LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/
Bible Quotation for today/A
Matthew 20/20-28: "Then the wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, bowed before him, and asked him for a favor. “What do you want?” Jesus asked her. She answered, “Promise me that these two sons of mine will sit at your right and your left when you are King.” “You don't know what you are asking for,” Jesus answered the sons. “Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?”“We can,” they answered. “You will indeed drink from my cup,” Jesus told them, “but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.” When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with the two brothers. So Jesus called them all together and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others— like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 23/14
Avoiding Assad's Forced Solution to the Syria Crisis/Andrew J. Tabler /Washington Institute/January 23/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 23/14
Lebanese Related News
Geagea: Govt. Won't Make Any Difference, We'll Only Join if Baabda Declaration is Policy Statement
Witnesses Testify in Hariri Murder Trial
Several Injured as Heavy Clashes Rock Tripoli
1 Dead, 2 Hurt as Army Chases Fugitive in Taanayel
Lebanese Woman Killed in Mysterious Circumstances in Michigan
'Suicide Bomber' Arrested in Dahieh Turns Out to Be Famous Rapper!
2 Injured as Rockets Hit Akkar Border Town
Mustaqbal Bloc: Lebanon Unable to Tolerate Repercussions of Syria Crisis
U.N. Chief, Security Council Denounce Dahiyeh Attack, Call for Unity
Mansour: Hezbollah critics provide cover for takfiris
Lebanese Army says eight soldiers wounded in Tripoli attacks
Every car I see, I think: Is this it?’
Latest attack marks fourth car bombing in four weeks
Police detains man in Beirut over suspicious appearance
Lebanon: Time to act like leaders
Jumblat Holds Onto Rotation of Portfolios as Bassil Considers it Targets FPM
Sources: FPM to Participate in Cabinet despite Rejection of Portfolio Rotation
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Address by Canada's FM, Minister Baird at Geneva II Talks on Syria
Syria peace conference exposes deep rifts over Assad
Syrian minister strikes back at major powers
Syrian peace talks stuck over Assad's future
Syrian opposition to present transition timetable: delegate
Turkey warns Syria opposition of attack risk in Istanbul: sources
Kurdish women fight for equality in Syria
Syria hails Aleppo airport reopening as a victory over rebels
Pro-Assad supporters rally outside of Geneva 2
Kerry at Syria peace talks: No way Assad can be in new gov't
Exclusive: Khamenei's business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief
U.N. chief and Syrian minister spar at peace talks
Israeli security says it foiled al-Qaida plot to hit U.S Embassy, other targets
Iraq says air strikes 'kill 50 militants' in Anbar
After IAF terrorist assassination, Islamic Jihad says 'blood of martyrs not in vain'
Syrian opposition leader: Torture photos unprecedented except in Nazi camps
Zuwahiri plotted Palestinian-Caucasian terrorist attacks on US embassy, Jerusalem Convention Center
Abbas reportedly says he's ready to meet Netanyahu, possibly address Knesset
EU envoy rejects Netanyahu's claim that Europe is unfairly critical of Israel
Iran's nuclear stockpile may rise for now despite deal with powers
Lebanon Shall be Victorious
Elias Bejjani/22.1.14/Lebanon, the holy land and the country with a deeply rooted history will never ever be a Hezbollah state or an Iranian proxy. Lebanon shall sooner or later defeat the terrorist and occupier, Hezbollah as well its maters in both Syria and Iran. Do not fool yourself and delude yourself that the current status quo will remain for ever. Hezbollah is a mere Iranian occupation army, although its soldiers are Lebanese. Lebanon has defeated hundreds of occupiers through its 7000 years of rich history and Hezbollah will not be an exception.
Geagea: Govt. Won't Make Any Difference, We'll Only Join
if Baabda Declaration is Policy Statement
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Wednesday stressed that there is no “fundamental dispute” with the Mustaqbal Movement, noting that the LF would only join the new cabinet if the Baabda Declaration was adopted as the ministerial policy statement. “I'm more and more convinced that the LF won't take part in the cabinet,” Geagea said in an interview on Future TV, before underlining that his party would join the new government “if the Baabda Declaration was adopted as the only political component of the ministerial Policy Statement.” “When (Hizbullah MP) Ali Ammar says that they insist on the army-people-resistance equation, what can you expect from such a government?” Geagea asked rhetorically. In response to a question, the LF leader said: “The relation with (ex-PM Saad) Hariri is something and the political stance is something else,” pointing out that his stance on the cabinet formation process “reflects a major decision by the party's executive committee” and not only his personal viewpoint.
“Emotionally speaking, we all want a cabinet and we want ministerial portfolios, but rationally speaking, I cannot fool myself as this cabinet will not make a difference,” Geagea noted.
“I have not discussed, at any moment, the issue of ministerial shares or portfolios, and claims that we've rejected to join the cabinet because we'll only have one portfolio are totally unfounded,” he stressed.
“There is no fundamental dispute with Mustaqbal but during negotiations we had a procedural disagreement on whether we should join the cabinet before or after reaching a political agreement with the other camp,” he said.
Geagea noted that a cabinet that can “change people's lives” is a cabinet that can make “political changes.”
“I've been surprised by the public opinion, which knows the type of governments it wants and will not settle for any cabinet,” he said.
He stressed that the unstable security situation in the country will remain the same after the formation of the new cabinet, “because Hizbullah is fighting in Syria.”
“Of course I don't want to throw Hizbullah into the sea, but I can't continue to bear the repercussions of the actions it does without consulting anyone,” added Geagea.
“The country is being depleted due to Hizbullah's policies and whatever we do, we won't be able to change anything unless it changes its behavior,” he emphasized.
Geagea pointed out that according to the information he's been hearing, “Hizbullah will have more than 8 ministers.” “I've learned that Suleiman's share will include a minister for the party and Salam's share will include another ... We hope this will change,” he added. Geagea noted that Hizbullah has only “theoretically” backed down from the so-called 8-8-8 cabinet formula. “The solution is to maintain my political stance and continue struggling for the success of my project, and had I wanted to sit with them, I would've done that years ago,” he went on to say. Geagea revealed that some March 14 independents and the National Liberal Party “will also not take part in the cabinet and portfolios were never the concern of March 14.” “Let us not forget that we are being assassinated on the streets and that we are being pursued,” he said. “The calls for dialogue after every assassination have become suspicious calls by individuals who do not want to shoulder their responsibilities,” Geagea stated. “If we are the party that is keen on the country, should we cover up for the policies that are harming the country? We tried a national unity cabinet led by Saad Hariri between 2010 and 2011, but they toppled it with the first juncture,” he explained. Geagea said that in a coalition cabinet, the March 14 camp “would only be splitting spoils with Hizbullah.” “The events of the past two weeks have created a state of disarray in the March 14 coalition and this camp must prepare well for the presidential election,” he said. Geagea pointed out that “March 14 has significant chances to elect the candidate it wants as president of the republic.” Asked whether he would run in the presidential election, Gegaea said reaching the Baabda Palace would be meaningless if he couldn't implement his “political project.” In response to another question, Geagea said: “I believe that Hariri has not changed his stance on nominating me for the presidency.” He added that he supports electing a partisan candidate as president. “I'm with electing either a March 8 candidate or a March 14 candidate and the president would then implement its project. If Lebanon is divided, should we create a state that combines Hizbullah's statelet and the Lebanese state? The answer is no. The conflict is over political plans,” added Geagea. The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Michel Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within days. Amid the LF' rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, some compnents of the March 14 camp have accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but are awaiting awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists and March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions.
Syrian shell hits home in n. Lebanon, 1 wounded
January 22, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: At least one family member was wounded when a Syrian artillery shell struck a home in northern Lebanon early Wednesday, security sources said. The sources told The Daily Star that other family members survived the 6 a.m. attack in the border village of Danka in northern Akkar. They said the explosion appeared to have been accidental as heavy clashes raged in al-Zara and al-Hosn, villages on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon
Army says eight soldiers wounded in Tripoli attacks
January 22, 2014 04/By Misbah al-Ali, Antoine Amrieh The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army said separate attacks on the military in the northern city of Tripoli wounded eight soldiers Wednesday as opponents and supporters of President Bashar Assad engaged in sporadic clashes for a sixth consecutive day. In a statement, the Army said gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at 6:40 a.m. at a military vehicle in the Tripoli neighborhood of Malloulah, wounding three soldiers. Two remained in critical condition. The Army identified the perpetrators behind the attack as a group of gunmen headed by Talal Issa. A security source told The Daily Star that Lebanese troops fired back at the attackers and engaged the gunmen in hit-and-run shootings for about three hours around Syria Street, Talaat al-Omari and Abu Ali roundabout. The Army also said that another military vehicle came under fire at 7:35 a.m. in the same neighborhood near Abu Ali Roundabout, wounding one soldier. In the same area in the vegetable market, a group led by Mahmoud Hallaq, also known as Abu Khalil, and Mohammad Mustafa al-Nahili fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a military unit, the Army said, adding that the attack wounded four soldiers. The Army said the source of the attacks from the three incidents was Bab al-Tabbaneh. Meanwhile, two people were also wounded in sporadic skirmishes between mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and their rivals in the predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. They were identified as Wassim Qassem and Omar Sammak. Most schools and businesses in the northern city remained closed for the sixth day in a row. Seven people have been killed so far mostly by sniper fire in the five-day sporadic clashes between the rival neighborhoods. The clashes intensified Tuesday following the morning car bomb explosion in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik that killed four people, the latest in a series of attacks in the capital’s suburbs where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. Tripoli lawmakers scrambled to contain the violence in Lebanon’s second largest city, which has seen 19 rounds of fighting since the uprising in Syria began in March of 2011. MPs and Tripoli figures met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at his residence in the city and agreed on a series of measures aimed at ending the fighting. “We discussed means to restore normal life back to the city ... there was an agreement that this is an absurd and futile war,” Mikati told reporters after the meeting. “We also strongly condemned any attack against the Army in any shape or form,” he added.
Police detains man in Beirut over suspicious appearance
January 22, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Security forces detained a man in Beirut’s southern suburb of Harek Hreik Wednesday after they grew suspicious of his appearance, a day after a car bomb killed four people in the same area. The driver, identified as Hussein Sharafeddine, a local rapper, was searched and apprehended. A witness in Haret Hreik told The Daily Star that members of the Internal Security Forces stopped a GMC vehicle at a police checkpoint in Beirut’s southern suburb. The police searched the four-wheel drive vehicle after they grew suspicious of the driver’s long, heavy beard. Army intelligence personnel and security forces arrived to the scene along with a fire truck, causing panic among the residents of the bustling neighborhood. A suspected suicide car bomb killed four people Tuesday in Haret Hreik in the second attack this month against the area where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. Tuesday’s attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of Syria’s Nusra Front, in retaliation to Hezbollah's military involvement in Syria
Future: Hezbollah in Syria disrupting life in Lebanon
January 22, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The Future parliamentary bloc said Wednesday life in Lebanon will only return to normal when Hezbollah withdraws from Syria, demanding the inclusion of the Baabda Declaration in the ministerial statement of the upcoming Cabinet. The bloc also said it was necessary for the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios based on sect and party to be adopted in the upcoming government and future ones, a day after MP Michel Aoun rejected such a demand. “It has become clear now that normal national life in Lebanon cannot be attained if Hezbollah carries on in Syria with such a tragic and destructive unrestrictive [manner] and continues to violate national consensus and covenant,” the bloc said in a statement, after its weekly meeting.
“It has become necessary for all the Lebanese to resort to the state and respect the principle of national partnership, including a full commitment to the disassociation policy which entails Hezbollah's withdrawal from the fighting in Syria,” it added. The bloc has blamed Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria for the series of car bomb attacks in Beirut’s southern suburbs and last week’s bombing in the northeastern town of Hermel, saying the attacks are the result of the group’s military involvement alongside the Damascus regime.
Condemning Tuesday’s suspected suicide car bomb in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik that killed four people, the bloc called for a “thorough and transparent investigation in all terrorist attacks that are against humanity.”“The bloc stresses on its stance that Lebanon can no longer tolerate the repercussions of the Syrian crisis,” it added.
The Future bloc headed by MP Fouad Siniora also urged the government to implement a plan that included the deployment of the Lebanese Army and internal Security Forces along the Lebanese border with the help of U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon to fully control the border. Such border measures, the bloc said, would prevent violations and the infiltration of fighters between Lebanon and Syria “to prevent Lebanon the crises caused by Hezbollah’s fighting there.”Most of the car bombs in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, have been claimed by radical rebel groups in Syria in retaliation to the resistance party’s presence there.
The bloc also commented on the ongoing process of forming a new government that has recently seen a breakthrough in the 10-month political deadlock, reiterating their refusal to include Hezbollah’s defense formula in the upcoming ministerial statement. Head of the Future Movement former PM Saad Hariri has said he was willing to join a Cabinet with the Hezbollah-led March 8 group after his party’s demands were met.
“Our stance with regards to the new government is driven by our outright opposition to any veto power and the inclusion of the tripartite formula of ‘the people, the army and the resistance’ which was used to violate the state, the law and the institutions,” the bloc said. Hezbollah has said that such a formula is the only means capable of protecting Lebanon from Israeli aggression. But its rivals in the March 14 group argue Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria invalidated the formula. The government's policy statement, the bloc said, should stress that Israel is the primary enemy of the Lebanese “who are committed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.”
"It is necessary that the policy statement include a clear commitment to the Baabda Declaration with all its items in addition to commitment to the rotation of ministerial portfolios that should be adopted by this government and future ones,” it added. “[Our] agreement to participate in the next Cabinet concurs with a full commitment to the alliance and unity of the March 14 coalition since the reasons that unite this coalition supersede any passing political array,” the bloc said.
Latest attack marks fourth car bombing in four weeks
January 22, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The car bomb that ripped through the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik Tuesday was one of four to rock the country in four weeks, and the third to target an area where Hezbollah enjoys support. The 10:55 a.m. attack on the bustling Al-Arid Street in the southern suburb occurred just meters away from the site of a similar bombing earlier in the month and is the latest in a series of incidents that began right before the start of the year. The attack was claimed by the Nusra Front. On Dec. 27 at around 9:45 a.m., a car bomb exploded near the Starco building in Downtown Beirut, targeting former Minister Mohammad Shatah’s vehicle as he was making his way to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s downtown residence, where a meeting of the March 14 coalition was underway.
The attack targeted Shatah, 62, who was a senior aide to Hariri. Eight people were killed in the bombing, including Shatah’s bodyguard Mohammad Tareq Badr, 16-year-old Mohammad Shaar and Anwar al-Badawi. At least 75 people were wounded. Investigators tracked the path of the explosives-rigged vehicle, a Honda CRV, which was stolen in 2012 in Saadiyat, in Mount Lebanon, and sold in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted Lebanese authorities with the probe, which has made little progress. Responsibility for the attack was not claimed, but it came three weeks before the start of trial of four Hezbollah suspects at the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The March 14 coalition pointed the finger of blame at the Syrian regime, which denied any involvement in the attack.
On Jan. 2 at 4:10 p.m., a 1993 dark green Grand Cherokee rigged with about 20 kilograms of explosive material detonated near Al-Jawad restaurant in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support, killing five people and wounding 77 others. The suicide bomber was later identified as 19-year-old north Lebanon resident Qotaiba Mohammad al-Satem, whose personal documents were discovered in the vehicle.
Less than a week after the attack, the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria claimed responsibility for the car bombing. A statement issued online by the group said the attack was “the first installment of a heavy account that awaits these shameless criminals,” referring to Hezbollah. On Jan. 16 at 8:55 a.m., a rigged Kia Sportage exploded in the bustling city of Hermel, in the Bekaa Valley, killing five people and wounding 42 others, in what was believed to be a suicide attack. The blast occurred during the morning rush hour near the town’s government building, while many were making their way to work. Before the attack, Hermel, where Hezbollah also enjoys support, had been the site of frequent rocket attacks launched from Syria. The attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, in retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. The dead were identified as Hussein Ali Omar, a Harmoush family member, and Syrian worker Hussein Nayef. The remains of two other identified bodies, one believed to belong to the suicide bomber, were found at the site of the attack.
New terror attack puts Lebanese on edge
January 22, 2014/By Meris Lutz, Dana Khraiche The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Security fears gripped the Lebanese as the pace of terror attacks increased dramatically with a suspected suicide bombing that struck Beirut’s southern suburbs Tuesday, killing four people, including a teenage girl, and wounding 46 others. Tuesday’s car bombing was the fourth in Lebanon as many weeks. It was also the latest attack targeting Hezbollah and drawing the country deeper into the conflict in neighboring Syria. The explosion on the bustling Al-Arid Street in Haret Hreik occurred around 11 a.m. just meters from the site of a car bombing earlier in the month that was claimed by the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. Tuesday’s attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of Syria’s Nusra Front that is blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group.
“We were able to respond to the massacres committed by Iran’s party [Hezbollah] against the children of Syria and of Arsal [in northeast Lebanon] with a suicide operation that targeted the heart of its southern suburbs,” a statement posted on the group’s Twitter account said. In an escalation of Syria-related violence, four car bombings, including suicide attacks, have rattled Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, since July, killing nearly 40 people, in addition to a twin suicide explosion targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that killed 30 people and wounded over 150. The attacks, claimed by Al-Qaeda-linked groups, came in response to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad. Tuesday’s bombing drew nationwide condemnation from rival leaders with calls for national unity to face growing threats from militant and takfiri groups bent on punishing Hezbollah for supporting the Assad regime. Locals had been startled by a motorist who was speeding in the area moments before the attack. “We saw a car that was speeding. The driver was honking like a mad man,” Kamal Hijazi, the owner of a mini-market located meters from where the explosion took place, told The Daily Star. “Seconds later, we saw the explosion which sent the vehicle flying up in the air.” The National News Agency identified the four victims as Maria Jawhari, a teenager, Ahmad al-Abidi, Ali Ibrahim Bashir and Khodr Srour.
The blast, which sent plumes of smoke into the Beirut skyline, set fire to a number of floors of a residential building in the suburb. Security forces, backed by residents, removed damaged vehicles on the road, clearing a path for the fire brigade to douse the flames. A number of residents said they rushed to the scene of the explosion as soon as they heard the blast. “There are no Hezbollah offices here. Only innocent people,” a local woman, Hoda, said. “We’re getting used to these explosions but what can we do.”The circumstances surrounding the bombing were unclear. The Army, in a statement, said a Kia Sportage SUV had been rigged with explosives, adding that the Military Police inspected the blast scene as well as remains found near the vehicle “as part of efforts to determine the nature and circumstances surrounding the explosion.”
The blast resulted from the detonation of three 120 and 130 millimeter mortar bombs in the vehicle estimated to weigh 15 kilograms, the Army said in a second statement, adding that an explosives belt that had not detonated was also found near human remains at the scene. Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, during a brief chat with reporters, said the vehicle had been rigged with explosives and a suicide bomber was involved but had failed to detonate his explosives belt. Referring to a preliminary investigation, the source said a man, suspected of being involved in the attack, stepped out of a Kia Sportage moments before the blast. His remains were found at the scene. The military said the Kia had been stolen from a person identified as Kallas Youssef Kallas and that security agencies had been sent notices with the vehicle’s description.
The 2010-model car was stolen in October 2013, the source said. It was found at the blast site carrying a stolen license plate originally belonging to a Toyota registered in the name of Sama Wafi Biyazed, the source added.
A high-ranking security source said authorities identified two people involved in the theft of vehicles that were used in the Haret Hreik attack as well as another Kia Sportage used in last week’s bombing in Hermel, northeast Lebanon. Nabil Musawi, who was already in police custody, confessed he was part of a ring specialized in stealing Kia Sportage vehicles, including the two used in the previous attacks, the source said.
Musawi’s statement led to the arrest of another member of the ring, the source added. Charbel said security agencies had a list of suspected vehicles that could be used in similar attacks. “We have a list of explosive-rigged vehicles. Sometimes we find them and foil the attack but other times we don’t [find them].”He also said that it was difficult to implement security measures in a crowded area such as Beirut’s southern suburbs:
“How can we search every vehicle that enters Beirut’s southern suburbs? I would need to deploy 5,000 security personnel.”
Every car I see, I think: Is this it?’
January 22, 2014/By Meris Lutz The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A handful of relatives, doctors, journalists and Hezbollah security personnel are gathered near the entrance of the Bahman Hospital when a scream breaks the relative calm. The mother of Maria al-Jawhari, the 18-year-old girl killed near the shoe store where she worked, has just received the news. “You’re lying, uncle,” she screams in disbelief at the older man who is trying to comfort her. “Maria, my daughter, wake up! Help me!”“What will I tell her father? Oh God!,” she continues. The mother sits on the curb, shocked. Another woman covers her mouth and walks a few feet away to collect herself. “I saw her just yesterday,” the woman says with tears in her eyes, adding that she is a friend of the family who met Maria about a year ago when she started working at the store next door. “She was very lighthearted, it was a pleasure to sit with her ... She treated everyone equally, old, young – she treated me like a friend, not an auntie,” adds the woman, who appears to be in her 50s. “She worked in the store but she had dreams, like any girl her age. She dreamed of having a life, a future, of living in security.” Jawhari died on the same street that was struck by a similar attack at almost exactly the same spot on Jan. 2. At the time, she posted the following to her Facebook account: “This is the third bombing I barely escaped. I don’t know if I’ll survive the fourth.”Jawhari’s was one of four families to receive similar heartbreaking news Tuesday after a suspected suicide bomber detonated himself on Al-Arid Street in Haret Hreik.
The National News Agency identified the other three as Ahmad al-Obeidi, Ali Ibrahim Bashir, and Khodr Srour. Pictures of a youthful Bashir were circulated on social media networks, with many mourning the loss of another in the prime of his life. According to local media reports, when the blast occurred Obeidi was driving with his adult son, Abbas, who was injured but survived. The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack. The Nusra Front has vowed to strike Hezbollah over the party’s role in the Syrian war, and has already targeted civilian areas under its control. Residents near the site of Tuesday’s bombing insist there were no military or Hezbollah-affiliated targets on the street. “They are cowards,” says Zainab, a local resident who declines to give her last name. “If they were men they would face us, but instead they target innocent people, women and children,” she adds, surveying the aftermath of the bombing. The ground is littered with broken glass and charred debris. The acrid smell of smoke and burned metal and plastic hangs in the air.
A pool of blood has collected on the pavement under the driver’s side of a nearby truck, its windshield and windows blown in, door ajar. “They will not scare us,” she says. “We stand with the resistance and Sayyed Hasan [Nasrallah] till our last drop of blood.”As uniformed men in red berets inspect the ravaged wreckage of the car thought to have carried the bomb, the Army, Red Cross, Hezbollah and police struggle to control the crowd of onlookers. Just a few blocks away, most shops remain open, children are escorted home from school by their mothers, and many residents appear inured to the ever-present threat of car bombs.
“We’re used to it,” says Nissan, who works in a clothing store not far from the site of the blast. Others disagree. One woman, who would not give her name, says she thinks about leaving the southern suburbs “every day.”“But where would I go?” she asks, looking weary. “My children are in university now, and I want them to travel. I don’t want them to stay in this country.” “Every time I walk down the street, every car I see, I think ‘is this it?’” she says, adding that, with time, Hezbollah supporters will tire of paying the price for the party’s policies. Among the casualties of the attack is Kamel Abdul-Aal, whose nephew Mohammad is waiting outside his room at Bahman Hospital. Abdul-Aal was on his way to work when the bomb exploded. “When I first got the call, I was worried because we didn’t know how serious it was, whether it was his head or his leg or what,” explains Mohammad. Abdul-Aal was released a short while later after being treated for light wounds to his leg. Ali Krayem, the head of Bahman Hospital, says the facility was fully prepared to respond and praised the Civil Defense and Red Cross for transporting the victims as quickly as possible. “There is no message that can be delivered by blood,” he adds in condemnation of the attack.
Mansour: Hezbollah critics provide cover for takfiris
January 22, 2014 04/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour said Wednesday that critics of Hezbollah's role in Syria were seeking to divert attention from what he called the "takfiri" threat.
"Whoever claims that what is happening in Lebanon is the result of Hezbollah’s participation in Syria seeks to divert attention from the facts and [provide a] cover for the presence of takfiris and extremist groups in Lebanon,” Mansour said at Geneva II, the U.N. peace conference on Syria being held in Switzerland. He also said that the repercussions from the crisis in Syria represented major challenges to Lebanon's security, stability, economy and demographic balance. "Perhaps the primary danger here is terrorism which striking us today armed with radical, takfiri thoughts to reject others, something Lebanon has never witnessed before,” he said. “The repercussions from the Syria crisis ... have extended to neighboring countries where the region has become an arena for terrorism, becoming a reality of the fighting in Syria." Calling for a joint international effort to combat terrorism, Mansour said groups linked directly to terrorist organizations had entered the country and carried out a series of bombings. Lebanon has been rocked by a string of car bombs, most of which have taken place in Beirut’s southern suburbs where Hezbollah enjoys broad support. The explosions have killed dozens of people and wounded scores more. Radical rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad's forces have claimed some of the bombings, including Tuesday’s suspected suicide attack, calling them retaliation for Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria. The March 14 coalition has repeatedly blamed Hezbollah for the recent attacks. It says the party’s interference violates the country’s disassociation policy as well as the Baabda Declaration, an agreement signed by rival leaders in 2012 and ito distance Lebanon from regional turmoil, particularly the crisis in Syria. In May last year, Hezbollah argued that its presence in Syria alongside regime forces was a pre-emptive strike against takfiri forces who were making their way into Lebanon. During his seven-minute speech at the Geneva 2 peace talks, Mansour, a controversial figure in Lebanese politics, also spoke about the disassociation policy adopted by the government, saying the crisis in neighboring Syria was being heavily felt in Lebanon. “Since the events in Syria began in March of 2011 ... Lebanon adopted a policy of disassociation aimed at neutralizing itself from the negative repercussions of this crisis,” he said. "With this policy, we sought to refrain from intervening in the Syrian affairs but we knew from the beginning that Syria ... would be able to resolve its problems without direct or indirect foreign intervention." He also said that foreign intervention in Syria had plunged the country into a cycle of violence "as the world counted its victims as well as the number of fighters from all over the world coming into [Syria]. “ Lebanon disassociated itself from the Syrian events but the events did not disassociate themselves from [Lebanon] and they affected its security and stability,” he added. Mansour called on the international community to help Lebanon cope with the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees on its soil. “This burden has exceeded Lebanon's capabilities and resulted in repercussions on the economic, social and security situation,” he said. Mansour described the peace talks as a "golden opportunity" to reach a political solution in Syria and allow the refugees to return to their home country. "The solution can only be Syrian and the Syrians alone can decide the future of their nation at a distance from interventions that only worsen the situation,” he said.
Time to act like leaders
January 22, 2014/The Daily Star/The terror attack that targeted Beirut’s southern suburbs Tuesday provides yet another grim reminder of the urgent need to move Lebanon toward stability, instead of wasting words on trivial issues. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has in recent days signaled a desire to get on with forming a new Cabinet, following months of political paralysis. The response from his March 8 rivals has been less than lackluster, as they continue to talk about the minute details of the Cabinet formation – which ministry “belongs” to whom – instead of getting down to business and taking action. Hariri based his decision on the country’s higher national interest, while March 8 politicians have been narrowly focused on strict dogma and stale rhetoric that benefit no one. The involvement of some Lebanese groups, led by Hezbollah, in the war in Syria will continue to have only negative repercussions for Lebanon, and some in the March 8 camp are well aware of this. Hezbollah leaders should take into consideration that few people – among them the party’s allies – are satisfied with its flagrant interference in the war in Syria, and that it’s time to set out in a new direction. Lebanon is simply incapable of tolerating the political and security turbulence associated with the Syrian conflict, irrespective of all the boasting about steadfastness and talk of conspiracies. The failure to consider alternatives to a failed policy is only compounding the misery for Lebanon’s people, economy, society and political order, and it’s time to move forward in order to minimize the damage.
Witnesses Testify in Hariri Murder Trial
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 January 2014/The Special Tribunal for Lebanon began for the first time on Wednesday to hear the testimonies of witnesses in the trial of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's February 2005 assassination.
The testimonies came after the STL prosecution, the lawyers for victims and defense attorneys of two suspects made their opening statements since the trial was launched last Thursday.
The four Hizbullah suspects – Mustafa Badreddine, Hassan Oneissi, Salim Ayyash and Assad Sabra - have been indicted in Hariri's murder in what prosecutors say was a suicide truck bombing that killed him and 21 others on the Beirut seafront. The suspects are being tried in absentia because they haven't been arrested. The fifth to be indicted was Hassan Habib Merhi, who was indicted later than the other four suspects and is not officially a suspect in the trial that started Thursday but several accusations have been made against him. His lawyers are attending the trial in observer status.
Wednesday's hearing started with the prosecution listing the names and brief histories of the victims. Then Abdul Qader Darwish, the brother of Mohammed Darwish, one of the victims of the attack, briefed the court on the emotional suffering of his family after the explosion. Mohammed Darwish was part of the Hariri convoy. The witness said his family and himself had also suffered from medical conditions due to their grief.
Darwish had to eventually identify his brother's body at a hospital, he said, adding the victim "was totally maimed and ripped apart.”The second witness Mamdouh Mohammed Tarraf is the brother of victim Ziad Tarraf, who had worked for Hariri as a personal bodyguard since 1987. Tarraf said he identified his brother from the shoes he was wearing. His body was burned but his feet were left intact.
A third witness, Robyn Fraser, who worked for the STL Office of the Prosecution between August 2009 and August 2011. Senior Trial counsel, Alexander Milne of the office of the Prosecution, focused on various surveillance camera footage taken near the area where Hariri was assassinated. He showed footage taken from the Suleiman Franjieh tunnel leading towards the Phoenicia and Monroe Hotels.
This footage focused on a white lorry, suspected of being the Mitsubishi vehicle that was carrying the explosives used in the assassination. The testimony revealed that the lorry had arrived at the scene about an hour before the attack where it headed off on a road near the Monroe Hotel before once again being captured on the same camera, located at the exit of the tunnel, an hour later and presumably headed to the location where the attack was to take place. The Prosecution then showed footage taken from a camera on the corner of the Phoenicia Hotel that also captured an image of the lorry.
It was stated during the testimony that the time stamp on the footage of the cameras can be placed manually, thus leading to findings that the time on the various footage was not accurate in line with the assassination. The assassination took place at 12:55 pm on February 14, 2005. The camera at the exit of the Suleiman Franjieh tunnel was found to be two minutes slower than actual time and the camera at the Phoenicia Hotel was found to be 48 minutes faster. The Prosecution will focus on Thursday on footage taken by a surveillance camera at the HSBC Bank near the crime scene. The session was adjourned to 11 am on Thursday. The defense lawyers of Badreddine and Oneissi cited on Monday lack of evidence against the accused and stressed the difficulty of their role over lack of cooperation of the Lebanese authorities and lack of time to study the indictment. Prosecutors are relying on a web of timings and locations of mobile phone calls they say were made by the bombers as they tracked Hariri in the months, weeks, days and minutes before his assassination.
Syria peace conference exposes deep rifts over Assad
By Mariam Karouny and Khaled Yacoub Oweis | Reuters – By Mariam Karouny and Khaled Yacoub Oweis
MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Syria's government and opposition, meeting for the first time, angrily spelled out their mutual hostility on Wednesday at a U.N. peace conference where world powers also offered sharply divergent views on forcing out Bashar al-Assad. Opposition leader Ahmed Jarba accused the president of Nazi-style war crimes and demanded the Syrian government delegation at the one-day meeting in Montreux, Switzerland sign up to an international plan for handing over power. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem insisted Assad would not bow to outside demands and painted a graphic picture of "terrorist" rebel atrocities supported by Arab and Western states who back the opposition and were present in the room. "Assad isn't going," Syria's information minister said. The United States and Russia, co-sponsors of the conference which U.N. officials hope will lead to negotiations in Geneva from Friday, also revealed their differences over Assad during a day of formal presentations in Montreux on Lake Geneva. The talks reflect mounting global concern that a war which has killed over 130,000 and left millions homeless is spilling beyond Syria and fuelling sectarian militancy abroad. But there was little sign that any party was ready to make concessions. Western officials said they were taken aback by the combative tone adopted by Moualem, who also defied United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's plea to shorten his speech. Some diplomats questioned whether negotiations could continue. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the rebel view that there is "no way" Assad can stay under the terms of a 2012 international accord urging an interim coalition. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said all sides had a role and condemned "one-sided interpretations" of the 2012 pact. Saudi Arabia, which backs the Sunni rebels, called for Iran and its Shi'ite Lebanese ally Hezbollah to withdraw forces from Syria. Iran, locked in a sectarian confrontation across the region, was absent, shunned by the opposition and the West for rejecting calls for a transitional government. Its president said Tehran's exclusion meant talks were unlikely to succeed.
The conference has raised no great expectations, particularly among Islamist rebels who have branded Western-backed opposition leaders as traitors for even taking part.
But even Western officials said hopes of talks in Geneva on Friday and beyond may be in jeopardy: "It's very far from encouraging," said a French diplomatic source. "We have the impression the regime has come to Geneva to ensure it fails."German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Moualem's rejection of any government responsibility for the crisis "astounding and infuriating". Progress with Damascus was at risk, he said, "if they don't show some intelligence".
U.N. chief Ban opened proceedings by calling for immediate access for humanitarian aid convoys to areas under siege.
"After nearly three painful years of conflict and suffering in Syria, today is a day of fragile but real hope," Ban said, condemning human rights abuses across the board. "Great challenges lie ahead but they are not insurmountable."
But there was little sign of compromise on the central issue of whether Assad, who inherited power from his father 14 years ago, should make way for a government of national unity. He himself says he could win re-election later this year and his fate has divided Moscow and Washington. Both endorse the conclusions of the 2012 meeting of world powers, known as Geneva 1, but differ on whether it means Assad must go now. Opposition leader Jarba called for the government delegates to turn against their president before so-called Geneva 2 negotiations start: "We want to make sure we have a partner in this room that goes from being a Bashar al-Assad delegation to a free delegation so that all executive powers are transferred from Bashar al-Assad," the National Coalition leader added.
"My question is clear. Do we have such a partner?" Turning around the government's accusations that the rebels have fostered al Qaeda and other militants, Jarba said it was Assad's forces which, by targeting mainstream opposition groups, had created the conditions for al Qaeda to thrive. Moualem called on foreign powers to stop "supporting terrorism" and to lift sanctions against Damascus.
Referring to rebel atrocities, he said: "In Syria, the wombs of pregnant women are cut open, the fetuses are killed. Women are raped, dead or alive ... Men are slaughtered in front of their children in the name of the revolution."
He insisted Assad's future was not in question, saying: "Nobody in this world has a right to withdraw legitimacy from a president or government ... other than the Syrians themselves."
Opposition spokesman Monzer Akbik said Assad lay at the heart of the conflict: "Assad is the problem," he said. "We say 'democracy', they say 'Assad' ... We're talking about a nation, they're talking about a man. So Assad is the problem and Assad must go in order to start the transition towards democracy."
Lavrov repeated Moscow's opposition to "outside players" interfering in Syria's sovereign affairs and prejudging the outcome of talks on forming an interim government. He also said Iran - Assad's main foreign backer - should have a say. The Kremlin is wary of what it sees as a Western appetite for toppling foreign autocrats that was whetted in Libya in 2011. Moscow opposes making Assad's departure a condition for peace. Speaking of the Geneva Communique, Lavrov said: "The essence of this document is that mutual agreement between the government and opposition should decide the future of Syria."
Kerry also spoke of "mutual" agreement among Syrians, but in a sense that excluded Assad.
"We see only one option - negotiating a transition government born by mutual consent," he said. "That means that Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way ... that a man who has led a brutal response to his own people can regain legitimacy to govern." Despite the differences, however, some participants believe common interests in reining in violence could rally the West, Russia and possibly even Iran behind some form of compromise. Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said he was "moderately optimistic" there would be further talks in Geneva on Friday: "Today was the day for making speeches," he said.
"What I feel is that there's a certain positive dynamic between Russia and the United States on Syria." A last-minute invitation from Ban to Iran was revoked after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott the talks - a move that threatened to undermine months of U.S. and Western efforts to cajole Jarba's National Coalition into taking part. President Hassan Rouhani said from Tehran that Iran's exclusion made it unlikely the conference could succeed. Qatar, which has armed Syria's rebels, hit back at Moualem's charge that Sunni Gulf Arab states had "exported to us monsters in human form who have drunk of the abhorrent Wahhabi ideology" - the Saudi school of Sunni Islam. Praising high living standards in the Gulf, Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah told delegates: "The Wahhabis did not starve people, who are forced to eat dogs and cats."
WAR RAGES IN SYRIA
During the speeches in Montreux, the war went on in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported clashes and air strikes around the country. Around Damascus, government artillery hit villages and rebels clashed with the army in the neighborhood of Jobar on the northeast fringe of the capital, it said. Activists also reported clashes in Hama, Aleppo and the southern province of Deraa. The release of photographs apparently showing prisoners tortured and killed by the government was cited by Jarba and Western ministers. The Syrian government rejected the report as not objective and aimed at undermining negotiations. Discontent stretches back to the rule since 1970 of Assad's father, who took power in a military coup, but it boiled over in March 2011 as Syria's drought-hit economy struggled and the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt inspired protests. When those were crushed, the revolt became a war that has taken on an increasingly sectarian complexion, setting majority Sunnis against Assad's Alawite community, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. It has also drawn in rival powers with Saudi Arabia and Qatar backing the rebels and Iran standing by Assad. Al Qaeda-linked militants and other Islamists have emerged as the most powerful forces on the rebel side, dampening Western appetite for direct intervention and sparking conflict among rival rebel formations. Iran and Hezbollah have helped Assad. And violence has spread, notably to Iraq and Lebanon. In Damascus, where life limps on amid bombardments and checkpoints, weary residents voice cautious hopes for better. "I can't say there's optimism anywhere pertaining to the Geneva talks, but it's a start," said Ruba, a mother of two. "I really don't think much will come out of it, but the alternative is no talks at all, and that's not much better." An opposition activist who uses the name Susan Ahmed said: "People are hopeful Geneva might be an omen for them to return to their homes. They're exhausted and they want it all to end."
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles, Gabriela Baczynska, Dominic Evans, Samia Nakhoul, John Irish, Stephanie Nebehay, Lesley Wroughton and Johnny Cotton in Montreux Guy Faulconbridge in London and Laila Bassam, Paris Hafezi in Ankara, Alexander Dziadosz, Oliver Holmes and Stephen Kalin in Beirut; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Peter Millership and David Stamp)
Exclusive: Khamenei's business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief
By Steve Stecklow and Babak Dehghanpisheh | Reuters –
(Reuters) - One of the chief beneficiaries of this week's easing of Iranian sanctions is the country's ruler - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei controls a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran's petrochemical industry, which is now permitted to resume exports. Under a six-month deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has promised to scale back its nuclear development program in exchange for the suspension of certain economic sanctions, including curbs on the export of petrochemicals.
On Monday, the day the suspension of the restrictions took effect, the U.S. Treasury Department published a list of 14 Iranian petrochemical companies that previously had been sanctioned but are now permitted to do business abroad. The list includes three firms that the department said last year are controlled by Setad - Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical Products Co, Marjan Petrochemical Co and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh Co.
In an emailed statement to Reuters, a spokesman for Setad said it only held shares in Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical. "Our investment ... in the petrochemical sector is minimal," the spokesman said.
The easing of sanctions comes less than seven months after the Treasury Department added Setad and 37 companies the department said Setad oversees - including the three petrochemical firms - to a lengthy list of sanctioned Iranian entities. The Treasury described the action last June as an effort to target Iran's leadership, and it accused Setad of being part of a scheme to circumvent U.S. and international sanctions.
In November, Reuters published a three-part series (www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/) that detailed for the first time how Setad had become one of Iran's richest and most powerful institutions, largely through the systematic seizure and sale of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians. By the time Washington sanctioned Setad, it had morphed into a multi-billion-dollar business conglomerate that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil and telecommunications.
Iran's state news agency denounced the Reuters reports as "disinformation" intended to undermine public trust in the Islamic Republic's institutions.
The conglomerate's full name in Persian is Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam. Khamenei, who appoints its board of directors, is Iran's top cleric and has final say on all governmental matters, including the preliminary nuclear accord. Iran and six powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - will try to reach a final agreement over the next six months. The West believes Iran wants to build atomic weapons. Iran has long said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy development.
Setad stands to profit from the preliminary agreement in ways besides the export of petrochemicals. The agreement makes it easier for Iran to import humanitarian goods, including medicine. Setad controls numerous Iranian pharmaceutical companies.
Washington targeted Iran's petrochemical industry last year, with an Obama administration official saying the sector had become a significant source of Iran's foreign earnings.
In an interview with Reuters this week, a Treasury Department official estimated that Iran would generate at most $1 billion in revenue from petrochemical exports over the next six months, and possibly much less, since it would not be in a position to sign any long-term contracts.
Dozens of petrochemical products are no longer under sanctions, including ammonia, methanol and chlorine. The suspension does not include finished products, such as plastic bags or tires. U.S. citizens and American-owned companies are still prohibited from doing most business with Iran.
The website of Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical, which makes plastic products, states that it has exported material to numerous countries, including South Africa, Italy, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, South Korea and China. A Setad subsidiary, Tadbir Energy Development Group, states on its website that it owns 80 percent of Ghaed Bassir.
An employee at Ghaed Bassir said company officials were not immediately available for comment.
Last June, the Treasury Department said Setad also controls Marjan Petrochemical, which is investing in methanol production, and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh, which makes rubber.
An official with Marjan told Reuters that "the sanctions didn't hurt us very much." He said the company plans to continue discussions it has had in the past with companies in Italy and Denmark. "We're still in the planning phase," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Stecklow in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut. Edited by Simon Robinson)
Address by Canada's FM, Minister Baird at Geneva II Talks on Syria
January 22, 2014 - Montreux, Switzerland
Check Against Delivery
Ladies, gentlemen, representatives.
It is good that we have reconvened here to affirm Geneva I. I very much appreciate the work that has gone into today. But what we say and do here must have meaning. And purpose.
What we say and do here must not ignore the guns that continue to fire in the valleys of Syria or the planes that bombard the buildings where innocent civilians dwell.
More than 130,000 Syrians have been killed, countless more murdered and maimed. Millions have been displaced. Syria’s ancient cities and peaceful villages have been reduced to rubble. Syria’s rich social fabric of tolerance and diversity has been torn asunder, and a generation of Syrian boys and girls have lost their childhood.
Each day, and in every moment, Syria’s children are becoming members of a lost generation, learning about brutal violence rather than science, math or literature.
Let us be absolutely clear-eyed about how we have arrived in this moment. This war began because Assad refused to respect the basic demands of his own people for their right to freedom. Assad tried to crush the peaceful demands of ordinary Syrians with unrestrained savagery. Assad declared war on Syria for the sake of his own personal privilege and power. And Assad turned his country’s arsenal—including his chemical weapons—against the very people he had the duty to protect.
As a civil war that he engineered rages around him, he has been cold. Calculating. He created the very circumstances he needed to convince us that his absolute rule would be essential to Syria’s stability.
Assad’s war created a vacuum that has been readily filled by terrorists. He has invited the terrorist organization Hezbollah and its state sponsor, Iran, into this conflict through the front door and opened the back door to Al-Qaeda affiliates like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabat Al Nusra.
The terrorist threat that is developing in Syria is real. It is a threat to the stability of the entire region and beyond. It is a war we have seen before on the streets of Baghdad, and its agents are ones who have been hardened by the wars of the last decade.
But this war did not start as a war against terrorism—as the Assad regime cynically claims. This war began—and remains at its core—a fight for the rights, dignity and freedom of the Syrian people.
A political solution that addresses that reality is the only way for Syria to begin to recover from the catastrophe of this war. Until the dignity and freedom demanded by the Syrian people are enshrined in a peaceful settlement and the institutions that will uphold it, this war will not end, the terrorist threat will increase, the human nightmare will continue, and the violence will threaten all of Syria’s neighbours.
I would like to recognize the generosity of the governments and people of the region who are hosting Syrian refugees, particularly Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Canada has also responded generously to support the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. This assistance is essential, and its generosity cannot be abused by strengthening a tyrant’s false claims to legitimacy in the way it is delivered. It reduces the suffering of Syria’s people. But all the generosity of Syria’s friends will not restore their hope or bring their country back. We come here now to begin to put an end to this conflict. In the face of the destruction of a proud nation and the complexity of the task ahead, it is easy to be pessimistic. But just by being here and finally starting to talk directly, the various sides of this civil war are taking a first step toward peace. We cannot let our pessimism or our sadness at what Syria has become diminish this achievement. The Geneva principles provide the road map to that goal.
This is the only path forward from today’s devastation to the country that Syria’s people—whatever their religion, sect or ethnicity—deserve. Syria’s rich history, culture and tradition of civility is a legacy that must be secured for future generations. This is the task that faces the Syrian delegations in the days and weeks ahead.
Canada calls on all Syrians to commit to work at becoming partners in peace and fully implement the Geneva I communiqué, including the establishment of a transitional governing authority. I urge Syrians to work together to address urgent needs, and begin to build confidence, by ensuring humanitarian access in all areas, proceeding with prisoner exchanges and negotiating local cease-fires.
Canada recognizes how difficult it has been for the Syrian opposition to come to the table—often in the face of death threats. I commend them for their courage, and they will need even greater courage as we proceed down the path to peace. At the same time we call on Syria’s opposition to adopt, without any ambiguity, the vision of a future Syria that respects human rights and accepts Syria’s diversity. Syria’s leaders need to represent and reflect the interests of all of Syria’s men, women and children.We call on the opposition to clearly reject the extremists in their midst and fully embrace—in word and deed—democratic values and the principles of tolerance. We call on the opposition that shares these values to share in their leadership on behalf of the Syrian people. It will be difficult, noble, hard-won teamwork that will bear the result they seek. And true teamwork requires leaders who can work with one another. The road ahead is indeed difficult, but we are compelled forward by the clarion call from those who led us in a different time and shaped a different peace: It isn’t enough to talk about peace. You must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. You must work at it. These words were Eleanor Roosevelt’s, and they challenge each and every one of you around the table today to decide if you believe in peace or not.
It is time for the leaders of Syria to put the people of Syria first. Syria’s history, its potential and its future is bigger than the narrow interests of the Assad family or differences of opinion within the opposition.
Determining Syria’s future is in your hands, all of you. The moral challenge of reconciliation and rebuilding lies ahead of you. One hundred and thirty thousand of your fellow Syrians have died in this war, and you owe them—and all Syrians who are suffering today—a Syria that is peaceful, prosperous and free. Canada stands with you in your endeavour.
Zuwahiri plotted Palestinian-Caucasian terrorist attacks
on US embassy, Jerusalem Convention Center
DEBKAfile Special Report January 22, 2014/The Jerusalem court and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) disclosed Wednesday, Jan. 22, that three Palestinians were in custody having been recruited by al Qaida for three separate suicide operations in conjunction with 5 North Caucasian terrorists due to enter Israel as tourists on fake Russian passports. The plot was orchestrated by Ayman Zuwahiri. It targeted the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Convention Center and buses on the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adummim route. debkafile’s counter terror sources: This was the first time al Qaeda leader Zuwahari was to take a personal hand in setting up attacks inside Israel and his first attempt to use his operational ties for building mixed teams of jihadists from the Caucasus, the Gaza Strip, Syria and local Palestinians - two from East Jerusalem and one from Jenin.
Suicide bombers were to storm the US embassy in Tel Aviv or blow themselves up at the entrance to the building. This attack was to be coordinated with a simultaneous shooting attack on buses plying the Maaleh Adummim-Jerusalem line. Suicide bombers clad in explosive vests were to stage a double attack on the Jerusalem National Convention Center – one blowing up the cavernous building and the second detonating a truck bomb against the responders to increase the casualties. The Shin Bet inquiry found that two East Jerusalem Palestinians had been recruited as operatives or accomplices. Iyad Abu Sara, 23, from Ras Hamis in Jerusalem, who was arrested late last year, revealed under questioning that he'd been recruited online by a senior Al Qaeda operative from Gaza called Arib al-Sham. For his initiation into al Qaeda, he promised to shoot out the tires of an Egged bus causing it to overturn, then shoot the passengers. He was required to serve three months on probation. Among his other duties, Abu Sara agreed to look after the Caucasian terrorists when they arrived in the guise of Russian tourists. His task was to guide them to their targets, the Convention Center in Jerusalem and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Abu Sara also admitted that he was assigned to travel to via Turkey to Syria for training with Al Qaeda instructors. He was also planning to purchase plane tickets for the five Caucasians. His handler in Gaza sent him a computer file containing a manual on the manufacture of explosives, and informed him that the operation was personally planned by Zuwahiri and would go forward with his blessing. The second Jerusalem Palestinian arrested was Rubin Abu Nagma, a married father of four from the Abu Tor neighborhood. He was picked up before he could execute additional attacks, such as kidnapping a soldier in Jerusalem and planting a bomb in a building in his neighborhood which has a mixed Arab-Jewish community. Nagma admitted he had obtained weapons and taught himself how to build bombs from the Internet. debkafile's counterterrorism sources disclose that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put before Russian President Vladimir Putin details of the inquiry into the al Qaeda plot, including the plan to import Caucasian terrorists, when they met in Moscow on Nov. 20. In addition to the Iranian nuclear issue, they also discussed using Israel’s counter-terror expertise to aid Russia in securing the Sochi Olympic Games against Islamist terrorists from the Caucasus and Syria.
Avoiding Assad's Forced Solution to the Syria Crisis
Andrew J. Tabler /Washington Institute
Given that Assad and his backers want to gut the transition process called for in the Geneva Communique, Washington should plan to take other steps in parallel to the Geneva process.
The UN retraction of Iran's invitation to this week's Syria peace talks in Montreux, Switzerland, does little if anything to change the Assad regime's approach to those talks. President Bashar al-Assad's statements in recent days indicate that he and his backers are attempting to pressure the United States and the rest of the "London 11" countries supporting the opposition at the conference -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In particular, Damascus hopes to change the framework of the talks from arranging a genuine transition to accepting a forced settlement centered on Assad's upcoming "reelection" for a third seven-year term, which will not take place for at least four months (his current term ends on July 7). Since little is likely to be accomplished at this week's talks, Washington should concentrate on steps the United States and its allies can take regardless of how the talks go, especially in terms of delivering humanitarian assistance to besieged areas and strengthening the moderate Syrian opposition through promotion of local elections.
ASSAD'S REMARKS INDICATE FORCED SOLUTION
In remarks made over the past few days -- first during a meeting with Russian politicians visiting Damascus, and then in an interview with Agence France Press (AFP) -- Assad reiterated the regime's longstanding mantra that it is fighting an international conspiracy waged by terrorist factions against Syria. More important, he outlined how the political mechanism for settling the crisis centers on his reelection.
On January 19, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Assad had told a delegation of visiting Russian parliamentarians that the issue of him giving up power is "not up for discussion." Although the statement was later denied by Syrian state television, Assad told AFP the following day that the "chances of my [presidential] candidacy are significant," and "I must be at the forefront of those defending this country." He also noted that the process of measuring public opinion on his leadership would commence in "four months' time," when the election date will be announced.
Under the Assad family, Syrian elections have been regarded as among the most manipulated in the Arab world. During the last election in 2007, the Baath-dominated parliament rubberstamped Bashar's nomination as the sole candidate, and in the subsequent public referendum to confirm whether he should be president, he received a laughable 97.62 percent of the vote. In order to show devotion to Assad, many voters were forced to mark the "yes" column by pricking their finger and voting in blood.
Following changes to the constitution approved by referendum in February 2012, presidential elections in Syria must now be multicandidate, multiparty contests. Although this may sound like progress, the changes mean little for this year's election. For one thing, candidates must first be approved by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is appointed by Assad. This fact, coupled with the ongoing state of war, the vast number of displaced citizens, and the heavy role of regime security services in regime-controlled areas, means that the chances of anyone other than Assad winning the next election are zero.
As for which factions Assad would be willing to work with in the future, he told AFP that he would only accept parties with a "national agenda" to help "govern the Syrian state," dismissing those in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and other opposition groups as proxies of regional and Western states participating in the plot against Syria. In his view, anything decided as part of the Geneva process or his own coalition-building efforts would also need to be confirmed by a national referendum run by the regime. Overall, Assad's account of how the next president will be selected and which "opposition parties" will be included is the basis of a forced solution to the Syria crisis masquerading as a democratic process.
LOOPHOLES IN GENEVA 1 COMMUNIQUE
The United States has insisted that Iran cannot attend this week's Syria talks until it accepts a central tenet of the Geneva Communique negotiated between Russian and American officials in June 2012. Section II, paragraph two of the communique states that a "key step" to "any settlement" of the Syria crisis is the formation of a "transitional governing body" (TGB) with "full executive powers" that will create a "neutral environment in which a transition can take place."
Yet Assad and his backers have interpreted this nominally tough provision in a way that guts it of any meaning, emphasizing the portion of Section II that reads, "[The TGB] could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups...formed on the basis of mutual consent." This loophole has allowed Russia to permit, and the United States to resist, Assad's inclusion in the TGB while remaining committed to the Geneva Communique. Although Moscow and Washington have held up the mutual-consent clause as guaranteeing each side's "veto" over a settlement, the lack of specific wording as to which party represents the opposition means that the "present government" (i.e., the Assad regime) need only ally with part of the opposition to move toward a negotiated solution.
Given how these loopholes tactically and strategically benefit the Syrian regime and its supporters in Moscow and Beijing, it remains unclear why Iran backtracked on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's verbal commitments to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in support of the Geneva Communique as a basis for settlement. Perhaps Tehran is concerned that if it accepts the communique, Washington would then highlight the other reason why Iran's presence at the Syria talks is inappropriate -- namely, that it is the only country in the region to have deployed forces on the ground in Syria, most notably personnel from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Qods Force, who have been advising and supporting the Assad regime. Zarif and Syrian foreign minister Walid Mouallem's recent collective visits to Moscow indicate that Tehran's diplomatic maneuver was a coordinated attempt to change the framework of the Geneva Communique and test American mettle regarding a forced settlement.
Whatever the case, the attempt to include Iran in the talks should come as no surprise -- for months, UN Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has privately and publicly lobbied Western and Arab countries to allow Iran into the Geneva process. While Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Tehran could play some role in settling the Syria crisis, it is unrealistic to expect Iran's leaders to be a positive force when they refuse to acknowledge the international responsibility to help with transition. Tehran has instead clung to the fiction that such decisions are best left to the Syrian people, even as it dispatches Iranian forces to Syria, sends arms to the Assad regime in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and orchestrates the presence of thousands of pro-regime fighters in Syria.
AVOIDING TRAPS ON THE LONG DIPLOMATIC ROAD AHEAD
The mechanism for channeling the Syrian people's aspirations toward a settlement that ends the war will not be an election under Assad's rule. Washington and its allies must not indulge Assad's fantasy that his phony election process can yield a "political solution" that will reunite Syria and avoid protracted partition and likely spillover that would threaten regional stability. If the regime and its backers continue to insist on that as the only path, the United States should focus on a mix of short- and long-term tactical and strategic steps -- both at the negotiating table and after -- to improve the chances of a workable settlement.
At the Montreux talks, Washington should emphasize unconditional limited ceasefires for the provision of humanitarian aid to besieged areas. Thus far, the regime has proposed that rebels evacuate areas where aid is to be distributed and hand them over to regime control -- in other words, if the opposition chooses to give up, the regime will graciously accept the offer. A strong U.S. stance calling not for surrender, but for true ceasefires that allow the provision of aid, would strengthen the opposition factions attending Geneva II in the eyes of fellow Syrians desperate for food and medical care. This should be accompanied by increased U.S. humanitarian support for opposition-controlled areas via nonregime channels; to date, the vast bulk of U.S. aid has gone through regime-linked institutions.
Washington should also encourage local elections in rebel-controlled areas to help the opposition choose a clear set of leaders and consolidate its ranks. As outlined above, the loopholes inherent in the Geneva Communique give Assad room to force a political settlement on his terms. The only way for the opposition to avoid that trap is to make sure the party sitting across the negotiating table from the regime is authoritative, insofar as it represents a majority of those opposed to Assad.
**Andrew J. Tabler is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute and author of In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria.