LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 09/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 09/14
Lebanese Related News
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Lebanon: Governing by threat
January 08, 2014/The Daily Star /There isn’t much to puzzle over
when it comes to the impasse over forming a new government in Lebanon. The March
14 and March 8 camps each have their demands and conditions for moving forward,
while President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam have
their points of view on what should occur. But the March 8 camp, led by
Hezbollah, has set itself apart from the other players by relying on a policy of
threats and ultimatums. They are made openly, or hinted at, but they add up to
the following message: No government will be formed without the party’s
approval, “or else ...”There is room for principle in politics, but all sides
must consider the world around them. If Hezbollah and its allies are dead set
against any compromise on Cabinet, they should be energetic and savvy enough to
understand this isn’t the end of the story. They should be creative enough to
realize a compromise or compromises must be then made on other fronts to keep
the political process alive. They should also realize their rhetorical campaign
– bad things will happen in Lebanon if a Cabinet is formed without our approval
– loses some of its impact because bad things are already happening in Lebanon.
March 8’s rigidity on the Cabinet issue is further highlighted by the momentous
events and challenges Lebanon faces. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon will
finally start its proceedings this month, which is also set to witness the
“Geneva II” talks, to which Lebanon has been invited.
Lebanon must deal with the Syrian crisis, a deteriorating economy and presidential polls in May, to name just a few challenges. Does the political faction intent on blocking Cabinet formation have any answers to these grave issues, or does it expect to merely govern by issuing threats?
What ties Hezbollah to Hariri's murder?
Roi Kais/Ynetnews/ 01.08.14,
Almost a decade after former Lebanese PM killed in Beirut motorcade bombing, court documents shed light on the culprits
Next week, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will convene to adjudicate in the matter of the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, the outspoken critic of Hezbollah who was killed in February 2005 when his motorcade was hit by a massive bomb on the streets of Beirut. An official court document has pulled back the veil over the investigation, revealing new details about the main suspect in the murder, Mustafa Badr Aldin – the brother-in-law and heir-apparent of assassinated Hezbollah chief operations commander Imad Mughniyeh. The document was identified by Ronen Solomon, an Israeli intelligence analyst and researcher specializing in Hezbollah's security and intelligence mechanisms. The report is comprehensive and thorough, as befitting an investigation stretching across many years, and contains information that Hezbollah's operations high command would prefer remained hidden: Private details of Aldin's family, his social circles, and business affairs. An official court document has pulled back the veil over the investigation, revealing new details about the main suspect in the murder, Mustafa Badr Aldin – the brother-in-law and heir-apparent of assassinated Hezbollah chief operations commander Imad Mughniyeh. The document was identified by Ronen Solomon, an Israeli intelligence analyst and researcher specializing in Hezbollah's security and intelligence mechanisms. The report is comprehensive and thorough, as befitting an investigation stretching across many years, and contains information that Hezbollah's operations high command would prefer remained hidden: Private details of Aldin's family, his social circles, and business affairs. The international investigative team made use of information gathered by Lebanon that not only focused on the immediate circle of those responsible for the assassination, but on all telephone lines used by Aldin's security detail. In order to connect the phone line used in Hariri's assassination to the identity of the prime suspect, Aldin, investigators tracked his conversations from 2000 to 2008. Court documents show a connection between Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in Damascus in February 2008, and Aldin, who replaced him in the organization. The contact between the two was maintained through Aldin's sister - who was also Mughniyeh's wife. The documents also show that Aldin made calls to locations used as Hezbollah control centers, suggesting that the high-ranking terrorist did not maintain precautionary measures. This carelessness could well cost him in the future. The document sheds light on the life of a man long considered to be hiding in the shadows. Aldin received a bachelor's degree in international relations from the American University in Beirut, which he attended from 2002-2004. He also managed two jewelry stores in the Lebanese capital.
Lebanon has been battered with bombings with increasing frequency as the country is swept into the three-year civil war in Syria, but the shockwaves from that explosion nearly nine years ago still reverberate. The bombing that claimed Hariri's life killed 23 others and wounded many more. The death of Hariri, who led the anti-Syrian movement, shocked the small coastal country. The international court established at the request of the Lebanese government – who partially funds it – has drawn the ire of the Hezbollah leadership. The special court first convened on March 1, 2009. Two years later, an indictment against four Hezbollah members was issued. A fifth name was recently added to the list. All five will be tried in absentia. Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian civil war in the past year, with its members fighting on the side of the Assad regime, has led to a wave of bombings in Lebanon instigated by extremist Sunni elements battling to oust Assad, elements are also affiliated with al-Qaeda. These organizations have managed to penetrate Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut, and even targeted the Iranian embassy there. Two weeks ago Mohamad Chatah, a political advisor to Rafik Hariri's son, politician Saad Hariri, was assassinated in the heart of Beirut. Chatah served as Lebanon's treasury minister and was one of the loudest critics of Hezbollah. Saad Hariri son cast blame on the Syrian government and Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s online campaigns are no match for militants
By: Diana Moukalled/Asharq Alawsat/Beirut doesn’t look like itself these days. The city is closing in on itself now that those who were able to escape have done so. Those who stayed are worried about what might await them.
Threats to the public from the bombings are on the rise, as are political divisions. Passers-by walk briskly, hoping their cautious haste does not give away any indication of their silent prayers or fears that their last Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp message might indeed have been just that. The Lebanese have regained that sense of the caution that became a part of their life during the civil war in the 1980s. They are now paranoid as they pass near any car or walk through any neighborhood well-known as being Sunni or Shi’ite, which makes those areas a likely target for bombs and assassinations.
Relatively speaking, there has been little time between each explosion. But last week saw a turn of events when only a few days separated the two bombings in the city. Politicians are trying to contain the situation through public statements and media campaigns. Such efforts, however, seem weak when measured against the endeavors of those seeking chaos.
Pages on social networking websites are mobilizing people. Lebanese youths have launched a virtual resistance to the situation arising from the bombings across the country. “I am not a martyr” is a slogan used in one campaign on Facebook, which was inspired by the deaths of three young men. They are Mohammed Chaar, Ali Khadra and Malak Zahwi, Lebanese teenagers who were killed in the last two explosions simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The different explosions across the country—whether the one in which former minister Mohamad Chatah was killed or the suicide bombing in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahieh—targeted civilians above all else. But resisting these explosions with civil campaigns, either in the virtual world or through the traditional media, seems weak when compared with the determination displayed by those carrying out the attacks. Hezbollah will resume fighting in Syria alongside a criminal regime, and in doing so it will drag Lebanon towards further divisions and jeopardize its people even more. Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seems more determined to keep killing. It has announced that it will resume its operations and that the explosions the Lebanese people have suffered up to now are only a part of what it is preparing.
How can the Lebanese confront that through a Facebook campaign here or a comment and Twitter post there? Lebanese historian and author Ahmad Baydoun said that Facebook has become our refuge in Lebanon. This is our reality today. Assassinations and murder haunt us in the streets, so we flee to the virtual world, leaving reality for Hezbollah and ISIS.
March 14 Voices 'Constant Readiness to Mobilize against Sectarian Incitement'
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/The March 14 General Secretariat renewed on Wednesday its assertion that eliminating illegitimate arms will lead to stability in Lebanon. It voiced after its weekly meeting “its constant readiness to mobilize in any region, city, or village to confront the plot to incite sectarianism among the Lebanese as had recently happened in the northern city of Tripoli.”They expressed their commitment to “liberating Lebanon from the occupation of illegitimate arms through Lebanese civil resistance.” This resistance will be carried out by local Lebanese residents and by expatriates, explained the General Secretariat. Addressing government formation efforts, it stated that a new cabinet “can only be built on principles stipulated in the Baabda Declaration that calls for Lebanon to keep a distance from regional conflicts and to implement international resolutions.” Unknown assailants torched on Friday Father Ibrahim Sarrouj's historical al-Saeh Library in Tripoli after reports claimed that he had published an article deemed insulting to Islam. Bashir Hazzouri, an employee at the library, was shot and wounded on Thursday in the old souks of Tripoli. 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. Political and religious figures from Tripoli were quick to condemn the incident, saying that it contradicts Islam and that the city will remain that of coexistence.
Hammoud: Autopsy Report Will Determine whether Majed's
Corpse Will Be Handed to hid Family
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/Acting General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud stated on Wednesday that the corpse of the “emir” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades Majed al-Majed has not yet been handed over to his family in Saudi Arabia, reported the National News Agency. He told NNA: “The findings of the autopsy report will determine whether he will be returned to his family.” The report is expected to be released on Thursday, he added. Majed was recently by the Lebanese authorities. He died in military hospital after the deterioration of his health. Media reports said that he was suffering from kidney problems. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the November 19 bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. Majed was also wanted in Saudi Arabia on terrorism charges.
Maronite Bishops: Spread of Terror Compels Protection of
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/The council of Maronite bishops urged the Lebanese on Wednesday to protect the social fabric and prevent Lebanon from being turned into a battleground. “The spread of terror through booby-trapped cars and security chaos … should compel everyone to protect Lebanon’s social fabric and prevent it from being turned into a battleground for different conflicts,” the bishops, who met under Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki, said. They said the failure to find a solution to political, security and economic crises calls for holding onto the National Pact, which they said is the basis for Lebanon's existence.
The National Pact embraces everyone based on unity and equal participation in power, the bishops said. They also urged politicians to have faith in Lebanon. The Maronite bishops lamented that Premier-designate Tammam Salam has failed to form the new cabinet as the presidential elections loom. They urged “politicians and all lawmakers to assume their responsibilities and form a cabinet that can confront all challenges.”The statement also said that officials should make serious preparations for electing a new president on time to revive the country and its constitutional institutions. “The current stage requires high levels of vigilance, impartiality, dialogue and patriotic belonging,” it said.
Ray of hope over Cabinet formation
January 08, 2014/By Hussein Dakroub, Antoine Ghattas Saab The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A glimmer of hope emerged Tuesday over the formation of a new government following a fresh flurry of political activity aimed at breaking the nine-month stalemate, with a key adviser to President Michel Sleiman striking an upbeat note about the birth of an 8-8-8-Cabinet soon.
Former Minister Khalil Hrawi, a political adviser to Sleiman, who has been involved in the ongoing talks on the Cabinet crisis, had met separately with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in a bid to remove hurdles impeding government formation. “The atmosphere is positive toward forming an all-embracing 8-8-8 political government,” Hrawi told The Daily Star. He said that the final outcome of the Cabinet formation efforts would emerge in the next four days “because all the parties insist on facilitating the Cabinet [formation] and participating in the national accord project.”
Hrawi described his meeting with Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, as “positive” in terms of commitment by the bloc and its March 14 allies to the proposed Cabinet formula. Asked to comment on difficulties facing the Cabinet formation, particularly the distribution of ministerial portfolios among parliamentary blocs, Hrawi said that once agreement has been reached on the shape and nature of the government, other matters could be discussed.
But the March 14 coalition was waiting for details of the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal before taking a final stance on it.
“We are waiting for details before announcing our stance on the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup,” a senior March 14 official told The Daily Star Tuesday night. “The devil is in the details.”
Sleiman met earlier Tuesday with caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political adviser to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, at Baabda Palace in the latest attempt to facilitate the formation of a new Cabinet, stalled for nine months by conditions and counterconditions set forth by the rival factions over the shape of the government.
However, the president held out the possibility of forming a neutral government, an option that is staunchly opposed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
When the two aides asked Sleiman whether he opposed Hezbollah’s participation in a new Cabinet, the president’s answer was in the negative, saying he favored a government that included all the parties, a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star. The two aides then proposed an 8-8-8 Cabinet formula in which the March 8 and March 14 factions would each have a decisive minister from the remaining eight ministerial portfolios allotted to centrists, the source said.
“The president was open to this proposal but said he could not wait indefinitely [for Salam] to come forward with such a Cabinet formula,” the source added. Sleiman, according to the source, said he was ready to meet Berri to discuss any Cabinet formula. Sleiman’s positive answer prompted Berri and Nasrallah’s envoys to seek a commitment from the president that he would not sign the decree of a neutral Cabinet – a March 8 term for a fait accompli government – the source said. “But the president refused to be committed on this demand,” the source added.U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale was also reported during his meetings with top Lebanese officials to have encouraged the formation of a Cabinet with Hezbollah’s participation, in a move apparently intended to avert the dire consequences of a fait accompli government on the country’s fragile security and stability.
A source close to the president said there was agreement between Sleiman and Berri and Nasrallah’s aides on an all-embracing political government that would not exclude any party. However, the president did not promise the two envoys that if an all-embracing government could not be formed, a neutral Cabinet would not be formed instead, the source told The Daily Star. Tuesday’s meeting at Baabda Palace came a day after Sleiman met with Salam, with whom he discussed the outcome of consultations aimed at forming a new Cabinet.
Sources familiar with the Cabinet formation process said that next week was expected to witness stepped up contacts aimed at making a breakthrough in the government crisis, with the Baabda Palace being the venue of such meetings. On the Sleiman-Salam meeting, the sources said that the two men discussed the proposed Cabinet formulas, including the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, but they did not agree to the “decisive minister” as suggested by Berri and Nasrallah’s aides. The intensified activity on the Cabinet crisis comes against the backdrop of stern March 8 warnings of the grave consequences of a fait accompli government on the already deteriorating security situation in the country following a spate of car bombings that has jolted Beirut in the past few weeks.
Sleiman has signaled that he would approve the formation of a neutral Cabinet if there is no consensus between the rival factions over a national unity government.
“In case there isn’t a consensus on an all-embracing Cabinet as I had wanted over the past 10 months, do we stay without a government? Would a consensus on a government necessarily reflect national accord?” Sleiman asked in a speech Monday at a ceremony marking the renovation of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut.
“How long can a president keep on rejecting Cabinet formulas suggested by the prime minister-designate who was nominated by 124 lawmakers and how long can the delay go on?” he asked. He also rejected the argument that nonpolitical figures could not take part in a new government. “If an all-embracing political government could not be formed, don’t the Lebanese, who do not belong to any political parties, have the right to participate in reviving and protecting the country?” Sleiman asked. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun rejected attempts to form a neutral Cabinet.
“Neutral [figures] and technocrats could serve as writers and advisers, not as politicians. Politicians are responsible [people] and have been elected by the Lebanese people. Therefore, we hope no one will try to sidestep them as long as they represent the people,” Aoun told a news conference after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.
Saqr Orders Arrest of Five Inmates
over Alleged Sectarian Threats inside Prisons
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr ordered on Wednesday the arrest a number of inmates over sectarian threats made from al-Qobbeh, Baalbek, and Roumieh prisons, reported the National News Agency. He ordered the arrest of five Roumieh prisoners and an undisclosed number of Qobbeh jail inmates. He tasked Judge Sami Sader to follow up on the investigations in the case. Later on Wednesday, Military Examining Magistrate Judge Fadi Sawan issued arrest warrants against five inmates for their involvement in smuggling drugs in Roumieh prison. Investigations are underway with a number of other prisoners linked to the case, reported NNA. Pictures and videos surfaced in recent days in which supposed inmates traded sectarian threats from the prisons of al-Qobbeh, Baalbek and Roumieh.
According to MTV, the incident started at al-Qobbeh prison in the northern city of Tripoli, when Sunni inmates threatened Shiite and Alawite prisoners. The supposed response then came from other inmates who are being held at the Baalbek and Roumieh prisons. “A number of inmates and policemen have been interrogated and the Baalbek prison does not contain the backdrops that appeared in the videos and pictures,” Gendarmerie chief Brig. Gen. Elias Saade commented on Monday. “None of the masks and clothes (that appear in the video) and no cellphones were found at the Baalbek prison … and inmates of all sects enjoy positive relations among each other and they support each other,” Saade added. He stated that “the issue seems to be a hoax,” noting that no marks of abuse were found on the body of any inmate. Saade also pointed out that none of the prisoners have complained of abuse by other inmates.
Syrian Observatory Says 'Hardly Any' ISIL Left in Aleppo as Jihadist HQ Falls to Rebels
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/"Hardly any" jihadists from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are left in Aleppo, a Syrian NGO said Wednesday after the fall of ISIL's headquarters there.
"ISIL withdrew from the Inzarat area after clashes with fighters from rebel... brigades, and the post office building was taken over by Islamist rebel fighters" who had been battling ISIL, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "There are hardly any ISIL members left in the city of Aleppo." The Observatory said earlier that fighters from several Syrian rebel brigades have seized the headquarters of ISIL in Aleppo.
"Fighters from several Islamist rebel brigades took control of the children's hospital in the Qadi Askar district, which is the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the city," the Observatory said. The Observatory said it was unclear what had happened to "hundreds" of ISIL fighters who had been inside the headquarters. The rebels freed dozens of people who were being held prisoner in the ISIL headquarters, it added, citing initial reports. ISIL has been fighting a coalition of moderate and Islamist rebels angered by a spate of abuses by the jihadists, who have been accused of kidnapping and killing civilians and rival rebels. Late Tuesday, an ISIL spokesman said the group would "crush" opposition fighters and warned that it considered members of the opposition National Coalition and the military command of the Free Syrian Army to be "legitimate targets."
Source/Agence France Presse
Door of Minkara-Affiliated Mosque Taken Off in Tripoli
Naharnet Newsdesk 08 January 2014/Unknown assailants on Wednesday took off the door of a mosque affiliated with Sheikh Hashem Minkara in the northern city of Tripoli. “A group of young men took off the door of al-Soufiah mosque in Tripoli,” LBCI television detailed. The same source noted that the mosque is affiliated with Head of the pro-Syria Islamic Tawhid Movement-Command Council Sheikh Minkara. Meanwhile, an official in the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects - also known as al-Ahbash, informed An Nahar daily on Wednesday that a Salafist armed group took over a place of worship located in Tripoli's vegetable market on Monday. The mosque has been under al-Ahbash's control for the past 30 years, according to the official. "The group immediately controlled the house of prayer, driving out its Imam and orator,” he said. "Then the al-Qaida flag was flown on the mosque's minaret, and its name has been replaced with 'Ibn Taymiyyah mosque'.”Only days earlier, attackers set ablaze Father Ibrahim Sarrouj's famed library in Tripoli. 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.
U.N. urges positive engagement with PM-designate
January 08, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: U.N. official Derek Plumbly urged Wednesday rival Lebanese parties to engage positively with the PM-designate to form a Cabinet without further delay, a day after hopes emerged of a possible breakthrough in the nine-month stalemate. “He [PM-designate Tammam Salam] has our full support and I will only urge all parties to engage positively with him to ensure that a government is in place without further delay,” Plumbly, U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, told reporters after meeting Salam in Msaitbeh. He also said that the U.N. was engaged in assisting Lebanon on all fronts. “The process of government formation is an entirely Lebanese one but obviously we are keenly interested in its success and I am encouraged of what I have heard from the prime minister designate about the efforts now underway,” he added. Former Minister Khalil Hrawi, a political adviser to President Michel Sleiman, told The Daily Star Tuesday that the atmosphere was positive toward forming an all-embracing 8-8-8 political government He said that the final outcome of the Cabinet formation efforts would emerge in the next four days “because all the parties insist on facilitating the Cabinet [formation] and participating in the national accord project.”Plumbly also said that the international community is keenly interested in the formation of an effective government in Lebanon. “The Security Council has said so repeatedly. Lebanon is passing through a dangerous time and the security, humanitarian and economic challenges are very great,” he added. Meanwhile, Sleiman met Hrawi at Baabda Palace to discuss the latest development in the Cabinet formation.
Lebanon files complaint to U.N. over Israeli spying
January 08, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said he filed a complaint to the United Nations Wednesday against Israel over its spying on Lebanon. "I sent a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of a complaint against Israel for spying on Lebanon," Mansour said, according to the National News Agency. The minister also sent a compact disc containing the coordinates and bugging devices planted by the Jewish state on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Mansour said Israel's spying "constituted a flagrant violation of international law and continuous aggression on Lebanese lands, Lebanese people, the military, security, and civilian institutions.”Mansour also sent similar letters to foreign ministers of nations belonging to the 15-member Security Council, as well as a memo to Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“Israel’s continuous aggression constitutes a violation of international law and relevant international resolutions, particularly Resolution 1701,” Mansour said. In November, the Committee on Assessing the Dangers of the Israeli Telecomm Towers in Lebanese Territory delivered a detailed review of Israel’s latest spying activities, including recently erected stations, to foreign ambassadors and officials in Lebanon. The report came in light of the Telecommunications Ministry announcement that Israel had installed surveillance posts along the border with Lebanon capable of monitoring the entire country.
Judge requests death penalty for 14 in Hezbollah attack
January 08, 2014/The Daily Star
Lebanese Army soldiers secure the site of a roadside bomb attack on a highway linking the town of Majdal Anjar to the Masnaa border crossing near the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Daily Star/Stringer BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge requested the death penalty Wednesday for 14 suspects accused of terrorist attacks including last year’s ambush of a Hezbollah convoy that killed one of the party’s fighters. In the indictment, Military Investigative Judge Imad al-Zein requested the sentence to men of Lebanese and Syrian nationalities for planting bombs along the Masnaa highway linking Lebanon to Syria with the aim of targeting passing vehicles and security forces. Seven of the suspects are in custody while the judge issued arrest warrants for seven others who remain at large. Among the suspects who were also accused of forming an armed gang are reportedly members of the Free Syrian Army.
In July of last year, a member of Hezbollah was killed and three others were wounded in an ambush on the highway linking the Bekaa Valley to Syria. The Hezbollah members were on their way to Damascus when the explosion took place. They were also shot at. Syrian rebels have said they would target Hezbollah sites in Lebanon in retaliation for the party’s intervention in their country supporting President Bashar Assad's forces.
Jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) loses HQ in Syria's Aleppo, Swedish journalists freed
January 08, 2014/Daily Star
DAMASCUS: Syria rebels overran the Aleppo headquarters of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria on Wednesday, as clashes between opposition forces raged into a sixth day.
The loss in Syria's northern second city came a day after ISIS' spokesman threatened to "crush" opposition fighters who have attacked the group in multiple provinces.
Elsewhere, a diplomat announced that two Swedish reporters missing in Syria since November had been freed.
And the fractious Syrian opposition National Coalition said it was postponing until January 17 a final decision on whether to attend peace talks in Switzerland.
On the ground, ISIS battled moderate and Islamist rebels in clashes that erupted on Friday and have killed at least 385 people since then.
Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced the new toll in the clashes on Wednesday, saying it included 56 civilians.
ISIS's headquarters in a hospital in the Qadi Askar neighbourhood of Aleppo city was overrun by opposition fighters, who reportedly freed dozens of prisoners held there.
The setback for ISIS came after its spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued a defiant message late Tuesday.
He urged ISIS forces to "crush them (the rebels) totally and kill the conspiracy at birth".
"None of you will remain, and we will make of you an example to all those who think of following the same path," he added.
Adnani also warned that ISIS had "declared and begun a war" against the National Coalition and the military command of the opposition Free Syrian Army.
"Everyone who belongs to this entity is a legitimate target for us, in all places, unless he publicly declares his rejection of that group and of fighting the mujahideen (jihadist fighters)."
His message came hours after the head of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front, released his own audio message, urging an end to the fighting.
Abu Mohamed al-Jolani warned that the fighting "risks costing us dearly on the ground if it continues".
"The regime will gain new life when it was close to collapse," he added, calling for a ceasefire, exchange of prisoners and the establishment of an Islamic committee to mediate disputes.
He urged all fighters "to give priority to the fight against the regime". The Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria, was established in mid-2011 with help from ISIS's Iraqi precursor. The Iraqi group's chief later sought to merge his group with Al-Nusra, but they rejected the alliance and pledged allegiance directly to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Since then, the two groups have functioned separately, though Al-Nusra has remained largely neutral in the latest fighting.
Syrian regime operations continued on Wednesday, with the Observatory reporting at least eight people killed in air raids on the town of Tal Rifaat in Aleppo province.
A security source in Damascus told AFP that the ISIS-rebel fighting benefited the Syrian regime. "We are the beneficiaries in this situation," he said, describing the fighting as a way for nations backing different rebel groups to "settle scores". Elsewhere, Sweden's ambassador to Lebanon and Syria confirmed that two journalists missing in Syria since November had been freed.
The two had been named in the Swedish media as Niclas Hammarstroem and Magnus Falkehed.
A spokeswoman for the ICRC in Lebanon said one of the men had been transferred from the Lebanese border town of Arsal to Beirut on Wednesday.
Diplomatic sources said the other was freed on Saturday.
At least 25 journalists have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, and more than 30 are thought to be missing. Both regime supporters and opponents have been accused of abducting and killing journalists.
In Istanbul, a meeting of opposition National Coalition ended without a decision on attending peace talks in the Swiss town of Montreux on January 22.
Amid fierce debate, the coalition's general assembly decided to delay making a decision on opposition participation until January 17, just five days before the conference.
A key Coalition member has said it will boycott the talks, and Damascus has said President Bashar Assad's departure from power will not be up for discussion.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifoptimistic on eve of nuclear deal talks
January 08, 2014 04/Daily Star/TEHRAN: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday he was optimistic about a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers, saying negotiations were progressing amid "strong political will". The comments by Iran's top nuclear negotiator on his Facebook page came on the eve of the resumption in Geneva on Thursday of talks aimed at putting into action the interim nuclear deal clinched in November. "The nuclear talks are continuing with seriousness and a strong political will," Zarif wrote, adding that hours of technical talks with experts from the so-called P5+1 group of world powers in December had produced "positive results". His deputy Abbas Araqchi will on Thursday meet Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton whose office represents the P5+1 group in decade-long negotiations with Tehran.
Their talks are due to last for two days. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the talks will focus on remaining issues "pending a political decision" before the deal can go into effect on January 20, a date mooted by both sides. Under the interim deal, once it is implemented, Iran will curb parts of its nuclear drive for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief and a promise by Western powers not to impose new sanctions.
The deal is meant to buy time for diplomacy to clinch a lasting agreement that would allay Western suspicions that Iran is covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran denies wanting nuclear weapons but many in the international community suspect otherwise, and neither Israel -- widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state -- nor Washington have ruled out military action. Zarif said Iran was "very serious" about the negotiating process due to begin after the interim deal is implemented.
"We believe commitment to the Geneva deal will (allow) progress into the next difficult phase of negotiations, and make reaching a comprehensive accord quite conceivable," he said.
White House sees a partner in Assad
By: Tony Badran/Now Lebanon
2014 may be the year when the White House drops all demands for Assad’s departure from office
Bashar al-Assad giving an interview to a Venezuelan TV station in Damascus this September.
As 2013 drew to a close, the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy and damning chronicle of President Obama’s handling of Syria. And while 2013 was a particularly catastrophic year for US policy in Syria, 2014 promises to be even worse. For if last year marked Washington's official abandonment of the Syrian opposition, this may well be the year the White House begins the process of re-engaging Bashar al-Assad.
Of course, the first order of business in the New Year is the international peace conference for Syria in Switzerland, scheduled for later this month. It’s also the only order of business, as far as the Obama administration is concerned. And once it’s convened, the expectation is that it will drag on for months. As US Ambassador Robert Ford reportedly told the Syrian opposition recently, it shouldn’t expect any quick outcome. What’s more, the endgame of this conference remains unclear, although Ford also is said to have informed the opposition that the US cannot offer guarantees that the talks would lead to Assad leaving office. That outcome was “not in Washington’s hands,” Ford allegedly said. Nor is there any sense of when Assad would be required to leave. As a senior UN official commented, “the timeframe for Assad’s departure is not clear.”
The White House is clearly in no hurry to see Assad go. This has been obvious for a while, as officials have often leaked how they did not wish to see the rebels win outright and how Assad’s departure at this time would lead to a jihadi takeover. The White House’s focus in Syria is squarely on Sunni extremist groups. A Western diplomat recently summarized that position well: “Syria is now viewed as a security problem, not one about ousting Bashar and helping the Syrians get what they want.”
Indeed, the administration’s priority in Syria has not been regime change, but rather, regime continuity. Going back to 2012, administration officials have been talking about preserving so-called regime “institutions,” sometimes specifying they meant the security services and the military. And now, there have been signs that the US may be looking at a scenario where these regime elements would team up with certain segments of the opposition in a transitional government and combat al-Qaeda groups in Syria – a scenario that the Russians have long been pushing as well.
For now, the public US position still says that Assad cannot be part of such an arrangement. In other words, Washington wants to keep the regime, but not Assad (and some of his closest aides). Some opposition sources have even claimed that Washington and Moscow were in agreement that Alawites would retain their dominant role in the army and security apparatuses.
This notion of retaining the regime without Assad goes back to the earliest days of the uprising, when the administration was looking for a quick fix through a “palace coup.” According to that scenario, senior Alawite officers would push Assad aside and present themselves as transitional figures who would bring the military and the Alawite community into a political settlement with the Sunnis.
And yet, this magical Alawite figure continues to prove elusive. In reality, this scenario was always fictional. They don’t call it “Souriya al-Assad” (“Assad’s Syria”) for nothing. The notion that there was a deep state independent of the Assads betrays a poor understanding of how that family has engineered the regime over the past 40 years. It also shows a lack of understanding of the sources and structure of power within the Alawite community itself. Equally fanciful is the notion that all that’s missing to make this scenario work is Russian and/or Iranian agreement to use their supposed influence to push Assad aside all while safeguarding the regime and their interests in it. This is not to mention the silliness of expecting Syria’s Sunnis and their regional backers to buy in to a scenario that ensures not just continued Alawite domination over the state, but, through it, continued Iranian primacy in Syria.
The sheer impossibility of this scenario leads to one conclusion. If the US starting position is to keep the regime, it will soon become apparent that this is impossible without Assad. Consequently, the White House will lower its expectations and demands. For instance, instead of holding that Assad should play no role whatsoever, the US may well agree to him staying on as president, only with supposedly “limited authority.” And once that is conceded, the US position will continue to deteriorate from there.
There are signs that this type of thinking is already gaining ground in the White House. As the Journal reported, “some senior administration officials now privately talk about Mr. Assad’s staying for the foreseeable future and voice regret about the decision, in August 2011, to call for him to step aside.”
This would not be the first time the White House shifted the goal posts. In fact, this language sounds awfully similar to how the administration walked back the president’s chemical weapons “red line.” At the time, White House aides set the stage for the ultimate erasing of the red line by telling the press that Obama’s remark was unscripted and off-the-cuff, and thus shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Moreover, Obama has purposely narrowed the US interest in Syria to a matter of arms control. This will facilitate making the turn and dropping all demands for Assad’s departure. As one senior administration official said, once Syria’s chemical weapons have been fully removed, “the pressure on Assad to leave will be diminished.” The chemical weapons deal, other officials said, gave Assad “considerable staying power” – something that clearly did not weigh heavily on Obama’s mind.
This seems to be the trajectory for US policy in 2014. The White House has deliberately eliminated alternative courses of action that would force Assad out. More importantly, it has conceptualized the Syrian conflict such that it does not see Assad and his regime as the central problem whose removal is the priority. Rather, the path the White House has consciously charted in Syria is a one-way street leading back to Assad.
**Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.
Netanyahu plans a national referendum on US peace framework to extend negotiations for another year
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 7, 2014/Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu is planning to conjduct the first popular referendum in
Israel’s history to ratify the amended peace framework proposal which US
Secretary of State John Kerry is drafting for presentation in the coming weeks,
debkafile reveals. The prime minister has been quoted as saying that he needs
the referendum to push back “domestic pressures from the right”, but in any case
he believes it will be politically advantageous. He has confided to his closest
circle that for the first time that he is in favor of the Kerry proposals and,
although they don’t see eye to eye on many of the issues, he thinks the gaps
between them can be bridged. Netanyahu is counting on the the framework accord
gaining an overwhelming popular majority in referendum. Although it is not yet a
final-status agreement, the document will lay out principles for solutions of
the core issues at dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. After Netanyahu
and Abu Mazen affirm this paper, it will be possible to extend the negotiating
time frame for a final accord by at least another year and so get past the
original nine-month deadline which expires at the end of April. Our sources add
that the prime minister regards the Obama administration’s acceptance of Israel
as the Jewish national state to be an historic achievement of unparalleled
importance. He believes he can find common ground with Secretary Kerry on
Jerusalem as well. He was encouraged to learn that Kerry is working on a formula
that avoids citing E. Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state,
only as a goal for their national aspirations. Intense exchanges are gong back
and forth on the security arrangements for the Jordan Valley which runs along
Israel’s eastern border, and the number and area of the Jewish settlements
remaining under Israeli sovereignty. A number of settlements outside the main
blocs are due for removal, despite reports to the contrary, but the argument
among the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians is over a timetable for their
staged evacuation which is counted in years. US Ambassador Dan Shapiro precisely
defined the current state of the negotiating process when he said in an
interview to Kol Israel Radio Tuesday, Jan. 7, that the proposed US framework in
which new elements have been introduced is not designed to generate an interim
accord but “a final agreement on all the issues at the center of the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute.” Further exclusive details on the new elements and
their import will appear in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out next Friday. If
you are not already a subscriber, click here to sign on.
Netanyahu does not expect the right-of-center Jewish Home to actually quit the government coalition over the US initiative, even though its leader, the Economy Minister Naftali Bennet, declared Tuesday that his party would not stay in a government that withdraws to the pre-1967 borders or repartitions Jerusalem. Circles close to the prime minister said that he hopes Kerry won’t have a sudden change of heart and go back on his plans and their points of agreement, because then the huge effort invested in the current peace process will turn to dust.