LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for
today/Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
Luke 02/22-37: The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord. At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's promised Messiah. Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God: “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.” The child's father and mother were amazed at the things Simeon said about him. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only seven years and was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple; day and night she worshiped God, fasting and praying. That very same hour she arrived and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.
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Sources For February 03/14
Lebanese Related News
Dr. SAmir Geagea: Drone of silence
Clashes leave one dead in Tripoli
Killing in Ain al-Hilweh rattles month of peace
U.N. calls for unity after deadly Lebanon bombing
Hermel residents demand security after car bomb
Rigged SUV in Hermel attack passed through Arsal
Army: Hermel Explosives Weighed more than 25 Kg
Strict Security Measures in Dahr al-Baydar amid Reports of 'Beirut-Bound Bomb-Laden Car'
Suleiman Urges Lebanese to 'Put National Interest Above All Else'
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad : Fighting jihadists should be priority
Salam Meets Bassil, Offers FPM '2 Portfolios, Including Foreign Affairs'
Aoun rejects Salam’s final Cabinet offer
Miqati Calls for Swiss Support to Help Lebanon Confront Burden of Refugees
Syrian Shells Hit Akkar Houses as Warplanes 'Violate Lebanese Airspace'
Lebanese Delegation Hands Letter from Berri to Libya over Sadr Case
Al-Rahi Hopes God Would Enlighten Minds of Rival Politicians
Charbel: All Politicians in Lebanon Could be Target of Assassinations
Abboudieh, Arida Crossings Closed
Miscellaneous Reports And News
US and Iran meet privately, in public agreement on stakes of nuclear talks
Iranian Revolutionary Guards threaten US after Kerry says military option is ‘ready’
Iran Opposition Leader Karroubi Transferred to His Home
Netanyahu Rejects Kerry's Boycott Warning
Bullying tactics by Kerry and Europeans fuel anti-Israel terror, stir boycott threats
Report: Hamas calls back Gaza rocket prevention force
Barrel bomb offensive on Aleppo kills dozens
36 Dead in Aleppo Air Raids after 85 Killed on Saturday
UAE Summons Qatar Envoy over Qaradawi's 'Insults'
Al-Qaeda in Syria forms female brigades
Is Assad hoarding WMDs in Alawite heartland
Dr. SAmir Geagea: Drone of silence
February 03, 2014/The Daily Star/ The news late last week that a drone aircraft was hovering over the residence of a prominent Lebanese politician has seemingly come and gone with little in the way of official action or even rhetoric. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea was the reported target of Friday’s aerial reconnaissance, but there has been a deafening silence from the Army. In the vacuum that necessarily accompanies such a lack of official clarification, the public is left with media reports. In one of the versions being put out, the Army managed to verify that the drone was not Israeli but could do no more, because it lacked both the equipment to make a precise identification and the permission to act. According to this account, a meeting of the long-paralyzed Cabinet is needed to free the Army’s hand – but there is no explanation for why earlier Cabinet directives to the Army to do whatever is needed to maintain security were suddenly forgotten. Again, the crux of the matter is official silence. One figure in the government, the interior minister, said this weekend that all politicians in Lebanon were under the threat of assassination, but when a specific threat appears to emerge, there is a blanket silence. This is what feeds speculation and rumors, which in turn can do even more harm in the form of panic or other reactions to the country’s endemic instability. One may also ask whether such a silence would linger if another leading figure, or government official, was being targeted in such a blatant matter. In the end, the identity of the target is irrelevant while it’s clear the entire country suffers from the lack of official transparency on something as vital as security.
Clashes leave one dead in Tripoli
February 03, 2014/By Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Brief clashes in Tripoli left one dead and several injured, before Army units intervened early Sunday to restore calm to the historic districts and markets of the northern city. A dispute between two young men from the Deeb and Mishmish families escalated into an armed clash in the alleyways and narrow residential roads of the old districts of the city, preventing the Army from intervening right away. The clash resulted in the death of Omar Hmeidan, and left several others wounded. Dozens of cars, shops and buildings were severely damaged by the moderate and light arms used by rival parties in the clash. Jewelry shops in the old market in the district were also robbed during the fight. At midnight, the Army deployed units in the areas surrounding the clashes, and later increased its presence, along with the Internal Security Forces, at the entrances of the old city districts. Soldiers took positions at the rooftops of buildings where armed men typically exchange fire. The clashes renewed briefly Sunday during Hmeidan’s funeral, when militants Abu Ali Khawla, Abed al-Falastini and Abu Khaled al-Shalabi ambushed rivals Fadi Sabouneh and Jihad Blataji near the historic Mansouri Mosque. Shalabi was severely injured in the confrontation. A field commander known as Abu Azab and his armed group also set ablaze a coffee shop owned by Khawla in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Ramel. Subsequently, Army units intervened and arrested several armed men involved in the clashes. Also at midnight Saturday, Alawite resident Talal Harfoush was shot in the hand by unidentified men in the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh and was taken to a hospital. In al-Dam wal Farz neighborhood of Tripoli a baking shop owned by a Syrian man was shot at by armed men driving a BMW car, causing damage to the shop and its facade.
Killing in Ain al-Hilweh rattles month of peace
February 03, 2014/By Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star/AIN AL-HILWEH, Lebanon: Tensions soared in Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp Sunday, after a member of an influential family was shot dead by two masked men in the early hours of the morning. Palestinian Wissam Abulkil was standing near his taxi at the entrance to the camp’s vegetable market around 7 a.m. when two masked men appeared from a nearby alley. They shot him twice, in the chest and the head, and then fled the scene. Abulkil was rushed to the Nidaa al-Insani Hospital in the camp and then to Labib Hospital in Sidon, where he died of his wounds. Upon hearing the news of his death, dozens of angry family members took to the streets demanding the arrest of the perpetrators and burning tires to block the roads leading to Abulkil’s home. After the incident, the follow-up committee of national and religious Palestinian factions held a meeting in the camp’s cultural center. The committee denounced the attack and established an investigative team to find the perpetrators. It stressed that all Palestinians in Lebanon were united against attempts to disrupt stability in the camp. “The assassination of Wissam Abulkil aims to incite civil strife and undermine the security and the stability of the refugee camp,” the committee’s secretary Abed Maqdah said. “Wissam had nothing to do with any of the factions; he was a pure soul,” he added. “We consider those who carried out this assassination to be conspiring against the security and stability of the camp,” he said. “We call on all the Palestinian groups to bear their responsibilities during this critical time in Ain al-Hilweh and we demand a fair punishment for whoever is behind this despicable crime.”“Why was this crime committed now? Who is responsible? And why are attempts to incite civil strife being undertaken from one neighborhood against another in Ain al-Hilweh?” he asked. “We should follow up on the issue until the perpetrators are apprehended.”A delegation from the committee later visited Abulkil’s home to offer condolences to the family and inform them of their decision. The Abulkil family also issued a statement denouncing the crime. “We want justice but we don’t want it by our own hands. We are capable of it, but we don’t want to do it this way because this is just an attempt to cause civil strife,” said the head of Abulkil’s family, Abu Saged Abulkil. “However, we demand that the leaders of Palestinian factions deliver justice for ourselves and our son.” A Palestinian source told The Daily Star: “The assassination of Abulkil and the previous assassinations and security incidents are continuous attempts by the same party to incite civil strife that could go beyond the red line and lead to large-scale fighting in the camp.”“The national and religious groups must uphold their responsibilities to calm the situation and exert their utmost efforts to discover the motive of this crime and pursue the perpetrators,” the source added. The incident breaks a spell of relative calm in the camp since the beginning of the year. Last year, however, was marked by a number of similar killings, prompting questions over whether a certain party was trying to disturb the peace among different Palestinian factions in the camp.
In early December, Fatah member Mohammad Abdel-Hamid, also known as Mohammad al-Saadi, and two Popular Front to Liberate Palestine member Abed al-Youssef were shot dead south of the camp by a gunman. Five people, including a 14-year-old, were wounded when a bomb was then set off near Saadi’s funeral procession.
U.N. calls for unity after deadly Lebanon bombing
February 02, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The U.N. Security Council appealed to the Lebanese people to preserve national unity despite consistent attempts to undermine the country’s stability, in the wake of the deadly bombing in the northeastern city of Hermel that was claimed by an Al-Qaeda-linked group. Both the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council strongly condemned the “heinous” terrorist attack late Saturday in Hermel, a town where Hezbollah has a strong support base. In a press statement issued in New York, the 15- member body said “the members of the Security Council underline the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.” The Council members also reaffirmed the need to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in accordance with the United Nations Charter and all obligations under international law. They stressed “the importance for all Lebanese parties to respect Lebanon's policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis, consistent with their commitment in the Baabda Declaration.”The Baabda Declaration is a pact between Lebanese rivals with the aim of distancing Lebanon from regional crises, particularly in neighboring Syria. The deal was breached after Hezbollah sent fighters to Syria to back its ally President Bashar Assad.
A separate statement issued by Ban's spokesperson echoed the Council's condemnation as well as the body’s call for the “perpetrators of this crime and all other acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice. “The recent escalation in acts of terrorism and violence in Lebanon is of grave concern,” said the statement. It added that Ban reiterated his call on all Lebanese “to rally behind their State institutions, including the army and security forces, as the best means to confront such unacceptable and indiscriminate actions and to safeguard their country's security and stability.” Security sources told The Daily Star Saturday the attack at a gas station in Hermel was the work of a suicide bomber. The blast killed four people, including the bomber, and wounded 23 others. Lebanon has seen an increase in bombings where Hezbollah enjoys strong support, including in Hermel and the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Al-Qaeda linked groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks. The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon also condemned the Hermel bombing, the second in the northeastern region in just over two weeks, and extended its condolences to the victims and their families. “We regret that the people of Hermel have once again been subjected to an act of reprehensible terrorism,” the Embassy said in a statement Saturday.
“We urge all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from contributing to the cycle of violence,” the statement said. The Embassy also renewed its call for the full implementation of the Baabda Declaration, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and the Taef Accord.The bombing was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, which has also claimed two other attacks in Lebanon, citing Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria.Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said the attack only benefited Israel. “The attack is similar to other terrorist attacks against Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, the beneficiary of which one,” Zohbi told al-Mayadeen television channel. “Although several terrorist groups from the same background are behind such blasts, the Israeli enemy is the first and last beneficiary of such bombings,” he said. British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said the aim of the bombing was to create disunity. “More sickening news from Hermel. Thoughts with families and emergency services. Killers aim to create disunity. Must not let them succeed,” Fletcher said on his twitter account.
Rigged SUV in Hermel attack passed through Arsal
February 03, 2014/By Rakan al-Fakih/The Daily Star
HERMEL, Lebanon: The rigged vehicle used in a suicide bombing mission that rocked the northeastern town of Hermel over the weekend had first passed through the nearby town of Arsal, security sources told The Daily Star Sunday. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the gray Jeep Grand Cherokee with the fake license plate 371683, passed through Arsal before the attack, taking the road linking the village of Labweh to Hermel. It is unclear whether the car entered Lebanon through Arsal, however. The sources said that the suicide bomber toured the town of Hermel before detonating his vehicle near the Aytam gas station Saturday evening, killing three people and wounding 23 others. The bomb attack was the second in less than two weeks to target an area where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
The sources said that CCTV cameras in the village of Labweh and the eastern entrance of Hermel had spotted the car. The sources added that authorities were waiting on the result of the forensic report, after experts finalized their examination of the blast site Sunday. They also said that the CCTV cameras near the blast site have yet to be analyzed, adding that efforts were underway to determine the identity of the suicide bomber.
The suicide bomber’s features were unblemished, despite the force of the blast. He had a fair skin, no facial hair and was approximately 20 years old.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told a local media outlet that the vehicle used in the attack was rigged with explosives outside of Lebanon. He also said the explosions plaguing Lebanon would cease once the Syria crisis was resolved. The sources identified Issam Kheireddine and Ali Amir Allaw as two of the four killed in the blast, and said two of the wounded were in serious condition. Relatives of Allaw blocked the entrance to Hermel Saturday evening to protest the attack. The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front, a radical Syrian rebel force listed as a terrorist group by the United States, claimed responsibility for the attack, citing Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria. “As the party of Iran [Hezbollah] continues to carry out crimes against our people in beloved Aleppo and insists on sending more of its fighters into Syria, we had to stop its massacres and respond in kind against its strongholds so that the party can re-evaluate its position,” a statement posted on the Twitter account of the Nusra Front in Lebanon said.The Al-Qaeda offshoot, which claimed responsibility for a similar deadly bombing in Hermel on Jan. 16, said the frequency of similar attacks revealed “Hezbollah’s weakness.” The Nusra Front in Lebanon has claimed responsibility for bombings that targeted Hermel and the Beirut southern suburbs last month. Hezbollah argues that most rigged cars detonated in the Beirut southern suburbs and Hermel were loaded with explosives in rebel-held Syrian territories and entered Lebanon via Arsal. Arsal, a mainly Sunni town, is supportive of the Syrian uprising and hosts thousands of Syrian refugees. Ali Hujeiri, the mayor of Arsal, said he had no information about whether the suicide bomber drove his car through Arsal. Speaking to a local media outlet, Hujeiri said that residents of Arsal did not protect perpetrators of such attacks, accusing the Syrian regime of sending rigged cars to Shiite villages surrounding Arsal to spark Sunni-Shiite strife.
Meanwhile, the mukhtar and prominent figures from Arsal condemned the attack on Hermel while paying a visit to Mustafa Rabah, the former mayor of the mainly Shiite village of Labweh.
“We join the people of Hermel in condemning this terrorist crime, taking into account humane and moral considerations and out of our national commitment to coexistence and our rejection of terrorism,” said Mohammad Ezzeddine, the mukhtar of Arsal. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati denounced the attack, appealing to the Lebanese to unite in the face of terrorism. “Once again, the hands of terror have targeted a Lebanese area ... and innocent civilians,” Mikati said in a statement. Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, for his part, described the attack as a cowardly “terrorist act.” “[I] urge Hermel residents to exercise self-restraint despite their deep pains,” Salam said in a statement. The U.N. Security Council appealed to the Lebanese people to maintain national unity despite consistent attempts to undermine the country’s stability, in the wake of the deadly bombing.
Both the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council strongly condemned the “heinous” terrorist attack. In a press statement issued in New York, the 15-member body said “the members of the Security Council underline the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.” The Council members also reaffirmed the need to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in accordance with the United Nations Charter and all obligations under international law. They stressed “the importance for all Lebanese parties to respect Lebanon’s policy of disassociation and to refrain from any involvement in the Syrian crisis, consistent with their commitment in the Baabda Declaration.”
A separate statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson said that he reiterated his call on all Lebanese “to rally behind their state institutions, including the Army and security forces, as the best means to confront such unacceptable and indiscriminate actions and to safeguard their country’s security and stability.”
The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon also condemned the Hermel bombing. “We urge all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from contributing to the cycle of violence,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Saturday.
The Embassy also renewed its call for the full implementation of the Baabda Declaration, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and the Taif Accord.
Hermel residents demand security after car bomb
February 03, 2014/By Wassim Mroueh/The Daily Star
HERMEL, Lebanon: Saturday was supposed to be a day of merriment for Ghadi Amhaz, who was celebrating her 18th birthday at her uncle Ahed’s house in the northeastern town of Hermel. But the fun came to a sudden and tragic halt when a suicide bombing rocked the gas station facing the house, with Ghadi and around 13 teens and children, all party guests, narrowly escaping death. “Come in and let me tell you how God saved us,” Ahed told visitors Sunday who came to see his home, heavily damaged after the explosion. The two-story structure was littered with debris from shattered glass, broken doors and wrecked furniture. “It was mass destruction at the house. In addition to my furniture, windows and doors being ruined, I thought that the cement had collapsed,” Ahed told The Daily Star. “Only five meters separated us from the rigged vehicle,” he said. “I was relieved that none of the kids were laying [dead or wounded] on the floor [after the explosion],” he said. “We hid in a house in a nearby farm where my uncle works,” said 10-year-old Ali Zeaiter, one of the kids attending the birthday party. “We were afraid because it was a very strong explosion. We thought that a rocket had hit the gas station.”Ali said he was not afraid of “Salafist heretics,” referring to the perpetrators of the attack. The bomber, driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, detonated his car near the Aytam gas station, killing three and wounding 23 others in the town where Hezbollah enjoys wide support. The attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of the radical Syrian rebel force. The group has stood behind previous attacks that have targeted Hermel and the Beirut southern suburbs, all in retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. “Let them fight the resistance in Syria rather than kill children and women here ... true men fight men, rather than kill women and children,” Ahed said, calling on Lebanese authorities to protect Hermel. “We hope that the state will provide some security in this area because it seems that Hermel has become like the Beirut southern suburbs, as far as the attackers are concerned,” he said. Four bomb attacks, including suicide bombings, have rocked the Beirut southern suburbs, another stronghold of Hezbollah, in the past few months. “Security personnel should erect checkpoints at the few entrances of Hermel in cooperation with locals,” Ahed said. Hermel has also been hit numerous times by rockets fired by Syrian rebels. “This town has given many martyrs and helped to bring Israel to its heels. They want to punish it,” he added. Ahed, a farmer and cattle dealer, said he would never consider leaving Hermel, in spite of the threat of more attacks. “We are used to sacrificing blood for the sake of the nation,” he said. Four vehicles were completely destroyed and several others damaged at the blast site, which was strewn with rubble. Forensic experts were collecting evidence near the damaged petrol station. The crime scene was cordoned off by Army personnel who were deployed around the area along with many locals. Visiting the site in show of solidarity was Baalbek- Hermel MP Ghazi Zeaiter, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, along with Hezbollah MPs Nawar Saheli and Ali Moqdad, caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and MP Emile Rahmeh, both from Hezbollah’s bloc.
Watching the visiting politicians go by, Mahdi Allaw said he was angry that they were doing so little to protect Hermel. Allaw, whose 14-year-old cousin Ali was killed in the explosion, said that life was becoming hard in the town. “We should block roads and protest! What was the fault of all those people who died?” he asked. His cousin was killed upon leaving his father’s shop to get a pack of cigarettes. “Let [the politicians] tell us if we are part of Lebanon or not,” Allaw said. “Authorities should close all roads and search all passing cars, they should get equipment to detect explosives,” said Allaw, a taxi driver. “This rigged car did not fall from the sky, it passed through roads, there are only five entrances to Hermel,” he added. “People are no longer able to leave their homes, the town is paralyzed. It is unacceptable that we live this way. If the state is unable to protect us, we will protect ourselves,” he said. The streets of Hermel, usually bustling on weekends, were deserted and many residents were seen carrying pistols. Monday was declared a day of mourning in Hermel.
A Hezbollah fighter wearing a military outfit manned a checkpoint at the entrance of Hermel. Some residents said that the rigged car was able to enter Hermel because Hezbollah removed one of the town’s entrance checkpoints at 5 p.m. Saturday. In the nearby Batoul Hospital, Hussein Mismar, wounded during the explosion, described the harrowing moments after the blast. “The rigged car passed near my car and then I heard an explosion ... and threw me out of my car,” said Mismar, whose cheeks were swollen and two hands were bandaged. “I washed my face with water from a nearby tank and walked toward the hospital, and someone carried me inside.”Nadia Qubayris, receiving treatment at the same hospital, was in worse condition. Laying in a bed with her eyes bandaged, Nadia, around 40, could barely hear or recognize visitors and kept asking for water. Qubayris was in the car with her son, who stopped at the station for gas, when the bomb went off. “I will only say thank God,” said Zahraa, her sister, with tears flooding from her eyes.
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad : Fighting jihadists should be
February 02, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad Sunday said confronting jihadist groups needed to be set as a priority for the next government and held responsible takfiri groups, and those justifying their acts, for the deadly weekend suicide bombing in the northeast of Lebanon. “The national priority at this stage is to confront these takfiri groups and this should head the next government’s program,” he said, adding that this ruled out the possibility of forming a “neutral or imposed [Cabinet] if the Lebanese want it to take on this big mission.” A suicide bombing at a gas station in the northeastern city of Hermel Saturday killed four people, including the bomber, and wounded 23 others, security sources told The Daily Star. The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front, a radical Syrian rebel group, claimed responsibility for it. “The takfiri terrorism has struck once more in Hermel, [this time] at a gas station the proceeds of which go to an orphanage,” Fayyad said. Fayyad blamed jihadist groups for the attack and other bombings in the country. He also said sides rationalizing the attacks or hampering counter-terrorism efforts by authorities also shared in the blame. “A whole sect does not bear responsibility for this criminal act but the terrorist groups that practice murder,” the Hezbollah lawmaker said. “Sharing in responsibility are all those who justify, voice understanding, find excuses or provide political cover or obstruct the Army and security forces from apprehending [the culprits] or back their role in Syria ... because these are not revolutionaries or an opposition but terrorists,” he added. “Those who launch direct or indirect stances accusing the Lebanese Army and its Intelligence [branch], slow it down or pressure it at the moral, personal or sectarian levels when it is confronting them [terrorists] are partners in every terrorist act of killing of our people and Lebanese society,” he said. He also warned that Muslim sects in Lebanon faced the same threat from jihadist groups. “The danger that takfiri groups pose to the Sunni sect and Lebanese is no less than the danger ... against the Shiites despite the different methods used,” he said.
Lebanon has seen a spate of car bombings linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria. Jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front in Lebanon have claimed responsibility for the attacks, vowing similar actions until Hezbollah ends its military campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, representative in the Future Movement including former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and MP Bahia Hariri condemned the bombing in Hermel, describing it as a repercussion of the Syrian war. “The Lebanese people seem to have a rendezvous every day with a crime that targets them but not by Israel, our [pan-Arab] and national enemy, but due to the [effects of] the conflict in Syria on Lebanon,” Siniora said, commenting on the attack in Hermel. “We strongly condemn these terrorist crimes but denouncing alone does not suffice. The Lebanese people want to see actions and not words,” he said. “The actions would be to take steps to truly distance Lebanon from the crisis in Syria and be realistic,” he added. The Future Movement, which leads the March 14 coalition, has repeatedly warned of the consequences of Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and called for respecting the Baabda Declaration which seeks to distance the country from the war next door. “The protection of Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis is [achieved] through Lebanese unity and the backing of the state and its political, military and security institutions so that they can confront terrorism and crime,” Siniora said. “But essential steps also need to be taken concurrently. First, Hezbollah needs to withdraw from the fighting in Syria and return to Lebanon. Secondly, the security of the Lebanese-Syrian borders should be handed over to the Lebanese Army with backing from international peacekeepers,” he added.Hariri, for her part, said the blast in Hermel as well as recent border attacks on Lebanese regions indicated that the country as a whole was being targeted with the aim of sowing strife. “The terrorist bombing that struck Hermel again is another crime against all the Lebanese and is an addition to previous explosions in different regions and attacks on border areas, the most recent of which was Akkar and prior to that Arsal,” she said. “It is clear that Lebanon is the one target and the aim is apparent: to sow the seeds of strife between the sons of the one nation,” she added. The Sidon politician said the state needed to take steps to increase efforts to “fortify the internal arena and protect the borders.” The Lebanese, she also said, “needed to cling and hold onto their unity and peace and show more insistence that Lebanon remain [a country] of pluralism and coexistence.”
“We offer our condolences and condemn these bombings and attacks and offer our condolences to the families of martyrs in Hermel and Akkar,” the lawmaker said. Meanwhile, president Michel Sleiman said officials and citizens should draw lessons from the recent bombings in Lebanon and act in ways that best serve the country. “I hope the Lebanese, the leaderships and public opinion, will learn a lesson from the criminal and terrorist acts that are claiming the lives of victims, leaving destruction and [placing] anxiety in the souls [of the Lebanese people],” Sleiman said in a statement. He also urged political leaders to be aware of the risks facing Lebanon and “act for the best of the national interest by bolstering the unity of the country, maintaining the approach of dialogue and coming together for the sake of our country, peoples’ interests and rights to decent and secure lives.”
The president also urged judicial and security authorities to make the utmost efforts to arrest those behind the Hermel bombing and bring them to justice.
Aoun rejects Salam’s final Cabinet offer
February 03, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam looks set to announce early this week an all-embracing Cabinet after MP Michel Aoun’s rejection of his eleventh-hour offer to reserve two key ministerial portfolios to the Free Patriotic Movement in exchange for abandoning the Energy Ministry, a senior political source said Sunday. “Salam presented Aoun with a take-it-or-leave-it offer, proposing in addition to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Education or Public Works Ministry be allotted to the FPM in exchange for Aoun giving up the Energy portfolio” the source told The Daily Star. “But Gen. Aoun has rejected the offer outright,” the source said. Despite rejection, a source close to the FPM said Aoun would make a counterproposal to Salam soon. The decision to go ahead with announcing a Cabinet even without Aoun’s approval was apparently taken after Salam held an unexpected meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s residence Sunday night. A national unity Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup is deemed crucial to cope with a deteriorating security situation, including the wave of car bombings and suicide attacks that has rattled Lebanon recently, threatening to plunge the country deeper into the turmoil in Syria. Salam has adopted the principle of the rotation of ministerial portfolios among sects and political parties since he was named prime minister-designate on April 6, a plan backed by President Michel Sleiman. The concept of rotating ministerial portfolios was part of an 8-8-8 Cabinet deal reached by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the Future Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt. If Salam goes ahead with forming an all-embracing political government based on an 8-8-8 lineup without the approval of Aoun, this risks the possibility of the FPM leader withdrawing his ministers from the Cabinet. Ministers of his ally Hezbollah could also quit the government. With the Lebanese Forces’ decision not to join an all-embracing Cabinet with Hezbollah, an FPM walkout would present a problem of Christian representation, even though the Kataeb Party has said it would participate. It also risks it failing to gain a vote of confidence from Parliament.
Salam made the offer in separate meetings with caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, in the latest attempt to untangle the knot over Aoun’s opposition to the rotation of key ministerial portfolios. During his meeting with Bassil and Khalil, Salam offered to distribute the four sovereign ministerial portfolios – Interior, Defense, Finance and Foreign Affairs – equally between the rival March 8 and March 14 camps. Salam proposed that the Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries be allotted to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, while the Interior and Defense ministries be reserved for the March 14 coalition. Salam spoke Saturday by phone with Aoun, who had complained that the premier-designate did not consult with him on the Cabinet formation efforts.
Salam, under growing local and foreign pressure to form a Cabinet, said the unstable security situation underlined the urgency of a new government. “The security situation demands a government [be formed] today not tomorrow,” Salam told Al-Manar TV. He said efforts to form a new Cabinet were ongoing. “Anyone who says that Salam did not act to narrow differences is wrong,” he added.
Earlier Sunday, a source close to Salam said some progress had been made in the eleventh-hour negotiations to resolve the row over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios, the last remaining hurdle that has held up the formation of a national unity Cabinet. Ex-premier Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, discussed the Cabinet formation efforts with Sleiman Saturday. He reiterated the Future Movement’s insistence on rotating ministerial portfolios in a new Cabinet. Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai criticized politicians who insist on retaining certain ministerial portfolios. While condemning Saturday’s suicide bombing in the northeastern city of Hermel that killed four people, including the bomber, Rai blamed the rival political parties, who he said were blocking the formation of a new Cabinet, for the wave of car bombings that struck Lebanon recently. “Once again, we hold the political parties responsible for all these crimes because they do not acknowledge that the state is [meant] to serve the citizens and that its constitutional institutions are [meant] to serve the citizens and are not for [politicians] to dominate these institutions,” Rai said in a sermon after leading Sunday’s Mass in Bkirki. “We hold responsible all those who reject reconciliation and understanding and all those who are obstructing the formation of a new government, whose aim is [to serve] human beings, rather than [sharing] ministerial portfolios, and are threatening or planning for a presidential vacuum,” he added. Aoun and the March 8 coalition have warned of dire consequences of forming a fait accompli government on the country’s security, which is increasingly threatened by the repercussions of the nearly three-year war in Syria. The FPM leader has escalated his stance in the past few days, insisting on retaining the Energy Ministry for Bassil, while calling on Salam to step aside after failing in 10 months to form a new Cabinet. Aoun contends that the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios aims only at stripping his bloc of the Energy Ministry, which Bassil considers as a “guarantee” for the Christians. Salam has chosen Dany Qabbani, a lawyer close to the premier-designate, for the post of the energy minister.
Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud: Israel is an
important player in the Mideast
Eldad Beck/Ynet news/Eldad Beck
Published: 02.02.14,/If peace deal with Palestinians is reached, Israel would have significant role in Middle East, says Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who further urges sides to not wait 'another 60 years'.
A senior Saudi prince has hinted that a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians could pave the way to a normalization of relations with the Saudi Kingdom. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud said during the security conference currently underway in Munich that Israel could be a very important "player" in the region if a deal is reached. According to him, the matter needs to be pushed forward and should not wait "another 60 years." Turki bin Faisal Al Saud reportedly praised both US Secretary of State John Kerry and chief Israeli peace negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni .He reportedly made the comments during a panel on nuclear proliferation in the Mideast, and proceeded to slam Syrian President Bashar Assad for crimes against humanity aimed against his own people. He also slammed Iran, Hezbollah , Russia and China for their support of the Syrian regime. "Kerry is doing a wonderful job," Turki said, adding he is worthy of praise. The senior prince who also headed the kingdom's intelligence service said that Kerry is breaking new travel records with his 49 trips to the region. He said Kerry has proven he is committed and is somewhat of an "energizer bunny." During a panel on Saturday, Turki also praised Livni and asked her why Israel is reluctant to embrace the Saudi peace initiative. During the session, Turki also pressed Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat about the agreements reached with Israel during the Taba talks held before the Second Intifada. Erekat did not give a direct answer. A few years ago, Turki was caught in a bind when then deputy-foreign minister Danny Ayalon turned to the Saudi prince, who was sitting in the audience, and beseeched him to shake his hand in front of the packed hall; an embarrassed Turki reluctantly agreed.
Turki's comments highlight growing sectarian tensions in the Mideast. Only over the weekend, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai quoted a senior US State Department official as saying that the Iranian regime now views Saudi Arabia as its most serious enemy, and surprisingly not Israel or the US. According to him, Iranian officials have told him behind closed doors that the US and Israel are not involved in Syria, thus the real problem is Saudi Arabia, and more openly, Turkey.Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who also spoke at the Munich security conference, warned about Syria turning into a base-country for radical terrorists, a matter which would pose a threat to the entire Middle East: "Terror and extremism are a threat to all of us. The threat approached us as well. Who is responsible for it? (President) Bashar Assad, by making this mess on our doorstep
US and Iran meet privately, in public agreement on stakes of nuclear talks
By MICHAEL WILNER/J.Post/02/02/2014/
WASHINGTON -- US Secretary of State John Kerry held rare, private discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, where the two top diplomats discussed the next phase of negotiations over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. The next round of talks, now oriented towards a comprehensive solution to the decade-old nuclear crisis, will take place in Vienna on February 18.
A senior State Department official said Kerry "made clear" to Zarif "that the United States will continue to enforce existing sanctions" during the closed-door meeting. The official also said Kerry pressed Zarif on the importance of abiding by an interim deal that took effect last month. That interim deal, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action, effectively caps Iran's high-level nuclear work for six months in exchange for $7 billion in sanctions relief. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates the nuclear talks with Iran on behalf of the P5+1– the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany– welcomed the bilateral meeting.
"It is incredibly important that as the international community now looks to build towards the comprehensive talks, that the dialogue is taking place and that we're working out how to develop a comprehensive approach to this," she told reporters in Munich. But Republican US Senator John McCain sounded a cautious note, saying Iran had a long record of deception, and accusing Iran of cheating. "Rouhani bragged to one of his media outlets how he had deceived the Americans and negotiators when he was a negotiator," he told the Munich conference.
"Construction continues around Arak, the centrifuges, 19,000 of them continue to spin, and most importantly implicit in this agreement is the right to enrich," McCain added.
McCain is one of over three-dozen Republicans in Congress who have joined 16 Democrats in support of a bill that would trigger sanctions tools against Iran should negotiations fail to reach a comprehensive agreement within a year.
In a letter dated January 26 obtained by POLITICO this week, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said the sanctions legislation in Congress would "rob [the US] of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course.”
"If the world judges– rightly or wrongly– that negotiations have collapsed because of actions in the United States Congress," Clinton continued, "even some of our closest partners abroad – to say nothing of countries like Russia and China– may well falter in their commitment."
Iranian Zarif said at the conference on Sunday that it would be a "disaster for everybody" if the negotiations failed to achieve a lasting agreement. But in a separate interview, Zarif added that Iran was not prepared to give up research on centrifuges used to purify uranium as part of a final nuclear deal.
"It's just the beginning of the negotiations for a final agreement. It is the first step of the final step and I expect it to take some time," he said. "We are ready because we believe it is in our interests and we have no other intention. So theoretically it shouldn't be that difficult. "The detail may be a bit more difficult to achieve," he added, "so we will see."
The latest diplomatic talks between Iran the US haven't quelled all fears of the Iranian threat, however.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) wrote a letter to European Union high representative Catherine Ashton last week expressing deep concern that EU trade delegations were preparing to open "extensive" channels for business with the Islamic Republic. “Given the importance of continued US-EU cooperation on Iran, I am deeply troubled by recent reports of EU member states sending or preparing to send extensive government and trade delegations to Iran,” Shaheen wrote in the letter dated January 30.
“Delegations to Iran, including those from Europe, are premature and represent a step in the wrong direction as P5+1 negotiators work toward a comprehensive agreement that fully addresses the world’s concerns over the Iranian nuclear program,” she wrote. Asked on Friday about the letter, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said reiterated that Iran is "not open for business."
"We’ve had Under Secretary of Treasury David Cohen traveling around to different countries, talking to them about what exactly is in the Joint Plan of Action and what isn’t – we’ve had State Department folks involved in that as well," Harf said. "Because we’ve been very clear that as the Joint Plan of Action is implemented, we need to keep communicating with our partners around the world who helped us put in place the sanctions architecture."Reuters contributed to this report.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards threaten US after Kerry
says military option is ‘ready’
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/J.Post/01/27/2014 01:49
Tehran shoots down idea that IAEA will set up office there; Comments by secretary of state are ‘more like a bluff,’ says senior adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei.The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj.- Gen. Muhammad Ali Jafari, threatened the US with a strong military response after American Secretary of State John Kerry said a military option to counter the country’s nuclear drive was “ready.” “You could never understand the extent of the invasive capacity of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Jafari said Saturday according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. “Mr. Kerry must know that direct battle with the US is the biggest dream of pious and revolutionary people across the world. Your threats offer our revolutionary people the best opportunity,” he said. He went on to say that “wise” American politicians would most likely prevent use of the “ridiculous military option.”Kerry, in an exclusive interview with the Al Arabiya website on Thursday, said that if Iran did not abide by its commitments with world powers, “the military option of the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do.”
Multiple senior Iranian officials responded to Kerry’s remarks.
“The Americans are well aware that if they make a mistake, the Islamic Republic’s response will be crushing and devastating and in other words, we will give a response with a wider radius,” Yadollah Javani, a senior official of the Revolutionary Guards, told Fars on Sunday. “The Islamic Republic can attack all the US interests in the region and they will never be able to show a proportionate reaction....”
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Iran would increase its military budget following Kerry’s comments. “Today, you heard Kerry’s remarks and saw his saber-rattling against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we should fully understand this sensitivity and take practical measures against it,” Larijani told Iranian lawmakers on Saturday, Fars reported. Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said Kerry’s comments were “more like a bluff,” Iran’s TUSasnim News Agency reported on Sunday. “Obviously, the Americans have no such power (to launch an attack on Iran). If they did, they would not have been expelled from Iraq and Afghanistan in such a totally weakened state,” Velayati said. Meanwhile, Reza Najafi, Iran’s representative to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), shot down the nuclear watchdog’s idea of setting up an office in Tehran, saying there was no need, according to Iran’s Mehr News. “We believe that given the scope of our nuclear activity, there is no need for the IAEA to open an office in Tehran like in Japan and Canada,” Najafi said on Saturday, pointing out that Iran had not received such a request. Confirming a Reuters story from earlier this month, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano told a news conference on Friday that the agency might ask Iran’s permission to set up a temporary office there for logistical purposes. The IAEA already inspects Iranian nuclear facilities regularly to make sure there is no diversion of material for military purposes. That work will now increase.
Until now, the IAEA had one or two teams of two inspectors each in Iran most of the time, as well as experts working on the Iran file at its Vienna headquarters.
“We will need to nearly double the staff resources devoted to verification in Iran,” Amano said. “We will need to significantly increase the frequency of the verification activities which we are currently conducting.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
Report: Hamas calls back Gaza rocket prevention force
02/02/2014/ By JPOST.COM STAFF/J.Post
Hamas has withdrawn its security force responsible to preventing rocket launches at Israel from the Gaza Strip, AFP reported on Sunday. "The field forces that are posted near the border with Israel were withdrawn yesterday evening to protest the latest escalation and Israeli attacks against Gaza," a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity. The special rocket prevention source that was withdrawn consisted of 600 personnel, the source said. Regular Hamas security forces remained stationed along the border with Israel, according to the source. Last month the IDF reported a dramatic increase in terror activity from Gaza during the month of January. Fourteen rockets landed in southern Israel, and five were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system as they were approaching the area surrounding Ashkelon in the first month of the year. Hamas announced last month that it would never accept the two-state solution or give up “one inch of the land of Palestine.”Its announcement came in response to statements attributed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the effect that the Islamist movement that rules over the Gaza Strip had “authorized” him to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines. Hamas said it never gave Abbas or anyone else a mandate to agree to the two-state solution. Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
Bullying tactics by Kerry and Europeans fuel anti-Israel
terror, stir boycott threats
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis February 2, 2014/US Secretary of State John Kerry freely used scare tactics, such as a fresh Palestinian “intifada,’ international boycotts and isolation, to cow Israel into signing on the dotted line when the framework accord he has drawn up is submitted to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. At the Munich Security Conference Saturday, Feb. 1, “Mr. Interim agreement,” as he is known in diplomatic circles for his partial deals on Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical arsenal, Kerry snapped back at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s claim to have brought Israel a period of relative calm, by calling it “an illusion.”
Clearly, this was just a mild foretaste of the coercive tactics in store for Israel when the time comes round to approve a final accord with the Palestinians. “Boycotts of Israel are amoral and unjustified and will not achieve their aims,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday, Feb. 2: "First of all, they cause the Palestinians to become entrenched behind their intransigent positions and push peace farther away, and secondly, no pressure will cause me to give way on Israel’s vital interests, first and foremost the security of its citizens."
His comments were quickly rejected by the State Department. The Secretary was merely describing the situation exactly as it is, said a spokesperson, and his record of dedication to Israel's security goes back three decades.
However, DEBKAfile’s sources note with comparable accuracy that since Kerry last year warned Israel of a new intifada, Palestinian terrorist strikes against Israeli targets have proliferated for the first time in years.
It is a matter of record that Israel-Palestinian peacemaking has always had its flip side. The aftermath of a former framework accord, which actually got signed by both sides in Oslo, vividly illustrated the recurring cycle of one peace process after another breaking down under escalating Palestinian terrorist violence followed by expanded Jewish settlement.
In accordance with the Declaration of Principles on Interim (Palestinian) Self-Government signed in Oslo in 1993, Israel dissolved its military government in Palestinian areas in 1995 and turned over the seven main cities of Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron – and virtually all the West Bank’s 1.4 million Palestinians - to Palestinian jurisdiction.
Yet terrorist attacks never abated and, in 2000, the year Israel offered Yasser Arafat independence in the Gaza Strip and 92 percent of the West Bank with east Jerusalem its capital, the Palestinian leader declared open war on the Jewish state with his “Al Aqsa Intifada” and years of death and destruction by suicide bombings and burnt buses.
So the charge of “occupation” does not exactly stand up even to the most cursory scrutiny – especially when the West Bank came under Israeli control in the first place as as the result of a defensive war fought and won against multiple Arab armies.
In the electrically charged Middle East climate, Kerry’s threats quickly became self-fulfilling prophecies.
His warning in Munich Saturday of an international boycott was followed the next day by news of Sweden’s Nordea Bank and Denmark’s Danske Bank, the largest banks in their respective countries, serving together over 16 million customers, actually blacklisting one of Israel’s three biggest banks, Bank Hapoalim, for maintaining branches “across the Green Line.”
The other two, Leumi and Mizrahi-Tefahot, faced the “demand” to “immediately make public their operations in the West Bank” – as though they were kept secret and owed Scandinavia an accounting.
However, pushing the button for the escalation of Palestinian terrorism and thespread of boycott action by pro-Palestinian financial and academic institutions was in line, DEBKAfile’s sources report, with US-EU tactics for building up a volume of international and Israeli public high enough to scare Netanyahu into bowing to American dictates.
The US Secretary appears confident that his bullying won’t go too far or cause Israel irreparable harm. But he may not have taken into account that in this neighborhood, there is always a volunteer ready to strike the match for blowing up a combustible situation, especially after the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas laid the kindling and Kerry and the European Union’s Catherine Ashton heaped on the fuel.
At the same time, Israel holds two powerful weapons for fighting back, provided it has the will to deploy and use them: the IDF has time and again proved its mettle against terrorism; and US Jewry coupled with American popular support could defeat BDS – the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
There is no need of a grand announcement to launch a counter-BDS campaign. It is enough for American Jewish or other sympathetic banks and academic institutions to quietly make the punishment for boycotters fit the crime.
European bankers queuing in Tehran for post-sanctions business, while at the same time, boycotting Israeli banks doing business on the West Bank, should find themselves ostracized by American Jews.
The Danish and Swedish banks which blacklisted Israel institutions should see the backs of American business partners. British manufacturers and exporters who refuse to take orders from Israeli customers should see their goods pilling up unsold in American stores.
This battle demands clear-sighted, focused policies. What can’t work any longer is Netanyahu’s method of juggling all his options between right, left and center in the air, in the framework of a broad-based coalition government.
Last week, the pro-settlement minister of trade and industry, Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), condemned the prime minister’s peace policy from the right-wing perceptive. This week, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) pulled the government in the opposition direction.
Bennett scored points in the prime minister’s own camp by blasting him for proposing to leave Jewish settlements under Palestinian jurisdiction. Lapid, who is already losing ground by behaving like a political amateur, is losing more points by cutting budget allocations to West Bank settlements and warning that international boycotts will throw thousands of Israelis out of work.
Lapid is seen as supporting US-EU intimidation efforts.
Persecution of Christians in the Muslim world: We are what we tolerate
By QANTA AHMED/J.Post/01/30/2014 04:45
The erosion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa region daily escalates.During my first visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, a quotation caught my eye.
Attributed to German Jewish essayist Kurt Tucholsky, I scribbled it down: “A country is not only what it does, it is also what it tolerates.”
I found myself thinking not of collaborators during the Nazi era, but of Muslims during the Islamist era. Christian persecution in the Muslim World goes unremarked upon in the Muslim world. Yet Christian existence in the Middle East, the very region where Christianity first arrived to world, is today imperiled to a degree formerly unseen in its history.
The erosion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa region daily escalates. Rabid political Islamism, which both calls for the elimination of Christians from formerly pluralistic societies and seeds a climate ripe for sectarian violence, drives the exodus of Christians from the region.
Visiting persecuted Christians in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it’s the silence that strikes me most. British nurses hide crucifixes from view; Filipino nurses furtively read banned Christmas catalogues; Christian physicians whisper their weekend plans, referring to church services as “gatherings” at diplomatic compounds; Christian Pakistani matrons scheduling the nursing rota risk false accusations of blasphemy – charges which could result in death.
All these Christians, my colleagues and friends, live in dire peril for expressing their religious observation.
While Saudi Arabia is religious oppressor par excellence, intolerance of Christians elsewhere has exceeded even this kingdom. Recent atrocities against Christians culminated in the triple bombing of Christians in Iraq on Christmas Day, just as mass graves in Central African Republic were uncovered, the sites of Islamist rebel massacres of predominantly Christian communities.
Syrian Christians, long protected by Syrian President Bashar Assad, bear the ultimate price at the hands of rebel Islamists. Egyptian Islamist have destroyed 43 Orthodox churches and attacked 207 churches in the past year alone. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where there is no Arab Spring, where democracy is mature, Christian persecution is as integral to daily Pakistani life as the weather. In 2013 alone, Pakistan witnessed the razing of 178 homes in Christian residential area Joseph Colony in Lahore and the execution of 82 Christians at worship at Peshawar’s historic All Saints Church, leaving another 200 congregants wounded.
Instead of sheltering minorities, Pakistan has become their de facto executioner. Across the wider MENA region, religious intolerance is becoming a sentinel part of Muslim identity.
Observing the daily carnage befalling Christians I return to my memories of Father Edward Joseph at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest Catholic diocese. Walking around the empty cathedral, Father Joseph showed me the damage from a 1998 bombing. A Pakistani jihadist had detonated the device in the congregation just after mass. While no one was injured, many stained-glass windows were blown out.
Fourteen years on, the congregation remains unable to afford restoration.
In such a hostile climate of persecution, where congregants could be charged with blasphemy at any time and face grave charges, incarceration, lynching or worse, I asked how he galvanized his flock. “I tell them very simply: just as Christ had his cross to bear, so too do we,” he said. Father Joseph considers Islamist persecution his personal cross.
Islamism imperils not only Christians, but all minorities.
Islam, which reveres Mary the mother of Jesus, which values the Injeel (Gospel) and the Torah as the Word of God, and holds holy Jesus, Moses and Aaron is itself in jeopardy from the Islamists who would have us deny our brotherhood with Christianity.
Is this what we tolerate, Muslims? Is this who we are? It’s time we respond to the suffering of our fellow Christian and shelter him from persecution. The persecution of Christians whether in body, or of soul, is not the Cross of his devoted congregations, but our own Cross. As Muslims we must ease this burden, or risk becoming ourselves that which we tolerate.
The writer is the Author of In the Land of Invisible Women, and a Templeton Cambridge Journalism Fellow.
Follow her on twitter @MissDiagnosis
Munich conference: All talk, no action
By: Ronen Bergman/02.02.14, 23:52 / Israel Opinion
Analysis: Half empty auditorium at annual security conference indicates Syria crisis is not about to be solved soon, as no one really has the energy to deal with it anymore.
The place: The main auditorium in the annual international Munich Security Conference.
The time: Friday evening.
The participants convened to discuss the unending genocide in Syria. But there was a problem: There were not enough participants.
The solution: The announcer asked the guests on the external balconies to come join the audience of VIPs sitting downstairs. The occupancy in the auditorium was so low and so many vacant seats were left that it created an embarrassing situation. They had to find a way to fill up the rows. And here we essentially have the allegory for the entire event: Last year the same session was held with the same people (more or less) and at the same time – and many remained outside the auditorium because there were too many participants.
The West still had fire in its belly over the Syrian issue and the mediator on behalf of the UN, Lakhdar Brahimi, was full of energy and optimism. But this time, the international community simply couldn’t care less.
he Syrian massacre is no longer really interesting. The look on Brahimi's face in front of the half empty auditorium said it all: He appeared weak, exhausted, and most of all – hopeless. He had just arrived from the summit meeting in Switzerland, which attempted to unite all the elements involved in the Syrian crisis, and was forced to admit that the conference did not really achieve anything: The Americans gave excuses, the Syrian opposition heads continued to wipe the tears, and the Russians made it clear to everyone that they would continue supporting Assad. The general message was clear: This crisis is not about to be solved soon. And the reason is that no one really has the energy to deal with it anymore.
The Munich Security Conference, the most important forum in the world dealing with foreign relations and national security issues, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. There is no doubt that the atmosphere is festive and joyful. But if a bit of the festivity covering is rubbed off, very little progress is revealed on the really urgent issues: Syria is one matter, the Russian-sponsored oppression of masses in Ukraine is another. And Snowden's revelations about the United States' collection of information are mentioned only sometimes, in a slight hint, like a wound which must not even be approached.
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon arrived in Munich after visiting Berlin. In a series of closed briefings he gave members of the government and media there, he surprised his listeners very much and continued slamming the US harshly. Some of those present were under the impression that Ya'alon was quite satisfied with the commotion created by his remarks as they were published in Yedioth Ahronoth, and that he didn't seem to regret it. "Just like the Americans don't understand how offended the Germans really were by their spying on German officials, Ya'alon doesn’t understand the meaning of American rage bearing a grudge," I was told by a German government official who met the defense minister.In order to stress that he had not forgotten what Ya'alon said, US Secretary of State Kerry took the trouble to mention them, saying that the Americans were not messianic or obsessive as they were called, but "we are just working hard."
Two intriguing addresses will conclude the conference on Sunday – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's and Israeli Defense Minister Ya'alon's. Perhaps these two will surprise and end the conference with a surprising peace offer to each other.
Former head of the U.N. investigation into Rafik Hariri’s assassination, Mehlis still thinks Syria behind Hariri’s killing
February 03, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The former head of the U.N. investigation into Rafik Hariri’s assassination said he still believes the Syrian regime was behind the killing of Lebanon’s five-time prime minister.
“We were convinced that the Syrian regime was involved, and I still think this is true,” said Detlev Mehlis, the first commissioner of the UNIIIC, the body set up by the Security Council to investigate the Valentine’s Day 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others. In an interview with The Daily Star, Mehlis discussed the start of trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court set up to try those responsible for the attack, the value of holding the trial in absentia, the possibility of Al-Qaeda’s involvement in the killing, and the reliability of the prosecution’s telecommunications evidence. Mehlis headed the UNIIIC, the tribunal’s precursor, from May 2005 until January 2006. He is currently the senior public prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office in Berlin. Mehlis expressed support for the tribunal, but said it had to put the perpetrators of the attack behind bars and shed light on the motive behind Hariri’s killing. “I don’t think now is the time for criticism, now is the time to support the tribunal,” he told The Daily Star. “I think the STL has to deliver the motive of the assassination, it has to identify the middlemen and the masterminds and bring them to justice.” “I think that’s also what the Lebanese public expects and hopes for,” he said. The STL has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with Hariri’s assassination. Trial for four of the suspects began last month at the tribunal’s headquarters near The Hague. None of the suspects have been arrested. Mehlis said that trial in absentia was valuable as an avenue for victims and their families to express themselves in court.
“Trial in absentia is not the best, but it’s the second best, and I think it also shows the Lebanese public that this case is not forgotten,” he said. “It also shows that the international community is still, after nine years, willing to identify and to sentence the suspects and to bring the perpetrators behind bars.”Under Mehlis, the UNIIIC said that converging evidence pointed to both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in Hariri’s killing. But the STL has largely abandoned the Syrian track of the investigation, with no reference to Syrian complicity in the indictment. However, Mehlis said he did not view the development as a change of track in the investigation.
“We always talked of three layers of responsibility: the operative side, the middlemen, the masterminds,” he said. “Until now I have not seen any contradiction.”Mehlis’ first report said the assassination must have been carried out by a group that had extensive logistics, considerable resources and capabilities, but did not name any such organization that may have been involved. Mehlis said there were few groups in Lebanon with such capabilities, but added that there was no evidence at the time linking Hezbollah to the assassination. His report had identified a group of eight cellphones linked to the attack. The backbone of the prosecution’s case at trial is a massive tranche of telecommunications data that allegedly ties members of Hezbollah to telephones used to track and assassinate Hariri.
Mehlis expressed satisfaction that the telecommunications lead was followed and used to identify some of those allegedly involved in the assassination. But he also defended his own findings, which he said were built on credible investigations and testimony. He said he did not know why other tracks in the investigation, including evidence pointing to Syrian involvement, were not pursued further. “Our assessment at that time was definitely not based on a single witness or two witnesses,” he said. “It was an assessment of all the evidence we had on hand.”
Mehlis said that the prosecution has to focus on identifying the individuals behind the attack rather than accusing groups or states, but said that it was illogical to divorce the crime from its political background. “As we were certain that it was a politically motivated assassination, of course you had to look into the background,” he said. “Which group or which government was behind the assassination for political reasons? What were the political motives?” Mehlis’ reports at the time when he headed the commission pointed to evidence of Syrian involvement in the killing, set against the political tensions between Hariri and the regime of President Bashar Assad. But the STL’s indictment does not outline a motive for the attack.Mehlis said a motive was a necessary element when trying such a crime.
“I expect this will come later, because without a motive it will be difficult to have a case,” he said. “I’ve never seen an assassination brought to court without a motive.”
Mehlis also expressed surprise that some observers doubt the value of the telecommunications evidence, describing it as “solid” and “extremely reliable.”“We are sentencing people to life imprisonment based on DNA analysis and telecommunications, [though] of course it has to be evaluated, if it’s reliable or not,” he said. “I’m surprised that some individuals claim telecommunications data are not reliable. They are more reliable than any witnesses who over the years forget or change their stories.”Mehlis also broached the accusations against former intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan, Hariri’s former top bodyguard who was absent from the convoy on the day of the assassination because he was attending an examination. Shortly before the start of trial, Al-Jadeed aired an interview with Bo Astrom, a former UNIIIC investigator under Mehlis, who said that Hasan’s unusual absence from Hariri’s convoy on the day of the assassination was suspicious. Hasan was assassinated in a car bomb attack in October 2012 while driving in Ashrafieh. Mehlis said Hasan’s involvement in Hariri’s murder was “not a credible scenario.”“Of course we had the fact he was not in the convoy, and we checked why not and we didn’t have the slightest hint that he was involved,” he said.
“We looked into every open door,” he added. Mehlis confirmed that he had also investigated the possibility of Al-Qaeda’s involvement in Hariri’s killing, but there was neither a motive nor any “indications” pointing to the terror network’s involvement. Mehlis expressed satisfaction that eight years after the commission began its work, the case was finally being brought to trial. But he said the evidence that his team uncovered of alleged Syrian involvement, and which showed that the assassination was not a “purely Lebanese affair,” was the original impetus for establishing an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the crime.
Officials, including those in his native Germany, did not initially believe that Syria could take the plunge and assassinate the former prime minister of a neighboring state, he said, adding that the Syrian regime’s response to the uprising in its own country showed what it was capable of. “The reason to have the STL established was that apparently there was outside involvement in the assassination, and I still think this is true,” he said.
Whoever thinks Assad will leave is deluded
By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat
US Senator John McCain was among the first to adopt the Syrian people’s cause as his own, warning that the ongoing conflict will not disappear if the US just turns its back on it. As things happened, everything he predicted and warned about has turned out to be right. He warned that not supporting the opposition would give the Syrian regime the impression that it has a green light to act beyond any limits, that it would reject negotiations and continue indulging in committing brutal crimes. He warned that chaos in Syria would attract terrorist groups and that letting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fight Assad’s well-equipped army alone would be a loss to the world. He described Russia’s, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s interventions as dangerous expansions that one must not remain silent about in the already turbulent Middle East and that it would export war to the rest of the region.
Almost everything he said has become a reality. Syria is a failed state today and a hotbed for Iranians, Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is a war in which the regime has used a variety of banned weapons. It has shelled cities and towns using jets, cannons, tanks, chemical weapons and explosive barrels. Despite this systematic murder, supported by the Russians and the Iranians, the international community has done virtually nothing in response. Syria’s war has indeed expanded, now threatens Turkey, Lebanon, and even Jordan. Al-Qaeda-affiliated ISIS now moves around freely between Syria and Iraq, recruiting thousands of youths who will later fight outside Syria. Senator McCain said on Saturday that the Geneva conference was doomed to fail because of Assad’s reliance on military supremacy, adding that the FSA needs US support in order to shift the balance of power and save Syrians from their desperate plight. What McCain is saying is real. Assad has not allowed and will not allow food and aid to reach those who are hungry and cold. These besieged people have no aid except the little they are receiving from charitable donations, and the FSA brigades fighting by their side. Some of them have been forced to accept the governance of Al-Qaeda and ISIS who have offered their services to protect them and take care of them at a time when the major global powers have turned their back on them.
The US must understand that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates like ISIS are the only hope for the millions of people besieged and confronting death through hunger, cold or gunfire. Ever since its expulsion from Afghanistan in 2001, Al-Qaeda has found no haven or greeting place like the one it has found in Syria today—largely due to the tragedy committed by the axis of evil, Assad, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq, and the world’s betrayal of the majority of the Syrian people. Conferences in Geneva and UN envoys will not put an end to the war in Syria. The cause will grow and grow unless world powers intervene. The formula has become as follows: Assad will not win because he cannot govern the sweeping majority of the Syrian people who rebelled against him and broke the barrier of fear three years ago.
Since this majority does not have adequate weapons, it will not be able to topple the regime. The war will therefore continue and Syria will become a breeding ground for terrorism and a major exporter of chaos to the region and the world. The solution lies in forcing Assad to exit power and in supporting the FSA, which represents all Syrians whether Muslims, Christians, Arabs or Kurds, and which is willing to accept any form of civil governance imposed by the UN to democratically run the country without Assad. This opportunity is diminishing. By this I mean that the capabilities of the FSA and the Syrian National Coalition are diminishing—unless the world rises up to support them, making them the only representatives of the Syrian people, and helping them fight both Assad and Al-Qaeda.
Sense and nonsense at Geneva talks
Sunday, 2 February 2014
“We’ve just had eight days of negotiations in Geneva… I’m sorry to report there was no progress. It was very good that this has taken place, it was the first time that the government and some people who were opposing it met publicly and under the auspices of the United Nations, but we haven’t achieved anything.” - Lakhdar Brahimi
They came to Geneva, and like two ships sailing at night, they passed each other, leaving behind waves of bitterness and rancor. The delegation from Damascus looked, acted and talked as if Syria was frozen in time since the 1950’s. Dour faces, shrill voices, grandstanding and fake indignation were on display behind closed doors and in their surreal exchanges with an incredulous international media. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Bouthaina Shaaban and Co. expected a fractured maybe incoherent, or as they said an “immature” opposition delegation, but they were surprised, like most people, when they saw instead the coalition delegation led by Ahmed Jarba, presenting a coherent inclusive political alternative for a future Syria free of the depredations of the Assad regime.
But beyond the theatrics and invectives of the duo of Rambling Moallem and Shrieking Bouthaina and a sober Jarba, the tragic reality remains that nearly 1,900 people have been killed in Syria during the Geneva II “negotiations” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based pro-opposition group.
As we stated here last week, for the U.S. (and Russia) “the most important thing is that finally there is a process launched” according to a senior U.S. official speaking with journalists hours after the first round of the “process” ended. But the seasoned diplomat, after saying that not much has been accomplished, and that it is not reasonable to expect quick results added “I would not want to leave anyone the sense that we are optimistic that there will be a breakthrough in the next round or the round thereafter. This will be a long process that requires a lot of persistence on the part of the parties and the international community.”
It is true that no one anticipated political progress at Geneva II, but the “process” failed the Syrian people in another more palpable way; when the regime refused to allow humanitarian relief convoys access to besieged areas in Ghouta, East of Damascus, the old city of Homs, parts of Aleppo and others areas where emaciated people particularly children and elderly have perished and many suffer from severe malnutrition.
Syria and Russia on the ascendancy?
That nothing has been achieved at the Geneva II conference on Syria is not surprising. It is not that the gap between the negotiators is too deep; that is a given, but that the objectives are simply irreconcilable. To put it bluntly, when the opposition insists, correctly, that the purpose of the talks is to establish a “transitional governing body” for a post-Assad Syria, it is asking Assad and his representatives to negotiate themselves out of power.
“That nothing has been achieved at the Geneva II conference on Syria is not surprising. It is not that the gap between the negotiators is too deep; that is a given, but that the objectives are simply irreconcilable”
When the GenevaI communique was written more than a year ago many people thought that Assad’s demise was at hand. A year later, Assad is doing relatively well on the battlefield, (a euphemism for raising whole neighborhoods, terrorizing cities and towns by throwing barrels filled with explosives from helicopters on schools, hospitals and other non-military targets, while subjecting whole residential areas to Medieval like starvation sieges) and he is more determined to cling to power.
In fact, Ibrahimi’s comment that “The government thinks they can win” is shared by America’s Intelligence community (which also says that “many insurgents” believes so too). The annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, presented to Congress few days ago states that “President Assad remain unwilling to negotiate himself out of power. Assad almost certainly intends to remain the ruler of Syria and plans to win a new seven-year term in presidential election that might occur as early as mid-2014.”
The report’s assessment of the decision by the Obama Administration to call off military strikes against Syria last summer in return for the dismantlement of Syria’s arsenal of Chemical Weapons (CW) as a result of a Russian initiative is nothing short of embarrassing to the White House. The report states that “Moscow has hailed its CW initiative in Syria as a major foreign policy accomplishment… It positions Russia to play a major role in any future settlement of the Syrian conflict and adds legitimacy to the Syrian regime.” Obviously, the State Department was not thrilled by this assessment and said so.
Dracula decrying sucking blood
The ranting of Walid Muallem and his sidekicks against the opposition and the international sinister forces trying to undermine Syria’s alleged role as a "secular" defender of Christians and other minorities and a bulwark against the machinations of Israel, the U.S. and the terror of fanatic Islamists, their old rustic, crass propaganda and buffoonery may have been outlandish, entertaining and morally repugnant, nonetheless, this maddening rhetoric was also cunningly devised. From the beginning of the peaceful uprising almost three years ago the Assad regime first invented then found its enemy of choice: Islamist terror.
They may not have been any takers early on, but there are now. And here we should say, as the non-Islamist opposition should say loud and clear, that many of the Islamist and Jihadist organizations with their dark visions and darker practices have provided Assad with an effective cover to continue his own sectarianism, while flagrantly collaborating with some of them, particularly the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to buy petroleum by-products according to credible reports in the New York Times and Britain's Guardian. American and other Western officials are aware of this.
The senior official who spoke with us noted that “It is a known fact that the regime has declined to hit the headquarters of the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State group (ISIS) in Raqqah, but they have hit plenty of other targets belonging to other armed groups in Raqqah.”
Recently the regime leaked stories claiming that some “western” countries were seeking collaboration with Damascus against Islamist terrorist organizations, and last week The Heritage Foundation, a conservative American think tank hosted a delegation of “Syrian Christian Leaders” who while refusing to blame Assad for Syria’s descent to hell, or mention the regime’s sectarian cleansing, spoke fervently against the threat of the Jihadists and their Arab sponsors and urged the U.S. to check that threat.
Rise of insurgency
With the rise of the Islamist insurgents and their wanton violence against Christians, including killing civilians, burning and destroying churches and kidnapping nuns, (and killing Muslim civilians who are deemed insufficiently pious) and their stated objective of establishing an Islamic state in Syria based on Sharia’ law, we have seen a number of former officials and pundits calling on the Obama Administration to re-assess its anti-Assad posture.
Frank G. Wisner and Leslie H. Gelb two former officials were the latest such voices. In a recent article they called on Obama to “Face the Assad Reality In Syria” which begins with realizing that the current policy will fail, and instead Washington should pressure the moderate rebels (and Assad with Russian help) and inter into a temporary alliance against the growing common enemy; the Jihadists. In December, Ryan Crocker, one of America’s best diplomats and ambassador extraordinaire with stints in Beirut, Damascus and Iraq, stirred a controversy when he declared, much to the chagrin of many of his admirers, that “Assad Is the Least Worst Option”, because the alternative is a country at “the heart of the Arab world in the hands of al-Qaeda.”
All of these views re-enforce President Obama’s well documented determination not to get involved directly in Syria. At Geneva, watching Rambling Moallem, and shrieking Bouthaina fake indignation at an ungrateful world that does not appreciate Syria’s valiant struggle against terrorism and its protection of the Christians, was akin to Dracula decrying sucking blood.
The opposition, notwithstanding the professionalism and poise of the coalition delegation in Geneva, is too fragmented on the ground, and is marred by the rise of an ugly strain of Islamism that is unabashed in its primitiveness. Moreover, the “sponsors” of the warring parties don’t share a common vision of the future of Syria and are not fully engaged or committed to push seriously for an end to the war, now that they have achieved what they consider a tactical victory by merely getting the two sides into the same room.
As long as Russia, and more importantly Iran continue their diplomatic and military support for the Assad regime, there is no reason for Assad to change his calculus. And as long as U.S. support for the opposition remains rhetorical and materially and militarily modest and not designed to change the military balance on the ground, Secretary John Kerry will not succeed in achieving his earlier objective (one that he does not repeat these days) of “changing Assad’s calculus”.
Ever since his, by now infamous “red line” to Assad concerning the use of CW, President Obama rarely volunteers comments about Syria and when he is asked about the war it is clear that he wishes the horror away, and acts as if Syria is radioactive, not to be tackled by him, since he has subcontracted his administration’s minimalist role to his indefatigable, peripatetic Secretary of State John Kerry.
In his State of the Union Address President Obama made two passing references to Syria that did not reflect the moral outrage one would expect Syria’s abomination should elicit from a thoughtful observer of history like Obama. “In Syria, we will support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks”. When all or most of the opposition was like that, they received ringing rhetorical support and shipments of food, medical supplies and communication gear. The Administration later on announced that it will provide some light arms and training, but then allowed bureaucratic complications to render the decision meaningless.
When the Islamists began to assert themselves, they provided a good excuse for the Administration not arm the (moderate) rebels for fear the weapons will end up in the wrong hands.
‘Submission or starvation’
President Obama took credit for Syria’s agreeing to dismantle its CW arsenal saying that American diplomacy “backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.” For months the Administration touted this CW victory, as if all its Syria policy revolved around it (which is mostly true) only to admit in the last few days that Syria is dragging its feet on delivering its arsenal to the port of Lattakia so that it can be dismantled on a specially fitted US ship. According to press reports, less than 5 percent of Syria’s CW was eliminated.
The dark side of this agreement (whish spared Syria’s weapon systems from destruction) is that it allowed Assad to unleash with ferocity his forces armed with conventional weapons and even unsophisticated but deadly ordinance such as the infamous barrels filled with explosives which are wreaking unspeakable physical and human destruction and terror, a tactic supplemented by a brutal policy of “submission or starvation” in Arabic الركوع او الجوع .
One would expect the U.S. and Russia to push the parties, particularly the Syrian regime to return to Geneva to continue the “process” in a second round. Yes, the Geneva’s Syria process maybe flawed, but the “sponsors” now have an investment in maintaining it since it will allow them to claim progress in posh hotels and splendid rooms on that idyllic shore of Lake Geneva, while the killing machines in Syria continue to churn out fresh bodies.
Hisham Melhem is the bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Melhem speaks regularly at college campuses, think tanks and interest groups on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, intra-Arab relations, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media , U.S. public policies and other related topics. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem