February 15/14

Bible Quotation for today/God and Possessions
Matthew 06/24 -31: "You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. “This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn't life worth more than food? And isn't the body worth more than clothes?  Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren't you worth much more than birds?  Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it? “And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves.  But I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers.  It is God who clothes the wild grass—grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, burned up in the oven. Won't he be all the more sure to clothe you? What little faith you have! “So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’  (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things.  Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.  So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.

Pope Francis's Tweet for today
Dear young people, don’t be afraid to marry. A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.
Pape François
Jeunes, n’ayez pas peur de vous marier : unis dans un mariage fidèle et fécond, vous serez heureux !

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For February 15/14

International Christian Concern/Generations of Blasphemers: A Christian Family's Struggle to Endure Persecution in Pakistan/February 15/14

Syria and the world’s responsibility/Friday, 14 February 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia/February 15/14

Complex double game: Iran supporting Assad AND al-Qaeda/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabyia/February 15/14
Mr. President, is it infidelity if it’s just in print/Ahlya Fateh/Al ARabyia/February 15/14

Only a regional accord can help stabilize Syria/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star/February 15/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For February 15/14
Lebanese Related News

The ninth anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri: A legacy to remember

Hale Visits Hariri's Grave as U.S. Reaffirms Support for STL

Hizballah calls off annual Mughniyeh memorial for fear of terrorist attacks
Lebanon PM-designate eyes end to govt vacuum
Interior post rift sets back birth of Lebanon Cabinet
Palestinian Naim Abbas arrest drop in the bucket: judicial source

Jihadist recruitment tops security fears in Tripoli
Sleiman demands action over Virgin Mary photo scandal
Pope voices concern on Mideast situation

STL provides sense of justice on anniversary of Hariri killing

Report: Al-Qaida Scheming for Simultaneous Attacks on Dahiyeh during Hizbullah Rally
Mustaqbal Bloc Praises Abbas' Arrest, Says Achievements Highlight Failure of Autonomous Security


Miscellaneous Reports And News

Opposition: Syria talks at 'impasse' but not over
U.N. fears major Syrian government assault on town of Yabroud
Bahrain protesters, police clash on uprising anniversary
No progress' in peace talks: Syrian deputy FM
Canada Fights Wildlife Trafficking

PM: Libya ‘under control’ after coup claim
Watchdog: Finnish, U.S. companies to destroy Syria chemicals

Obama to meet Jordan’s king in California desert

U.S. says Russia shouldn’t weigh in on Egypt’s vote

Marshall Islands withdraw Lebanese general's UNESCO nomination

Bahrain summons Iran charge d'affaires in tit-for-tat

Hamas objects to U.N. human rights book in sch

Egypt's Defense and Foreign Ministers Visit Moscow

The ninth anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri: A legacy to remember
February 14, 2014/The Daily Star
The ninth anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri is an especially poignant occasion, because the commemoration will finally coincide with the trial aimed at achieving justice for this painful moment in Lebanese history.
It is also an occasion for a bit of nostalgia for the days when Hariri was playing a leading role on the political scene, as the inevitable comparisons are drawn between then and now. In terms of economic performance, international reputation and security conditions, it’s clear that a Lebanon just exiting a civil war had a considerably brighter future than today. Most strikingly, Hariri was a champion of moderation, perhaps the quality that is most missed in these turbulent times. Hariri’s politics were the politics of inclusiveness, as he struggled to protect the country from the destructiveness of sectarianism. His tried-and-true tactic was to maintain channels of communication and engage in dialogue with all of Lebanon’s political factions and sectarian communities, and this ability to transcend the various cleavages is something sorely missed today. Politicians should learn from Hariri’s legacy and take note of the striking differences between his time spent serving the public and the depressing and dangerous times of today. The other options – when dialogue and moderation are discarded – have led nowhere. There are those who continue to reject the court process in the Netherlands that is trying to get to the bottom of Hariri’s murder, relying on rumor and innuendo as they try to discredit the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. And there are those who are equally stubborn as they ignore or demean the legacy of Rafik Hariri, a heritage steeped in dialogue, moderation and putting Lebanon’s national interests first.


LF Reiterates Staunch Rejection to Cabinet, Urges Hizbullah to Adopt Baabda Declaration
Naharnet/The Lebanese Forces reiterated on Friday it's staunch rejection to the formation of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam's cabinet, calling on Hizbullah to announce it's commitment to the Baabda Declaration ahead of the drafting of the ministerial policy. “We respect the stances of our March 14 allies but we don't agree with them... And we will not participate in it,” a high-ranking source in the party said in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper. The source insisted that Hizbullah, the main party controlling the March 8 coalition, to announce its clear stance concerning the dissociation policy. In the Baabda Declaration, 16 political leaders from both the March 8 majority coalition and the March 14 opposition agreed to avoid rhetoric that fuels sectarian incitement. They also pledged to consolidate stability to prevent the country from descending into strife. “The ministerial statement according to the constitution should be drafted after the formation of the cabinet but the declaration of intentions is a necessity,” the source added. The Baabda declaration should be adopted in the ministerial statement to dissociate the country from the developments in the neighboring country Syria. Hizbullah has dispatched fighters to battle alongside the Syrian regime against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad. The conflict, pitting a Sunni-dominated rebel movement against Assad, has raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon and Lebanese Sunni fighters have also been killed while fighting alongside Syrian rebels. Lebanese parties are sharply divided over the crisis in Syria as the March 8 alliance continuously expresses its support to Assad, while the March 14 camp voices its support for the popular revolt.


Report: Al-Qaida Scheming for Simultaneous Attacks on Dahiyeh during Hizbullah Rally
Naharnet /Investigations with the prominent member of the al-Qaida-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Naim Abbas, have led to unveiling a terrorist attack planned to happen on Sunday, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported. According to a report published by the daily on Friday, the extremist group was planning to detonate an explosive-laden vehicle near Hizbullah's al-Manar television in Jnah neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs.
The report continues that at the same time another huge explosion was set to occur in the area between Ghoubairi and Shiyyah neighborhoods, Hizbullah's strongholds, which would lead to the collapse of several buildings.
The Dahiyeh will at the same time be targeted with four rockets, simultaneously, suicide bombers would detonate while people are trying to save the casualties, thus inflicting more damage and loss in lives. The army succeeded on Wednesday in arrested Abbas and seizing two booby-trapped cars in Beirut and the Bekaa. Informed sources told al-Joumhouria that Abbas has cooperated with the army immediately after his arrest.
Hizbullah was set to hold a rally on Sunday to mark the death of three of the group leaders including its top military commander Imad Mughniyeh. Nasrallah is expected to give an annual speech, however, the rally was canceled to safeguard hundreds of supporters who usually attended it in the party's stronghold south of Beirut. The cancellation appears to be related to a wave of bombings in Hizbullah's strongholds around Lebanon that left scores of people dead over the past months. A security source described Abbas in comments published in As Safir newspaper as “a technical-operational mind and a cautious personality.”The source said that the testimonies of Abbas compel security forces to follow up the matter thoroughly.


Hizballah calls off annual Mughniyeh memorial for fear of terrorist attacks
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 14, 2014/The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah, itself a listed terrorist group, was forced Thursday, Feb. 13 to cancel its most solemn annual event in memory of fabled “special security chief” Imad Mughniyeh, over an inability to keep the event safe from terrorist attacks. In the six years since Moughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has traditionally eulogized these annual mass-attendance events. No reason was offered for cancelling this year’s assembly. DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that Hizballah and its Shiite following in Lebanon live in fear of devastating suicide bombing attacks by al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. Since last July, they have staged 10 attacks and claimed scores of lives in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon over Hizballah’s participation in the Syrian war. In a single attack last year, the bombing of the Iranian embassy, 25 people were killed. Its Syrian expedition has left the Hizballah short of manpower for self-protection. This situation has become more acute since an intelligence tip was received disclosing that the terrorists were now gunning for Nasrallah and other top operatives. This has necessitated doubling up security on their persons.A special counterterrorism command center has begun operating at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Two of its members are Mustafa Badr al-Din, commander of Hizballah forces, and Wafiq Safa, head of its security apparatus. This center was set up by a high-ranking Iranian intelligence delegation, which DEBKAfile reported exclusively on Jan. 26, had arrived in Beirut to tackle the terrorist threats to their Lebanese proxy. It was composed of senior IRGC Al Qods Brigades operatives and high officials of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The decision to cancel the Mughniyeh memorial assembly was taken by the new counterterrorism center at the Iranian embassy for four reasons:
1. Iranian undercover agents in Syria discovered that al Qaeda elements were plotting to hit the assembly for mass casualties.
2. This information was confirmed Wednesday, Feb. 12, by three women captured in the Lebanese Beqaa on their way to conduct suicide bombings at the Beirut event. Under interrogation, the captives revealed that several more female suicide bombers were heading for Shiite targets across Lebanon.
3. Hizballah is in the middle of a campaign to raise additional Shiite volunteers for the different Syrian warfronts (as we reported Feb. 10). A new wave of anti-Shiite terrorism in Lebanon would quickly derail this effort, especially in view of the hundreds of Hizballah fighters who have already laid down their lives in Syria. The organization is intent on concealing the real figure, but cannot hide all the funerals.
4. Its Iranian bosses understand that until their counter-terror defense mechanism is functioning effectively and curbing those attacks, Hizballah’s manpower resources cannot be stretched both for providing security at home and for augmenting its fighting personnel input for the Syrian war.

STL provides sense of justice on anniversary of Hariri killing
February 14, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Cane in hand, Fatima al-Rashidi strode slowly to the line of graves, the melodic voice of a Quranic recital floating in the background. She uttered the verses of Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of Muslim scripture. This time, there were more casualties to commemorate, for alongside the bodies of the men who stood guard around former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were others who paid the ultimate price.
Now in front of the smiling portraits of men like Mazen al-Zahabi, Hariri’s paramedic, or the sunglass-clad Talal Nasser, his senior bodyguard, lay flower wreaths at the grave of Mohammad Shatah, the former finance minister killed in a car bomb in December, and Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the intelligence chief assassinated in another car bomb in October 2012.
Today marks nine years to the day after a massive car bomb ripped through Hariri’s motorcade, shattered Downtown Beirut, plunged Lebanon into political turmoil and ended 30 years of Syrian tutelage. This year, the anniversary is different. The trial of four suspects accused of complicity in the Hariri assassination has begun at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon near The Hague. Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted by the court.
“It is the day of justice,” said Nuhad Mashnouq, a Future Movement MP and close friend of Hariri. “This is the first anniversary where the tribunal’s work is underway.”
Mashnouq said the start of trial was emblematic of the principle of justice, rather than revenge, that Hariri adhered to. “I think the martyred prime minister feels greater comfort now in his grave,” he added. “Despite all the bloodshed, the fear, the intimidation, and the attempts to kill the STL and the process of ending impunity, the trial started,” said Amal Mudallali, the former premier’s foreign policy adviser. “For the first time in 10 years justice seems possible for Rafik Hariri and all those who were killed with him or after him.” “The killers know their time is up and very soon,” Mudallali added. “They know the end of impunity is upon us.”
Mudallali said her former boss’ sacrifice made it possible for Lebanon to be free of Syria’s military grip, with massive street protests forcing the hand of President Bashar Assad shortly after the assassination to order a Syrian withdrawal. Hariri would also have been “shocked” at Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, she said. But he would have also refused to let Lebanon to remain in a stalemate, and “would have done everything to keep the country moving forward.”Mudallali said Hariri’s absence exacerbated the polarization in Lebanon, and has left a lingering sense of despair that has promoted the flight of young Lebanese from the country. “Now there is a collective sense of despair, a huge deficit of hope,” she said. But Mashnouq said Hariri’s killing was a result of the already acute political polarization in Lebanon. Syria would have eventually withdrawn from Lebanon anyway, and Hariri’s presence would have vastly improved the politic climate in the aftermath of that Syrian departure. “The situation would have been much better and the Syrians would have left,” he said. “His assassination sped up their departure, but they would have departed regardless.”
But others said Hariri’s killing was symbolic of a deeper conflict.
“Hariri was a project that is fundamentally different than politics in Lebanon today,” said Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science at Lebanese American University and author of a book on Lebanese politics. “It was a project of stability, building, tourism, infrastructure, development and free economy.” “Hariri represents a project, it’s not just a person,” he added.
Salamey said this project contradicted much of the confrontational approach that characterized Lebanese politics today, and his assassination paved the way for Lebanon to become an arena open to the interference of regional powers. He said Hariri’s relationship with the resistance today would have likely been tense because his open, moderate approach contradicts the more “isolationist” and sectarian program on either side of the religious divide. But despite Hariri’s absence, Salamey said the majority of the Lebanese back what he stood for. “Hariri’s project continues and is still held onto by most Lebanese who want to build a state where everyone is equal under the law,” he said. MP Bahia Hariri, Rafik’s sister, echoed the sentiment in an address delivered at a ceremony Thursday, by saying her brother’s enemies would not be able to destroy his legacy.
“They were able to assassinate the Rafik Hariri who was born on Dec. 1, but they cannot overcome the Rafik Hariri who was born on Feb. 14,” she said, referring to the dates of the former premier’s birthday and assassination.
But for Rashidi, the school manager who was visiting Hariri’s grave Thursday, his anniversary marks a different legacy. The 74-year-old recently retired after a quarter century overseeing three schools built by a charitable foundation set up by the former premier. She was on a visit to the nearby Al-Amin Mosque and burial grounds with a number of students, but snuck a few moments to pay her respects to Hariri and his companions.
“These are new generations [emerging] every year,” she said. “We must work on their minds and souls to combat extremism.”The 5,000 students in Hariri’s schools, and those he sponsored for studies abroad, are part of a crucial legacy, Rashidi added. She said she visits his burial ground whenever she is in Beirut, and prays for him constantly. “He is someone we will never see the likes of again,” she added. The March 14 alliance will hold a memorial ceremony to mark Hariri’s assassination at the BIEL complex in Downtown Beirut Friday. Hariri’s son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will deliver a televised speech on the occasion.


Palestinian Naim Abbas arrest drop in the bucket: judicial source
February 14, 2014/By Youssef Diab/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The handful of suspects recently arrested in connection with terrorist attacks targeting predominantly Shiite neighborhoods are merely a drop in the bucket, a judicial source warned Thursday, adding that many more extremist militants are thought to be active in the country. Wednesday’s arrest of Palestinian Naim Abbas, a “leading figure” in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was seen as a victory for authorities as his testimony allowed the Lebanese Army to thwart three more possible attacks. “But that does not necessarily mean the end of terrorist organizations,” the source said. “The [Army’s] security plan was based on information that Abbas and others including [previous detainees] ... are merely members or groups among dozens of other groups created by Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, such as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Nusra Front and the Jammal Jarrah Brigades.”
Last month, the Army arrested a senior commander in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Jamal Daftardar, as well as Sunni Sheikh Omar Atrash, who was charged with belonging to the brigades and Al-Qaeda and involvement in two suicide attacks in Beirut’s southern suburb of Haret Hreik. Daftardar has been charged with recruiting dozens of men and transferring them to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan after training them to use weapons and make bombs.
Last year, the Army also arrested Sheikh Nawaf al-Hussein, whose case was linked to that of Atrash.
Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr Thursday charged Hussein with involvement in the Haret Hreik attacks, and of belonging to Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
The arrest of Abbas, who was seen as a “big catch,” was the result of an exchange of Lebanese and Western intelligence, the source said. The operation mirrored the Western-Lebanese cooperation that led to the arrest of Majid al-Majid, the head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades who died in hospital while he was in Army custody, he added.
Investigation into Abbas would be “extensive” given that he was the link between terrorist individuals and groups operating Lebanon and Syria, the source said.
Such groups facilitated the entry of explosives-laden vehicles into Lebanon and recruited suicide bombers to carry out attacks in residential neighborhoods controlled by Hezbollah in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa, the source added.
Upon his arrest, Abbas confessed that he had prepared a car bomb to be set off at a later date and that the vehicle was left in Corniche al-Mazraa, the Army said Wednesday.
The source added that Abbas was supposed to determine the target of the explosives-laden vehicle after he had “secured a path that would not draw suspicion from the Army or Hezbollah.”
Abbas was also supposed to pick the target of a vehicle that the Army seized Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Military Investigative Judge Nabil Wehbi interrogated Atrash in the presence of his lawyer, Tareq Shandab.
Atrash denied the charges, saying he confessed under duress and that he had signed some of the testimonies without knowledge of its content, the source said.
Military Investigative Judge Imad Zein issued an arrest warrant Thursday against a man identified as Mohammad A. for belonging to a terrorist group. Mohammad’s case was linked to Daftardar’s.
Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt praised the Army’s success in cracking down on terrorist cells.
“These [Army] steps have once again confirmed that there is no substitute for the state and its security agencies which are working under difficult and complicated circumstances aggravated by internal political divisions and the raging regional fires,” the Druze lawmaker said in a statement.
“Amid mounting security and terrorist challenges, the security performance has sent a strong message that the state, when it makes up its mind, can achieve much,” Jumblatt added.
Jumblatt saluted the Army and all security apparatuses for this achievement and for their continued efforts to control the security situation and maintain stability.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces have tightened security in Sidon to forestall any possible reaction from militant groups following the arrest of Abbas, who lived in the Palestinian camp of Ain al-Hilweh near the southern coastal city.
The Army beefed up security measures at military posts in Sidon, closing the main road near the Zugheib barracks with cement barricades, metal barriers and barbed wire.
Troops also fortified military positions east of Sidon and in the southern town of Zahrani.
In an attempt to prevent bomb-laden vehicles from entering Lebanon, the Army used bulldozers to increase mounds of earth in areas near the border with Syria, particularly in Syrian territory near the northeastern town of Arsal up to the mountainous area of the town of Brital.
The Army set up checkpoints on the Arsal-Labweh road, searching cars coming out of Arsal.
Arsal’s residents reacted with shock and condemnation to the news that an explosives-laden car seized by the Army Wednesday had come from their town.
They rejected charges of terrorism in their town and urged the Army to tightly control the border with Syria to prevent rigged vehicles from entering Lebanese territory from Syria.
The Lebanese Army said Wednesday that it had thwarted an attempt to deliver a vehicle filled with explosives from Syria to suicide bombers in Lebanon.
It said the car, a silver Kia, was seized and that its occupants – three women – were all arrested.
The Kia had come from Yabroud in Syria and was destined for Beirut, the Army said, adding that the three women intended to transfer the car to suicide bombers.

Jihadist recruitment tops security fears in Tripoli
February 14, 2014/By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The watchful eyes of Army troops were transfixed on pedestrians as well as passing vehicles along Abdel-Hamid Karami Square in the northern city of Tripoli.
Their heavy presence was an indication that the military is expecting more security incidents that could either target their units or public centers, such as the Tripoli Serail or the Justice Palace.
In anticipation of the worst, the military has reinforced patrols with more tanks, giving one entering the troubled city the impression that it has become a war zone.
Information available about the security situation indicates that something dangerous is brewing in Tripoli and that it is related to the dynamics on the ground in embattled Syria. Residents express paranoia over the instability in the city, which includes bouts of arbitrary killings, assassinations, thefts and stray bullets. Recently however, it’s the growing number of young men involved in the fighting in Syria that has inspired fear for many residents.
Jackson Halal, a branch manager at a bank in Tripoli, is alarmed at what he sees around him. “We are at the bottom of an abyss, with the economic and social situation reflecting the possibility of a deep crisis and an unknown fate if things remain as they are,” he said. “Twenty seven stores which carry international clothing brands have closed this past week in the neighborhoods of Azmi, Nadim al-Jisr and Qadisha. They represented the central hub of Tripoli’s trade scene, while the rest of the souks have transformed into battlegrounds for the most trivial reasons.” The apparent calm in Tripoli actually conceals a fragile security situation, which could ignite at any moment. Armed gangs are taking advantage of the unbearable situation and the conflict in Syria to impose their own rules and conditions, and this has gripped daily life in the city.
One politically active sheikh denied that there was a link between armed gangs in Tripoli and the Syrian uprising but did say the former were using the conflict next door for financial gain in different ways, including blackmailing truck drivers coming into the country en route to Beirut, building illegally and violating construction permits. The Salafist community of Tripoli does not fear armed gangs, but is alarmed by the reported rise in extremist cells and groups that belong, ideologically speaking, to organizations like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
Their anxieties stem from the fact that these groups attract hordes of young Salafist boys. One member of the Salafist community who requested anonymity said the most dangerous development in Tripoli were the fatwas issued by Syrian rebel groups soliciting young Salafist men to fight. “The most dangerous developments in Tripoli nowadays are the effects these fatwas from ISIS and the Nusra Front are having on the minds of young men who won’t hesitate to carry out these calls, even the most dangerous of missions,” he said. “The latest fatwa, which is definitely the most dangerous is one issued by ISIS in Syria, calling for the killing of Alawites, robbing them of their money and capturing their women and children, calling them a misguided infidel sect,” he said, adding that the fatwa has said Alawites could be spared if “they forgo their religion and join them by publicly announcing their alliance.”
“Can you imagine the danger of adopting this fatwa in Tripoli and Akkar, which includes approximately 100,000 Alawite residents?” he asked. Moreover, he added, some are predicting that operations are being planned to target the Army in particular, which would constitute the first of many attacks that might eventually target Salafists.
“The Syrian presence, done under the pretext of seeking humanitarian assistance, is frightening, and raises doubts from all security standpoints,” he said. Association of Muslim Scholars member Sheikh Nabil Rahim voices similar fears, saying that so-called “blood fatwas” are extremely dangerous as they stand in opposition to the edicts of Islam, which forbids suicide and the killing of those looking to keep the peace, outside the context of war. He added that one maintains religious values by not shedding blood. “The state of Islam in Tripoli is not well and needs help, as there are fears that it will be exploited in Tripoli,” he said.
Rahim said these fears pertaining to the state of Islam are not limited to Lebanon, but could be seen across the Arab world, including Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is being targeted by the military government, on the ground in Syria where Islamist groups are fighting one another and in the disintegration of the Libyan government at the hands of fighting Islamist groups.
“The Islamist movement did not master any art, save the art of ruminating on one’s failures over and over again,” he said.
A large number of Salafist in Tripoli are apprehensive about the atmosphere in the city and are discussing their own situation among themselves. Many voice fears that Salafists will become scapegoats for regional projects, even though some of them expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of fighting in Syria.
The most prominent of these men is Hussam al-Sabbagh, known as Abu al-Hasan, who is one of Al-Qaeda’s strongmen in Tripoli.
Sabbagh did not participate in the latest battles in Tripoli because of his belief that the recurrent clashes are an absurd and useless fight. Instead, he has preoccupied himself with recruiting fighters for Syria. The latest developments on the ground in Syria have him worried, however. By way of example, he recalls that he begged one of his followers, Ahmad Diab, to return from the battlefields in Syria. But his pleas were unheeded, as Diab reportedly underwent a suicide mission. Ironically, it was Sabbagh who recruited Diab to fight in Syria. Numerous others have followed in Diab’s footsteps, participating in battles in the Syrian border town of Qalaat al-Hosn.
Though there is a lack of statistics, according to well-informed sources a number of fighters involved in the Qaalat al-Hosn battles were from Jund al-Sham, a rebel group, and approximately 100 members are Lebanese and Palestinian. The sources confirm that at least 25 of them are from Tripoli, and most are young boys under the age of 20. They are currently besieged in the Syrian town of Zara. Emir Khaled al-Mahmoud, known as Abu Sleiman, in his 30s, is in charge of Jund al-Sham. He was previously imprisoned in Roumieh.
Abu Sleiman, according to those who knew him, was a very simple man who hailed from the village of Mashta Hasan and was a resident of Bab al-Tabbaneh before moving to Ain al-Hilweh and joining Jund al-Sham. He made use of his roots to move and transfer a number of fighters into Syria, many of whom still manage to communicate with their families.
A large number of residents refused to speak about their sons fighting in Syria, though some said they were recruited over the Internet. But in terms of actually crossing over into Syria, the families said more than one person was involved, and they were usually never heard from again.


Lebanon PM-designate eyes end to govt vacuum
Al Arabyia/Friday, 14 February 2014/Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Tammam Salam was set to present a proposed cabinet line-up to the president Friday as he looks to end a 10-month vacuum, an aide told AFP.
Beirut has been without a government since Salam’s nomination in April last year amid deep divisions between the Shiite Hezbollah movement and the Sunni-led bloc of ex-premier Saad Hariri over the conflict in neighboring Syria. But in a sharp U-turn, Hariri announced on Jan. 21 that his bloc was prepared to join a government of national unity with Hezbollah and its allies, despite its strong opposition to the militant group’s military intervention in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. President Michel Sleiman’s office confirmed that a meeting was scheduled with the premier-designate during the morning, but did not give details on what would be discussed.
The Salam aide said it was not yet clear whether the proposed line-up would be formally announced after the meeting, saying only that “most of the obstacles have been overcome.” The new government will include both Hezbollah and Hariri bloc representatives, the first time in three years they have sat together in cabinet, both sides say. The final line-up has been held up by bickering not only over the key foreign and interior ministries but also over the contract-awarding energy and public works portfolios. The prolonged government vacuum has been marred by repeated deadly bomb attacks on Hezbollah strongholds claimed by hardline Sunni groups which support the Syrian rebels. Friday’s development comes nine years to the day after Hariri’s father Rafiq, also a former premier, was assassinated in a massive car bombing on the Beirut seafront. The trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members accused of murdering Hariri opened near The Hague last month. The February 14, 2005 blast killed billionaire Hariri and 22 others, provoking a political crisis that led to the withdrawal from Lebanon of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence. His son was due to give a televised address in the afternoon to mark the anniversary.


Interior post rift sets back birth of Lebanon Cabinet
February 14, 2014 /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The formation of Lebanon’s next Cabinet was delayed Friday amid a dispute over a key security portfolio between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, sources close to the formation process said.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam postponed his morning meeting with President Michel Sleiman to the afternoon in order to give rival groups more time to overcome the remaining obstacle over the Interior Ministry portfolio, the sources said. Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc is expected to hold talks with Salam later in the day to discuss recent developments.
Hezbollah and Speaker Nabih Berri are seeking a consensus candidate for the sovereign Interior Ministry post and have so far opposed candidate names put forward by the Future Movement including retired Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the sources said. The Future Movement announced its intention to name Rifi for the post during a 2.30 a.m. phone call to Salam, who in turn contacted Speaker Nabih Berri about the decision, the sources said. The speaker rejected the proposal, the sources added. Rifi is seen as a controversial figure by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition. Salam was appointed in April 2013, days after a government resignation prompted by a fall out over extending Rifi’s mandate and the subject of establishing a committee to oversee the parliamentary elections.
A compromise between the Future Movement and Free Patriotic Movement over the Energy Ministry had raised hopes late Thursday of an imminent birth of the Cabinet.
Under the compromise, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil will be allotted the Foreign Ministry, while Tashnag MP Arthur Nazarian will replace Bassil, a political source told The Daily Star Thursday.
Bassil will also double as acting energy minister, the source said. Nazarian belongs to the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc that is headed by MP Michel Aoun. The March 8 political had insisted the Energy portfolio remain in the hands of Bassil, his son-in-law. The March 8 coalition, Future Movement, and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party agreed last month on a deal to form an all-embracing Cabinet, in a bid to end months of political deadlock. The deal is based on 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup in which eight ministers are allotted to the March 8 and March 14 coalitions each. The rest of the ministers are to be named by the president, the prime minister-designate and Jumblatt. As of Thursday, rival coalitions have named candidates to a number of ministries. Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Berri’s parliamentary bloc will be named finance minister, while March 14 MP Butros Harb will be allotted the Telecommunications Ministry. Berri’s bloc will also get the Public Works Ministry portfolio. Abu Faour will be named health minister.

Sleiman demands action over Virgin Mary photo scandal
February 14, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman asked the judiciary Friday to take action against a man who posted a photo on the Internet of himself kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary. "Sleiman asked the [state prosecutor] to consider...Ali Itawi's photo kissing a statue of the Virgin Mary and his comment ‘she is no longer a virgin’..." his office said in a statement. The state prosecutor’s office is expected to launch an investigation into the incident and will likely summon Itawi for questioning. Inciting sectarian strife and desecrating religious symbols are punishable under Lebanese law. Local media websites circulated Itawi’s photo which was posted on Feb. 15, 2011 along with comments made by him and others in response to the picture.

Pope voices concern on Mideast situation
February 14, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Pope Francis voiced his deep concern Thursday over developments in the Middle East in general, and the situation in Lebanon in particular, the National News Agency reported. It said the pope spoke during his meeting with participants in the Roman Catholic Church’s central governing body, including Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, in the Vatican. Following the meeting, the pope met separately with Rai, the NNA said. The patriarch will meet again with the pope next week, it added. Rai is currently on a two-week visit to the Vatican to take part in meetings at the Roman Catholic Church’s governing body. Speaking to reporters at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport before departing for the Vatican Tuesday, Rai warned against forming a fait accompli government, saying such a move would plunge Lebanon into further political turmoil. The situation of Christians in the Middle East is expected to take center stage at upcoming talks between Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama. Diplomatic sources told The Daily Star that Obama’s visit to the Vatican and his meeting with the pope would focus on the position of Christians in the Middle East in general. The sources said the Vatican-American talks would try to clarify some of the most sensitive religious issues and would adopt stances that would benefit Christians in the Middle East and Lebanon in particular. The Vatican has already formed a crisis committee on the subject and has commissioned a group of bishops to prepare a report detailing the reality facing Christians in the region and their reasons for emigrating, as well as identifying possible solutions. At the request of the crisis committee, Bkirki has also prepared a report on the situation of the Middle East’s Christians which was discussed by the pope and Rai during the patriarch’s last visit to the Vatican.


Hale Visits Hariri's Grave as U.S. Reaffirms Support for STL
Naharnet/U.S. Ambassador David Hale recently visited ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's grave in downtown Beirut on his 9th assassination anniversary as the mission reaffirmed its support for the efforts exerted by the international tribunal. Hale toured the Mohammed al-Amin mosque and the memorial “to reflect on this period in Lebanon's hist” and to pay respect to deceased victims, the embassy said on twitter on Friday.
It reaffirmed its support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's “efforts to hold accountable those responsible for destabilizing acts of violence in Lebanon.”“As we follow the proceedings of the STL, we condemn the use of violence as a political tool,” the embassy tweeted. The in absentia trial in Hariri's Feb. 14, 2005 assassination started mid-January. In 2011, the STL indicted four Hizbullah members, Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra. A fifth Hizbullah suspect, Hassan Merhi, was indicted in 2013. The STL Trial Chamber decided on Monday to join the case against Merhi with the case against the four other suspects.

Mustaqbal Bloc Praises Abbas' Arrest, Says Achievements Highlight Failure of Autonomous Security
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal bloc praised on Thursday the army's “great security achievement” in arresting fugitive Naim Abbas, adding that this proves that autonomous security and illegal weapons "do not protect the Lebanese.""We salute the security forces' great achievement and particularly the army's arrest of terrorists that were planning dangerous criminal acts that could have threatened the lives of innocent civilians and harmed Lebanon's stability,” the bloc said in a released statement after the MPs' weekly meeting. The statement continued: “We consider that this experience underscores that security forces are capable of achieving major steps when they are allowed to do so and when they decide to take their mission seriously.” "We hope this energy continues and reveals the criminals that planned and executed the assassination of (former Finance Minister) Mohammed Shatah and those that targeted the mosques in (the northern city of) Tripoli.” These achievements prove that if security forces were supported, embraced, equipped properly and covered with a political decision, they can protect the Lebanese and civil peace, the MPs considered. “What happened yesterday also proves that autonomous security, security zones and illegal weapons cannot protect the country or the Lebanese.”On Wednesday, the army announced the arrest of a Palestinian leader in the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Naim Abbas is described as the group's number two man in Lebanon. The army also defused around 100 kilograms of explosives, several rockets and explosives belts placed in a black SUV that was parked in Corniche al-Mazraa neighborhood, where Abbas was arrested. On the eve of the ninth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination, al-Mustaqbal lawmakers considered that this year "there is a strong hope that justice is near.” "The Special Tribunal for Lebanon's revelations in the trial sessions remind us again of the dark phase that Lebanon has gone through during the Syria occupation,” they said.

U.N. fears major Syrian government assault on town of Yabroud
February 14, 2014/Reuters/GENEVA: The United Nations voiced concern on Friday at a military build-up near the rebel-held Syrian town of Yabroud, saying it feared a "major assault" by government forces and stressed that Damascus had a legal duty to allow civilians to leave. "We have received reports from within Syria that there have been numerous aerial attacks and shelling along with a military build-up around the town, suggesting a major assault by land may be imminent" on the town of 40,000-50,000 people, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing. Some 500-600 families have already fled and arrived in Arsal, Lebanon, citing "their fear of this attack" and the U.N. refugee agency is "bracing for a big influx" across the Lebanese border, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters.


Complex double game: Iran supporting Assad AND al-Qaeda?
Friday, 14 February 2014/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabyia
The United States Treasury Department in a report released this week has charged Iran for assisting al-Qaeda operatives based in the Islamic Republic. The charges have also been brought up because Tehran has allowed senior al-Qaeda members to conduct their operations from Iranian soil, according to the findings. In addition, this Thursday’s allegations and accusations by the Treasury Department strongly indicated that some political figures in the Iranian government and its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been covertly and tacitly backing al-Qaeda and other opposition groups in Syria's civil war. According to the Treasury Department, which is introducing new sanctions targeting Iranian terror links, “today the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of a key Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator who supports al-Qaeda’s vital facilitation network in Iran, that operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.”
Transit point
The report also adds, “the network also uses Iran as a transit point for moving funding and foreign fighters through Turkey to support al-Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria, including the al-Nusra Front.”
Playing the al-Qaeda card has been one of the most effective strategies utilized by the Iranian and Syrian regimes Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov— also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov—is characterized by the Treasury Department as an Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator. This facilitator “operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities,” and provides funding to al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network, along with logistical support as well. The report has caused some confusion, primarily in the West, on how it would be possible for Iran to be supporting al-Qaeda with its other commitments in Syria? Western media, some policy analysts, politicians, scholars, and even the Treasury Department have found it difficult to offer an explanation on the possible reasons that would make Iranian leaders support al-Qaeda in Syria and in Afghanistan.
Iran’s complex game
The issue with deciphering the unclear link between Iran and al-Qaeda (or other extremist al-Qaeda linked groups such as al-Nusra and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)), is that rational, logical analysis is mainly anchored in a binary system, whereas this situation resides in a more complex gray area. This type of thinking has prevented many from properly analyzing Middle Eastern politics, particularly Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, with all its nuances and complicated details.Those who are perplexed with this news, make the argument that if Iran is supporting the Assad regime, and if al-Qaeda is attempting to overthrow that regime, then Tehran cannot logically back al-Qaeda because they are on opposing sides of the conflict. Another argument comes down to religious alliances, citing that the Shiite ruling clerics in Iran are not naturally politically allied to Sunni groups.
The shortcomings of such analyses and perspectives are overlook the complicated and nuanced issues regarding Iran’s politics, rather categorizing conflicts into Sunni versus Shiite, Assad against oppositions, and so forth.
Not a bewilderment
If we take a close look at Iran’s realpolitik, its struggle for tipping the balance of power in its favor, as well as the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic interests of the Islamic Republic, the notion that al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network has been operating for a while in Iranian soil with the assistance of IRGC forces, can be viewed as totally realistic. Iran would allow and support al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network for several reasons. First of all, for the last three years— since the uprising erupted in Syria— both Tehran and Damascus have been playing a masterful political game with the United States and other Western powers by arguing that Assad’s regime is being targeted by terrorist enemies like al-Qaeda and its affiliations. Playing the al-Qaeda card has been one of the most effective strategies utilized by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. According to several credible reports including Telegraph and Business Insider, in order to substantiate and bolster their arguments, Assad released the extremists and Iran provided them with the required platforms to continue this complex double game.
Reportedly, the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, have been selling oil to the Assad regime in exchange for money and recruits with the assistance of Tehran.
Powerful groups
Secondly, and more fundamentally, it is crucial to have a powerful extremist group on Iran’s side regardless of the religious affiliation of that group. From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network can functions as powerful political leverage for the Islamic Republic over other countries in the region. al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network can be tacitly utilized in order to tip the balance of power in favor of Tehran.
Third, since the uprising erupted in Syria, the Islamic Republic has been considering other alternatives in case Assad’s apparatuses collapse. It is accurate to argue that Assad has been the staunchest geopolitical and geostrategic ally of Iran for decades, and it is also correct to point out that Tehran has been assisting Assad economically (with billions of dollars in credit), politically, through intelligence, advisory, and militarily.
But what matters for Tehran are power, geopolitics, its interests, regional hegemonic ambitions and the balance of power. Tehran will support Assad as long as it thinks that Assad can retain his power.
The moment that the regime collapses, Iran is likely to shift its political position and support any group that seems to come to power. From Iranian perspectives, the most powerful group among the oppositions in Syria are currently the al-Qaeda linked groups. As a result, having close ties with al-Qaeda is paramount for Iran in case Assad is overthrown. For now, keeping a relationship and supporting both al-Qaeda and Assad is political opportunism for Tehran.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at

Syria and the world’s responsibility
Friday, 14 February 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabyia

All are negotiating in Geneva without enthusiasm and hope. The regime’s delegation arrived with sole objective of sabotaging the conference that was aimed at ousting President Bashar al-Assad and establishing a transitional governing body. Negotiations will eventually fail because there is no real pressure exerted on the Damascus government to accept the political solution, and at the same time, there is no military support to defeat the government if it did not accept a solution. The failure of the international community - and particularly the United States - to deal seriously with the Syrian crisis has turned the country into a hell that threatens to be almost worse than Afghanistan. I have seen countless images of children and young people being trained by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra militant groups in areas under their control; all this, along with thousands of fighters who were recruited by Syrians and foreigners who could not tolerate the terrible injustice in the country. What has triggered all this was the lack of a solution in Syria - giving terrorists the much-needed time and space over the last three years.
Almost impossible
Iran and Hezbollah have succeeded in sabotaging Syria and turning it into a ruined country that will be almost impossible to rebuild. They have provoked terrible injustices against the majority of Syrians, who have suffered years of killing, displacement, intimidation and starvation. After all this inequality, are we still surprised to see young people join al-Qaeda?
Those who believe that Syria is just a useless nation because it does not produce oil should be worried. The war-torn country has become a haven for terrorism in the world, and threatens to turn this region and the world into a living hell during the few coming years. The Iranian and Syrian regimes have steered al-Qaeda to sabotage the situation in Syria and threaten the West about the risks of replacing Assad’s regime, and they actually succeeded in that. The result is a devastated country and an international terrorist training camp.
Important solution
The Geneva negotiations are an important solution for all; they will guide the toppling of Assad and establish a transitional governing body that would include some of the current regime’s institutions along with some of its men who are not involved in the bloodshed of the Syrian people. The negotiations will also provide the protection for the country's minorities and the needed support for the new regime. Without taking advantage of the U.N.-backed Geneva negotiations, the war will linger and chaos will expand to reach Iraq, Lebanon and possibly Turkey. **This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 14, 2014.

Bahrain protesters, police clash on uprising anniversary
February 14, 2014/Agence France Presse
DUBAI: Bahraini protesters marking the third anniversary of an Arab Spring-inspired uprising clashed with security forces on Friday in the capital Manama and outlying villages, witnesses said. Hundreds of men and women took to the streets in parts of the capital and in Shiite villages that have been at the forefront of the campaign among the Gulf state's Shiite majority for a consitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom. They were met with tear gas and birdshot, the witnesses said, adding that several demonstrators were wounded. The clashes came ahead of an afternoon march called by an influential cyber-group on the capital's Pearl Square, where demonstrators camped out for a month in early 2011 before being violently dispersed by troops. Bahrain announced in June that it had arrested leading members of the February 14 youth coalition, accusing it of links to Shiite Iran. Saudi-led Gulf troops deployed in Bahrain on the eve of the March 2011 crackdown, manning key positions while the tiny kingdom's own security forces dispersed the protesters. The Pearl Square roundabout and its central monument, which were a symbol of the uprising, were later razed and the site remains heavily restricted. "Down with Hamad," protesters, some wrapped in white shrouds and others covering their faces, chanted on Friday referring to the king. "We will never surrender," they shouted as police helicopters hovered overhead and police forces, deployed heavily across the kingdom, set up checkpoints outside Shiite villages, witnesses said.
Earlier this month, Bahrain toughened jail sentences for offending King Hamad, announcing that such an offence will carry a minimum one-year and a maximum seven-year term, as well as a fine of up to $26,000 (19,260 euros). The Shiite opposition called for three days of protests to mark the anniversary as it seeks to give new momentum to its campaign for the ruling Khalifa family to surrender its grip on all key cabinet posts in favour of an elected government. The main Shiite opposition party Al-Wefaq, which has boycotted parliament since the uprising, said several areas had observed a complete shutdown Thursday following its call for a strike on the last day of the working week in Bahrain -- ahead of a mass rally the bloc is planning for Saturday. The interior ministry insisted that "business largely progressed as normal throughout the day" on Thursday. "In general, citizens went about their daily business and work was normal in government and private organisations," said a ministry statement. But it did confirm "some cases of rioting and vandalism in villages where groups blocked roads with bricks, iron spikes, debris and oil". It said 29 people were arrested. Amnesty International on Thursday condemned Bahrain's "relentless repression" of dissent and said it feared a violent crackdown on the anniversary demonstrations. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Thursday urged Bahrain "to take immediate measures to restore the rule of law, to put an end to ongoing human rights violations and to comply with their reiterated pledges before the population of Bahrain and the international community". The FIDH says at least 89 people have been killed since the uprising began three years ago. In a speech published on the referendum anniversary by the official BNA news agency, King Hamad affirmed the kingdom's "commitment to complete reform in accordance with our circumstances, national interests, identity and values". Two rounds of national reconciliation talks between the opposition and the government failed to make any headway on a settlement in the strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran. Bahrain is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet.


Opposition: Syria talks at 'impasse' but not over
February 14, 2014/By John Heilprin/Associated Press
GENEVA: The United States and Russia blamed each other Friday for the failure of Syrian peace talks to take off, while an opposition spokesman said negotiations have reached a "dead end" but may continue for at least another day. A second round of peace talks in Geneva has yielded little more than acrimony. Violence has escalated on the ground and delegates have not agreed on an agenda for the talks.
Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition delegation, told reporters that "the negotiations are not moving toward a political solution," accusing the government side of "belligerence." He urged all parties, particularly the Russians who are the Assad government's biggest ally, to exert pressure on the government to break the deadlock. There has been no response, Safi said, to the proposal his side submitted Wednesday for ending the civil war, but the two sides might meet again Saturday. "Unfortunately we have reached a dead end," Safi said, adding that he hoped international powers would exert enough pressure to change that. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of using Syrian the talks for the sole purpose of "regime change," while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Moscow was backtracking on earlier commitments.
"The only thing they want to talk about is the establishment of a transitional governing body," Lavrov said. "Only after that are they ready to discuss the urgent and most pressing problems, like terrorism," he added, speaking after meeting with the German foreign minister in Moscow. The Syrian government delegation says halting "terrorism" should be the priority, and rules out talks on transition while the violence rages. Kerry said in Beijing that agreeing on a transition government was the sole purpose of the talks in Geneva. He said Lavrov had stood up beside him several times when Kerry has said that was the purpose.
"There is no question about what this is about and any efforts to try to be revisionist or walk back or step away from that frankly is not keeping work or keeping faith with the words that have been spoken and the intent of this conference," Kerry said. The talks aim to end the conflict which has killed more than 130,000 people and displaced millions in three years. Lavrov said the Russian-American initiative for the talks in Geneva clearly stated that discussions must not have artificial time constraints or deadlines. "Now they are saying that to keep talking is senseless, because the government (of Syria) doesn't want to agree about the makeup of a transitional governing body. We are going in circles," Lavrov said.


No progress' in peace talks: Syrian deputy FM
February 14, 2014/Agence France Presse/GENEVA: A fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks between Syria's government and opposition has made no progress, Faisal Muqdad, the country's deputy foreign minister said Friday. "We deeply regret that this round did not make any progress," Muqdad told reporters, as both sides traded blame over the deadlock in the Geneva talks, the second round of which began Monday.

Generations of Blasphemers: A Christian Family's Struggle to Endure Persecution in Pakistan
William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia
2/13/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws continue to be at the root of many incidents of Christian persecution in the South Asian country. The simple accusation of a Christian blaspheming against Islam is enough to incite mob violence, extrajudicial killings and the destruction of entire Christian communities.
Unfortunately, these extreme reactions have led to Pakistan's blasphemy laws being among the most abused laws in the land. Sometimes used to settle personal scores, other times used to pressure Christians into renouncing their faith, Pakistan's blasphemy laws are routinely used as the weapon of choice for extremists looking to persecute Christians. For one Christian family in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws have been used against them in this way for generations.
Family Forced to Flee Blasphemy and Forced Conversion
Zafar* Masih (name changed for security reasons), now age 65, used to live in a small settlement in Pakistan's Punjab province with his wife and children. In that small settlement, he taught at a small government school. Because he was a religious minority working at the school, several of his Muslim colleagues tried to get him to convert from Christianity to Islam.
After Zafar refused several times, his fellow Muslim teachers became upset. They didn't understand why Zafar didn't want to convert to Islam. Unfortunately, some of these teachers felt so insulted that they generated a plan to teach Zafar a "lesson."
On October 2, 2000, while Zafar was teaching his students, one of his Muslim colleagues burst into his classroom and accused Zafar of desecrating the name of the Prophet Muhammad by writing it on the ground. The colleague was then joined by several others in Zafar's classroom. The group began to shout that Zafar had blasphemed against Islam.
Using the blasphemy accusation as leverage, Zafar's Muslim colleagues gave Zafar 20 days to convert to Islam or else they would officially file the blasphemy accusation against him at the local police station. They also threatened that "something" bad would happen to his family. Although Zafar's colleagues never officially registered the blasphemy accusation against Zafar, his colleagues did follow through on their other threats.
On October 23, Zafar and his entire family were abducted by Islamic extremists and were forced to sign documents stating they had converted to Islam. Zafar and his family were also forced into reciting the Shahada (the Muslim profession of faith). After this attack, the family fled to one of Pakistan's larger cities and went into hiding, leaving behind their home and all of their belongings.
Sons Inherited the Persecution of their Father
Unfortunately, that is not where the suffering of this Christian family ended. After being forced to flee due to the threat of a blasphemy accusation and the attempted forced conversions, Zafar and his family believed they had found safety hiding in one of Pakistan's major cities. Unfortunately, the persecution that happened in their hometown followed them to their hiding place in the city.
In June 2010, Zafar's oldest son, Awais* (name changed for security reasons), was attacked and kidnapped by three masked men. While in captivity, the kidnappers tortured Awais and told him they knew his father had been accused of blasphemy and that his entire family had converted to Islam. Again under torture and the threat of a new blasphemy accusation, Awais was forced to convert to Islam. After about a week, Awais was released and he fled to a new hiding place.
Then, in October 2013, the family was struck another blow when Zafar's youngest son, Younis* (name changed for security reasons), was accused of circulating text messages profaning the Prophet Muhammad. "My son had been forced to leave a job at a factory after Muslim colleagues attempted to persuade him to convert to Islam," Zafar told ICC in an interview.
When their attempts to convert Younis became aggressive, Younis left the factory and established a successful garment shop. In late September or early October, Younis lost his mobile phone along with the SIM card registered to his name. "Unfortunately, he did not deactivate his SIM," Zafar told ICC.
Then, on October 2, a former colleague from the factory who had participated in the attempts to convert Younis to Islam filed a statement with the police claiming Younis had circulated blasphemous text messages. Upon hearing a blasphemy accusation was filed against him, Younis immediately went into hiding; however, he was discovered on October 10 by police and severely beaten before being locked up where he has remained awaiting trial.
One Christian Family's Bleak Future
For Zafar and his family, blasphemy accusations, forced conversion and other forms of persecution have forced them into living a life dominated by fear and pain. With one son facing a blasphemy accusation that could earn a death sentence and other children who will likely be forced to face more persecution due to the stigma of being related to an accused blasphemer, the future of this Christian family does not look bright.
This story, unfortunately, is not as exceptional as one would think or hope. Thousands of Christian families across Pakistan daily live with the threat of a false blasphemy accusation overshadowing their ability to exercise their Christian faith freely. Without change, persecution and false blasphemy accusations will continue to torment and destroy the lives of countless Christians who are forced to call Pakistan home.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for Africa:
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Canada Fights Wildlife Trafficking

February 13, 2014 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today announced an additional contribution in emergency funding to combat wildlife trafficking in Eastern Africa. Baird is attending the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade from February 13 to 14, 2014.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking is known to fund the drug trade, corruption and terrorist activities in Africa,” said Baird. “Canada continues to make a positive contribution to this fight. Today, I am proud to announce an additional $2 million in emergency funding support to combat wildlife trafficking in Eastern Africa, and thereby disrupt these illicit networks involved in poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife.”
In his address to the conference, Baird recommended that the world take urgent and decisive action to deal with the current poaching crisis that threatens the survival of African elephant and rhinoceros populations and has dire consequences for security, governance and the livelihoods of communities.
A backgrounder follows.
For further information, media representatives may contact:
Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
Follow us on Twitter: @DFATDCanada
Backgrounder - Combatting wildlife trafficking
The illegal trade in wildlife has increased exponentially over the past 5-7 years and affects international security, stability, governance and biodiversity.
Canada’s $2-million contribution will build the capacity of the Kenyan Wildlife Service to combat international wildlife trafficking at the source, thereby improving national security and stability in the rural and border areas by disrupting illicit networks involved in the poaching and illegal trading of endangered species.

Only a regional accord can help stabilize Syria
February 13, 2014/By David Ignatius/The Daily Star
The 50th anniversary of the Munich Security Conference this month was a celebration of the power of the democratic vision in Europe – one that now stretches all the way toward Ukraine. But there was a sense of defeat in the room, almost of collective shame, when the subject turned to Syria. The international alliance that won the Cold War has been bootless in the case of Syria. That’s partly the fault of an indecisive Obama administration, but it’s really a much larger problem. The United Nations’ system for resolving disputes is failing in Syria, as it did in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. The United States, this time, hasn’t been willing to organize a “coalition of the willing” to do the dirty work. “Things are bad and getting worse,” said Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy for Syria, who seemed near despair as he described the failure last month of his latest mediation effort, known as Geneva II. He is continuing his fraught mediation effort this week. The Syria tragedy embodies a deeper intellectual failure. The Cold War was, at bottom, the triumph of an idea. What is missing in Syria is an animating strategic framework that could power a U.S.-led coalition. Instead, we have a conflict driven by sectarian hatred between Sunnis and Shiites, which in turn is fueled by the rivalry of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Diplomatic efforts are blocked by Russia, which still imagines itself as America’s rival. What to do? In the short run, the U.S. should step up its training and assistance for the moderate Syrian opposition. This has multiple benefits: A stronger opposition can fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, push back Al-Qaeda and safeguard humanitarian corridors. Perhaps it will eventually be strong enough to win a cease-fire. But this is a formula for reducing the bloodshed not for settling the conflict. Breaking the Syria deadlock will require a strategy that defuses the sectarian war ravaging the Middle East. I’ve been hearing versions of this approach recently at the White House, from senior British analysts, from a few farsighted Gulf Arabs, and even from Iranians. They all recognize that bridging the Sunni-Shiite schism requires a regional security accord that reconciles the interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the engines of the conflict. This regional balance, in turn, requires an understanding between the U.S. and Russia. Lebanon offers a lesson in how sectarian conflicts can be stabilized. This may sound paradoxical, given that Beirut always seems a few minutes from chaos. But the Lebanese usually avoid disaster with their compromise formula of “neither victor nor vanquished.” My Lebanon tutorial came in a conversation with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. He explained that the Taif Agreement of 1989, which ended the Lebanese civil war after 15 years, was possible because of two breakthroughs: a regional agreement and U.S.-Russian cooperation. There were many diplomatic false starts along the way – in peace talks at Geneva, Lausanne and Cairo. It helped that the Cold War was ending, for until there was consensus at the top, Mikati notes, the Lebanese militias kept fighting. A surprising public articulation of this approach came in Munich from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “Iran and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in a secure environment,” he told the conference. “Neither one of us will benefit from sectarian divisions, neither one of us will benefit from extremism.” It’s hard to take Zarif’s statement at face value when Iran is pumping Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi Shiite militiamen into Syria. But it’s the right concept. To get Syria right, policymakers should ask themselves what they want the Middle East to look like in five or 10 years, and then reverse engineer from that model. A truly stable future will be possible only with a security balance that can accommodate Shiite Iran and the Sunni Gulf states. To be accepted as a regional power, Iran will have to reverse its nuclear program. The Sunni nations, meanwhile, will have to embrace reforms that can break the power of Muslim extremism. This Sunni empowerment will require a new Egyptian president who’s confident enough to stop jailing journalists and a Saudi Arabia that’s prepared to move ahead under the next generation of leaders. Authoritarian tactics will be a sign of Sunni weakness, not strength. Here’s a group snapshot of a more stable future: The United States, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia sitting around a table to draft a deal that can stop the Syrian nightmare. Leaving it to the Syrians to resolve this tragedy is a cruel folly.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

PM: Libya ‘under control’ after coup claim
Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the country is “under control” after an army official claimed a coup. (File photo: Reuters)
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Friday, 14 February 2014/Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Friday described the situation in the country as “under control” and that the government in Tripoli was “working as normal” after an ex-army official announced suspension of the government and parliament in a foiled coup attempt. “The government is working like normal, and the situation in the country is under control,” Zeidan said, confirming “everything is just fine,” in his television address. Zeidan vowed that his government “will not allow anyone to hijack the revolution” that toppled Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and that the people, not the army are the sole deciders of the country’s future. Meanwhile, Al Arabiya News Channel showed on Friday a video of Khalifa Haftar, former head of the land forces, announcing the suspension of parliament and government and presenting a five-point road map for the country. Al Arabiya News Channel's sources denied initial reports that communications had been cut off in the capital, Tripoli. The same reports also said that Haftar’s forces claimed control over main roads in Tripoli. Zeidan said Haftar “can say whatever he wants to say or dream of doing.”He also said that he gave orders for measures to take place against Haftar. The Libyan government's security body, meanwhile, denied on Friday that there was a military coup in Libya, Al Arabiya News Channel reported. The Supreme Security Committee (SSC) was created in 2011 to protect the country after the security vacuum created after Qaddafi’s ouster in 2011. However, Libyan defense minister Abdulah al-Thani was reported by local media as saying Thursday that a military coup led by former army officials and politicians had been foiled. Thani said the coup was an attempt to oust Libya's government and parliament, which are struggling to create a ruling military council after the country is awash with heavily-armed former rebels and Islamist militants who helped oust the former regime. Thani said the country’s military chief Nuri Abu Sahmain had issued orders to arrest the men behind the coup.

Mr. President, is it infidelity if it’s just in print?
Friday, 14 February 2014/Ahlya Fateh/Al ARabyia
Many years ago I was at a large society wedding in London, nothing new, the ballroom filled to the brim with glamorous sari-clad Aunties, dripping in their nuptial jewels and a lone Sheikh seated on a stage next to a nervous groom. While we waited to hear whether the bride had said “yes,” the chattering classes that make up British Pakistani society carried on dissecting the evening so far. As the volume of their murmurings rose higher and higher, the Sheikh felt that he should inject a little decorum to ensure the guests were aware of the religious solemnity they were witnessing. “Ladeeez and Gintelmeen,” he intoned, “I would ask you to all consider the importance of the marriage that is proceeding before your eyes, and to all the married couples here tonight, for them to please consider the state of their own marriages!” Now I was a teenager at the time and I will never forget the look of horror that swept across the faces of the congregation – no one wants to think about the state of their marriage...EVER! And certainly not at a wedding. However, we are all very interested in the state of everyone else’s marriage, no? Whether it is your neighbor, or your cousin’s best friend’s sister we love to hear about OPM – in business this means Other People’s Money but in this case it means Other People’s Marriages. When it comes to OPM then the more famous the protagonists the higher the level of interest until it borders on nuptial voyeurism as celebrated and then autopsied in the pages of Hello! and OK!
Breathless disclosures
Last month it was France’s President and First Lady who separated after allegations of Francois Hollande’s infidelity, last week there were breathless disclosures about Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Hurley and this week it was the turn of the Obamas and Beyonce and Jay Z. The Obama story followed on from another article alleging that Michelle Obama was planning to divorce her husband at the end of his Presidency.
Whether it is your neighbor, or your cousin’s best friend’s sister we love to hear about OPM – in business this means Other People’s Money but in this case it means Other People’s Marriages
Apart from Hollande; both the subsequent allegations have been strongly refuted by all parties involved. Furthermore, the sources of both the Clinton and the Obama stories have backtracked to say that they were either misquoted or that they were being treated for a substance abuse problem (handy) and couldn’t be trusted to be a reliable source. As I say these are all unsubstantiated stories, basically rumors with a ghost writer but thanks to our friend Mr. Internet, they are now available for us to chew over and speculate on during our morning coffee. Gossip has become fact and rumor is reality.
As we get more and more reliant on social media for our news, how difficult will it be to maintain journalistic integrity (remember that concept?) for all of us. Do you trust a Wikipedia page to be factually correct? In all my years as an editor, the chief sub editor made me very aware how important fact checking was – it is the difference between a good piece and a lawsuit. When challenging any piece, if the answer was “I found it online,” the copy would come flying back to the poor individual who had written it with a dressing down.
Libel lawyers
I personally spent hours on the phone with libel lawyers to ensure that everything that was printed was passed by them. With a magazine you have a month to edit but with an internet news page you can go to print in seconds and it can be read by the whole world. So how do Mr and Mrs Jay Z feel about the media speculating on their relationship with the Obamas? No matter how famous one gets I can’t believe it won’t be a little uncomfortable the next time they all get together for dinner in the White House. That’s the problem with rumors, they don’t disappear into the ether, but linger like a forgotten fragrance in our memories, only to spring into relief when we least expect it. Now if only I could get a rumor going about me and George Clooney, that would make it a Valentine’s Day to remember!
Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.

Egypt's Defense and Foreign Ministers Visit Moscow
Adel El-Adawy/Washinton Institute/February 13, 2014
The Russian-Egyptian "2+2" meeting in Moscow does not signify a foreign policy realignment in Cairo.
Although Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy's trip to Moscow is significant, there is no foreign partner that can replace Washington. Amid rapid political developments on the ground, the decades-long U.S. investment in the Egyptian military has served as the anchor of the bilateral relationship in the past few turbulent months. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called Sisi more than twenty times during this period, with some calls lasting more than an hour. More broadly, Washington and Cairo's mutual strategic security interests remain the central pillar in their relations.
Yet the holdup in U.S. military aid shipments in October -- while the Egyptian military was fighting major terrorist cells in the Sinai and tackling serious border security threats -- led to the current rapprochement with Moscow. Soon after President Obama's decision, the head of Russian military intelligence visited Cairo, followed in November by an unprecedented "2+2" visit by the Russian foreign and defense ministers. The bilateral discussions involved a tentative $2 billion arms sale to the Egyptians, funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That deal was not formally signed during this week's trip, but it could be finalized during the next meeting in Moscow, scheduled for March 28. Since former president Muhammad Morsi's June 30 ouster, the White House has been reluctant to fully support Egypt's political trajectory and has mainly been concerned about linking the Muslim Brotherhood's status to the country's prospects of stability. The inconsistent U.S. policy toward Egypt has made Cairo open to offers of weapons sales from other countries, and Russia was quick to seize the opportunity for commercial and geostrategic reasons. Yet Egypt's move should not be interpreted as a step toward abandoning Washington. On the contrary, U.S.-Egyptian relations remain of vital strategic importance, and military cooperation remains strong. At the same time, however, Washington's suspension of military aid pushed Egypt to seek weapons elsewhere in order to secure its basic national security interests. Unlike the Obama administration, the Egyptian government believes that the country's ongoing instability stems not from the domestic political situation, but rather from embedded terrorist cells in Sinai and various border security threats, such as weapons smuggling from Libya, Sudan, and Gaza. To be sure, monitoring the outcome of the Egyptian-Russian arms deal is of critical importance. Yet even as Sisi and Fahmy visit Moscow, Egypt's U.S.-educated military leadership is eager to maintain the strategic relationship with Washington. The test for the Obama administration is to be nimble enough to sustain a robust and mutually beneficial security relationship, including the provision of substantial military aid, while also maintaining America's commitment to human rights and unfettered participation in political life by peaceful, legitimate actors. For example, the Moscow trip has been overshadowed in Western mainstream media by the three-week-old arrest of an Egyptian citizen who worked at the U.S. embassy and was responsible for setting up meetings between U.S. and Brotherhood officials. Some have alleged that he was participating in a Brotherhood demonstration when he was detained, but there is still no official information about the reason behind the arrest.Given Cairo's mistakes during and since Hosni Mubarak's presidency, balancing security relations and human-rights concerns will remain an uphill battle if Sisi becomes president as expected. Yet it is by no means an impossible task.
**Adel El-Adawy is a Next Generation Fellow at The Washington Institute.