LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/False
02 Peter 02 /01-22: "False prophets appeared in the past among the people, and in the same way false teachers will appear among you. They will bring in destructive, untrue doctrines, and will deny the Master who redeemed them, and so they will bring upon themselves sudden destruction. Even so, many will follow their immoral ways; and because of what they do, others will speak evil of the Way of truth. In their greed these false teachers will make a profit out of telling you made-up stories. For a long time now their Judge has been ready, and their Destroyer has been wide awake! God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell, where they are kept chained in darkness, waiting for the Day of Judgment. God did not spare the ancient world, but brought the flood on the world of godless people; the only ones he saved were Noah, who preached righteousness, and seven other people. God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying them with fire, and made them an example of what will happen to the godless. He rescued Lot, a good man, who was distressed by the immoral conduct of lawless people. That good man lived among them, and day after day he suffered agony as he saw and heard their evil actions. And so the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials and how to keep the wicked under punishment for the Day of Judgment, especially those who follow their filthy bodily lusts and despise God's authority. These false teachers are bold and arrogant, and show no respect for the glorious beings above; instead, they insult them. Even the angels, who are so much stronger and mightier than these false teachers, do not accuse them with insults in the presence of the Lord. But these people act by instinct, like wild animals born to be captured and killed; they attack with insults anything they do not understand. They will be destroyed like wild animals, and they will be paid with suffering for the suffering they have caused. Pleasure for them is to do anything in broad daylight that will satisfy their bodily appetites; they are a shame and a disgrace as they join you in your meals, all the while enjoying their deceitful ways! They want to look for nothing but the chance to commit adultery; their appetite for sin is never satisfied. They lead weak people into a trap. Their hearts are trained to be greedy. They are under God's curse! They have left the straight path and have lost their way; they have followed the path taken by Balaam son of Beor, who loved the money he would get for doing wrong and was rebuked for his sin. His donkey spoke with a human voice and stopped the prophet's insane action. These people are like dried-up springs, like clouds blown along by a storm; God has reserved a place for them in the deepest darkness. They make proud and stupid statements, and use immoral bodily lusts to trap those who are just beginning to escape from among people who live in error. They promise them freedom while they themselves are slaves of destructive habits—for we are slaves of anything that has conquered us. If people have escaped from the corrupting forces of the world through their knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then are again caught and conquered by them, such people are in worse condition at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been much better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than to know it and then turn away from the sacred command that was given them. What happened to them shows that the proverbs are true: “A dog goes back to what it has vomited” and “A pig that has been washed goes back to roll in the mud.”
The world makes us look towards ourselves, our possessions, our desires.The Gospel invites us to be open to others, to share with the poor.
Le monde fait regarder vers nous-mêmes, l’avoir, le plaisir. L’Évangile nous invite à nous ouvrir aux autres, à partager avec les pauvres.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies,
reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources
For February 07/14
Bkirki’s “extraordinary”National Charter document: Where’s the mechanism/Daily Star/February 07/14
Obama’s Syria policy is disintegrating/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/February 07/14
On martyrdom in Lebanon/Nayla Tueni/Al Arabyia/February 07/14
Turkish financial crisis adds to region's chaos/By: David P. Goldman/Asia Times/February 07/14
Five ways to kill a Syrian/By: Raed Omari/Al Arabyia/February 07/14
Assessing U.S. Strategy in the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: A Mideast Trip Report/Robert Satloff/Washington Institute/February 07/14
Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 07/14
Lebanese Related News
New Cabinet Expected to See Light on Thursday or Saturday
Protected Witness Resumes STL Testimony on ISF Measures Taken to Preserve Hariri Crime Scene
Hezbollah: Cabinet hurdles require dynamic steps
Armed Forces Implement Security Plan in the South amid Fears of Terrorist Plots by Asir's Supporters
Bail release for three suspects in Shoueifat bombing
March 14 Christian Figures Praise 'Historic' Bkirki Treaty
Patriarch Raei calls for coexistence, president
Bkirki’s “extraordinary”National Charter document: Where’s the mechanism
Bomb Scare at Beirut's Justice Palace
Syria Conflict Spurs Growing Jihadist Threat in Lebanon
Anti-Drug Bureau Seizes Large Quantity of Captagon in Baalbek, Detains Four Syrians
Saqr Releases Five Men Detained over Choueifat Bombing
Report: Safadi to be Named for Premiership after Salam's Cabinet Collapses
Three Teens Disappear after Syrian Troops Lure Them in Wadi Khaled
Hezbollah slams MTV over Hariri, Raad sketch
Teacher ‘beaten to death’ by her husband
Alleged kidnapper and 14-year-old niece caught
Millions of Captagon pills seized in east Lebanon
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the British role
Jarba says rebels to receive advanced weapons
Syria’s Homs aid deal struck, Aleppo fighting heats up
EU, Arab states to meet over jihadists in Syria
Syria rebels seize most of Aleppo jail, free hundreds
U.N. Told Syria Chemical Weapons Destruction Too Slow
Syria Rebels Seize Most of Aleppo Jail as Bombing Toll Hits 257 Dead in 6 Days
U.N. told Syria must accelerate chemical arms shipments: envoy
Kerry is reluctant 'star' of Israeli settlers' spoof
Ultra-Orthodox Jews Battle Israel Police over the Draft
France likely to extend mission in C.African Republic: minister
Iran's Rouhani Freer to Speak but Hands Tied
Iran says it may modify Arak reactor to allay nuclear concerns
Iran Says it Can Reassure West over Nuclear Reactor
Pakistan, Taliban start peace talks in Islamabad
Swapping brains for boots in Egypt
Sochi Fail? Nobody told the athletes
Protected Witness Resumes
STL Testimony on ISF Measures Taken to Preserve Hariri Crime Scene
Naharnet/A protected witness from the Internal Security Forces resumed on Thursday his testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the role his bureau played in tackling the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. The witness' cross-examination was conducted by the Defense after he was interrogated on Wednesday by the Prosecution. Counsel for suspect Mustafa Amine Badreddine, lain Edwards, focused his questions on the measures usually followed by the ISF at the time of explosions and at crime scenes. He inquired about what rules officials follow in such cases to which the witness explained that he only occupied an administrative role at the ISF and that such measures do not fall under his jurisdiction. He did reveal however that officers did received a book of guidelines on how they should manage crime and explosion scenes. The protected witness stressed he was responsible for overseeing that the criminal experts were performing their duties at the Hariri blast site. He was asked by STL Presiding Judge Walid Akoum whether he had witnessed anyone tampering with the crime scene, to which he proceeded to describe the chaos at the site in the few hours that followed the crime. He said that several people were present at the scene, but that he could not give an exact figure of how many people were there. The witness said that he soon filed a report on the crime scene and the assassination, which he presented to the investigative judge. Edwards made a reference during his cross-examination of a report of then Deputy Inspector General and Liaison Officer of the Interior Ministry, Ashraf Rifi. In his report, Rifi was critical of the manner in which the ISF managed the crime scene, saying that the “measures taken were below the required level and contrary to the obvious fundamental basis upon which crimes as serious as this one or even less serious crimes are investigated.” Rifi's report also noted that the negligence of the crime scene continued hours after the fire at the site was extinguished. The protected witness on Wednesday was asked by the Prosecution to identify a number of pieces of evidence that were taken from the crime. The Defense on Thursday inquired about how the ISF sealed and preserved this evidence. The witness said that he does not remember if the guidelines stipulate that evidence should be sealed in a bag or envelope when they are collected. The STL session was adjourned to 11:30 a.m. Beirut time on Friday where one witness will make his testimony.
“extraordinary”National Charter document: Where’s the mechanism
February 06, 2014/The Daily Star /Lebanon’s Maronite bishops have issued a National Charter document that spells out the dangers facing the country and urges politicians to adhere to fundamental principles in order to avoid further paralysis and dysfunction. While the document, unveiled Wednesday by Patriarch Beshara Rai, is being portrayed as “extraordinary,” it would in fact be difficult to find a politician who has disagreed with any of the major points in recent years. Items such as respecting constitutional deadlines, adhering to the Taif Accord and moving ahead with a host of other matters are all part and parcel of most politicians’ daily rhetoric. Two things stand out when assessing Bkirki’s “extraordinary” stance. One is that the country lacks mechanisms of implementation. Policymakers and concerned groups around the world are capable of producing “road maps.” To the south of Lebanon, for example, people have been talking about a political road map for years, but until Israelis and Palestinians show real commitment to such a plan, it remains ink on paper. Second, Lebanon’s Christian political community itself is in need of the kind of commitment to principles that Bkirki has outlined. Wednesday’s distress call, about the need to put aside petty disputes and narrow calculations in favor of the higher national interest, should be addressed, first and foremost, to the parties that meet periodically with the patriarch under the rubric of this or that “gathering” of Christian politicians. Nobody is disagreeing with the bishops, except when it comes to how to kick-start the process and ensure that it remains durable.
Patriarch Raei calls for coexistence, president
February 06, 2014/By Dana Khraiche/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai laid out a road map Wednesday to guide Lebanon through a coming “existential crisis,” stressing the need for a timely election of a new president and Muslim-Christian partnership in running the country. Rai said that electing a new president on time was a necessary condition for a strong state and warned that power-hungry politicians implicating Lebanon in regional conflicts were leading the country into the abyss. Reading a National Charter drafted by the Maronite Church as a road map for what he described as a critical stage in the history of Lebanon and the region, the Maronite leader also stressed the need for adherence to the three principles upon which the country was established: coexistence, the National Pact and Muslim-Christian partnership. “Electing a new president as a new head of state within the constitutional deadline is not debatable and it is a prerequisite condition because its absence means an absence of the state and its future,” Rai said during a televised news conference. Rai also outlined what he said were growing concerns of the Lebanese, saying the Maronite Church could not remain quiet as the country neared an “existential crisis.”“The Lebanese should recognize that a national plan cannot be applied unless it produces a just, productive and capable state or else it will threaten the Lebanese entity,” Rai said. “Those adopting self-security measures justify them by [highlighting] the inability of the state as well the people’s right to self-defense. This leads to a scenario wherein the strongest party imposes its will on others and the other parties seek empowerment through foreign sides,” he said. Rai added that such a scenario meant Lebanon was being dragged into the “war of axes” and experiencing an unprecedented, “dangerous political paralysis.” “This is our biggest concern, and so we warn the Lebanese, particularly officials, against continuing to exclude others, remaining obstinate and power hungry, because that will only drive Lebanon to the abyss.” Rai warned some of the consequences of disrupting state institutions were the inability to draft a new electoral law and form a government as well as “fears of a vacuum in the presidential post.”
The patriarch also those criticized involving Lebanon in the matters of neighboring states without taking into consideration the repercussions for the country, reiterating his call for the adoption of “positive neutrality” toward turmoil in the region. “For a neutral Lebanon to represent its [peaceful] message it should be strong enough to defend itself ... and it should be at a distance from regional conflicts as stipulated in the Baabda Declaration,” he added. The country, Rai said, needed foundations on which a better future for the Lebanese could be built, saying officials should recognize the country’s national interest and resume National Dialogue sessions in order to resolve the current crisis. The patriarch also called for an end to the crisis in Syria through a national dialogue in which Syrians could decide their own fate. “A speedy resolution to the crisis and the return of refugees to their homes are vital Lebanese interests.”
Hezbollah: Cabinet hurdles require dynamic steps
February 06, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hezbollah Thursday urged Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to ensure the participation of its ally the Free Patriotic Movement in the next government, warning that lack of flexibility on his part risked the formation of a Cabinet that breached the National Pact. “The current opportunity should not be lost by having [someone] attempt to play smart and give [others] justification to challenge the [next] government’s adherence to the National Pact, its constitutionality or weaken its representation of national partnership,” said a statement from the Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc. “The formation of a political all-embracing government requires officials to be extra keen and more dynamic in order to overcome obstacles preventing the participation of all political parties based on their weight,” MP Hasan Fadlallah, who read the statement, said. Hezbollah, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Salam agreed last month to form an all-embracing government based on a 8-8-8 lineup as proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt. The deal also stipulated a rotation of ministerial portfolios based on party and sect. The rotation was one of Hariri’s main conditions to joining a Cabinet with Hezbollah. Aoun argues that the principle of rotation is unconstitutional and only aims at stripping his party of the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil. Hezbollah is trying to convince Aoun to accept the rotation policy in order to avoid a resignation by his ministers from the future Cabinet. Some March 8 parties are also trying to convince Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh to keep his minister in the new Cabinet even if Aoun’s ministers resign in protest. In the statement, the Hezbollah lawmakers said ongoing efforts and contacts should aim at boosting the needed cooperation between political components and “avoid further complications as we approach the presidential election which the bloc is keen on holding on time.” The bloc also confirmed its commitment to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Aoun and Hezbollah in 2006, implicitly warning that a withdrawal of FPM ministers from the government could force the party to do the same. “The historical understanding signed in February of 2006 between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement has successfully passed a number of tests in critical and difficult times due to the honesty that the two parties committed to at the leadership and organizational levels and mutual trust,” it said. The bloc also proposed that the government in cooperation with Lebanese parties draft a preemptive security plan to combat rising terrorism in the country, following a series of car bombings targeting pro- Hezbollah areas. "Given the rise of takfiri terrorism, the bloc stresses the need to carry out a nation, deterrent and pre-emptive plan by the state and its agencies with the help of Lebanese components to maintain security and stability and guarantee protection of civilians," it said. "The interest of Lebanese regardless of their affiliations requires that [we] contain this terrorism," the bloc added.
Loyalty to Resistance:
Situation Doesn't Allow Maneuvers against National Partnership in New Cabinet
Naharnet/Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc on Thursday warned against any “maneuvering” that might harm “national partnership” in the cabinet formation process, hinting that the March 8 camp will challenge the constitutionality of any government it does not approve of. “Terrorism has gone too far in threatening the Lebanese, paralyzing economy and targeting the elements of strength, in a bid to pave the ground for foreign hegemony over the country,” the bloc warned after its weekly meeting, in a statement recited my MP Hasan Fadlallah. The bloc called for “implementing a comprehensive, deterrent national plan by the official authorities and agencies, with the help of all Lebanese components, in order to preserve security, achieve stability and rein in terrorism and its crimes.”Turning to the issue of the stalled cabinet formation process, the bloc said the formation of a political, all-embracing cabinet “requires all parties to show extra keenness and dynamism in order to overcome the obstacles that prevent representing all parties according to their real political weights.”The bloc warned that the current situation “does not allow any maneuvering that might become a reason for challenging the cabinet's confessional legitimacy and constitutionality or that might harm real national partnership in terms of the structure of the government.” Loyalty to Resistance said the ongoing efforts “must be focused on broadening cooperation among all political components in order to spare the country further complications on the eve of the presidential vote, which we are keen to hold on time.”The bloc also tackled what it described as the “historic (memorandum of) understanding between Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement,” saying “it has successfully managed to overcome a lot of experiences amid critical junctures, due to the credibility of the two parties and the understanding that is based on mutual confidence.” In this regard, Loyalty to Resistance called for “broadening and enhancing this understanding, which will lead to achieving the two parties' aspirations regarding national harmony.” Commenting on the Geneva II peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition, the bloc hoped “the dialogue sessions will lead to a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people."The new government of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is expected to be announced on Thursday or over the weekend following the return of President Michel Suleiman from a trip to Tunisia. An Nahar newspaper said Thursday that Suleiman and Salam put the final touches on the cabinet lineup during a meeting at Baabda Palace on Wednesday, their second in three days. It quoted sources as saying that during their 90 minute meeting, the two officials prepared for the announcement of the decrees on a 24-member government based on the 8-8-8 formula and the rotation of portfolios. The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, the Progressive Socialist Party and al-Mustaqbal movement have struck a deal to form a cabinet in which the country's three major camps would get eight ministers each and that the portfolios would rotate among the different sects. But FPM leader MP Michel Aoun, who is a member of March 8, rejected the agreement, saying he was left out of the consultations. He has also opposed the rotation and held onto the energy ministry, which is led by his son-in-law Jebran Bassil. Sources in the March 8 and 14 alliances expected all March 8 ministers – FPM, Hizbullah, Amal, Marada and Tashnag -- to withdraw from the cabinet in support for Aoun's demands.
Hezbollah slams MTV over Hariri, Raad sketch
February 06, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hezbollah Thursday had its say on a MTV program that stirred outrage over its depiction of two Lebanese politicians in a sketch, slamming the station for breaching norms and professional standards.
During Tuesday’s airing of the weekly MTV program Hayda Haki (This is talk), a Photoshopped picture depicted Sidon MP Bahia Hariri wearing what appeared to be a bikini and dancing with her Hezbollah rival MP Mohammad Raad. “It appears that some television stations have overstepped all moral standards ... in their attempt to get across political messages, as well as increase their audience and advertisement [in the guise] of sketches,” a statement from Hezbollah’s media relations office said. “MTV’s airing of a satirical sketch of ... Raad and MP Bahia Hariri by creating a caricature is an unacceptable violation of all [standards of] of dignity and transgresses the most basic standards that the media should abide by,” the statement added. MTV and the presenter of the Hayda Haki program apologized Wednesday for their depiction of Hariri, as news emerged that the Future MP was suing the channel over the incident. The show’s host Adel Karam apologized on Twitter for what he called the unintentional violation of the religious beliefs of Hariri, who wears a hijab.Hezbollah urged the caretaker information minister and National Audiovisual Media Council to step in immediately and take action against “such persistent audacious behavior by some media.”“Apologies by the channels and those in charge will no longer do. Relevant authorities should apply the law and do whatever is necessary in terms of accountability ... as part of protecting freedom of expression, which should always take into consideration responsible freedom,” it said. Hariri has filed a lawsuit against MTV and Karam.
Lebanese Armed Forces
Implement Security Plan in the South amid Fears of Terrorist Plots by Asir's
Naharnet/The army and security forces are implementing a security plan in the South after a rise in the rate of terrorist bombings targeting Shiite areas and amid reports that the supporters of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir and other extremists would carry out attacks in southern cities and towns. Al-Joumhouria newspaper on Thursday quoted security sources as saying that the plan was in the initial implementation stage and came upon the request of the leaderships of Hizbullah and Amal movement. The military and police launched the plan 45 days ago after a green light by the governor of the South, Nicolas Bou Daher, in an attempt to thwart car bombings or attacks by suicide bombers in cities and towns in the South. A series of deadly bombings have targeted Shiite districts of Beirut's southern suburbs and the eastern Bekaa valley in recent months. Hizbullah has a strong presence in the districts, and the attacks are believed to be in retaliation for the Shiite group's armed intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad against the majority Sunni rebels seeking to topple him.
The same sources told al-Joumhouria that the plan includes the erection of checkpoints in search for stolen cars, which the terrorists are booby-trapping to target the Shiite areas.
The members of the checkpoints have the list of names of wanted individuals with ties to the latest terrorist attacks and the list of vehicles and motorcycles that have violated rules, they said. A similar security plan has been placed in the southern city of Sidon, which witnessed in June deadly gunbattles between the Lebanese army and al-Asir's gunmen. Several of his supporters have told investigators that the Salafist sheikh is hiding at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh along with Fadel Shaker, a once pop idol, who disappeared as a bearded, gun-toting hard-liner. The plan includes surveillance of the Ain el-Hilweh and Rashidiyeh camps, which both include extremists, over fears that they could target mosques in Sidon and different areas in the South, the sources said. By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter the refugee camps, leaving security inside to the Palestinians themselves.
Anti-Drug Bureau Seizes
Large Quantity of Captagon in Baalbek, Detains Four Syrians
Naharnet /The Anti-Drug Bureau confiscated on Thursday a large quantity of captagon pills and detained four Syrians over drug trafficking charges, the state-run National News Agency reported. According to a statement released by the Internal Security Forces General-Directorate, the Bekaa anti-drug bureau patrol, and after a thorough investigation, found the large quantity of captagon pills in a quarry in the town of Bajaj in north of Baalbek.
The news agency reported that the four Syrians were detained over charges of drugs possession and attempts to smuggle the quantity of captagon to an Arab country. The ISF communique identified the arrested Syrians as Z.A., 44, A.B., 29, A.B., 31, and A.M., 18. The NNA, meanwhile, said the four men are Ahmed Abdulsattar al-Bir, Imad Mohammed Yasser al-Bir, Ibrahim Hussein Mohammed, Ziad Jawdat al-Azzam.
The four suspects were transferred to the Beirut headquarters for further investigations. The forces confiscated on site a huge metallic machine that weights around 10 tons, and inside it, they found around 5 million captagon pills that were prepared to be transferred to an Arab country. These pills were placed inside steel tires, to prevent their detection by scanners on border crossings. Another 400,000 pill were also found on site and these were placed inside transparent plastic bags. It should be noted that one captagon pill is valued between 10 and 20 USD. "The competent court is currently investigating Thursday's events," the statement said. Meanwhile, military police also handed over to the anti-drug bureau in the Bekaa seven kilograms of Hashish confiscated from the residence of Rabih A. in al-Sharawneh neighborhood in the Bekaa city of Baalbek. On Wednesday, the army confiscated a quantity of narcotics from the residence of A. Gh. in the town of Jabbouleh in northern Bekaa. Security forces also thwarted an attempt to smuggle 30,000 captagon pills through Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport and bound for an Arab country.
Report: Safadi to be Named
for Premiership after Salam's Cabinet Collapses
Naharnet/Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammed al-Safadi will reportedly be appointed to form a new cabinet after the expected resignation of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam's government. According to al-Liwaa newspaper published on Thursday, Safadi will be named by Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, a move that will be supported by his March 8 allies. However, the sources said that Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat will have reservations over the suggestion. The newspaper said that the March 14 coalition is discussing the matter, without having a final stance. Salam, a 67-year-old moderate, was appointed in April two weeks after the resignation of Premier Najib Miqati. However, Salam has been facing a difficulty in forming his cabinet over Aoun's unswerving stance to retain the energy and telecommunications ministries and his rejection to adopt the concept of rotating ministerial portfolios. The nomination of the PM-designate, which was expected to help ease a political crisis that has gripped Lebanon since the conflict in Syria erupted, reached a standstill after a 10-month negotiations with the rival parties over his cabinet's lineup. Aoun slammed Salam's endeavors on Tuesday, accusing him of impeding the cabinet formation process by insisting on the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
Bomb Scare at Beirut's
Naharnet/The Justice Palace in Beirut was evacuated on Thursday after receiving a bomb threat that turned out to be a hoax, media reports said. General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud confirmed the reports. “A woman called, she was speaking in a shaky voice, and informed us that a huge explosion will occur at 12:00 p.m.,” Hammoud said in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5). He pointed out that the building was evacuated as security forces took extra measures and began searching for the alleged bomb. However, Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said that the the bomb turned out to be a hoax as security forces didn't locate any. Qortbawi expressed belief in comments to the state-run National News Agency that the phone call only aims at causing fear and intimidation and to spread rumors at the delicate stage that the Lebanese are passing through. “We ordered the evacuation of the Justice Palace as a safety measure,” he pointed out.
Saqr Releases Five Men Detained over Choueifat Bombing
Naharnet /State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr ordered on Thursday the release of five people detained over the Choueifat bombing. According to the state-run National News Agency, investigations with the five suspects showed that they have nothing to do with the Monday's blast and have no ties with the suicide bomber. Earlier on Thursday, Saqr stressed that three suspects out of the five have no links to the suicide bomber.
“The men were referred to the the Army Intelligence Directorate for further questioning over the mystery of selling a Kalashnikov by the taxi driver,” al-Joumhouria newspaper, published on Thursday, quoted Saqr as saying.
Security sources told the daily that the three men, including the taxi driver, who transported the suicide bomber from Khaldah to Choueifat denied to the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau their prior knowledge to the suicide bomber. “A dispute erupted between the suicide bomber and the taxi driver A. Gh., prompting him to get down from the car,” the sources said. The sources pointed out that the suicide bomber forgot his Kalashnikov in the taxi and after the driver found it, he sold it in cooperation with the other two detained men. Several people blocked the Khaldah – Ouzai road on Wednesday night with burning tires to protest the detention of the taxi driver, several hours after Saqr ordered the arrest of the three men. On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up on board a minibus south of Beirut Monday killing himself and wounding two people. The blast is the fifth to hit Lebanon this year, and comes after at least four people were killed on Saturday in a suicide bombing in the eastern town of Hermel. Choueifat lies south of Beirut, not far from the suburbs of the city, which have been targeted in multiple bomb attacks in past months. Explosions in Lebanon have created a climate of fear in the country, with residents increasingly nervous about unfamiliar cars and certain neighborhoods. Many have targeted strongholds of Hizbullah, which has drawn the ire of Sunni extremist groups in part because of its role fighting alongside the regime in Syria.
Syria Conflict Spurs Growing
Jihadist Threat in Lebanon
Naharnet /A string of recent bombings in Lebanon, many of them suicide attacks, has raised fears of a homegrown jihadist threat driven by the Syrian civil war across the border. Since July, a series of ten bomb blasts have hit Lebanon, six of them involving suicide bombers. The attacks have been claimed by various jihadist groups, some of them linked to organizations fighting across the border in Syria, including Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The groups say they are targeting Hizbullah for fighting in Syria alongside the regime. A Lebanese military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the growth of jihadist groups was an inevitable result of the Syrian conflict. "We were expecting it would spread here. If your neighbor's house is on fire, it's no surprise if your house catches on fire too," he told Agence France Presse. "Terrorism has begun, regardless of the reasons and causes," he said. The source said the different names of the groups meant little on the ground. "Their ideology is the ideology of al-Qaida, and al-Qaida's ideology is known for not accepting the other. All of these groups... feed on this ideology," he said. Lebanon is no stranger to violence, with a 1975-1990 civil war that included a spate of bomb attacks against Western embassies and military targets, some carried out by suicide bombers from Hizbullah. Now the tactic has returned to haunt the group, as it has been adopted by Sunni militants bitterly opposed to Hizbullah's decision to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad against a Sunni-led rebellion. "For the al-Qaida jihadists, Lebanon provided their logistical needs for Syria. Once they became more powerful and had a supportive environment, they turned the country into a land of jihad," the military source said. Neighborhoods considered Hizbullah strongholds have been bombed multiple times, with scores of civilians killed, and in August 2013 a double attack hit the Sunni town of Tripoli. In an echo of the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an anti-Syrian political figure was killed in a bombing in downtown Beirut in December.
"Lebanon has witnessed an alarming increase in jihadi activities in recent months," said Rafael Lefevre, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
"The turning point came last April when Hizbullah recognized (publicly) that it was sending fighters to help the Syrian regime crush the rebels."He said Lebanon was not yet a major jihadist base, in part because its unique religious diversity "makes the overwhelming majority of its population wary of extremism." But the country is attractive to jihadists "because the state security apparatus is relatively weak, which enables groups to carry out a range of underground activities." And he said there was potential recruiting ground in Lebanon because of the "growing number of people disaffected with the Lebanese state, especially in the poverty belts of major urban areas."The assessment is born out by reports that jihadist groups are particularly active in the impoverished parts of northern Tripoli as well as the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp. On January 25, a previously unknown figure by the name of Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari announced the formation of the Lebanese branch of ISIL, which is fighting in Syria. He said the announcement was made from Tripoli, which is already the scene of regular clashes between Sunni residents of the Bab al-Tebbanah district and Alawite residents of neighboring Jabal Mohsen, who share the same Shiite offshoot faith of Assad. Local sources say Abu Sayyaf is unknown to security services, religious figures or Salafist groups in Tripoli, but the military source acknowledged a growing jihadist presence there."There are reports of al-Qaida supporters and recently of the formation of ISIL in the city involving Lebanese, Syrians and some Palestinians from the camps, but so far these groups have no bases or organizational structures," he said.
March 14 Christian Figures
Praise 'Historic' Bkirki Treaty
Naharnet /Christian figures in the March 14 coalition praised on Thursday the "historic" Bkirki Treaty that was unveiled on Wednesday and that focused on preserving Lebanon's coexistence and national pact. "The Bkirki Treaty is a historic stance that emphasizes national principals that the patriarchy has always endorsed and protected,” the Phalange Party said in a released statement. "The treaty comes at difficult times and it is a safe approach towards finding solutions to the current crisis and its political, security, social and economic consequences,” the statement added. The party also called on all Lebanese factions to endorse the treaty and strive to implement its articles. "We must leave individual interests behind and move forward to building a country on strong foundations to strengthen stability and ensure holding the anticipated elections on time.” Lebanese Forces MP Sethrida Geagea also praised the “historic and timely” treaty, considering that it accentuates basic values and beliefs that were “supported by Christians for hundreds of years.”"Bkirki has always voiced these values that are the basis for the Lebanese entity,” she said in a released statement. She noted: “Stressing on equality, partnership and holding onto freedom, democracy and the establishment of a real and sovereign country for all Lebanese citizens are the most important principals in the treaty.”Meanwhile, head of the Independence Movement Michel Mouawad also described the treaty as historic, expressing that it should be a recipe to get out of the current crises in the country. "We urge all Christians in the country to support the treaty which stressed again that Lebanon is a nation established based on values of freedom, coexistence, diversity and neutrality.” Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had unveiled on Wednesday a treaty that calls for holding the presidential elections on time. It also demanded that political powers adhere to the country's national pact and place national interests above personal ones.
Italy Premier Urges Rapid
Use of New 'Triangle of Death' Measures
Naharnet/Italy's premier on Thursday urged the swift implementation of a series of measures adopted to protect people living in a so-called "Triangle of Death", where toxic mafia dumps are blamed for rising cancer rates.
"This is the first response in decades to this drama," Prime Minister Enrico Letta said, after the package of measures was given the green light by parliament on Wednesday. Action includes testing farmland and irrigation channels over the next 150 days to see which fields have been contaminated by the dumps and ensure produce grown on them are withdrawn from markets. The measures also include health tests from May for some 1.3 million people in at-risk areas around Naples in the south of the country, in the largest campaign of its type in Italy since 1973, when Italians were vaccinated en masse against cholera. The local Camorra crime syndicate has been burning and secretly burying millions of tonnes of waste in the Campania countryside for decades but the extent of the problem has only recently been revealed. Furious citizens have held protests over the past few months to insist the government take action. According to environmentalist group Legambiente, some 10 million tonnes of industrial waste from across Italy and farther afield was buried in the area between 1991 and 2013. The Pascale National Tumor Institute says the number of tumors in women in the area has risen by 40 percent and those in men by 47 percent, and local cemeteries have sections for the growing number of child victims.
Source/Agence France Presse
New Cabinet Expected to See
Light on Thursday or Saturday
Naharnet/The new government of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is expected to be announced on Thursday or over the weekend following the return of President Michel Suleiman from a trip to Tunisia. An Nahar newspaper said Thursday that Suleiman and Salam put the final touches on the cabinet lineup during a meeting at Baabda Palace on Wednesday, their second in three days.
It quoted sources as saying that during their 90 minute meeting, the two officials prepared for the announcement of the decrees on a 24-member government based on the 8-8-8 formula and the rotation of portfolios.
The Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, the Progressive Socialist Party and al-Mustaqbal movement have struck a deal to form a cabinet in which the country's three major camps would get eight ministers each and that the portfolios would rotate among the different sects. But Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who is a member of March 8, rejected the agreement, saying he was left out of the consultations. He has also opposed the rotation and held onto the energy ministry, which is led by his son-in-law Jebran Bassil. An Nahar's sources said Suleiman and Salam agreed to issue the cabinet decrees on Thursday before the president travels to Tunisia on Friday. Or else the announcement would be postponed to Saturday. But PSP chief Walid Jumblat sent his envoy caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour to Baabda on Wednesday after news broke that the cabinet formation was imminent. Abou Faour reportedly asked Suleiman to react positively to a request by Hizbullah and Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal movement to postpone the decision to issue the decrees.
This could give the rival factions two more days to resolve their differences. Sources in the March 8 and 14 alliances expected all March 8 ministers – FPM, Hizbullah, Amal, Marada and Tashnag - to withdraw from the cabinet in support for Aoun's demands. But al-Liwaa newspaper said that Salam would seek on Thursday morning to get a guarantee from Berri that he would keep his ministers in the government after hints that he hadn't yet made up his mind. As Safir quoted officials close to the PM-designate as saying that the different factions should first check the line-up before taking stances from it. “They shouldn't prejudge it,” they said.
EU, Arab states to meet over jihadists in Syria
By Staff Writer, Al Arabiya News /Thursday, 6 February 2014/Experts from the European Union and eight Arab countries plus Turkey will hold a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss threats posed by foreign fighters in Syria, a source told Al Arabiya News Channel on Thursday. The source said EU countries are increasingly worried about hundreds of young European Muslims who have travelled to Syria to carry out jihad. Many of them, he said, have joined al-Qaeda affiliated groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or al-Nusra Front. The Arab countries invited to the meeting are Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Irann, Libya, and Tunisia. French President Francois Hollande said last month that 700 people had left France to join the fighting in Syria in what he called a “worrying” trend. “A certain number of young Frenchmen and young foreigners living in France... are fighting in Syria - 700 are listed, that’s a lot. Some are dead,” Hollande told a press conference in Paris. Hollande said young people needed to be warned about the dangers of going to Syria and that France needed to “fight against a certain number of networks and havens that sustain terrorism.” French officials have warned of the dangers from French citizens fighting with extremist and al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said this week that more than 400 people were either ready to go to Syria, were in the country or had been and returned. Western security officials have raised fears that foreign fighters trained in Syria could carry out attacks on home soil. Officials say about 20 French citizens have died in the Syria conflict. The country was unsettled last week when reports emerged of two brothers who had converted to Islam dying within four months of each other in the conflict. [With AFP]
Obama’s Syria policy is
February 06, 2014/By Michael Young The Daily Star
It’s difficult to identify anything the United States has done right in Syria. For most Americans, including President Barack Obama, the benchmark of success is whether they can stay out of the Syrian conflict. But statements by U.S. officials suggest that this ostrichlike approach, with America’s head firmly in the sand, could backfire. That, at least, is what one gets out of the statement released Tuesday by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Clapper admitted that President Bashar Assad had “strengthened” his hold on power in Syria and that his regime had taken advantage of an agreement approved by the Obama administration to abandon his chemical weapons. More ominously, this came as anxiety has risen that some of the more extremist groups in Syria, which are gaining in potency as the chaos there persists, might one day target the U.S.
Add to that the growing realization in Washington that Assad has sought to undermine the main diplomatic project pushed by the administration, the Geneva process, which had gone nowhere by the time the first round of talks came to a close last week. Welcome to wrestling with the Assad regime. The Obama administration has been a bumbling, stupid giant in the face of a Syrian regime that has defined cynicism in its quest for political survival and a Russian leadership that has delighted in exploiting the impotence and anti-war mood in Washington and Europe.
Only at one stage did the administration scare both: when Obama, cornered by his own rhetoric, announced that he would bomb regime targets in Syria last summer. It was not as if the president hadn’t tried to reassure the Assad regime and the Russians, repeating time and again that he planned a limited operation. But they apparently were more lucid about American military power than the White House, and almost everything they have done in the past three years has aimed to neutralize an Obama administration seeking nothing less.
The chemical deal with Russia was designed to derail an American attack. The Assad regime’s effective encouragement of jihadist groups was intended to scare the Americans and Europeans and discredit the Syrian opposition. And Assad’s agreement to go to Geneva was a sop to Russia, so that it could keep the Americans engaged in a “process,” because process, whether successful or unsuccessful, has become the standard for American diplomatic seriousness. On the nuclear deal and at Geneva, the Syrians have taken a page out of the book of the late Hafez Assad. They have negotiated every last detail, usually in bad faith, making minimal concessions only to keep the empty processes alive and buy time. The Russians have in no way challenged this. On the contrary, they have led the Americans on, bending only when necessary to keep the bait and switch going.
That is why the Syrians will continue to hold on to a significant portion of their chemical weapons, and it is why Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will continue to ensure, in line with his president’s instructions, that Geneva goes absolutely nowhere – certainly not toward any serious discussion of a transition away from Assad rule, avoidance of which is the regime’s absolute priority.
So, Clapper’s admission that Assad is getting stronger and that he benefited from the chemical deal was a statement of the obvious. It was also implicit confirmation that Obama’s claims that the chemical agreement represented a diplomatic breakthrough were wrong. One person apparently displeased with the administration’s policy is Secretary of State John Kerry, whom Senator Lindsey Graham described as frustrated with Russia and Assad after the secretary held a closed-door meeting on Sunday with Congressional leaders.
Pity Kerry. He was once under the illusion that Assad could be a force for reform in the Middle East, this at a time when the Syrian leader was dispatching jihadists to Iraq to kill American soldiers and was seeking to reimpose Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. But now that Kerry is inside the ring, he can see how thoroughly the U.S. has been taken for a ride, and how Obama’s standoffishness, even indifference, toward the Middle East has encouraged this. To put it bluntly, not one of America’s objectives in Syria has been achieved, even as the Syrian conflict has destabilized the region. Obama can talk to his electorate about health care, drug legalization and gay marriage all day, but at some point he must inform them that the U.S. still has strategic interests in the Middle East that require more than passing attention. Part of any policy is preparing the public for a particular course of action. Obama’s failure to do so was precisely why his intention to strike Syria after the chemical attacks last August was so roundly opposed by many Americans.
The reality is that the Obama administration needs to overhaul a Syria policy that is disintegrating by the day. Obama should shake himself out of his lethargy and make a strong case for such a change, much as Bill Clinton did after the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in July 1995. Like Obama, Clinton also sought initially to be a “domestic president,” but unlike him, he adapted when he realized that the world didn’t bend itself around the American president’s agenda. With Clapper and Kerry stating that America is being hoodwinked over Syria, including by its supposed Russian partner, Obama has to wake up. Perfunctorily adhering to an empty negotiating process that will move only when one side gains militarily guarantees that the situation in Syria will worsen. And as Afghanistan showed, America can pay a heavy price for its indifference to faraway places.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Syria’s Homs aid deal struck, Aleppo fighting heats up
February 06, 2014/Daily Star
DAMASCUS: Syria and the UN have struck an aid deal for besieged areas of Homs, officials said Thursday, as more than 250 people were reported killed in six days of barrel-bomb attacks in Aleppo.
Also in northern Syria, rebels seized control of most of Aleppo's central prison, freeing hundreds of detainees, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A week after peace talks in Geneva at which the situation in besieged districts of the city of Homs was discussed, state news agency SANA said an agreement has been reached to allow aid in and safe passage out for civilians.
" Homs governor Talal al-Barazi and UN resident coordinator Yaacoub El Hillo have reached an agreement securing the exit of innocent civilians from the Old City (of Homs) and the entrance of humanitarian assistance for civilians who choose to stay," SANA said.
There had previously been no deal on the exit of men, or the entry of much-needed aid into the city, where activists say some 3,000 people have been surviving on little more than olives for weeks.
According to SANA, "the relevant Syrian authorities will implement the deal by providing the necessary humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter and medical aid for innocent civilians who leave" the besieged districts.
It added that "food, medicine and other assistance will be sent in for civilians who choose to stay" in the neighbourhoods.
Rebel-held Old City districts of central Homs have also come under near-daily shelling ever since the army blockaded them in June 2012.
Abu Ziad, an activist in a besieged area, told AFP via the Internet that "the families are ready to leave. Many of them want to leave."
Among the besieged are at least 1,200 women, children and elderly people, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
Activists have frequently highlighted the plight of new mothers trapped in the siege, as being unable to breastfeed their infants as a result of their own malnutrition.
In Aleppo, more than 250 people have been killed in regime barrel bomb attacks, said the Observatory, as a coalition of rebels announced a new military operation in the province.
The Islamic Front -- a huge alliance grouping tens of thousands of rebels -- and the jihadist Al-Nusra Front announced an operation dubbed "Truthful Promise Approaches," a reference to a passage in the Koran.
The announcement comes as the Syrian army seeks to take territory in the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo city.
Troops are moving in from areas around Aleppo international airport after recapturing territory nearby and reopening it to air traffic. The ground campaign has been accompanied by six consecutive days of aerial attacks involving explosive-packed barrel bombs dropped from army helicopters.
The Observatory said that at least 257 people have been killed in barrel bomb attacks on eastern Aleppo since Saturday, including 11 on Thursday.
The dead include at least 76 children, according to the group.
Hundreds more have been wounded in the raids using the controversial unguided munitions, which have been condemned by rights groups as indiscriminate.
The heavy casualty toll has sparked a mass exodus from the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the east of the city.
Once the country's economic hub, Aleppo has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since a rebel offensive in mid-2012.
Suicide attack starts prison assault
Just outside the city, rebels and jihadists on Thursday seized control of most of Aleppo's central prison after months of fighting, freeing hundreds of detainees, the Observatory said.
State television denied the report, saying soldiers and security forces had "thwarted an attack against the prison by terrorist groups."Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that Islamic Front member "Ahrar al-Sham and (Al-Qaeda affiliate) Al- Nusra Front have taken control of 80 percent of Aleppo central prison and freed hundreds of prisoners."
The advance came after a suicide attack carried out by an Al-Nusra fighter at the prison's main entrance.
An Ahrar al-Sham fighter, meanwhile, told AFP on condition of anonymity that the clashes were continuing.
"The fighting is ongoing. We have taken control of one of the prison buildings and brought down the regime flag," he said via Skype.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon
and the British role
By: Chris Doyle/Al Arabyia
As British politicians debated the relative merits of taking in Syrian refugees, I was accompanying two members of Parliament around Syrian refugee communities in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. It was an agonising exposure to the Syrian disaster, to why international aid is so vital but also raised questions about how sustainable this is. The mistaken assumption is that as refugee numbers go up, you just increase aid to Lebanon in order to cope. But what is the maximum number a polarised and fractious Lebanon can take? What will be the tipping point? As ever with these regional crises one asks in vain, is there a Plan B, or C?
One in four people in Lebanon, perhaps more, are Syrian. Could any country in the “West” accept that? As the head of UNHCR in Lebanon told me, 11,000 extra refugees are being registered with the U.N. every week, roughly the equivalent of 170,000 arriving every week in Britain. Most Lebanese politicians are reluctant to accept their semi-permanent presence. Indeed, not that long ago it was taboo in Lebanon to even refer to them as refugees. There are no formal refugee camps but this may change as the Lebanese government has identified 32 possible sites. The trouble is that nobody wants them in their back yard. The situation is so severe that many Syrians go back to the hell that is Syria.
The town of Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley has seen its population doubled. Over half of the incoming refugees are children. All have grim tales to tell. Across the town, available spaces have been taken up by wooden framed tents with canvas coverings. Ramshackle barely describes it. Despite the considerable efforts of humanitarian agencies, sewage, clean water, garbage, heating and food were all lacking. Some children had places at schools but others were missing out totally. These scenes are replicated at 1,400 sites across Lebanon.
But these refugee communities are under constant threat. Tensions with the host community are increasing. The land often does not come for free. The rent is considerable for the refugees who cannot find jobs to pay around $30-50 a month for a tiny spot for a tent. In some Lebanese villages refugees have been evicted for not paying for their rent. Refugees are angry at aid shortages but also, in some areas, at Lebanese middlemen profiting hugely from their plight. It has been over two years since the first refugees arrived and clearly they were there to stay, perhaps for years.
The British role
Whilst Britain has been generous with aid, it will be less so in taking Syrians in. Many politicians argue that letting in a few hundred refugees is just tokenism, and that Britain should focus its support on those on the ground. This was the government’s position until Jan. 29 when it announced a limited program of taking in the most vulnerable of refugees, maybe up to 500. For these few who will get a chance to restart their lives, it will never feel tokenism. Inexplicably Britain still refuses to join the U.N. resettlement program, but at least it has taken this baby step forward.
“There is no shortage of acutely vulnerable refugees in Lebanon and neighboring states”
There is no shortage of acutely vulnerable refugees in Lebanon and neighboring states. Looking at refugees in the Bekaa Valley, one asks which ones were not vulnerable. Opponents of Bashar al-Assad fear persecution, and are aware that crossing the border into Lebanon does not bring safety. Many women and even children fled as a result of sexual assault and do not feel safe. Child labor is on the up. Others suffer from acute trauma or disabilities that would benefit from some of the more developed care available in European states. According to the UNHCR, there are 2,440 unaccompanied or separated children in Lebanon and 1,320 in Jordan. Ten-year-old Walid from Bab Amr in Homs lost his entire family in the destruction of that urban neighborhood by the Syrian army. All he wanted was to leave Lebanon.
Britain has taken a strong stance on Syrian aid, pledging £600 million so far, second behind the United States. Having agreed to take in refugees, it can claim the moral high ground and point fingers at those states that claim to be supportive of the Syrian people but have been slow to contribute. France and Russia grandstand their connections to Syria but lag behind.
It is only as matter of time before a third of Lebanon’s population will be Syrian. A peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria is the only solution but given that the Geneva talks are more marathon than sprint, with a high chance of breakdown, where does this leave Lebanon? The country has to survive all the strains and stresses Syria’s crisis is creating. Syria-related violence is a daily event. For the refugees, partially funding an emergency aid program will not be enough and their developmental needs have to be met. The sufficient infrastructure needs to be put in place, including proper camps. Even this will not be enough and if Lebanon is to survive as a viable state, non-neighbor states may have to start taking tens of thousands, not just hundreds.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in in April, November, December and January 2013 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
On martyrdom in Lebanon
Nayla Tueni/Al Arabyia
What allows the Lebanese to continue living in a country whose history, and perhaps future, is contaminated with blood is the will of life which is stronger than all circumstances. Nations establish peace for a better future for themselves and their sons while we drown in a sea of blood for the sake of causes which many don’t know the results and aims of. All nations sacrificed blood to reach their aims. Successes and victories cannot be achieved without sacrifices. If successes are not achieved, the blood which was shed is cheapened. This is what we do not want for Lebanon’s martyrs who fell at more than one place at many different times. All parties in Lebanon gave martyrs for the country’s sake. Some of them gave martyrs for the sake of other countries. But in all cases, they believed in a cause, defended it and sacrificed what is precious for its sake. Perhaps most Lebanese reached the conclusion that dialogue is the best for reaching goals and that martyrs - all martyrs - are a loss to Lebanon. The long war that lasted for 15 years shed a lot of blood, and it didn’t end until a political agreement, sponsored by certain countries and agreed upon by other countries, was reached. But martyrdom itself is a cause that must be restudied; the basis and conditions of which must be specified considering some youths are being deceived. They are being deceived into believing in causes which are not actually patriotic, religious or humane but which actually serve certain parties’ personal aims.“Religious and social scholars must contribute to clarifying the concepts and conditions of martyrdom ”Therefore, religious and social scholars must contribute to clarifying the concepts and conditions of martyrdom instead of settling at condemnations that change nothing.
Martyrdom is a noble act as it signifies a cause in which the martyr sacrifices himself for the sake of his country’s independence and for the sake of protecting it and defending it and its people. But he who destroys his country, blows up its institutions, kills it citizens, destroys his family, gives up his humanity and threatens his society is certainly not a martyr. This is what religious figures must say. So, will they dare?
This article was first published in al-Nahar on Feb. 3, 2014.
Turkish financial crisis adds to region's chaos
by David P. Goldman/Asia Times/February 5, 2014
More than coincidence accounts for the visit to Iran by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on January 28, the same day that his economic policy collapsed in a most humiliating way.
As the Turkish lira collapsed to levels that threatened to bankrupt many Turkish companies, the country's central bank raised interest rates, ignoring Erdogan's longstanding pledge to keep interest rates low and his almost-daily denunciation of an "interest rate lobby" that sought to bring down the Turkish economy. Erdogan's prestige was founded on Turkey's supposed economic miracle.
Hailed as"the next superpower" by John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies, and as "Europe's BRIC" by The Economist, Turkey has become the Sick Man of the Middle East. It now appears as a stock character in the comic-opera of Third World economics: a corrupt dictatorship that bought popularity through debt accumulation and cronyism, and now is suffering the same kind of economic hangover that hit Latin America during the 1980s.
That is not how Erdogan sees the matter, to be sure: for months he has denounced the "interest rate lobby". Writes the Hurriyet Daily News columnist Emre Deliveli, "He did not specify who the members of this lobby were, so I had to resort to pro-government newspapers. According to articles in a daily owned by the conglomerate where the PM's son-in-law is CEO, the lobby is a coalition of Jewish financiers associated with both Opus Dei and Illuminati. It seems the two sworn enemies have put aside their differences to ruin Turkey."
US President Barack Obama told an interviewer in 2012 that Erdogan was one of his five closest overseas friends, on par with the leaders of Britain, Germany, South Korea and India. Full disclosure: as the Jewish banker who has been most aggressive in forecasting Turkey's crisis during the past two years, I have had no contact with Opus Dei on this matter, much less the mythical Illuminati.
Erdogan was always a loose cannon. Now he has become unmoored. Paranoia is endemic in Turkish politics because so much of it is founded on conspiracy. The expression "paranoid Turk" is a pleonasm. Islamist followers of the self-styled prophet Fetullah Gulen infiltrated the security services and helped Erdogan jail some of the country's top military commanders on dubious allegations of a coup plot. Last August a Turkish court sentenced some 275 alleged members of the "Ergenekon" coup plot, including dozens of military officers, journalists, and secular leaders of civil society.
Now Gulen has broken with Erdogan and his security apparatus has uncovered massive documentation of corruption in the Erdogan administration. Erdogan is firing police and security officials as fast as they arrest his cronies.
There is a world difference, though, between a prosperous paranoid and an impecunious one. Turkey cannot fund its enormous current borrowing needs without offering interest rates so high that they will pop the construction-and-consumer bubble that masqueraded for a Turkish economic miracle during the past few years.
The conspiracy of international bankers, Opus Dei and Illuminati that rages in Erdogan's Anatolian imagination has triumphed, and the aggrieved prime minister will not go quietly. As Erdogan abhors old allies who in his imagined betrayed him and seeks new ones, the situation will get worse.
One of the worst ideas that ever occurred to Western planners was the hope that Turkey would provide a pillar of stability in an otherwise chaotic region, a prosperous Muslim democracy that would set an example to anti-authoritarian movements. The opposite has occurred: Erdogan's Turkey is not a source of stability but a spoiler allied to the most destructive and anti-Western forces in the region.
It seems unlikely that the central bank's belated rate increase will forestall further devaluation of the lira. With inflation at 7.4% and rising, the central bank's 10% reference rate offers only a modest premium above the inflation rate. About two-fifths of Turkey's corporate debt is denominated in foreign currency, and the lira's decline translates into higher debt service costs. Turkey is likely to get the worst of both worlds, namely higher local interest rate and a weaker currency.
Source: Turkish Central Bank
Now Erdogan's Cave of Wonders has sunk back into the sand. Few analysts asked how Turkey managed to sustain a current account deficit that ranged between 8% and 10% of gross domestic product during the past three years, as bad as the Greek deficit during the years before its financial collapse in 2011.
The likely answer is that Turkey drew on vast amounts of credit from Saudi and other Gulf state banks, with strategic as well as financial motives. Data from the Bank for International Settlements show that Turkey financed a large part of its enormous deficit through the interbank market, that is, through short-term loans to Turkish banks from other banks.
Western banks report no such exposure to Turkey; the Gulf banks do not report regional exposure, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Sunni solidarity had something to do with the Gulf states' willingness to take on Turkish exposure.
Relations between Turkey and the Gulf States are now in shambles. Saudi Arabia abhors the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to replace the old Arab monarchies with Islamist regimes founded on modern totalitarian parties, while Erdogan embraced the Brotherhood. The Saudis are the main source of financial support for Egypt's military government, while Ankara has denounced the military's suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Whether the Gulf States simply ran out of patience or resources to support Erdogan's credit binge, or whether their displeasure at Turkey's misbehavior persuaded them to withdraw support, is hard to discern. Both factors probably were at work. In either case, Erdogan's rancor at Saudi Arabia has brought him closer to Teheran.
Turkey should have restricted credit growth and raised interest rates to reduce its current account deficit while it still had time. Erdogan, though, did the opposite: Turkish banks increased their rate of lending while reducing interest rates to businesses and consumers.
Given the country's enormous current account deficit, this constituted irresponsibility in the extreme. Erdogan evidently thought that his mandate depended on cheap and abundant credit. The credit bubble fed construction, where employment nearly doubled between 2009 and 2013. Construction jobs increased through 2013, after manufacturing and retail employment already had begun to shrink.
Source: Central Bank of Turkey
I predicted the end of Erdogan's supposed economic miracle in the Winter 2012 edition of Middle East Quarterly, comparing Erdogan's boomlet to the Latin American blowouts of the 1990s:
In some respects, Erdogan's bubble recalls the experiences of Argentina in 2000 and Mexico in 1994 where surging external debt produced short-lived bubbles of prosperity, followed by currency devaluations and deep slumps. Both Latin American governments bought popularity by providing cheap consumer credit as did Erdogan in the months leading up to the June 2011 national election. Argentina defaulted on its $132 billion public debt, and its economy contracted by 10 percent in real terms in 2002. Mexico ran a current account deficit equal to 8 percent of GDP in 1993, framing the 1994 peso devaluation and a subsequent 10 percent decline in consumption.
In the meantime, Turkey has entered a perfect storm. As its currency plunges, import costs soar, which means that a current account of 8% of GDP will shortly turn into 10% to 12% of GDP – unless the country stops importing, which means a drastic fall in economic activity. As its currency falls, its cost of borrowing jumps, which means that the cost of servicing existing debt will compound its current financing requirements. The only cure for Erdogan's debt addiction, to borrow a phrase, is cold turkey.
The vicious cycle will end when valuations are sufficiently low and the government is sufficiently cooperative to sell assets at low prices to foreign investors, and when Turkish workers accept lower wages to produce products for export.
One might envision a viable economic future for Turkey as the terminus on the "New Silk Road" that China proposes to build across Central Asia, with high-speed rail stretching from Beijing to Istanbul. Chinese manufacturers might ship container loads of components to Turkey for assembly and transshipment to the European and Middle Eastern markets, and European as well as Asian firms might build better factors in Turkey for export to China. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Turkey's path to Europe lies not through Brussels but through Beijing.
That is Turkey's future, but as the old joke goes, it can't get there from here.
Turkey has a small but highly competent professional class trained at a handful of good universities, but the Erdogan regime – the so-called "Anatolian tigers" – have disenfranchised them in favor of Third World corruption and cronyism. The secular parties that bear the faded inheritance of Kemal Ataturk lack credibility. They are tainted by years of dirty war against the Kurds, of collusion with military repression, and their own proclivity towards a paranoid form of nationalism.
Erdogan's AKP is a patronage organization that has run out of cash and credit, and its fate is unclear. The highly influential Gulen organization has a big voice, including the Zaman media chain, but no political network on the ground.
No replacement for Erdogan stands in the wings, and the embattled prime minister will flail in all directions until the local elections on March 30.
The last thing to expect from Erdogan is a coherent policy response. On the contrary, the former Anatolian villager thrives on contradiction, the better to keep his adversaries guessing.
Turkish policy has flailed in every direction during recent weeks. Erdogan's Iran visit reportedly focused on Syria, where Turkey has been engaged in a proxy war with Iran's ally Basher al-Assad. Ankara's support for Syrian rebels dominated by al-Qaeda jihadists appears to have increased; in early January Turkish police stopped a Turkish truck headed for Syria, and Turkish intelligence agents seized it from the police. Allegedly the truck contained weapons sent by the IHH Foundation, the same group that sent the Mavi Marmara to Gaza in 2010. The Turkish opposition claims that the regime is backing al-Qaeda in Syria. One can only imagine what Erdogan discussed with his Iranian hosts.
Some 4,500 Turks reportedly are fighting alongside 14,000 Chechnyans and a total of 75,000 foreign fighters on the al-Qaeda side in Syria. Ankara's generosity to the Syrian jihadists is a threat to Russia, which has to contend with terrorists from the Caucasus, as well as Azerbaijan, where terrorists are infiltrating through Turkish territory from Syria. Russia's generally cordial relations with Turkey were premised on Turkish help in suppressing Muslim terrorism in the Caucasus. There is a substantial Chechnyan Diaspora in Turkey, aided by Turkish Islamists, and Moscow has remonstrated with Turkey on occasion about its tolerance or even encouragement of Caucasian terrorists.
I doubt that Erdogan has any grand plan in the back of his mind. On the contrary: having attempted to manipulate everyone in the region, he has no friends left. But he is in a tight spot, and in full paranoid fury about perceived plots against him. The likelihood is that he will lean increasingly on his own hard core, that is, the most extreme elements in his own movement.
Erdogan has been in what might be called a pre-apocalyptic mood for some time. The long term has looked grim for some time, on demographic grounds: a generation from now, half of all military-age men in Turkey will hail from homes where Kurdish is the first language. "If we continue the existing [fertility] trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us," he warned in a May 10, 2010, speech reported by the Daily Zaman.
But disaster already has arrived. In some ways Turkey's decline is more dangerous than the Syrian civil war, or the low-intensity civil conflict in Iraq or Egypt. Turkey held the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's eastern flank for more than six decades, and all parties in the region – including Russia – counted on Turkey to help maintain regional stability. Turkey no longer contributes to crisis management. It is another crisis to be managed.
**David P. Goldman is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Swapping brains for boots in Egypt
By: Diana Moukalled /Al Arabyia
What on earth is it that compels some people to gather together their children—the eldest of whom is probably no older than eight years old—and make them stand in line while literally holding a military boot over their tiny heads?
They then tell the little ones to smile for the photographer as they pose next to images of Field Marshall Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, entitled the “Lion of Egypt.” These sorry photographs are then published around the world.
Why do these images have to appear?
Has the military boot become such an icon of the era that it should be placed over the heads of our children? In the past we have seen people wearing it around their waist or neck, and sometimes kissing it and holding it close to their hearts. Now it can be seen above the heads of children, themselves barely bigger than the boots.
“In Egypt, some people are trying to increase, not calm, public fears”
What is happening in Egypt? Is it some sort of mass delirium?
Yes, there are security fears in Egypt and these are real, grave and dangerous, but the people who are reportedly targeting Egypt cannot be identified. Yet politicians, activists and the media, possibly the worst and most ignorant in Egypt’s history, are manipulating these fears in the most casual way. Have you heard the absurd statements being issued by certain figures across all TV channels, whether pro-government or private?
In Egypt some people are trying to increase, not calm, public fears.
“No impartiality and no objectivity” is the empty slogan that has made it easy to create suspicions and spread lies and delusion. We have seen commentators and politicians on television spouting the vilest phrases and describing the most absurd scenarios, all in agreement that there is a major global conspiracy against Egypt and that the only way of dealing with this and getting rid of its Muslim Brotherhood adherents is the military boot. And it has become natural for both politicians and journalists to condemn and destroy these alleged “conspirators.”
We are witnessing the easy peddling of the idea that there is no room for criticism of all this, and that the “danger” facing the country justifies this illogical stance. This is an Egypt where we see 20 Al-Jazeera journalists—including Westerners—thrown in jail under the pretext of being part of a conspiracy nobody understands. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, we are seeing the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as liberal activists, leftists, academics and journalists, thrown in jail in their droves.
Earlier this week, the news reported that a man had filed a complaint against his own wife, accusing her of dealing with the outlawed Brotherhood. The evidence presented by the husband? A picture of his wife in London smiling while making the infamous pro-Mohammad Mursi rabaa hand gesture.
Supporters of Egypt’s army chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, hold military boots on their heads in a sign of support for military rule on Jan. 28, 2014. (AFP)
Most independent Western and international media talk about the oppression that is taking place in Egypt. Newspapers such as The New York Times have written articles and op-eds about the “Egyptian Catastrophe” in an attempt to explain and analyze the reality of what is happening in the country. All the while, these same articles are dismissed as being part of the conspiracy against Egypt. How is this possible?
Journalists and columnists are publishing articles that justify what is taking place today on a daily basis. They ridicule those of us who live outside Egypt and who watch in shock and despair at the events unfolding there, as if we do not understand anything and need explanations to justify what the military institution is doing.
Egypt is living through a difficult and oppressive era, but nothing justifies erasing our children’s minds and replacing them with military boots with only one role: to stamp on their dreams and rights.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 5, 2014.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.
Five ways to kill a Syrian
By: Raed Omari/Al Arabyia
When Edwin Brock wrote his famous poem, ‘Five Ways to Kill a Man’, seen as one of the best-known poems of the last century, his aim was not to amuse his readers using a catchy title but to sarcastically, dispassionately and chillingly show how death could turn into an everyday issue due to the cruelty and absurdity of politics, employing a matter-of-fact tone resembling that of dry news-casting.
The renown poem can be rewritten to be on Syria with a slight modification to the title to be “Five Ways to Kill a Syrian”, for there is in the war-torn country and the international community’s handling of its ongoing crisis all elements of absurdity out of which a good satirical story can be written.
In the always variable Syria, death or killing has proved to be the only constant matter with the number of causalities per day being the only affirmative news items reported by “unheard” human rights agencies and carried by “desperate” news agencies. The only slight change is in the number of deaths per day.
In juxtaposition to the never-unified political rhetoric on the Syrian crisis, killing there has been a steady phenomenon, massively committed in a number of ways, varying from sever bombardment and intense shelling of cities and suburbs, nerve gas attacks, TNT-filled barrel bombs, starvation under unbreakable siege and refuge-seeking quests.
A frequent scene in Syria is nowadays a child’s body being pulled out from under debris or starving children crying for food or elderly men expressing the agony of finding food in Syria’s besieged suburbs or refugee camps
A frequent scene in Syria is nowadays a child’s body being pulled out from under debris or starving children crying for food or elderly men expressing the agony of finding food in Syria’s besieged suburbs or refugee camps. No clues have been provided yet over what, why and how is all of. The Syrians’ “SOS” calls never found international response even in Geneva.
It is as if more indecisiveness on Syria does not mean more killings with the international community’s reluctance on the disaster-stricken Syria having only one single interpretation: “Let more Syrians be killed.”
What has been established in Syria is the ‘systematic killing” with all other considerations being nothing more than assumptions always subject to change even humanity. In other words, death is the only guaranteed and affordable matter by the Syrian regime’s “systematic killing machine” which is only condemned in “fancy” international gatherings.
In fact, the absurdity of Syria and the world’s unresponsiveness to dehumanization there has reached climax with the story of the Aug.21 chemical attack on Damascus’ rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.
The U.S.-led international community’s firmness only on the stockpiled chemical weapons of the Syrian regime has also one single interpretation: “It is illegal and a red-line warning to kill using mass destruction weapons but not that big deal to kill in conventional methods.” The Syrian regime has got the “hint’ anyway and has been massively killing people using traditional weapons and conventional techniques.
Again, the meaning of killing in Syria is never single but relatively interpreted according to varying contexts. This is just absurd.
However, even the “drama” of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, which again was the only component of Syria’s war to receive international attention, has not been addressed adequately so far. The story has been so much forgotten with no mentioning of who unleashed the sarin gas upon the civilian population.
The Syrian government is seemingly indifferent to the delay in handing over its chemical weapons to be destroyed under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.
With this international community’s reluctance on Syria, one finds it not that surprising then to see Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem reportedly demanding an apology from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over remarks the latter made during the recently concluded Geneva II peace conference on Syria. Not even surprising to see the Syrian regime not handing over its chemical weapons as swiftly scheduled under the U.S.- Russian brokered agreement.
The same can be said also about the recently-released pictures of the tortured and executed 11000 detainees by the regime in Syria. The international community’s and international human rights organizations’ attention to the horrible pictures has quickly evaporated before being translated into an institutionalized fact-finding mission.
Despite even the “touching” speeches on the striking and large-scale suffering of the Syrian people by representatives of nations who took part in the first round of the recently concluded Geneva II peace talks on Syria, an agreement by Damascus to allow the first 12-truck convoy into the besieged city of Homs was the only tangible outcome and only true breakthrough in the talks.
Many observers, myself included, were then wrong in pinning hopes in the capability of the much-delayed peace talks not to bring an end to the ongoing war but at least to alleviate the suffering of the helpless Syrian power.
Yet, the international powers that brought together the Syrian regime and opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva are now looking for a party to blame for the deadlock in the much-derailed peace talks instead of blaming themselves.
It was the Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmad al-Jarba, said to be baked by the West, who had to travel to Moscow in a helpless quest for a break into the Russian stubborn stance on Syria and its unaltered alliance with the Syrian regime and not Kerry or any other Western leader. If such a breakthrough has not been achieved in Geneva with the presence of all the Western anti-President Bashar al-Assad leaders, how could it be achieved in Moscow by al-Jarba alone? An agent seeking a deal with a broker is just one inseparable component of Syria’s absurdity.
In politics, a failure in negotiations is commonly interpreted as “deadlock” or a ‘return to square one” but in Syria’s case it means and only means that a “child’s life is cut short.”
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2
Assessing U.S. Strategy in the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: A Mideast Trip Report
Robert Satloff/Washington Institute
This PolicyWatch is based on remarks made by Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff at a February 4 Policy Forum. Watch video of the entire event above, including presentations by former national security advisor Stephen Hadley and Dennis Ross, the Institute's William Davidson Distinguished Fellow.
Amid the swirl of Middle East chaos, Israelis are enjoying relative calm and real prosperity. External events -- from the counterrevolution in Egypt and the deepening sectarian war in Syria to the spread of Iranian influence across the region -- should provoke deep concern, but the political class is consumed with the politics and diplomacy of negotiations with the Palestinians.
The timing was not supposed to work this way. Israelis quite reasonably expected clarity on the Iran nuclear issue before having to make decisions on the Palestinian issue. This expectation arose not because there is any direct regional linkage between the two issues -- there isn't -- but rather because Israelis anticipated a timetable in which the resolution of the Iran issue would tell them whether the United States will be a firm and reliable partner in the peace process. Now, however, Israel is being asked to make critical decisions on the Palestinian issue without that clarity and, even worse, amid profound doubts about the content and direction of U.S. Middle East policy.
OBAMA II VS. OBAMA I
The second Obama administration has adopted a profoundly different strategy on the peace process than it did when the president came to office in 2009. Five years ago, Middle East peace was defined as a top priority, the president was personally engaged, and stopping Israeli settlement construction was considered the key to progress. That approach led to stalemate. Today, the peace process is not the top priority, the president is not personally engaged, and settlements are not the focus of diplomacy.
Americans can rightly debate whether it makes sense for Secretary of State John Kerry to invest so much of his time and effort in this arena. Beyond that debate, though, one has to recognize the tenacity and wisdom of Kerry's tactical approach to the issue thus far.
In contrast to Obama 2009, the initial Kerry 2014 strategy has been to "hug" Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, essentially asking him, "What do you need?" In response, Netanyahu gave a narrow, precise reply -- Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, and Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Interestingly, he did not emphasize the extent of Israeli territorial demands. Since then, Kerry has set out to fulfill Netanyahu's request, and he seems poised to deliver most of it.
This is why the Israeli government will likely respond to the new U.S. framework document with a "yes, but," not a "no, never." The benefits to Israel are significant, the costs of rejection are high, and the commitments Israel is asked to make -- while potentially substantial -- are not yet well defined. For example, a commitment to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines plus agreed territorial swaps may be politically charged, but it does not foreordain any specific outcome. In this context, the process does not seem to have reached the point where Netanyahu must choose between his domestic political coalition and diplomatic movement with the Palestinians. Despite all the huffing and puffing, none of the framework's reported content appears so difficult to swallow that Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett or Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon cannot live with it. The time for Netanyahu to make a fateful choice between his increasingly inhospitable political home in the Likud Party and the prospect of true diplomatic breakthrough may eventually come if a future deal is ripe and attractive enough, but that day is not yet here.
Secretary Kerry deserves a measure of sympathy and understanding for taking on this Sisyphean task with little White House support. In fact, if certain reports are true, the White House has even interfered somewhat in his efforts. The president's State of the Union comments on the issue -- namely, a vague reference to "American diplomacy" as the umbrella under which peace talks are being held -- were read in some circles as an insult to Kerry, whose personal commitment has been the prime mover behind any recent progress.
Still, Kerry has made mistakes of his own. Most prominently, he has a habit of overselling his case to Israelis when sketching the benefits that would accrue from a peace deal and outlining the costs of failing to reach one.
Regarding benefits, Kerry likes to entice Israelis with the idea that a deal with the Palestinians will trigger the Arab Peace Initiative's promise of recognition from the wider Arab and Muslim worlds. In fact, a close reading of that initiative -- first proposed by the Saudis in 2002 and since reaffirmed -- shows that Israel has to make peace on both the Palestinian and Syrian fronts before any commitment to Arab and Muslim recognition applies. Obviously, the chances for a Golan deal with the current Syrian government or any conceivable successor are close to zero. Kerry could therefore secure a useful contribution to peacemaking by convincing the Arab League to amend the initiative, making its commitments contingent solely on an agreement with the Palestinians.
Regarding the costs of failure, Kerry needs to find a way to speak to Israelis without triggering their worst fears. When Israelis listen to U.S. officials talk about the specter of boycotts and political isolation, they hear it as a prescriptive warning, not an analytical assessment. And when Americans say that fateful decisions on peace must be made "now or never," Israelis hear pressure, not inducement. It is far better for U.S. officials to let Israelis take the lead on this, as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have done, than to set themselves up as easy targets for politicians critical of any diplomacy.
In addition to these mistakes, current U.S. policy on the peace process is missing four critical items: (1) a rigorous effort to build a Palestinian constituency that will support tough decisions about peacemaking; (2) an appreciation of the opportunities that flow from Hamas's current vulnerability; (3) high-level investment in bottom-up efforts to match the current top-down approach; and (4) public airing of costs to the Palestinians should their leaders reject the U.S. framework.
While U.S. officials spend a lot of time trying to affect Israeli public opinion, they expend almost no effort building a Palestinian constituency for peace. Many mainstream Palestinians do not like the all-or-nothing straightjacket that radicals insist on and are willing to make enlightened tradeoffs in pursuit of peace. These Palestinians need to be informed and empowered so they can prioritize their preferences, just as Washington asks Israelis to do. This means outlining the benefits of peacemaking while being as brutally honest with Palestinians about their choices as U.S. officials are with Israelis. For example, U.S. officials should explain to Palestinians the fundamental choice between statehood and "return," as well as demystify the "security arrangements" brouhaha by detailing the surprisingly small number of Israeli troops currently deployed along the Jordan River.
Hamas's strategic weakness -- which stems from the group's loss of radical allies, its alienation from Egypt's new leaders, and other factors -- is one of the main reasons why the region is enjoying the most conducive moment for peacemaking in a decade. But neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem to want to talk about ways to capitalize on this vulnerability. This is a lost opportunity.
Over the years, Washington has vacillated between high-profile top-down diplomacy and the nitty-gritty, bottom-up work of building the Palestinian Authority's effectiveness; no administration has made heavy investments in both simultaneously. This is the peace-process equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time: why can't it be done? Letting the PA stagnate while diplomats focus solely on high-level diplomacy is a formula for disaster.
The peace process is caught in a paradox. The current diplomacy was made possible by years of practical cooperation between Israel and the PA on security and economic issues. At the same time, one of the things that stands in the way of breakthrough is the fact that neither side wants failure in the negotiations to endanger their practical cooperation. Moreover, President Mahmoud Abbas knows that the cost of saying no to Kerry will not be a financial cut-off, since Israel would be the first to ask Washington to keep the PA's funds flowing.
U.S. officials must therefore define an alternative set of costs to Abbas. One approach is for the United States and other international actors to begin aligning their policies with their peace-process preferences. To be sure, Israel would not be pleased with international action that differentiates between "bloc" settlements -- that is, the large groups of communities that lie near the 1967 lines and are home to some 80 percent of Israeli settlers -- and settlements outside these blocs. Yet the Palestinians would be much more aggrieved by actions that legitimize the blocs, prevent funding for refugee activities that sustain the mirage of "return," and give legal standing to the presence of Israel's capital in Jerusalem. Alternatively, Washington could begin to coordinate with Israel on the idea of unilateral withdrawal from a large part of the West Bank, an idea that is gaining ground as a "plan B" among many segments of Israel's security and political establishment. Injecting these ideas into the peace process ether would highlight the very real costs that Palestinians may incur if they reject legitimate steps forward.
Taken together, these measures constitute a parallel agenda that may be necessary to enable real progress. Even with all the effort Secretary Kerry is investing in the peace process, it is important to underscore how much more is left to do.
Ties between Lebanese citizens and groups fighting the Syrian regime already exist, with a unknown number of Sunni Lebanese crossing the border to fight alongside rebel groups.
The military source said Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida's official branch in Syria, had been present in Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict.
And he confirmed that the so-called Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon was linked to its Syrian counterpart.
Lefevre warned that "sporadic jihadi attacks in Lebanon will continue until a settlement between regime and opposition is found in Syria which will facilitate Hizbullah's withdrawal."
But the military source warned that even an end to the conflict in Syria would be unlikely to halt jihadism in Lebanon, calling it "an issue that will take years."
Source/Agence France Presse