January 06/14


Bible Quotation for today/Jesus the Real Vine
John 15/01-17: " “I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit.  You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you.  Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.  Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.  My Father's glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples.  I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you.  The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.  And you are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father.  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name.  This, then, is what I command you: love one another

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 06/14

Fending off Al-Qaeda/The Daily Star/January 06/14

The Coalition and the challenges ahead/By: Fayez Sara/ASharq Alawsat/January 06/14


 Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 06/14

Lebanese Related News

U.S. urges expats in Lebanon to exercise ‘extreme caution’

North Lebanon MP Khaled Daher says doubts Akkar resident behind Beirut blast

Al-Rahi Says Officials Should Stop Booby-trapped Cars by Engaging in Dialogue

Report: Al-Rahi Backs off from Support for Nonpartisan Cabinet after Berri Warning

Cabinet Formation Consultations Activated Yet No Solution Looms in Horizon

Qortbawi: Al-Majed to be Buried in Lebanon if No Repatriation Request Made

Ethiopian Woman Arrested at Beirut Airport for Drug Smuggling

Army Consolidates Presence in al-Souairi after Jinbeen Family Member Succumbs to Injuries

1 Killed, 4 Wounded in Renewed Tripoli Clashes

Calm returns to Tripoli after four wounded

Qaouq Says Nusra, ISIL 'Present in Lebanon', Urges Formation of Unity Govt.

Al-Satem's Family Receives His Remains as Reports Say He Recruited Syria Fighters

Majid died of natural causes: Lebanon minister

Asiri: Al-Majed's Family Submitted Request for Repatriation of His Body

March 14 wants Lebanon under Israel’s control: Raad

Khat seizure at Lebanon airport, Ethiopian

Egypt bars Canadian Shi'ites from entering 

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Pope Francis says to visit Middle East in May

Pope to nuns: Why aren't you answering the phone? Francis cold-calls nuns, gets machine
Influential Syrian opposition bloc says will shun peace talks

Kerry: Mideast Peace Plan will be 'Fair, Balanced'

Netanyahu Accuses Palestinians of 'Inciting Hatred'
Kerry says Iran could help on sidelines of Syrian peace talks

Hospital: Ex-Israel PM Sharon Faces 'Imminent' Death

Kerry: US will support fight against al-Qaida-linked militants in Iraq without troops
Iraq Readying 'Major Attack' to Retake Fallujah

Monitor: Jihadists Kill 24 Rebels in North Syria

Egypt's President Visits Coptic Cathedral, Pope'

Defected Syria PM 'could become opposition president'

Syria rebels push al Qaeda back; U.S. open to Iran role

Human body parts 'fall from sky' in Saudi Arabia  

The Derailes Al Raei and the Maronite corrupted politicians

Elias Youssef Bejjani /If the derailed  Maronite Patriarch Bchara Al Raei is afraid and extremely hesitant to take mere patriotic Lebanese stances because he is heart, mind and soul pro, the Syrian-Iranian Axis of Evil, let him give up his clergy garment and go home. We, Maroties do not need a puppet and subservient Patriarch. The Maronites need a courageous, modest, patriotic, honest and faithful Patriarch. Sadly Al Raei is a Satan no more no less and those who appease him are his partners in all his anti Lebanese rhetoric and stances. Frankly We do not have at the present time actual and patriotic Maronite leaders in Lebanon or in the Diaspora, we have unfortunately third class cheap politicians who are selfish, mean, with no consciousness, opportunists, liars, chameleons and a punch of temple merchants who are hungry for personal gains and power. They all focus on the presidency and not on the welfare of the Lebanese or the future and the fate of the country. They with no shame appease and cajole Al Raei because they are cut from the same cloth. There is no hope from these derailed false leaders.


U.S. urges expats in Lebanon to exercise ‘extreme caution’

January 05, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The American Embassy in Lebanon Sunday urged U.S. citizens in the country to exercise extreme caution following recent bombings in Beirut and other security incidents, warning that shopping malls and supermarkets were likely targets for future terrorist attacks. “The U.S. government strongly urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to exercise extreme caution and to avoid hotels, western-style shopping centers, including western-style grocery chain stores, and any public or social events where U.S. citizens normally congregate, as these sites are likely targets for terrorist attacks for at least the near term,” a statement on the Embassy’s website said.
The advisory also urged all U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon, citing “safety and security concerns.” “ U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks,” the statement said. Lebanon has seen a spike in incidents linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria, the most recent of which was the Jan. 2 suicide bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs that killed four people and wounded more than 70 others. Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the attack.  Days earlier, former Minister Mohammad Shatah was assassinated by a car bomb in Downtown Beirut. The Dec. 27, 2012, attack in the bustling central district of Beirut also killed seven other people and wounded 70. The Embassy advised U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Lebanon to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). “STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate,” the statement said.

North Lebanon MP Khaled Daher says doubts Akkar resident behind Beirut blast

January 05, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: North Lebanon MP Khaled Daher Sunday voiced doubt that one of his constituents was the suicide bomber involved in the recent deadly bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
“There are a lot of doubts [surrounding the bombing] ... [and given there are reports] the body of Satem was placed in the car,” the Akkar MP said, referring to Qotaiba Mohammad al-Satem who the Lebanese authorities identified as the suicide bomber behind the Jan. 2 attack in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Satem, who hailed from Akkar, was identified from identification documents found among the debris of shops and cars destroyed in the bombing in the Haret Hreik neighborhood of the southern suburbs of Beirut that claimed the lives of four people. The attack also wounded more than 70 people. “Officials are saying they knew about the car that exploded in Haret Hreik for days, the car had been roaming in the country and they knew about it, this makes one skeptical,” Daher said, speaking during a news conference from his residence in north Lebanon. Daher, a Future Movement lawmaker and staunch supporter of the uprising in Syria, also blamed Hezbollah’s military intervention in Lebanon’s neighbor for the bombing in Haret Hreik.  “The Haret Hreik blast is a reaction to the practices of Hezbollah which is killing the Syrian people and Hezbollah is responsible for [causing] both bombings,” he said, referring to the Haret Hreik attack and the car bombing a month earlier in Downtown Beirut that killed former Minister Mohammad Shatah. Daher warned that that the situation in Lebanon would deteriorate further if Hezbollah did not deviate from its course in Syria and end its military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Who opened the Syrian fire against Lebanon? The worse is yet to come if Hezbollah does not stop killing the Syrian people,” he said. Daher, a staunch critic of the March 8 alliance, also claimed he was facing death threats, hinting that Hezbollah may be behind a campaign to intimidate the lawmaker.  “I received messages and phone calls including death threats from local and foreign numbers,” he said. “The callers cursed me, my mother and family and even some of the [companions, disciples and family of the Prophet Mohammad],” he added. The MP said he came to the conclusion he was the target of an intimidation campaign after trying several times to engage with those making the calls.
“I noticed that those calling me are experts in Lebanese and regional politics and I tried to communicate with them and noticed they aimed at intimidating me,” he said. Daher said the intimidation would have no effect. “I wasn’t intimidated by the bombings that carry messages [to the March 14 coalition]. You think that text messages and phone calls are going to stop me from speaking my mind?” he asked.Daher warned that the intimidation, which he suggested Hezbollah may be involved in, needed to cease. “They better stop such a cheap approach, particularly given that those making the calls seem to be Hezbollah [affiliates]” he said.

Al-Rahi Says Officials Should Stop Booby-trapped Cars by Engaging in Dialogue
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi reiterated on Sunday that rival officials should engage in dialogue to confront the security dangers and political crises gripping the country. He said in his Sunday sermon during mass he held in Bkirki that he “prayed for stability in Lebanon, which on the second day of New Year fell in grief over the Haret Hreik bombing.” A suicide car bombing rocked the Haret Hreik district in Beirut's southern suburbs on Thursday, leaving scores of casualties. It came a week after a car bomb targeted former Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah in downtown Beirut, killing him and several others. Al-Rahi said the bombings should move the conscience of officials to engage in dialogue and stop booby-trapped cars that are roaming our cities. “Aren't there wise (people) who free themselves from their interests and react positively to the president's invitation for dialogue to resolve the political crisis?” he asked. “Let the rival parties know that they are causing all the bombings,” he said. “Aren't there wise (people) that would work together to prepare for the presidential elections to be held on time and to react positively to the prime minister-designate's (efforts) to form the appropriate cabinet?” he wondered. The patriarch regretted that the criminal hands of Takfiris had targeted Lebanon's culture in the northern city of Tripoli. He was referring to the torching of Greek Orthodox priest Father Ibrahim Sarrouj's historical library. The attack on the decades-old library came after reports claimed that the priest had published an article deemed insulting to Islam. However, Internal Security Forces commander in Tripoli General Bassam al-Ayoubi announced at a press conference that Sarrouj has “absolutely no links to the published article.” Al-Saeh Library is considered one of the most renowned libraries in Tripoli and the second largest in Lebanon. Sarrouj says the library contains more than 80,000 books.“Is it because he is Christian that his library was torched?” al-Rahi wondered. The patriarch reminded the faithful that the church calls for holding international agreements to spare humanity the dangers of armed conflicts.


Report: Al-Rahi Backs off from Support for Nonpartisan Cabinet after Berri Warning
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi has backed off from his support for a so-called neutral government over fears that further divisions among the rival parties could affect the presidential elections, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat quoted sources as saying. The March 8 alliance has been calling for a government in which it would get nine ministers along with March 14 and centrists six. But the March 14 camp has been sticking to a nonpartisan cabinet. Reports said lately that the deep divisions pushed Premier-designate Tammam Salam and President Michel Suleiman to agree on a fait accompli neutral government. Al-Rahi's new stance came after Speaker Nabih Berri warned on several occasions that a neutral cabinet would have negative repercussions on the presidential elections. The Constituent sets March 25 as the deadline for parliament to start holding sessions to election a new president, which according to the division of power in Lebanon goes to a Maronite. Suleiman's six-year term ends in May. Berri has said that a de facto cabinet would worsen differences between the rival parties and complicate the presidential election process by preventing consensus on a new head of state. “What would such a government do in a month and ten days at the end of a president's term?” Berri asked earlier this week in reference to the expiry of Suleiman's mandate in May. Such a warning prompted al-Rahi to warn Suleiman to procrastinate on issuing decrees on a fait accompli government over fears on the top post reserved for Maronites, al-Hayat said.

Cabinet Formation Consultations Activated Yet No Solution Looms in Horizon

Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/Premier-designate Tammam Salam has agreed to give the cabinet formation efforts more time after warnings by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat against the formation of a fait accompli government, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat reported Sunday. “We waited for nine months to reach a solution and consensus that would steer the country away from divisions on the cabinet but nothing came up from the procrastination,” the newspaper quoted Salam as saying. But the PM-designate informed Jumblat, who held dinner at his residence on Friday, that he would give it a few more days to find certain solutions pending President Michel Suleiman's return to Beirut from a private visit abroad. Sources told al-Hayat that Salam's agreement to give consultations on the cabinet formation more time did not mean that he was giving up on his proposal to have a nonpartisan government. Jumblat exerted the pressure on Salam after he met with Berri's political advisor Caretaker Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. Consultations between the different parties continued on Saturday through talks between Jumblat's envoy, caretaker Minister Wael Abou Faour, and Berri, An Nahar daily reported. Officials from Hizbullah and the speaker's Amal movement, said there was a serious willingness to find a solution to the cabinet deadlock. The efforts exerted by Suleiman, Berri and Jumblat through their envoys reflect the continued contact between the different parties involved in the cabinet formation process, the officials told An Nahar. Despite the optimism, the officials confirmed that no progress has yet been made in the negotiations. The March 8 alliance has been calling for a government in which it would get nine ministers along with March 14, and centrists six. But the March 14 camp has been sticking to a nonpartisan cabinet.


Qortbawi: Al-Majed to be Buried in Lebanon if No Repatriation Request Made
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi has said that the Lebanese authorities would bury Majed al-Majed, the leader of an al-Qaida-linked group, in Lebanon if his family or Riyadh refused to repatriate his body. In remarks to pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat published on Sunday, Qortbawi said that as with any other foreigner, usually a dead person's family or country ask to receive the body. But if they rejected to do so, “then we will make the appropriate arrangements to bury him in Lebanon,” he said. “The request to receive the body is made by the embassy of the involved country to the Lebanese foreign ministry, which transfers it to the justice ministry,” Qortbawi told the newspaper. “The justice ministry in its turn will send the request to the public prosecutor's office, which is the main decision-maker in that regard,” he added.
In remarks to two Saudi newspapers published on Sunday, Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri said the repatriation of al-Majed's corpse “depends on the joint cooperation between the Saudi and Lebanese authorities.”
Such a move also required the opinion of his family to know what measures to take, he said. The Lebanese army announced in a terse communique on Saturday that al-Majed died while undergoing treatment at the central military hospital after his health deteriorated. It did not elaborate. But sources have said that al-Majed, a Saudi citizen, died after suffering kidney failure. Qortbawi told LBCI that the forensic expert confirmed his death was caused by health problems. Asiri denied that the Lebanese authorities were able to extract important information from al-Majed before his death. Security sources also told LBCI that al-Majed wasn't questioned and no other suspects were seized during his arrest Al-Majed was detained in December and had been held at a secret location. He was the purported commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades — a militant group with al-Qaida links — and one of the 85 most-wanted individuals in Saudi Arabia. Reports first surfaced about his arrest early this week. Security officials eventually confirmed that they had a suspect in custody, but said they were not certain of his identity. On Friday, the Lebanese confirmed his identity, following a DNA test. The brigades have claimed responsibility for attacks throughout the region, including the 2010 bombing of a Japanese oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and several rocket strikes from Lebanon into Israel. The most recent attack claimed by the group was the deadly twin suicide bombing in November that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut's southern suburbs.

Pope Francis says to visit Middle East in May
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis announced on Sunday that he will visit Holy Land sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the area as pontiff.
The May 24-26 trip to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark trip there by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI went in 2009. (Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Pope to nuns: Why aren't you answering the phone? Francis cold-calls nuns, gets machine
By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press – VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis has made another one of his cold calls to wish a group of nuns in a Spanish convent Happy New Year. Only he got their answering machine, instead. "What are the nuns doing that they can't answer the phone?" Francis asked in the message he left, the recording of which was obtained by Spain's El Mundo newspaper and broadcast on Italian media Saturday. "This is Pope Francis. I wanted to offer you greetings for the end of the year. Maybe I'll try to call again later. May God bless you," he said. Francis has made a habit out of calling people out of the blue, often checking in with ordinary folk who have written him about their hardships. He places the calls himself, as evidenced by the message

Army Consolidates Presence in al-Souairi after Jinbeen Family Member Succumbs to Injuries

Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/The Lebanese army consolidated its presence in the eastern village of al-Souairi on Sunday after a man, who was injured in clashes with a rival family last month, succumbed to his wounds.
The state-run National News Agency said the army's measures in and around the West Bekaa village were aimed at confronting any possible renewal of fighting after Faraj Jinbeen's death on Sunday morning. Faraj was wounded on the first day of gunbattles between the members of Jinbeen and Shouman families. The two-day clashes, which broke out after a personal argument, left six dead and several others wounded.
But the army contained the incidents to prevent a sectarian conflict.The Shoumans are Shiites while members of the Jinbeen family are Sunni.

1 Killed, 4 Wounded in Renewed Tripoli Clashes
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/One person was killed and four people were injured in clashes between the districts of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen in the northern city of Tripoli, the state-run National News Agency reported Sunday. NNA said Ali Abdul Qader Suweid was killed at noon Sunday from sniper fire in Bab al-Tabbaneh. Layla Ramadan, Taleb Deeb, Mariana al-Sheikh and Mohammed Zafer were wounded at dawn in renewed rocket attacks and gunfire between the rival neighborhoods. The fighting subsided at around 3:00 am, NNA said. But intermittent gunfire continued to be heard in the two districts and their surrounding areas, the agency added. Tripoli, Lebanon's second city, is the scene of frequent Syria-related violence pitting Sunnis from Bab al-Tabbaneh against members of the minority Alawite community, to which Syria's President Bashar Assad belongs. Alawites reside mainly in Jabal Mohsen.

Ethiopian Woman Arrested at Beirut Airport for Drug Smuggling

Naharnet Newsdesk 05 January 2014/An Ethiopian passenger was arrested at Rafik Hariri International Airport on Sunday for trying to smuggle drugs to Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said the airport customs found nine kilograms of khat, a traditional herbal stimulant drug, in the Ethiopian woman's suitcase. The drugs were stashed in nylon bags and covered with aluminum foil, the agency said. The 40-year-old traveler, who was questioned by the customs agents, claimed that the drugs were for her personal use. She was referred to the Central Drugs Bureau in Beirut.Khat is a leafy plant chewed as a stimulant in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula

Kerry: US will support fight against al-Qaida-linked militants in Iraq without troops

JERUSALEM - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that America would support Iraq in its fight against al-Qaida-linked militants who have overrun two cities in the country's west, but said the U.S. wouldn't send troops, calling the battle "their fight." Kerry made the comments as he left Jerusalem for Jordan and Saudi Arabia to discuss his effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He's had three days of lengthy meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kerry said some progress was made in what he described as " very serious, very intensive conversations," but key hurdles are yet to be overcome. On Iraq, Kerry told reporters the U.S. was very concerned by the al-Qaida linked gunmen who have largely taken over Fallujah and Ramadi in an uprising that has been a blow to the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The two cities are in Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan that was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. Ramadi and other cities have remained battlegrounds as sectarian bloodshed has mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis.
"We are very, very concerned about the efforts of al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, who are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq, but in Syria," Kerry said before leaving to visit Jordan's King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah . "These are the most dangerous players in that region. Their barbarism against the civilians in Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi security forces is on display for everyone in the world to see." He said the U.S. stands with the Iraqi government and others seeking to push back militants who are trying to destabilize the region and undermine a democratic process in Iraq. He said the U.S. was in contact with tribal leaders in Anbar who are standing up to the terrorists.
But he added: "This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq, so we are not obviously contemplating returning. We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. ... We will help them in their fight, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can."
On another issue roiling the Middle East, Kerry did not dismiss the idea that Iran could play a constructive role in finding a resolution to the civil war in Syria, even if Tehran is not a full participant in a conference on Syria later this month in Switzerland. The U.S. has objected to Iran's participation because it hasn't publicly endorsed the principles from the first Geneva peace conference on Syria in June 2012, calling for a transitional government in Syria, and is backing militias, including the Iranian-allied Lebanese Hezbollah group that has backed the troops of President Bashar Assad.
"If Iran doesn't support that, it's difficult to see how they are going to be a ministerial partner in the process," Kerry said.
"Now could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways for them, conceivably, to weigh in? ... It may be that there are ways that that could happen," Kerry said.
America's top diplomat arrived in the region on Thursday to try to keep Mideast peace talks on track amid sniping between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges," Kerry said before leaving for Jordan. "We don't have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from the goal. ... What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come if we can move forward."
Kerry is trying to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The talks have entered an intense phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework and provide guidance toward a final settlement. Reaching a deal on that framework is not expected on this trip, Kerry's 10th to the region for peace talks. "This is deeply steeped in history and each side has a narrative about their rights and their journey and the conflict itself," Kerry said. "In the end, all of these core issues fit together like a mosaic. It's a puzzle. ... I cannot tell you when the last pieces may decide to fall into place or may fall on the floor and leave the puzzle unfinished."

Influential Syrian opposition bloc says will shun peace talks
By Dasha Afanasieva/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An influential bloc within the Western-backed Syrian opposition decided on Saturday to shun talks aimed at ending the nearly three-year conflict, citing the international community's inaction. The Syrian National Council has opposed attending the January 22 negotiations, dubbed "Geneva 2", because it says world powers have not done enough to force President Bashar al-Assad to cede power. Assad's forces have recently been gaining ground against the moderate rebel fighters backed by the opposition and he faces little pressure to make concessions. At the same time, radical Islamists distrusted by the West have taken a bigger role in the campaign to oust Assad. "After looking at the issue from a political, military and humanitarian angle ... the general secretary (the Council's 43-strong decision-making body) failed to see any encouragement or clear agenda based on which the meeting can succeed," it said in a statement, reaffirming a previous decision not to go to Geneva 2 "based on current conditions". The council is part of a broader opposition coalition which is due to make its final decision on whether to attend the Geneva 2 talks on Monday. The opposition meetings are taking place in Turkey, which strongly backs the anti-Assad campaign. The council decision to shun Geneva could increase pressure on the fractious coalition - which has said it is ready to attend in principle - but will not necessarily force its hand. Syria was plunged into civil war after an uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and descended into an armed insurgency after the army cracked down on protests. More than 100,000 people have been killed, more than 2 million refugees have fled abroad and another 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria. The coalition wants the talks in Switzerland to create a transitional authority for Syria in which Assad plays no role, but his government says it will not surrender power and that the president will remain in control.
The opposition group has also called on authorities to release women and children from Syrian jails and for humanitarian corridors into besieged rebel towns, pleas which the council says have been ignored.
"Nothing has changed since we decided against the talks about a month ago except the situation on the ground has become even more complex and the international community has done nothing to ease the humanitarian crisis," said council member Abdulrahman Alhaj. Moderate rebel fighters have been losing ground to Assad's forces at the same time as facing increasing pressure from radical groups linked to al Qaeda and a newly formed Islamic Front, which is also fighting Assad. The president, who a year ago was battling rebels for control of the capital, has regained territory around Damascus and central Syria, backed by Shi'ite Iraqi fighters, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Iranian military commanders. "How can the international community expect to influence Assad in political negotiations if it can't even get him to lift blockades?" Alhaj said, referring to large areas which remain under siege with no access to humanitarian agencies.(Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)


Kerry says Iran could help on sidelines of Syrian peace talks
By Arshad Mohammed
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The United States on Sunday appeared for the first time to hold out the possibility that Iran might play a role on the sidelines of a Syria peace conference even if Tehran is not formally invited.
Washington, and Syrian opposition groups, have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, which they accuse of supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with manpower and arms during the near three-year uprising against his rule.
Despite the improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations this year with a landmark nuclear deal struck in November, ties are strained by many issues, including the Syrian civil war in which at least 100,000 people have been killed and millions uprooted. At a news conference in Jerusalem, Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Iran being a formal member of the so-called "Geneva 2" talks scheduled for January 22 in Switzerland because it does not support a 2012 international agreement on Syria. That so-called "Geneva 1" accord called for the Syrian government and opposition to form a transitional government "by mutual consent", a phrase Washington says rules out any role for Assad. Russia, a sponsor of the plan, disputes that view. Kerry, in a shift in tone, held out the possibility of Iran playing a constructive if limited role at the conference even if it does not endorse the 2012 agreement.
"Now, could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways for them, conceivably, to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva ... be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that could happen," he said. "But that has to be determined by the (U.N.) secretary-general, it has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves," he told reporters in Jerusalem, where he trying to nudge Israel and the Palestinians toward a peace agreement. "But in terms of a formal invitation or participation - that is for those who support the Geneva 1 implementation." Senior U.S. officials said they believed it was the first time Kerry had publicly raised the possibility of Iran playing some kind of role at the talks without signing up to the Geneva 1 principles. Relations between Iran and Washington, frozen for decades, have improved sharply since the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani who promised to pursue a policy of "constructive engagement" with the West. In the clearest sign of warming ties, six major powers and Iran reached an agreement on November 24 designed to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for limited Western sanctions relief. However, U.S. accusations that Iran supports international "terrorism" and is fuelling the violence in Syria with armaments continue to divide Washington and Tehran.
"Iran could participate very easily if they would simply accept the Geneva 1 premise on which Geneva 2 is based," Kerry said, referring to the 2012 pact calling for the formation of a transitional government with the mutual consent of the Syrian government and opposition."We are happy to have Iran be helpful. Everybody is happy to have Iran be helpful," he added.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ari Rabinowitch; editing by Andrew Heavens)

Fending off Al-Qaeda
January 04, 2014/The Daily Star /Various permutations of Al-Qaeda have spread in Iraq and Syria in recent years, and Lebanon is now the latest country in which the group wants to establish a presence. Al-Qaeda-inspired groups don’t have a history of forming viable institutions and offering much other than fiery rhetoric, spectacular violence and dictatorial rule. But their actions can nonetheless leave lasting damage on societies and the political systems that govern them. In Iraq, the group took hold in the wake of the U.S. invasion and has experienced a resurgence thanks to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s biased government. In Syria, the regime itself helped foster the spread of Islamist extremists, who have done considerable harm to the cause of mainstream rebels fighting against the regime of President Bashar Assad. But in Lebanon, the phenomenon is still in its infancy, which means that every effort should be made to eliminate this violent political current while there is still time. Thousands of Syrians were busy fighting back Friday against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, whether in the form of street demonstrations or armed clashes. Anyone who is following the Syrian conflict should remember that the regime has done everything it can to convince the world Al-Qaeda, and not itself, is the reason for the chaos and violence there. Efforts to counter Al-Qaeda should not serve to help the regime, whose acts have lured outside extremists. The mainstream opposition and many rebels now realize they must fight back, because a future political transition is at stake. In Lebanon, stepped-up security measures may foil a terror attack, but if a solution to Al-Qaeda is to be comprehensive and durable, it must be anchored by a political approach to begin immediately.

The Coalition and the challenges ahead

By: Fayez Sara/ASharq Alawsat
As the Syrian National Coalition readies itself for a new round of meetings in Istanbul, there will be a number of key issues on the agenda.
The first, a political one, poses a challenge not only for the coalition but for the entire Syrian opposition, and for all Syrians as a whole: The Coalition’s General Authority must take a clear and specific position on whether or not it will participate in the upcoming Geneva II meetings.
The second, an organizational issue, regards outlining the Coalition’s main features, determining the nature of its institutions and internal relations, as well as the political circles it operates within.
The third, and the most important, is the election of the Coalition’s leaders. The Coalition is due to elect its president, three deputies and an undersecretary who will form its presidential body. Other members will also be elected to this body. But many other significant issues will also be discussed by the members of the Coalition.
These will include the current political and military developments within Syria, particularly when it comes to the fighting between the various groups and factions involved, most notably between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Also to be discussed will be the initial performance of the new Syrian interim government headed by Ahmad Toumeh, the relationships among the Syrian opposition forces in light of the prospects for convening Geneva II, and the feasibility of the opposition’s participation. Attendants will also discuss the Coalition’s legal committee and media bureau, which have not seen any changes, nor are they yet to be assessed by the Coalition, since their inception a year ago—a discussion which has become necessary in light of the changes within the Coalition itself. What is new this year is the consensus among Coalition members given the growing collective awareness of how serious things have become—not only regarding the Coalition but the entire opposition. The most important of these factors is the escalating policy of murder, destruction and displacement adopted by the Assad regime, as well as the involvement of its stooges and allies like Russia, Iran, and the Shi’ite militias of Hezbollah and the Abu Fadl Al-Abbas Brigade, among others. These forces have effectively become foreign occupying powers in Syria, politically, militarily and economically supporting the Syrian government and thereby complicit in the killing and displacement of thousands of people and the destruction of their country. Add to this the growing influence of religious and ethnic extremist groups such as ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) led by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), as well as the negative changes in the international community’s stance towards the Syrian revolution, and we can see how serious things have become.
Based on the atmosphere within the Coalition, the discussions this time should run smoothly, something which has never happened before. During the last meeting, three highly problematic issues were submitted: the formation of an interim Syrian government, the inclusion of the National Kurdish Council (KNC) into the Coalition, and the prospect of the Coalition’s participation in Geneva II.
However, this is not to suggest that the expected positive atmosphere and consensus will rule out the possibility of heated debates during the meetings. These issues are normal in any political body or coalition. However, differences this time should be within reasonable limits. If this is the case—and I think it will be—the Coalition will in the future be much more capable of organizing its internal affairs and its external relationships. It will therefore be able to go one step further by practising its duties and administrating the conflict with Assad much more effectively than before. This is not to suggest that it will live up to the level required to address the Syrian crisis, which indeed has taken alarming regional and international dimensions.
While it should be otherwise, Syrians have become the least influential force within the Syrian crisis. This is something which Syrians, particularly the Coalition, have to address in the future.
**Fayez Sara is a Syrian writer, journalist and member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Defected Syria PM 'could become opposition president'

January 05, 2014/Ahmad Jarba, left, and Riad Hijab. (AFP/REUTERS)
BEIRUT: A Syrian former premier who defected from President Bashar Assad's regime in 2012 is a frontrunner to head the main opposition National Coalition, a dissident told AFP Sunday.
"Riad Hijab and (current coalition chief) Ahmad Jarba are the two candidates for the presidency," coalition member and veteran dissident Samir Nashar said. "The election is about to take place," he added, speaking to AFP by telephone from Istanbul. Hijab, the highest-ranking defector so far, abandoned Assad a year and a half into the revolt demanding the fall of his regime, fleeing via Jordan. He comes from the eastern province of Deir Al-Zor, much of which has been destroyed in nearly three years of all-out war. Hijab is competing for the presidency against Jarba, who became coalition chief after a heated election on July 6. Jarba has close ties to Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the anti-Assad revolt. The coalition holds an election every six months to choose its head. The latest vote is taking place in the framework of the coalition's general assembly meeting in Istanbul, which opened on Sunday and is set to end on Monday.
Coalition members are also expected to take a final decision on whether to attend proposed peace talks in Switzerland slated for January 22.
A key coalition bloc, the Syrian National Council, has reaffirmed its decision to boycott the talks, raising fears the opposition will not attend the so-called Geneva 2 conference at all.

Egypt bars Canadian Shi'ites from entering

Reuters – CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt stopped 61 Canadian Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims from entering the country and decided to hold them at Cairo airport until their onward flight, security officials said on Sunday.
The Canadians landed in Egypt from Iraq to complete a pilgrimage to Shi'ite sites in the region, but were kept out on the orders of security authorities, said airport security officials who gave no further explanation. Canadians are usually allowed into Egypt with a visa bought upon arrival. A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Ottawa would react later on Sunday. The government of Egypt, an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation, has long been criticized for discriminating against the country's small Shi'ite community. Egypt's official Islamic establishment has previously warned against the spread of Shi'ite beliefs.
The U.S. State Department's religious freedom report for 2012 said the government "continued to harass Shi'ites".
In June, four Egyptian Shi'ites were beaten to death by a mob, a lynching blamed partly on sectarian passions whipped up by ultra-orthodox Salafist Muslim allies of President Mohamed Mursi, who was deposed by the army a few weeks later. The Shi'ite denomination emerged in the earliest days of Islam from a dispute over who should lead the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shi'ites believe leadership should have passed to Ali, the prophet's son-in-law, and his descendants. (Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Rosalind Russell)