, was quoted by Jordanian media as saying the family had been informed by the air force of his capture. He said the military promised it was "working to save his life" and that King Abdullah II of Jordan was following events.
An activist in Raqa said ISIS militants were divided over the fate of the pilot. "The Chechens want him dead but the Iraqis want to keep him alive," Nael Mustafa told AFP via the Internet. "For some time, there have been divisions among them over who should be in command." The decision would be made by the shura, or council, representing all nationalities in ISIS, a Sunni extremist group that has committed widespread atrocities including mass executions and public beheadings. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern and appealed for the pilot's captors to treat him humanely. Jordan is among a number of countries that have joined the US-led alliance carrying out air strikes against ISIS. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain are taking part in the strikes in Syria alongside the United States. Elsewhere in Syria, 10 people including six children were killed as they left rebel-held Zabdine in southeast Damascus for a regime area, said the Observatory. In neighbouring Iraq, a suicide bomber killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens in an attack on Sunnis opposed to ISIS as they gathered to receive salaries south of Baghdad. And in the northern city of Kirkuk, a gunman killed the head of the provincial counter-terrorism forces. The US-led coalition first launched strikes against ISIS in August in Iraq, weeks after the jihadists overran the country's Sunni heartland. The coalition said it had carried out 10 strikes on Wednesday in Syria, including one near Raqa, where the Jordanian jet crashed, and seven in Iraq. Iraqi security forces, backed by the strikes, Kurdish forces, Shiite militias, and Sunni tribesmen, have retaken some areas, but have been facing stiff resistance from the entrenched ISIS militants.

ISIS makes gains in eastern Syria, Iraq
The Daily Star/Dec. 24, 2014
BEIRUT / BAGHDAD: ISIS militants went on the offensive in eastern Syria Tuesday and have returned to the outskirts of a strategic oil refinery town in Iraq after being driven out last month, activist groups and officials said.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq launched 10 more strikes against the militants, destroying various fighting positions, the American military said in a statement.
The seven strikes in Syria and three in Iraq also struck a unit of ISIS fighters as well as some of the militants’ oil collection equipment, according to the Combined Joint Task Force for the operation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime monitoring group based in Britain, said ISIS fighters seized territory south of the city of Qamishli, after clashes with Kurdish militia fighters and pro-regime paramilitaries from the National Defense forces.The Observatory said dozens of ISIS fighters had entered Syria’s Hassakeh province, where the clashes were taking place, from Iraq. In Deir al-Zor province, ISIS militants seized a hill overlooking the military airport on the outskirts of the provincial capital, the Observatory said. Regime forces and paramilitary groups defending the airport have recently beaten back two ISIS attempts to take the facility, one of the last outposts held by the regime in the east of the country. ISIS fighters destroyed a tank and two heavy machine guns in the clashes, which coincided with 10 regime airstrikes against their positions. The Observatory said that heavy fighting also took place between ISIS forces and Kurdish militia fighters in the border town of Ain al-Arab, and that three coalition airstrikes targeted the militants during the clashes. Three months of U.S.-led strikes in Syria have so far killed at least 1,171 people, mostly ISIS militants, the Observatory said.
Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Observatory, told Reuters only 52 were civilians. In a separate statement, to Arabiya television, Abdel-Rahman said that in contrast, “90 percent” of the victims of regime airstrikes have been civilians.
His network of activists, who are based around Syria, said the death toll since the military campaign was launched in late September was probably higher among ISIS militants. “This is because of the difficulty of activists reaching areas hit by the coalition and also because [ISIS] keeps a tight lid on its human losses,” Abdel-Rahman said.
The U.S. and its allies have significantly scaled down their airstrikes in Syria since late September compared to the first month of the campaign, although the last several days have seen a slight increase in their frequency.
The Observatory said Tuesday’s coalition airstrike on an oil facility in Deir al-Zor province killed three civilians. In total, the United States carried out 488 air strikes in Syria through Dec. 15, according to U.S. military data. The Observatory figures do not include casualties in Iraq. An Iraqi official, Gov. Raed Ibrahim of the Salahuddin province, said ISIS militants fought their way to the edge of Beiji Tuesday after three days of heavy clashes. He says they were able to advance because Iraqi troops lack heavy weapons. The militants captured Beiji and besieged its refinery – the country’s largest – during their rapid advance across Iraq last summer.
Iraqi forces wrested the town back in mid-November in one of their biggest victories to date against the insurgents.
Elsewhere in Syria, regime warplanes carried out at least 10 strikes targeting areas in eastern Damascus and its suburbs, the Observatory said. Six civilians, among them four children, were killed by a strike against the rebel-held suburb of Douma, while regime planes pounded the neighborhood of Jobar with at least half a dozen strikes, it added. The Syrian Revolution General Commission said the strike in Douma hit a school, in the second such incident this week.
Seven people were killed and 10 others were wounded in helicopter attack on a village in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria. The helicopter targeted a market with a barrel bomb in the village of Sufuhan, a rebel police official told the Anadolu Agency.
“The attack targeted civilians and the regime is taken revenge on civilians after losing Wadi Deif and Hamidieh,” Lt. Mohammad Halabi said, referring to this month’s seizure of army bases by rebel and jihadi groups. Also, a mortar bomb struck the Damascus neighborhood of Maisat, after a recent lull in rebel strikes targeting the capital. No information about casualties was available, although the Observatory, citing local sources, said several ambulances rushed to the area.

Saudi Grand Mufti: Child marriages are OK
December 23, 2014
By Robert Spencer/Jihad Watch
Islamic apologists in the West argue furiously that child marriage has nothing to do with Islam, and that the idea that Muhammad married a child is the invention of greasy Islamophobes. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, unaccountably, seems to be one of those Islamophobes. In reality, few things are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage. Islamic tradition records that Muhammad’s favorite wife, Aisha, was six when Muhammad wedded her and nine when he consummated the marriage:
“The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death)” (Bukhari 7.62.88).
Another tradition has Aisha herself recount the scene:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became Allright, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah”s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Bukhari 5.58.234).
Muhammad was at this time fifty-four years old.
Marrying young girls was not all that unusual for its time, but because in Islam Muhammad is the supreme example of conduct (cf. Qur’an 33:21), he is considered exemplary in this unto today. And so in April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light: “Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, [putting] the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge.” He added a threat: “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women.” The Mufti said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives for any law restricting child marriage.
Likewise the influential website in December 2010 justified child marriage by invoking not only Muhammad’s example, but the Qur’an as well:
The Noble Qur’an has also mentioned the waiting period [i.e. for a divorced wife to remarry] for the wife who has not yet menstruated, saying: “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women, if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated” [Qur’an 65:4]. Since this is not negated later, we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl. The Qur’an is not like the books of jurisprudence which mention what the implications of things are, even if they are prohibited. It is true that the prophet entered into a marriage contract with A’isha when she was six years old, however he did not have sex with her until she was nine years old, according to al-Bukhari.
Other countries make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls. Article 1041 of the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that girls can be engaged before the age of nine, and married at nine: “Marriage before puberty (nine full lunar years for girls) is prohibited. Marriage contracted before reaching puberty with the permission of the guardian is valid provided that the interests of the ward are duly observed.”
According to Amir Taheri in The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution (pp. 90-91), Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful to give their own daughters away accordingly: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” When he took power in Iran, he lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in accord with Muhammad’s example.
“Saudi Arabia Grand Mufti says no opposition to underage marriage,” by Habib Toumi, Gulf News, December 21, 2014 (thanks to Naveen):
Manama: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married.
“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh on Sunday.
In a bold attempt to force changes on the grounds, the justice ministry has been pushing for setting up the minimum age.
Two years ago, it submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age.
The study included medical, social and religious views as well as a set of recommendations, sources told the daily.
However, the scholars have not responded and the statement by the Grand Mufti seemed as a clear indication of the difficulties to impose a minimum age for marriages in the country.
Changes that the justice ministry wants to reinforce include mentioning the age of the bride and groom in the marriage contract to ensure there are no abuses and the bride is at least 15 years old.
The ministry said that only competent courts could endorse the marriage of a bride less than 15 years old after judges make certain that specific conditions are fulfilled.
One recommendation for the exceptional underage marriage is to ensure it is not consummated immediately and that the bride should be given sufficient time to prepare her psychologically and train her for family requirements, the sources said.
No underage marriage should be allowed until the bride’s father presents a report in which medical staff and social workers testify that the bride is not physically and mentally at risk, the sources added.
The drive to set the minimum age has been consolidated by human rights groups that have been pushing for setting a minimum age.
They recommended the consent of both the bride and her mother as a sine qua non condition to go ahead with the wedding plans and called on judges to make sure that the bride would not be harmed in any way by the marriage.
Exceptions should be kept to a strict minimum and should be confined to girls with no families and living in orphanages, they said.

Montreal: Muslim arrested for terrorist threats against police
December 23, 2014 /By Robert Spencer/Jihad Watch
jeffrey labelleHis grandmother, Sylvie Labelle, says that when he converted to Islam, “he found inner peace.” Sure, he carried around a machete, but hey, who doesn’t? “
Man arrested for terrorist threats against Montreal police,” QMI Agency, December 22, 2014 (thanks to Pamela Geller):
MONTREAL – A 21-year-old man is facing terrorism-related charges after threatening to attack four police Montreal police. Jeffrey Labelle was arraigned Monday and will return to court Tuesday. He had been arrested on Friday after the discovery of handwritten notes specifying which precincts would be attacked. The threat came just two days after two police officers in New York City were murdered in their squad car by a gunman. Those deaths have given a greater sense of urgency to ensuring police here in Canada stay safe, according to Yves Francoeur, head of the Montreal police union. “Our people must be vigilant at all times,” he told TVA, QMI Agency’s sister TV station. “We see what is happening in Canada. Toronto has already secured their stations a few years ago and Ottawa is in the process of doing so.” Police were alerted to the threat by relatives of Labelle, who had noted a change in his way of dressing and his words, according to a spokesman for the Montreal police. Labelle was a recent convert to Islam. According to his grandmother, however, he was not dangerous. “He wasn’t that kind of boy,” Sylvie Labelle told TVA. “When he converted, he found inner peace. He wanted to take care of his mother and be the man of the house.”The grandmother did note that Labelle had carried a machete, but said she believed it was to protect his mother from a violent person. She added that she believes she knows which family member had turned Labelle in out of

Israel's Gas Dream – The End Is Nigh
Gal Luft/Journal of Energy Security
December 23, 2014
The development of the Leviathan natural gas field has been postponed indefinitely.
In the five years since the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the coast of Israel, the Israeli energy discourse has focused on questions like what to do with the gas, how much of it to export and to whom, and what the fairest distribution of profits would be among the gas partners, headed by Noble Energy and Delek Energy, and the Israeli public. But after years of delays and billions of dollars spent, a new and increasingly likely scenario should be considered – the premature – and tragic – death of the Israeli gas dream. I alluded to this option in an August 2013 article titled "Israel's Zero Gas Game" in which I warned that Israel has become so busy dividing the pie that its leaders forgot it must first be baked and that due to the failure of the government to present a clear vision for the country's energy sector, articulate the rights and responsibilities of foreign investors and most importantly set rules and stick to them, "the gas will be left in the ground and the startup nation will be more worthy of the title 'shutdown nation'." Perhaps that sounded crazy at the time. Today, with the decision of the Israeli Anti-Trust Authority to revoke an arrangement permitting Noble-Delek partners to develop Leviathan, declaring them a cartel - a move that will require the separation of Leviathan from Tamar and the sale of Leviathan to a new partnership, effectively postponing the development of Leviathan indefinitely - the scenario of "zero gas" - and perhaps even the withdrawal of Noble from Israel altogether - should be considered seriously.
In deciding to enter Israel Noble has taken a huge financial, regulatory and geopolitical risk. However, the size of the discoveries, the potential of finding oil under the gas layers and the doubling of the company's market capitalization made the move easy to justify to its shareholders. But the Texas company, the only international energy company that was willing to set foot in Israel, was welcomed with no red carpet. Instead it was ushered through a Via Dolorosa of bureaucratic torture which eliminated any chance for gas production before the end of 2018 – ten years from the beginning of exploration. A ten year lead time from discovery to production is a lot to ask of a publicly traded company which has to satisfy quarterly thinking and profit hungry shareholders. But in light of Noble's recent stock performance, dropping from $80 in the summer to $50 today, the decision of the Israeli government provides an impetus to the company's leadership, not to mention the new CEO David Stover, to reconsider the commitment to Israel and begin to seek greener pastures.
There are very few oil and gas companies who have both the experience of drilling in deep waters and the willingness to associate themselves with Israel, especially in light of Noble's experience.
The Israeli government's ruling has huge implications for the future of the region as it means that at best the supply of gas from Leviathan will be delayed into the 2020s. At worst it will not happen at all. The government's concern about a gas monopoly is a legitimate one, especially during an election campaign when issues of cost of living dominate the local political discourse. But its hopes that the hot potato called Leviathan can somehow be sold to new partners require a lot of faith. There are many people with money who may be tempted to buy into a partnership in a 22 trillion cubic feet (tcf) field, but owning a stake in a gas field without an operator at hand is like owning a gold mine on the moon. There are very few oil and gas companies who have both the experience of drilling in deep waters and the willingness to associate themselves with Israel, especially in light of Noble's experience. With falling energy prices worldwide, the chance of a Noble-like operator popping out of nowhere is slim. This means that in its desire to avoid the creation of a monopoly, Israel is taking the risk that Leviathan, the world's largest offshore gas discovery of the past decade, will not be developed for many years to come - if ever. The losers will first and foremost be the Israeli people who will lose not only billions of dollars in tax revenue and the main engine of growth of their economy but also the prospects of securing their energy supply for generations. The scenario is equally bad for Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority who are counting on Leviathan gas for their economic well-being and which have all signed letters of intent to buy Israeli gas despite local opposition from their respective Israel-hating Islamists. Europe will also be a casualty since a portion of Leviathan was aimed for two LNG terminals in Egypt from where it would have been shipped to European countries aspiring to become less dependent on Russia's gas.
Other than the handful of lawyers who will earn millions litigating the dispute between Noble and the Israeli government in international courts, the biggest winner will be Cyprus. In December 2011 Noble announced the discovery of 7 tcf in a field northwest of Leviathan called Aphrodite (block 12). Other blocks have been opened for bids since attracting interest from a handful of large oil and gas companies including Total of France, Kogas of South Korea, ENI of Italy and Petronas of Malaysia. But with all eyes on Leviathan, Cyprus became an uninteresting side show. This may soon change. Cyprus may not be a paragon of regulatory stability and certainly not an investors' haven and its tense relations with Turkey pose some geopolitical risk, but the fatigue from Israel's energy shenanigans could bring about a shift from Israel to Cyprus as the new center of gravity in the East Mediterranean energy play.
There is no polite way of saying this. Israel's latest decision is tantamount to nationalization of the kind seen in Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Russia. All of those governments sugarcoated their decision invoking the need to protect the public interest. The investment community and global oil industry got the message and wrote off those countries. With this miserable decision, Israel has just lodged itself into this notorious club. The price will be paid in spades – and sooner than most Israelis realize.
**Gal Luft is co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Christians and Churches Attacked in the West: Muslim Persecution of Christians, September 2014
By Raymond Ibrahim
December 24, 2014 in Muslim Persecution of Christians
Gatestone Institute
The Muslim persecution of Christians in September made prominent appearances not just in the Islamic world, but also in the West—in America, Australia and Europe.
In the United States, in Columbus, Indiana, three churches were vandalized on the same night. The words most frequently sprayed were “Infidels!” and “Koran 3:151.” The verse from the Koran states, “We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve [or "infidels"] for what they have associated with Allah [reference to Christian Trinity] of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.”
Father Doug Marcotte of Saint Bartholomew’s Catholic Church, one of those vandalized, said, “There’s a lot of bad stuff being done in the name of Allah and so when people see this happening in Columbus, whether that was truly the person’s intent or there’s something else going on, it makes people nervous. It makes people upset. It makes them scared.”
Meanwhile, in Australia, AAP reported that “Church-goers in Sydney’s west have been left shaken after a stranger shouted death threats from a car bearing the Islamic State flag. The car drove past Our Lady of Lebanon Church at Harris Park on Tuesday and witnesses claim it had a flag similar to those brandished by Islamic State jihadists hanging out the window.” A church official said the people in the car threatened to “kill the Christians” and slaughter their children: “They were strong words and people were scared of what they saw.” Witnesses saw a flag outside the window with the words, “There is only one god and Muhammad is the prophet.” And as happens frequently in Muslim-majority nations, police security was later dispatched to patrol the Harris Park church while hundreds partook of mass inside.
In Denmark—2013′s “happiest country in the world“—Christians of Middle Eastern backgrounds continued to experience “harassment, verbal attacks and in some cases direct violence from Muslims,” reports TV2, especially in Muslim-majority areas, such as Nørrebro. One Christian, “Jojo,” born in Denmark of Lebanese parents, shared her experiences. Once when sitting in her parked car, several Muslims surrounded it, harassing her about her Western attire. When one of them noticed she was wearing a cross, he said “Well, you have a cross on—then you are also a Christian f***ing whore. Do you know what we do to people like you? Do you know what we do to people like you? You get stoned [to death].”
Another Christian woman of Iranian background recounted how she and her son are harassed on the Muslim-majority block where they live—and where she stands out for not wearing a hijab, the Islamic veil: “My son is being called everything. I get called all sorts of things. Infidel. Filthy Christians. They tell me I ought to be stoned to death. My son was beaten at the bus stop. He was called pig, dirty potato (Muslim slang for Danes), and that ‘you and your mother should die.”‘
Islamic dreams of conquering Europe were prevalent. A senior analyst in Spain warned that, because Islamists see the Iberian peninsula as being “under Spanish and Portuguese occupation,” greater risk of terrorism exists there than in other Western areas. Because Iberia—or, in Arabic, Al-Andalus—was under Islamic domination for centuries, many Muslims consider it part of the Islamic world, or Dar al-Islam, which needs to be reconquered, no less than Israel, also seen as occupied Islamic territory.
More pointedly, in the Islamic State [IS], in a lengthy message partially addressed to the “crusaders”—a reference to the West—some members declared, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah.” Members of the IS also invoked a statement attributed to Muhammad, that Constantinople would be conquered before Rome—and it was, in 1453. The implication is that the Eternal City of Rome is next.
Around the same time, Rome responded by rejecting a motion to name a street after the late Oriana Fallaci, a veteran journalist who had once written that, “the Muslim world is attempting to conquer the West in the name of Islam.” In explaining their decision, local politicians described Fallaci’s writings as containing “religious hatred,” or “Islamophobia.”
In Canada, while 80 special Muslims went to the trouble of attending a Muslim rally on behalf of persecuted Christians, another rally, an extremist Al Quds Day Anti-Israel Hate Fest, drew approximately 6,000 participants.
The rest of September’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Muslim Attacks on Churches
East Jerusalem: A Christian church was attacked numerous times: On September 29, young Muslim men, with ties to a Palestinian militant group, wired shut the door of the Living Bread Church and sprayed a gaseous substance at those inside. An earlier gas attack had already occurred on September 17. Hours before the second attack, someone threw a rock through one of the windows of the church, and the day before that, Sunday, September 28, a Palestinian and others assaulted a church member as he was emptying trash into a dumpster outside the church. On Sept. 21, a Palestinian militant, without warning, ran up behind a church leader, Karen Dunham, and knocked her to the pavement: “This guy charged me as fast as he could,” she said. “He came up behind me and just slammed into my back, and I fell and I hit the ground. My face is bruised. There’s bruises on the side of my cheek, on my face, on my head, on my knee, cuts on my head, and my wrist was fractured.”
Egypt: A Christian priest in Egypt appealed to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to intervene on behalf of yet another church being threatened by “religious extremists.” So far, local authorities have done nothing. Four years ago, the Coptic Church of St. Abram in Shubra al-Khaima received a permit to build an additional building. During those same four years, seven “thugs”—in the words of the report—have prevented it from being built. The “thugs” had mobilized local Muslims to threaten and demonstrate against the church. “The priest lamented that ‘after suffering many long years’ they finally managed to acquire the permit to build, but then the next obstacle presented itself in the person of the aforementioned seven ‘thugs’ who constantly harass, and incite Muslim mobs, against the church, whenever it tries to exercise its right to build the services building. Islamic law forbids the building of new churches or the renovation of existing churches.”
Iraq: Islamic State militants “completely destroyed” the ancient Green Church in Tikrit. They packed the church with explosives and detonated them – completely destroying the ancient church, which belonged to the Assyrian Church of the East. Almost from the time it was built in the seventh century, when Islam overran Iraq, the church had been attacked, ransacked, and destroyed by Muslim rulers and others, but was restored on the orders of Iraq’s late President Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.
Nigeria: Many more churches and a Christian university, Kulp Bible College, were forced to shut down as a result of the advances of the Islamic jihadi group, Boko Haram. In one instance, a pastor reported that “Boko Haram violence has been getting worse every day, and our members are fleeing the area by the thousands. Recent attacks in Borno and Adamawa states where our churches are located have seen Boko Haram take over the Army base. As a result, about 350 Christians have been killed.” Separately, in Kaduna state, where “Muslim Fulani assailants seem driven to rid the area of Christianity and use the land to graze their cattle,” according to church leaders, 46 Christians, including two pastors, were slaughtered in raids. According to an eyewitness,
Suddenly we heard sounds of gunshots around our village. The pastor was still in the pastorate when the Muslim Fulani gunmen forced their way onto the church premises. They cut him, his wife and a daughter with a machete, and then tied the hands and feet of the three of them before setting the house on fire. The three of them were burned to ashes in the living room of the pastorate. We only found the charred remains of the three of them the following morning…. The gunmen then came onto the church premises and began shooting. I heard them shouting at the top of their voices, saying they must obliterate any trace of Christianity in the town.
Although Muslim Fulani have historically had property disputes with Christian farmers, Christian leaders say attacks by the herdsmen constitute a war “by Islam to eliminate Christianity” in Nigeria.
Sudan: In the latest incident of a nearly two-year wave of church demolitions, closures and confiscations, security agents padlocked a 500-member church building, the Sudan Pentecostal Church in Khartoum. The church also houses the Khartoum Christian Center. “The church is concerned that the building might be sold by the government, which renders more than 500 worshippers to have no place for worship,” a source told the Morning Star News. The Islamist government appears to be seeking any pretext for closing churches, sources said. In this instance, the space for the church was originally designated as “office space.” But, as one source asked, “How do you close a church building that has been in operation for 20 years in the name of the church being meant for offices?” The church has a deed showing that it owns the building and property — a situation that raises the question of the government’s right to sell it. Earlier, on June 30 bulldozers demolished the Sudanese Church of Christ in the Thiba Al Hamyida area of North Khartoum as church members watched, while security personnel threatened to arrest them if they tried to block the bulldozers, church members said.
Syria: The Islamic State destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, seen as the “Auschwitz” of the Armenian Genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in Der Zor and the surrounding desert during the genocide. In the summer of 1916 alone, more than 200,000 Armenians, mostly women and children, were massacred by Ottoman Turks. Armenia’s foreign minister issued a statement calling the church’s destruction a “horrible barbarity,” and referred to the Islamic State as a “disease” that “threatened civilized mankind.” The church was built in 1989-90 and consecrated a year later. A genocide memorial and a museum housing the remains of the victims of the genocide were also located in the church compound. Thousands of Armenians from Syria and neighboring countries gathered at the memorial every year on April 24 to commemorate the genocide.
Pakistani Rape and Dhimmitude
•Four young Muslims gang raped a 15-year-old Christian girl and filmed it. The girl’s father, although he was threatened against filing a complaint, went to police, who confirmed the existence of a video that corroborates the violence. The video will apparently be introduced as evidence against the youths. A lawyer, Mushtaq Gill, issued a statement that, “Many Christian girls continue to be victims of sexual assault by young Muslims, who go unpunished” and that, “in this case there is also a video, flaunted as a trophy.”
•Two Christian women were abducted, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. Lawyer Mushtaq Gill said, “A Christian girl, Sairish, forced to marry a Muslim in 2009, in her heart never abandoned the faith and continued to pray to Jesus Christ even after her marriage. After a few years she found the courage to rebel against the situation and run away…. Her life is now in danger because if she declares herself Christian, Muslims may accuse her of apostasy and the punishment would be death.” Each year, approximately 1,000 women in Pakistan are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. Whenever a case of this nature reaches the law courts, those women, under threat and blackmail, often declare that their conversion and marriage were decisions freely made, and the case is closed.
•Another Christian family fled their hometown, Lahore, to save their daughters from forced conversion to Islam. According to the Justice and Peace Commission, the two sisters, aged 12 and 8, were studying in public schools, where learning to recite the Koran is mandatory. Apparently, because the girls recited the shehada, the Islamic declaration of faith, “an Islamic cleric, the father of a student stated that these girls had become Muslims and thus needed to be taken from their Christian parents and entrusted to adult Muslims.” The parents pulled their daughters out of school, but then the headmaster and other Muslim teachers “warned the parents to send them back to school, offering the family financial aid regarding the school fees.” The parents quit their jobs and fled the region.
•Police arrested 15 Christians and booked 45 other members of the minority community under the blasphemy law for allegedly desecrating Muslim graves in a village in Punjab province. According to the AP, “The case was registered after a local cleric filed a complaint alleging that the Christians had desecrated over 400 Muslim graves to occupy the land in Chak village in Faisalabad, about 150 kilometres from Lahore.” Rights groups said it was a spurious charge meant to prevent the Christians from acquiring the land. In fact, the accusations were later proven false.
Dhimmitude: Islamic Discrimination Against Christianity
Egypt: Iman Sarofim, a 39-year-old Christian mother of five, returned home to her family after being kidnapped. Initially it was believed that she had voluntarily converted to Islam and fled her family to be with a Muslim man. The woman contacted the family from Suez, where she had been brought by the kidnapper. The return of the woman was celebrated by neighbors and relatives in the city of Gabal al-Tir. Her disappearance had been the cause of clashes between Copts and police, who believed the narrative that she had voluntarily left. In retaliation, police officers entered the homes of dozens of Coptic families and violently arrested dozens of Christians. Separately, Ehab Karam, a Coptic dentist, was killed after he was abducted by unknown persons, most likely for ransom. The kidnapping of Copts for ransom has evidently become a regular part of life in Egypt for Christians, particularly in Upper Egypt. Last February, for instance, police dismantled a crime network that for months had been organizing kidnappings, robberies and extortion against the local Coptic community. “Unfortunately,” said the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assist, Kyrillos William, “the phenomenon continues and there are no signs of improvement. Police operations are episodic and ineffective, they are unable to solve the problem.”
Iraq: The Islamic State decreed that all schools in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain which bore Christian names, some since the 1700s, must be changed. Also, the teaching of the Syriac language and culture and Christian religious education has been abolished. Reports indicate that the Islamic State took these moves “in order to erase all traces of cultural and religious pluralism in the conquered areas and turn schools into propaganda tools of jihadist ideology among the new generations.”
Saudi Arabia: In the Eastern Province city of Khafji, “religious police,” or agents from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, raided a house where at least 27 Christians, mostly expatriates from various Asian nationalities, were gathered. The Christians, including children, were accused of practicing Christianity in a house church, and were arrested and detained overnight. Authorities also confiscated musical instruments and copies of the Bible. The house had been placed under surveillance after a citizen reported that his Indian neighbor had converted his home into a Christian church. After witnessing a large number of individuals enter the home, officers raided the house. The only religion allowed to be practiced in public in Saudi Arabia is Islam. In the land of the prophet, no public places of worship for non-Muslims are permitted to exist.
Turkey: According to the Armenian magazine, Agos, many of the primary and secondary education books being used for the current school year still describe the Armenians and other Christian communities as enemy forces at the service of foreign powers, including Russia and England, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. One eighth-grade history book tries to whitewash the Armenian genocide, which is portrayed as a “necessary deportation,” never as a massacre.
Uzbekistan: Security forces reportedly raided the home of Pastor Stanislav Kim in Chirchik, 20 miles northeast of Tashkent, the capital. They detained 11 teenagers and three adults, who had gathered there for a volleyball game, and questioned them for more than four hours before releasing them. Officials also searched the pastor’s home and confiscated a New Testament, a Bible, several other Christian books, more than 100 slides of hymns, as well as some computer equipment. Voice of the Martyrs, which says there are at least 65 unregistered congregations scattered throughout Uzbekistan, said in a statement, “Please pray that this pastor and his son will not face fines, but will soon be acquitted of any perceived wrongdoing. Ask God to strengthen each believer who was present during this unwarranted raid so that they will not give in to governmental intimidation and pressure, but instead be emboldened to serve our Lord faithfully.”
About this Series
The persecution of Christians in the Islamic world has become endemic. Accordingly, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:
1)To document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, if not chronic, persecution of Christians.
2) To show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Islamic Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy, blasphemy, and proselytism laws that criminalize and sometimes punish with death those who “offend” Islam; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (financial tribute expected from non-Muslims); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed dhimmis, or third-class, “tolerated” citizens; and simple violence and murder. Sometimes it is a combination thereof.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the West, to Indonesia in the East—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.