January 16/14

Bible Quotation for today/Advice about Women
Sirach 09/ Don't be jealous of the wife you love. You will only be teaching her how to do you harm.  Do not surrender your dignity to any woman.  Keep away from other men's wives or they will trap you.  Don't keep company with female musicians; they will trick you.  Don't look too intently at a virgin, or you may find yourself forced to pay a bride price.  Don't give yourself to prostitutes, or you may lose everything you own.  So don't go looking about in the streets or wandering around in the run-down parts of town.  When you see a good-looking woman, look the other way; don't let your mind dwell on the beauty of any woman who is not your wife. Many men have been led astray by a woman's beauty. It kindles passion as if it were fire.  Don't sit down to eat with another man's wife or join her for a drink. You may give in to the temptation of her charms and be destroyed by your passion.
Friendships with Others
Never abandon old friends; you will never find a new one who can take their place. Friendship is like wine; it gets better as it grows older. Don't be jealous of a sinner's success; you don't know what kind of disaster is in store for him.  Don't take pleasure in the things that make ungodly people happy; remember that they will be held guilty as long as they live.  If you keep away from someone who has the power to put you to death, you will not have to fear for your life; but if you must go near him, be very careful, or he may kill you. Be conscious that you are walking among hidden traps, that you are an easy target. Get to know the people around you as well as you can, and take advice only from those who are qualified to give it. Engage in conversation with intelligent people, and let the Law of the Most High be the topic of your discussions. Choose righteous people for your dinner companions. Your chief pride should be your fear of the Lord. Rulers A skilled worker is admired for the things he makes, and a leader's wisdom is proved by his words.  Someone who speaks rashly and recklessly is feared and hated by everyone in town.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 16/14

Why foes of a unity government are wrong/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/January 16/14  


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 16/14

Lebanese Related News

Day of justice for Lebanon/By Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star

What happens next: schedule of STL

Judge the Special Tribunal on its merits

Reporters' Distribution in The Hague Hotels Reflection of Political Affiliation, and Hariri's Guests Are the Most Fortunate

Hariri Arrives in The Hague ahead of STL's Opening Session

New Alternate Judge Assigned to STL Trial Chamber

Suleiman: STL is a Step towards Holding Criminals Accountable for their Actions

Policy statement rift threatens to delay Lebanese Cabinet formation

Basel III, competition compel consolidation

Lebanon arrests commander in Al-Qaeda-linked group

Lebanon warns of ‘spy trap’ behind job offer scam

France Prepares Suggestion for Weapons to Be Offered to Army, Part of KSA's USD 'Four' Billion Donation

Miqati Urges Establishment of Camps inside Syria to Host Refugees

Donors Pledge nearly $2.4 Billion at Syria Meeting, Less than Half of U.N. Target

Gunman Killed as Army Arrests Abdullah Azzam Brigades Official in Western Bekaa

Report: Two Suspects in Hariri Assassination in Iran, Others Were 'Killed'

March 14: STL Gives Way to New Era of Justice, National Reconciliation

Two Kidnapped Syrians Freed after Meqdad Clan Mediation Effort

U.S. Pledges $76 Million for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Israeli Soldiers Cross Blue Line at Mais al-Jabal

Jreissati: No Employee to be Discharged from KVA Before Referring to Labor Ministry
Miscellaneous Reports And News

Kuwait donor conference pledges $2.4B for Syria

Violence kills 75 in Iraq, Maliki asks for help

Israel's Yaalon risks isolation after Kerry slur: press

ISIS emir killed by Syria rebels: activists

Assad slams Saudi ideology as 'threat to world'

Lebanon says Israel violated Blue Line

Kuwait donor conference pledges $2.4B for Syria

Bitter irony of assistance

Ban Says U.N. Undecided over Iran Attending Syria Talks

Syria Opposition Says Army Attacked Rebels with Poison Gas

Iran's Rouhani among Some 40 World Leaders Expected in Davos

Ya’alon apologizes for personally offending Kerry, but does not recant


Day of justice for Lebanon
January 16, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen The Daily Star
THE HAGUE: Lebanon takes one step closer toward closing the chapter of political violence and unaccountability with the start of the trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon today. The STL will hear the prosecution’s case against four Hezbollah members accused of rigging a 2,500 kg truck bomb nine years ago that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, plunging Lebanon into political turmoil and ending Syria’s formal tutelage over the country.The opening session will be attended by a delegation of the victims and their families, whose hopes hang on the outcome of the trial. Among them is former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, who will be present along with MPs Sami Gemayel and Marwan Hamade.Speaking to the families of victims in the blast, Hariri called the start of trial proceedings “historic.”“The start of the trial is a historic day that opens a new page for justice in Lebanon,” he said.
While the tribunal has been a polarizing factor in Lebanese politics, the court’s top diplomat and administrator emphasized that there is no foregone conclusion in the Hariri case, urging Lebanese to “tune in” to make up their own minds on the evidence.“I would ask everyone in Lebanon and the region to tune in, to watch what’s going on, to approach it with an open mind,” Daryl Mundis, the STL’s registrar, told The Daily Star on the eve of the historic trial at the tribunal’s headquarters near The Hague. The long-awaited trial for the devastating 2005 Valentine’s Day suicide attack will begin today in Leidschendam, a leafy suburb of The Hague.
The peaceful calm at the imposing home of the court, a few kilometers from the center of the Netherlands’ political capital, is a stark contrast to the bustle and recent violence that has gripped Lebanon.The trial is set to begin mere weeks after a return to political violence, with the assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah in December, as well as the intensified spillover from the Syrian war and political tensions over the Cabinet. The trial will start at 10:30 a.m. Beirut time with opening statements by the prosecution.
Four members of Hezbollah have been indicted in the case – Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Merhi. Trial for the first four will begin in absentia, after efforts to arrest them failed. The trial is the first in absentia since the Nuremberg tribunal tried Nazi war criminals, and is the first international trial for a crime of terrorism.
“I don’t think anyone should make the mistake of assuming there is a foregone conclusion here,” Mundis said. “What we have at this point is an indictment and all that is, is a written list of allegations.”“There has been no decision taken as to the guilt or innocence of any of the individuals who have been charged, and I think it is really important for the people of Lebanon to actually follow the proceedings, listen, watch and reach their own conclusions,” he said.Hezbollah opposes the tribunal, and has said it would “cut off the hand” of any who would try to arrest its cadres. The party has decided to largely ignore the court since its first indictment was unsealed, naming the first four suspects. Its secretary-general, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, has accused Israel of orchestrating the Hariri assassination. Mundis said the start of trial would allow a transparent examination of the evidence.“What’s important to understand is that it’s now a much more transparent process,” he said. “It will allow the people of Lebanon and the region and the entire world to actually see and hear the evidence, how it’s being challenged, being tested, [if it] withstands the scrutiny of cross-examination and queries coming from the judges, or it doesn’t.” Mundis said the court understood that there would be political ramifications to its work, but that as a judicial institution it cannot be swayed by political considerations and must proceed with its work. “I certainly hope that what we’re doing here doesn’t cause further violence or cause further political problems in Lebanon,” he said. “But taking a step back as someone who works for a judicial institution, the work that we’re doing here must go forward regardless of what the political situation is.”
“The decisions and judgments have political ramifications, we know that and we can understand and appreciate that,” he added. “But what is a big difference is, we don’t take those political ramifications into account when making those decisions.”“I think it’s very important for accountability and ending impunity that this tribunal move forward,” he added. But since the tribunal opened in 2009, two prominent Lebanese figures were assassinated. Gen Wissam al-Hasan, the former intelligence chief in the Internal Security Forces, was killed in a car bomb in Ashrafieh in October 2012, and Shatah was killed in December in another car bomb.
Mundis said the tribunal’s value as a deterrent would be difficult to determine, pointing out that the worst massacre in the Balkans conflict, Srebrenica, happened three years after a Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal was created by the Security Council. “One never knows what might have happened had the tribunal not been here,” he said. “As bad as the situation might be, it might be worse but for the creation of the tribunal. We simply don’t know that.”
Mundis said the start of the trial in absentia was a “last resort” that would allow the facts of what happened on the day of the attack to be discerned, and for the voices of victims of the bombing to be heard.
The Hariri attack “was an extremely devastating and extremely important moment in Lebanese history and politics, and I think it’s extremely important that we do what we can to address that and explain what happened,” he said. “I think it’s extremely important for the victims and the witnesses to be afforded an opportunity to tell the entire world what happened to them.”The STL applies a mix of international and Lebanese law, which allows trial in absentia. “I think the fact that we often think the trial has no meaning or no value because there is no accused sitting in the courtroom, I would very, very strongly disagree with that,” Mundis said.
The court has stressed that the start of trial in absentia does not end Lebanon’s responsibility to search for and arrest the suspects. “The fact that trial in absentia has been ordered ... does not mean that the obligation to arrest the accused is over,” Mundis said. “That obligation continues.” A recent decision published by the court, in which judges ordered that a fifth suspect be tried in absentia, described how Hezbollah has undermined efforts to search for the accused. Party officials, it said, denied access to the southern suburbs to Lebanese investigators who sought to visit the suspects’ homes.  Mundis said there was not a lot the tribunal could do. “The situation is a very difficult one and I understand and appreciate how the Lebanese authorities are in a very difficult situation here,” he said. “The reality here is that the tribunal does not have a police force, and the tribunal relies upon the Lebanese authorities.”Mundis also said the court’s mandate, which ends in early 2015, is likely to be extended because its work will not have ended by then. “It doesn’t appear likely at this point that we will be finished with our work in 13 months,” he said. 


The Hague: quaint capital of international justice
January 16, 2014/By Kareem Shaheen The Daily Star
THE HAGUE: The brown and blue edifice stands calmly in the cold; the rain soaking its flag of white and blue at whose center is a green cedar and scales, denoting justice that has yet to be served. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is headquartered in Leidschendam, a verdant, quiet suburb of the political capital of the Netherlands. Its tranquility stands as a sharp contrast to the political upheaval that always envelops Lebanon. And it was meant to be that way, so its judges could be insulated from the roiling political arena of Beirut. The court occupies a building that used to belong to the Dutch intelligence services, offered rent-free by the government of the Netherlands, and is surrounded by a shallow moat. Its courtroom is state of the art, and it was where Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for grave war crimes committed in Sierra Leone.
The courtroom, named after Antonio Cassesse, the tribunal’s first president, has sound-absorbent walls, which means lawyers at each end of the courtroom can consult with each other without the opposition overhearing them.
The public gallery overlooks a hall that accommodates judges, defense counsel, prosecutors and lawyers for victims, with a partition behind which witnesses whose identities are to remain secret can testify without being revealed. The seat of the tribunal in The Hague is one that follows a hundred years of tradition, which have crowned this city as the capital of international justice. The imposing red and navy blue “Peace Palace” hosts the International Court of Justice, which judges disputes brought by states against each other. The International Criminal Court, which indicted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, is also based in The Hague. So is the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is prosecuting the worst of the war crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the 1990s and in Kosovo. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, also resides in the city. The Hague is home to about 160 international organizations and 14,000 of their employees. Though somewhat reserved, The Hague has a lively downtown where its cosmopolitan inhabitants rub shoulders in cafes and shops. Chinatown Street pays homage to the Asian heritage of some of its residents, while one of the city’s largest mosques, once a synagogue, stands as a symbol of coexistence. Quaint trams and bike paths offer easy passage through the city.  The Hague has a storied history, with the first and second Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907 respectfully resulting in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and The Hague Conventions, a foundations of the laws of warfare in modern times. Article 90 of the Netherlands’ constitution requires the government to promote international justice. The state provides benefits to some international organizations, such as lower rents and even detention centers for suspects awaiting trial in its international courts. Former Yugoslav and African war criminals are held in Scheveningen Prison, a detention center in The Hague’s coastal suburb of the same name. Thomas Lubanga, a convicted rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is held in The Hague, as is the former ousted Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo. So is Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader accused of genocide during the siege of Sarajevo and of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. The city hosts most of the diplomatic missions to the Netherlands, and is the seat of its government. The houses of parliament rest by a picturesque lake near the city center. Trees line the opposite bank, near which is the famous Mauritshuis museum that houses paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt, among the greatest of Dutch painters.


What happens next: schedule of the tribunal
January 16, 2014/The Daily Star /Trial for the four suspects in the Feb 14, 2005, attack at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will begin at 10:30 a.m. Beirut time at the Antonio Cassese courtroom at the STL headquarters in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague. The trial will begin with the prosecution’s opening statements, which are expected to continue until Friday, when the lawyers of the victims will speak before the trial chamber. The lawyers may request permission from the trial chamber to allow victims to speak before the court. The court will adjourn for the weekend, and reopen Monday with opening statements by defense counsel for two of the suspects, Mustafa Badreddine and Hussein Oneissi. The court may then proceed to hear testimony from the first witnesses or victims as early as Tuesday. The trial chamber also has to decide whether to join the case of a fifth suspect, Hassan Merhi, with that of the first four suspects. It may choose to begin hearing testimony and evidence before deciding whether to join the cases, or it may choose to delay the testimony until after the decision is made.

On the street, many Lebanese shrug off STL

January 16, 2014 /By Rayane Abou Jaoude, Wassim Mroueh, Mohammad Zaatari /The Daily Star
BEIRUT/SIDON: Although the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been heralded as a watershed moment for international justice, many in the country say they have very little faith in the U.N.-backed court.
Those who support it doubt the verdict will influence the reality on the ground, while others dismiss the entire tribunal as a political tool and a waste of money. The trial, which begins Thursday, is set to try four people accused of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a prominent Sunni leader that enjoyed broad support among different sects and communities. Residents of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, a cramped majority- Sunni quarter south of Beirut where Hariri’s Future Movement is popular, voiced little hope for the tribunal, which has been in the works in various forms for nine years.
In a small currency exchange shop in the area’s busy souk, the business’ owner and his son, both of whom asked to remain anonymous, said they would not be following the trial.
“It won’t get anywhere,” the son said with a laugh. Justice is nonexistent when it comes to Lebanon’s affairs, his father added. “There is the logic of weapons, not of justice,” he said.Other residents in the area bemoaned the proceedings – which are taking place in The Hague, the Netherlands – as a waste of money. Pointing to a picture of Hariri on his jewelry store’s wall, 36-year-old Ahmad Hable said that being a resident of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh automatically made him a supporter of the Future Movement. Regardless, he said that the trial, which he will follow casually on television, is unlikely to accomplish anything significant. “[The STL] has taken too much time working on this, and it swindled Lebanese citizens’ money at the expense of their blood,” Hable said.
“We are paying money for nothing,” Ahmad Said said in a shop across the street, adding that he thought the entire thing was a joke. “Paving the roads or securing some food for the poor would have been a better use of our money.”But not everyone in the area was pessimistic. Said’s friend, Abu Anis, a cab driver, said he thought there was a good chance the perpetrators would be brought to justice and that the truth would be uncovered. Despite teasing Abu Anis for his confidence in the trial, Said described the lifelong Al-Tariq al-Jadideh resident as the area’s “go-to man” on such matters. “God willing, [the trial] will bear a good result and this issue will be over with,” Abu Anis said. “God willing, this file will be closed and Lebanon will be able to rest.” The overall apathy toward the STL in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh was echoed in Beirut’s largely Shiite southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support. For Ali Khalil Hasan, who owns a clothes shop in Bir al-Abed, the U.N.-backed court had no intention of discovering the truth behind Hariri’s assassination; it had another, more insidious agenda, he said.
“This is a politicized tribunal. From its inception, it has had one goal: tarnishing the reputation of Hezbollah,” he said. “Facts prove so. They unjustly accused four and arrested them for four years. Then it turned out they were innocent.”In September 2005, four former pro-Syrian Lebanese officers were arrested at the request of the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission for their suspected role in the assassination. All the evidence gathered by the UNIIIC was transferred to the STL when the tribunal was established in May 2007. Two years later, the tribunal ordered their release, citing a lack of evidence. Hasan said he would not be following the trial’s developments. “Sayyed Hasan [Nasrallah] ... said this tribunal was not realistic and thus we are ignoring it,” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s secretary-general. Hasan also said he did not trust the telecoms evidence that formed the base of the prosecution’s case, saying such data could easily be manipulated these days. “The truth of Hariri’s case will never be revealed, just like in other assassinations,” Hasan said in response to a question about how he would prefer that the investigation be carried out. Puffing a cigarette as he played backgammon with two friends, Salim Skaiki said he also didn’t have any confidence in the tribunal.
“Whatever result it reaches will be politicized. Hezbollah has nothing to do with crime,” he said as he sat on a sidewalk in the neighborhood of Mouawad.
“All the [STL’s] evidence is fabricated and has nothing to do with the truth. They rely on telecoms evidence but we analyze politics and we know that we [ Hezbollah and its supporters] had no interest in killing Hariri. He was useful to our country and to the resistance.” Sitting in his shop nearby, Hussein Shuqeir called the tribunal a “lie” and accused it of being established in order to corner Hezbollah. He added that he considered the trial a personal humiliation as the party had liberated his southern village of Mais al-Jabal from Israeli occupation. “I couldn’t visit my village for 27 years. ... This tribunal is accusing honorable people that struggled for our sake and sacrificed blood,” Shuqeir said. In Sidon, however, residents of the southern Sunni-majority city were much more optimistic. “The start of the trial means achieving justice, which to us is a priority,” Hassan Mistou said. “What is right will triumph in the end.”According to the young man, who follows the STL’s coverage in the papers every day, the trial’s success could help return stability to Lebanon and put an end to the ongoing assassinations and car bombs.
But he also said he had reservations about certain nations controlling the trial for their own benefit. His friend Huda Bayoumi agreed. “Our fear remains that the work of the trial will be thwarted or that its work will be restricted,” she said. Still, she said, she had been waiting for the court sessions to begin “for a long time. “We want justice after the truth becomes clear. We do not want revenge; we just want the criminals to be punished so the martyrs’ families and the country can be at peace,” she added. For Hala Shehade, trying all those involved in the assassination, including those who planned the attack, was key. “We hope the trial is successful in restoring confidence in justice and will act as a deterrent to all criminals, showing them that they will not be immune to punishment no matter how much time has passed,” she said. Hatem Assi, a Future Movement supporter, said he too hoped the trial would deter future assassination attempts, adding that it was necessary to ensure that “the shedding of blood of the martyrs ... was not in vain.”


Judge the Special Tribunal on its merits
January 15, 2014/By Rami G. Khouri The Daily Star
The court sessions of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that open in The Hague Thursday to try five people accused of being involved in the killing of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri represent a potentially significant moment in the long, ugly and continuing history of political violence in the Middle East. The STL has had a complex and contested history since negotiations over it began in March 2006, with both those who support and oppose it offering arguments that need to be considered seriously. Any discussion of the STL should recognize and assess separately its three main dimensions – the political, the judicial and the technical – before reaching a conclusion on whether it is a fine endeavor that deserves our support, or a dangerous political adventure that we should bury. The final verdict on the STL must emerge after the trials are held, the evidence and arguments presented, witnesses questioned, and public opinion heard on all these issues.
All the discussions about the STL to date essentially have been political disputes, which are fascinating but peripheral. They reflect the well-known views of the two main ideological camps in Lebanon: the March 14 coalition, Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, Saudi Arabia and the United States; and the March 8 coalition close to Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and a constellation of allies in and outside Lebanon. These two camps will battle in their sleep over the weather and restaurant menus and anything else that moves, speaks or reflects light – so their dispute about the purpose, legitimacy, and efficacy of the STL is predictable and unimpressive.
More significant in the long run is the judicial and legal performance of the STL, which should only be judged on the basis of the quality of the judicial proceedings and the credibility of the evidence and arguments by both sides. Whatever the political sentiments behind those who created or oppose it, the STL matters because it seeks to use internationally credible legal mechanisms to try to hold accountable those indicted for murder. Lebanon on its own has never been able to do this, despite many assassinations and bombings over the years, perpetrated by Lebanese or foreign parties.
The world stepped in to redress Lebanon’s own lack of political and technical capacity to hold accountable and try those who assassinate public figures or bomb and terrorize society at large. (To be fair, Lebanon is not the sole weak party in this respect; no Arab country has carried out sustained and credible legal proceedings to stop assassinations and political violence, other than occasionally imprisoning terrorists or people accused of being terrorists, usually in very deficient legal proceedings with low credibility). The fact that a unanimous U.N. Security Council decision established the STL and the associated investigation process is a powerful statement about the unanimous will in Lebanon and abroad to determine who killed Hariri and to hold them accountable. Whether this process succeeds will depend largely on the quality of the trial proceedings that start this week in The Hague. The technical quality of the process over the past eight years or so has been mixed, with both sloppy and impressive conduct by the professional staff in charge of it. The politics of the STL are equally contentious, and Hezbollah in particular has provided evidence that aims to discredit the whole process as an American-Israeli-guided political adventure that seeks mainly to punish and constrain Syria and the resistance party. That evidence is intriguing in suggesting that Israel killed Hariri, but it remains mostly unconvincing on its own. The prosecution’s evidence that relies heavily on telephone call logs to show that five individuals associated with Hezbollah are the ones who participated in the killing is equally fascinating, but also inconclusive at first sight.This is why the proceedings themselves are so important, because they will allow both sides to lay out their respective cases in more detail, with witnesses and cross-examinations. The results should clarify which side has the more compelling case. This is the moment to carefully monitor the STL’s deliberations, rather than to waste time on political accusations. If the trial is successful in unambiguously identifying those who killed Hariri and punishing them accordingly, even though at this stage those indicted will be tried in absentia, this would be a historic advance in the heretofore sterile record of ending the impunity of political assassins in the Arab world. It will be important for any subsequent similar endeavors – whether national or international, as in this case – to apply the same high judicial standards to investigations and trials of other acts of political violence in Lebanon and other Arab countries. That will be a steep hill to climb, but an absolutely imperative one if the rule of law is ever to take hold in our lands and replace the law of the jungle and the gun.
**Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR. He can be followed on Twitter @RamiKhouri.


Policy statement rift threatens to delay Lebanese Cabinet formation

January 16, 2014 /By Hussein Dakroub The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Despite stepped up political activity aimed at hastening the Cabinet formation, differences between the rival factions over the policy statement threaten to delay the birth of a new government, a senior March 8 source said Wednesday. “The policy statement is posing a major obstacle toward the formation of the Cabinet. While Speaker Nabih Berri and the March 8 parties want the policy statement to be discussed after the Cabinet formation, the March 14 coalition insists that agreement on the policy statement be reached before the formation,” the source told The Daily Star. According to the source, President Michel Sleiman, Berri, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt call for constitutional steps, that is, the formation of a new Cabinet, to be taken first before deciding on its policy statement. “Once a Cabinet is formed, a small ministerial committee will be formed to draft the policy statement,” the source said. A source close to Salam told The Daily Star Tuesday that the Cabinet’s policy statement was undergoing “fine-tuning” after the problems of a blocking third [veto power] and the rotation of ministerial portfolios have been solved. At the root of the problem holding up the Cabinet formation is Hezbollah’s insistence the tripartite equation “The Army, the people and the Resistance” be mentioned in the Cabinet’s policy statement as had been the case with previous governments. But the March 14 coalition, which opposes Hezbollah’s arsenal and its military intervention in Syria, has called for this equation to be replaced with the Baabda Declaration in the policy statement of any Cabinet. The Baabda Declaration, reached by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders in June 2012, calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the 34-month war in Syria. Sleiman, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies have accused Hezbollah of violating the declaration with its participation in the war in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces. As part of the ongoing talks on the Cabinet formation, former minister Khalil Hrawi, a political adviser to Sleiman, met former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc. Siniora reportedly held firm on his insistence the old policy statement be replaced. Hrawi asked Siniora for some time to convey this demand to Berri, the sources said. Meanwhile, Berri insisted the policy statement should be discussed after the Cabinet formation in comments published by As-Safir Wednesday.
“The horse is usually put in front of the cart not behind it,” he was quoted as saying. The speaker also said he would continue to support the “Army, the people and the Resistance” formula even if Hezbollah were to drop it.
“Even if Hezbollah agreed not to include this equation in the policy statement, I will uphold it because we [the Amal Movement] have 1,000 martyrs [who fell in the fight] against Israel,” Berri said.
Wednesday witnessed a series of meetings and phone calls aimed at facilitating the government formation following a major breakthrough in the 10-month deadlock when the March 8 and March 14 parties finally agreed on an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup. Sleiman met separately with Salam, former President Amine Gemayel, caretaker Social Minister Wael Abu Faour and March 14 MP Butros Harb to discuss the ongoing consultations on the Cabinet formation. Sleiman urged the rival parties to benefit from the current opportunity to quickly reach an understanding on “a balanced government” that can assume responsibility for “confronting challenges and coping with internal and external developments.” “The current positive atmosphere helps accelerate the Cabinet formation,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star. Abu Faour, from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, who returned Tuesday from a two-day visit to Riyadh, met separately with Berri and Salam to brief them on the outcome of his talks with senior Saudi officials on the Cabinet formation efforts. Salam also met with caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri. Speaking to reporters after the weekly meeting of lawmakers at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said Abu Faour informed the speaker that Saudi Arabia did not object to Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet.During his weekly meeting with lawmakers, Berri said he would exhaust all efforts to overcome obstacles impeding the Cabinet formation. “If intentions [on the Cabinet formation] are good, we will spare no means to resolve contentious issues,” Berri was quoted by the MPs as saying. Berri and Jumblatt have spearheaded the political drive to promote an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, in which the March 8 and March 14 parties would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each side among the remaining eight ministerial portfolios set for centrists. This would effectively grant the rival camps veto power in the government. Metn Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said what matters for his party was the Cabinet’s policy statement. “The shape of the Cabinet does not concern us. What matters is the Cabinet’s program of action, its policy statement and its project for Lebanon,” he said in a statement.

Bitter irony of assistance
January 16, 2014/ The Daily Star /Pledges of monetary support to alleviate the horrific humanitarian situation in and around Syria were made once again in Kuwait Wednesday, with the international community able to boast of a new figure of $2.4 billion. Syrians are probably the first people to look at such developments with a jaundiced eye, because they’re fully aware of the gap between pledged offers of assistance, and actual assistance on the ground. In past decades, Lebanese and Palestinians have heard they would be receiving hefty sums of money to either recover from war, or press on with survival, but the promises often resulted in deep disappointment.
Syrians today are hearing similar promises, and while the intentions of those who make pledges are certainly honorable, the international community as a whole might need to rethink its approach to alleviating the suffering in Syria. While there is a gap between what is pledged and what is actually handed over, there is an even bitter irony playing itself out. Heads of state and leading international figures are gathered this week in Kuwait for a donors’ conference while regime blockades of areas in Syria – Yarmouk and Moadamieh near the capital, for example – are firmly in place, preventing the delivery of relief supplies.
Some might suggest that a parallel conference is needed, namely one that figures out how to actually get humanitarian assistance to the people who need it. The international community has made plenty of noise about the need to pressure the regime and anyone else who blocks such aid deliveries, but judging by the sieges that are still in place, agreeing on an approach that goes beyond verbal condemnations should be the first order of the day.

Why foes of a unity government are wrong
January 16, 2014/By Michael Young/The Daily Star
After alienating many of his comrades last year through his support for the so-called Orthodox election law proposal, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is making his way back into the hearts of March 14 stalwarts by opposing a government with Hezbollah.Geagea played the populist card this week, stating at a rally in Maarab for the late Mohammad Shatah, who was killed by a car bomb in December: “The wave of assassinations, bombings and threats on a daily basis and the economic collapse necessitate the formation of a homogenous, effective Cabinet capable of making decisions to restore security and calm and lift Lebanon from this decline.” Geagea also mentioned the start of the trial this week of suspects in Rafik Hariri’s assassination, observing “the era of truth and justice has arrived.”Geagea’s opposition to a unity government was echoed by other March 14 figures. That Saad Hariri, whose antipathy toward Hezbollah is second to none, has endorsed it suggests that he has Saudi approval. International pressure has mounted to fill the political vacuum in Beirut, amid disturbing signs that its perpetuation may lead to a decisive breakdown in sectarian relations. Hezbollah’s willingness to compromise, after months of deadlock, suggests that the same impulse may exist on the Iranian side. This is the year that Hezbollah hopes to consolidate its hold on Lebanon – first by replacing President Michel Sleiman with someone more compliant; then by holding parliamentary election on the basis of a law that divides its adversaries in March 14. To advance on both fronts requires a minimal level of political consensus in Lebanon.
For some in March 14, participating in a national-unity government is a way of facilitating Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon. Perhaps, but there really is more to the country than the March 8-March 14 rivalry. The Lebanese face serious economic, social, sectarian and political challenges, and ideological purity aside, they need a government. Geagea may be right that the government will not be harmonious, but that was never going to happen anyway, even when the Lebanese Forces participated in three unity governments after 2005. As for talk of a neutral government, or better still a government of technocrats, one wonders what supporters of such a project have been smoking. The Mikati government collapsed last year under multiple pressures, despite the backing of a majority in parliament and despite the fact that Hezbollah did everything to keep it in place. Imagine what a neutral government would face – one that has no political clout and whose decisions are bound to arouse opposition from all sides of the political spectrum, its success necessary to no one. The same goes for technocrats. Since when has technical competence been a prerequisite for public office in Lebanon? That’s unfortunate, but the essence of any government’s power is the ability to implement a program, which is fundamentally political in its redistribution of limited resources. So, unless the politicians are on board (and why should they be when technocrats are effectively denying them the patronage power provided by control over lucrative government ministries?), the whole system tends to gravitate toward deadlock. Hezbollah may be objectionable as a national partner, not least when several of its members stand accused of participating in the assassination of a former prime minister. But the party and its supporters in the Shiite community cannot be made to suddenly disappear. Lebanon is run inefficiently with Hezbollah, but it can assuredly not be run without it. Accepting this may mean encouraging blackmail, but, once again, 4 million Lebanese cannot put their lives on hold merely to satisfy the ideological consistency of a few.
And March 14 tends to protect its political stakes better in government than outside. If indeed Hezbollah regards 2014 as a crucial year when it hopes to strengthen itself institutionally within the Lebanese system, and in that way ensure that it can retain its weapons, the best way to oppose this is from within the government, not sitting on the sidelines issuing empty statements.
The West’s opening to Iran has been largely viewed in negative terms by March 14, as providing a blank check to Iran to pursue its agenda in the Middle East. But just as likely is that it will also open up possibilities for understandings with Arab countries, since Iranian normalization with the West will not mean very much if it is not accompanied by normalization with the mainly Sunni Arab world.
The Iranians, like the Saudis, see few advantages in sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Iran cannot bludgeon Arab countries into compliance, let alone function properly in a region where sectarian mobilization against Iran and Shiites has become commonplace. Even in Syria, Tehran’s military support for President Bashar Assad has not offered any solutions as to how his regime will reimpose its power against a Sunni majority bitterly opposed to his rule. Sunnis who have sided with Assad realize that the sectarian social contract in Syria has been broken. This means that, at best, the country may be at war for years to come if he remains in office, which will only further drain Iran. Neither Iran nor Hezbollah has a fast track to resolving the region’s ineluctable complications. The Turkish government learned that lesson long ago, when its Libya and Syria policies backfired; condemning Israel is not enough to retain approval in the Arab world. Iran’s policies in Iraq have provoked rising Sunni opposition to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to the extent that there have been reports that Tehran may soon back a replacement. Hezbollah is little different. It takes more than intimidation to have one’s way in Lebanon. If March 14 seeks to pursue the battle over Lebanon’s future, it will have to be patient, flexible and above all united. The formation of a new government is a necessity today. At the very least, it will help preserve a country worth fighting over.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Ya’alon apologizes for personally offending Kerry, but does not recant
DEBKAfile Special Report January 15, 2014/Israel’s Defense Minister Ya’alon was forced to apologize Tuesday night, Jan. 14, for off-the-record remarks he made to reporters, which relegated US Secretary of State John Kerry’s role in the oft-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks to “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.” He was also quoted as dismissing the US security plan as “not worth the paper it was written on.”
After exceptionally harsh rebukes from the State Department and White House, his office stated: “The Defense Minister… apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.” Israel and the US shared a common goal of advancing peace talks with the Palestinians. “We appreciate Secretary Kerry’s many efforts towards that end.”
Leading up to that apology, the State Department accused Ya’alon of "offensive and inappropriate remarks, especially given all that the US is doing to support Israel's security needs."
The White House added its own reprimand when the minister tried to cool the situation by saying: “Relations between the US and Israel are intimate and hugely significant for us. The US is our greatest friend and most important ally,” adding: “When there are differences, we iron them out inside the room and that also goes for Secretary Kerry.”
But then, after a two-hour interview with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Tuesday night, Ya’alon saw there was no way out of a full and explicit apology. And so he swallowed the affront to his own pride as a military leader long familiar with every inch of his terrain, as the price he must pay for offending the US Secretary.
In the background of Washington’s anger, were the words spoken by Netanyahu himself at the funeral of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon, on Jan. 13. In the presence of Vice President Joe Biden, the prime minister quoted Sharon’s pledge of 2001 never again to allow Israel and the Jewish people to pay for the West’s errors of appeasing Hitler in 1938 as he set up his Final Solution for the Jewish people.
The Obama administration took the prime minister’s comment as a dig at what Israel sees as its appeasement of Iran and acceptance of its nuclear aspirations.
In this sense, Netanyahu’s criticism was more pointed than Ya’alon’s.
This clash between Washington and Jerusalem strongly reflected how far the Obama administration has downgraded Israel as a strategic asset compared with its new favorite, Iran, whose leaders get away with disrespectful comments about Washington which put Israeli remarks in the shade.
Last September, President Hassan Rouhani publicly snubbed President Obama at the UN General Assembly by refusing an invitation for a rendezvous. Since the nuclear accord was signed last November, Rouhani has publicly crowed over the capitulation of the US President and the West to Iran’s dictates. Only this week, Abbas Araghchi, a mere deputy foreign minister, contradicted the White House – and President Obama - as being wide of the truth in stating that Iran would dismantle the key element of its nuclear program.
White House spokesman Jay Carney waved those words away forgivingly Tuesday by saying: It doesn’t matter what the Iranians say, but what they do.
This rule clearly does not apply to Israel’s leaders, who are not allowed to speak their minds either.
In her rebuke to the Israeli minister, State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said: "Secretary Kerry and his team, including General John Allen, have been working day and night to try and promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future. To question Secretary Kerry's motives and distort his proposal is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally," Psaki said.
Israel’s leaders and general public do not doubt that Secretary Kerry and General Allen are working hard on security questions. The problem is that they also strongly detect their intention to tell Israel what America sees as best for its security and how to handle it in terms of a nuclear Iran and Palestinian demands – with little regard for the picture as seen in Israel.
Ya’alon brought this gap in perception out in the open when he retorted at the same private briefing: "John Kerry - who has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and messianic fervor - cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.”
This gap between Washington and Jerusalem yawns wider than ever.