January 25/14

Bible Quotation for today/ A Servant's Duty
Luke 17/ 07-10: "Suppose one of you has a servant who is plowing or looking after the sheep. When he comes in from the field, do you tell him to hurry along and eat his meal? Of course not! Instead, you say to him, ‘Get my supper ready, then put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may have your meal.’  The servant does not deserve thanks for obeying orders, does he? It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty."

Question: "How were people saved before Jesus died for our sins?" Since the fall of man, the basis of salvation has always been the death of Christ. No one, either prior to the cross or since the cross, would ever be saved without that one pivotal event in the history of the world. Christ's death paid the penalty for past sins of Old Testament saints and future sins of New Testament saints. The requirement for salvation has always been faith. The object of one's faith for salvation has always been God. The psalmist wrote, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12). Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed God and that was enough for God to credit it to him for righteousness (see also Romans 4:3-8). The Old Testament sacrificial system did not take away sin, as Hebrews 10:1-10 clearly teaches. It did, however, point to the day when the Son of God would shed His blood for the sinful human race.
What has changed through the ages is the content of a believer's faith. God's requirement of what must be believed is based on the amount of revelation He has given mankind up to that time. This is called progressive revelation. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Adam believed Him, demonstrated by the name he gave Eve (v. 20) and the Lord indicated His acceptance immediately by covering them with coats of skin (v. 21). At that point that is all Adam knew, but he believed it. Abraham believed God according to the promises and new revelation God gave him in Genesis 12 and 15. Prior to Moses, no Scripture was written, but mankind was responsible for what God had revealed. Throughout the Old Testament, believers came to salvation because they believed that God would someday take care of their sin problem. Today, we look back, believing that He has already taken care of our sins on the cross (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:28). What about believers in Christ's day, prior to the cross and resurrection? What did they believe? Did they understand the full picture of Christ dying on a cross for their sins? Late in His ministry, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21-22). What was the reaction of His disciples to this message? “Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” Peter and the other disciples did not know the full truth, yet they were saved because they believed that God would take care of their sin problem. They didn't exactly know how He would accomplish that, any more than Adam, Abraham, Moses, or David knew how, but they believed God. Today, we have more revelation than the people living before the resurrection of Christ; we know the full picture. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our salvation is still based on the death of Christ, our faith is still the requirement for salvation, and the object of our faith is still God. Today, for us, the content of our faith is that Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For For January 25/14
What Rowhani DIDN’T say in Davos/By: Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya/For January 25/14
Inside Iran: Iran's demographic problem/By: Ariel Ben Solomon/The Jerusalem Post/January 25/14
Kerry Boasts of ‘Pluralistic’ Syria Once Assad Gone/By Raymond Ibrahim/January 25/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 25/14

Lebanese Related News

Witness tells STL of brother’s horrific death

More Witnesses Testify in Hariri Assassination Trial

STL defense pokes holes in van theory

Nusra Front warns Lebanese to avoid Hezbollah ‘areas’

Hezbollah part of money-laundering ring: police

Hezbollah goes on high alert in Beirut suburbs

Hizbullah Continues Mediation with Aoun as Jumblat Denies Portfolio Rotation 'Plot'

Report: Army Intelligence Tracking Down Dangerous Terrorist Cell 24 January 2014, 07

Salam gives March 8 Cabinet ultimatum

Four Rockets Hit Hermel, No Injuries Reported

 Mansour Says Syria Transitional Govt. Unhelpful, Slams Terror Labeling of Hizbullah
Lebanon's Army needs to step up

Zarif Urges 'Foreign Elements' Withdrawal from Syria, Says Hizbullah Took 'Own' Decision to Interfere

Early Probe: Fort Hood Lebanese Man Killed Daughters then Committed Suicide

3 Dead, Several Injured in Traffic Related Accidents

Bassil Says FPM Open to All Options Regarding Cabinet Formation

ISF Scuffles with Naameh Landfill Protesters as They Vow to Go On with Sit-In
Miscellaneous Reports And News

At Davos, Kerry says US remains engaged in Mideast, is committed to peace process, Syria, Iran

Iran's Zarif says priority in Syria is cessation of fighting, humanitarian crisis

Netanyahu attends cyber conference, meets with Chinese FM in Davos

Iran and Israel cross swords at Davos meet

Peres honored at Davos World Economic Forum
The Syrian peace process: An exercise in futility
Syria Warring Sides to Meet Saturday after Regime Delegation Threatened to Quit Peace Talks

Syrian delegations to meet in same room on Saturday: mediator
Canada, PM, Harper caps Middle East visit at burgeoning Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

U.N. nuclear chief says still 'long way to go' on Iran

UN: More than 140,000 Iraqis flee Anbar province as clashes with al-Qaida militants intensify

Archbishop found guilty of sexually assaulting one of two boys in Winnipeg

Palestinian leader turns to Putin for Palestinian state, dumps US and Israel as peace partners

Report: US official downplays 'Qaida plot to bomb embassy'
Small bomb explodes in Rome near French church
Syria warring sides agree to meet in same room: UN mediator

Bombings rock Egyptian capital, killing 6 people

Canada Contributes to IAEA’s Efforts to Verify Iran’s Nuclear Program

 Zarif Urges 'Foreign Elements' Withdrawal from Syria, Says Hizbullah Took 'Own' Decision to Interfere
Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif revealed on Friday that Hizbullah “took its own decision” to get involved in the Syrian war, urging all “foreign elements” to withdraw from the neighboring country. "Iran did not send anyone to Syria and Hizbullah took its own decision to fight there,” Zarif said at a seminar held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland's Davos, noting that the party has “exerted lots of efforts to safeguard stability” in Lebanon. "And we urge all foreign elements to withdraw from Syria,” he added. Iran was finally not invited to join the opening of a peace conference in Switzerland, because it has failed to sign up to a 2012 accord which sets out that President Bashar Assad must give way to a transitional government to end the fighting. Zarif continued: "We call for stop funneling funds and money and arms into Syria and to allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny... hopefully in Geneva, although we were not invited. But we are hoping that Geneva can produce results, because we are in the region, we will be affected by any disaster coming out of the region." On whether Assad would have survived against a determined uprising without Tehran's help, Zarif assured that "of course he would.""Nobody would survive unless they have domestic legitimacy," he explained. Caretaker FM Adnan Mansour on Wednesday told the conferees during the Geneva II summit that Hizbullah's interference in Syria is not the problem, pointing out that the region's upheaval is cause by the presence of terrorist ideologies “Those claiming that what is happening in Syria is a result of Hizbullah's involvement in the war want to divert attention from the fact that there are foreign terrorist groups in the region,” Mansour said during his participation at the Syria peace talks.

Report: Army Intelligence Tracking Down Dangerous Terrorist Cell

Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/The Lebanese Army Intelligence is currently pursuing a highly dangerous terrorist cell on Lebanese territories, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Friday. A security source told the newspaper that the extremist network will be revealed soon. According to the report, the suspects are highly wanted as they threat the civil peace in Lebanon and are working based on foreign agendas in coordination with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).The report added that the network is comprised of Palestinians and Syrians that belong to ISIL and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. On Thursday, the army said that a Palestinian suspect who was killed during a clash in the eastern Bekaa Valley was a member of an al-Qaida-linked group. Ibrahim Abdul Mohti Abou Maaileq, known as Abi Jaafar, succumbed to his wounds in hospital on Wednesday, the army said. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that have targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut's southern suburbs in November. Its leader, Majed al-Majed, was arrested by the army last month and said he later died at a military hospital in Beirut from a chronic illness. The al-Qaida-affiliated ISIL had also claimed credit for the deadly bombing in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik earlier in January. The group had vowed further attacks against Hizbullah in Lebanon.

More Witnesses Testify in Hariri Assassination Trial
Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/..The Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard more witness testimonies on Friday a day after the defense team of four Hizbullah suspects claimed there was no conclusive evidence on the use of an explosives-laden Mitsubishi van to target the convoy of ex-PM Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. Several witnesses appeared before the court on Friday. One of them was Nazih Abou Rjaileh, the brother of Zahi Abou Rjaileh, who was killed in the attack. He spoke from Beirut via videoconference. Nazih lamented that his brother's body was found the next day. He said the medical examiner claimed that Zahi died 12 hours after the explosion despite the insistence of a police officer on Feb. 14 that there were no bodies left at the blast site. “My brother wouldn't have died if he was found the same day,” the witness told the court. The second witness's identity was kept a secret. He was referred to through a code as Witness PRH 352 and his voice and face were distorted so that he could not be identified. The court said the witness falls under the STL's witness protection program. His testimonies were not made public. Witness Robyn Fraser, who had worked for the STL Office of Prosecution between August 2009 and August 2011, made a testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. Fraser has detailed the path of the van as shown on CCTV cameras. The footage an hour before the Feb. 14 attack showed the van, which the prosecution said was loaded with 2 tons of explosives, emerging from the Suleiman Franjieh tunnel that leads to the Beirut seafront where the explosion took place.A similar van reappeared nearly an hour later on cameras around a minute ahead of Hariri’s convoy. Fraser said that the lorry was moving at a pace ten times slower than other vehicles. But when she was asked by the defense team if she cannot say conclusively that the van played any role in the explosion. Fraser replied: “No, I cannot.” The defense claims an underground explosion targeted Hariri's convoy. It is taking advantage of the prosecution's claim that it has no footage of the actual blast. When the session resumed in the afternoon, the Prosecution requested that a highly emotional video be played at the courtroom. The video was broadcast by local and international TV stations in the wake of the bomb attack in 2005. The Defense asked the bench to refuse the display of the video, but Presiding Judge David Re dismissed the Defense's request and allowed the Prosecution to play the footage.
The graphic video shows the burning body of the victim Mazen al-Zahabi -- a medic who was among ex-PM Hariri's entourage – as it fell from a window of one of the ablaze cars at the blast scene. Judge Re accepted that the video be turned into a piece of evidence at the request of co-prosecutor Alexander Milne. Milne then asked the witness Fouad Adnan al-Zahabi, Mazen's brother, to start giving his testimony.The co-prosecutor asked the witness about the life and career of his brother and told him to describe how his brother Mazen viewed ex-PM Hariri.
“He was very happy and he considered him as a father,” said Fouad. “My brother's body was largely incinerated and I recognized it from a surgery he underwent after a car accident, as a silver rod was planted in his leg. I informed them of his correct name and asked them to change the surname and they later conducted an X-ray on his leg to confirm what I said,” he told the court. “I tell those who ordered and those who executed the crime that God will punish them if they were not punished on earth,” Fouad added. Co-prosecutor Milne noted the Prosecution was facing difficulties with one of the witnesses and exerting efforts to secure his presence at The Hague, adding that the witness will arrive in The Hague in the weekend.  Judge Re then adjourned the session to 2:00 p.m., Monday. The four Hizbullah suspects, who are on trial in absentia, are Mustafa Badreddine, Hassan Oneissi, Salim Ayyash and Assad Sabra. 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.

Early Probe: Fort Hood Lebanese Man Killed Daughters then Committed Suicide

Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/U.S. army investigators have said they suspect murder-suicide in the Tuesday deaths of a 43-year-old Lebanese man and his two daughters at Fort Hood, Texas.Rouhad Ezzeddine and his two daughters, 9-year-old Leila and 4-year-old Zeinab, lived in the home assigned to the children's mother, 33-year-old Private 1st Class Carla Santisteban. The soldier had recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan. Early indications are Ezzeddine killed his daughters and then took his own life, investigators said. Leila and Zeinab will be buried in their mother's hometown in Peru while the father will be buried in the Lebanese town of Kafra. "This is a terrible tragedy for the mother and families of these children,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, Fort Hood senior commander and commanding general 1st Cavalry Division. “We are doing everything possible to care for the family in this time of profound grief and loss." It could be a while before the army releases its final results. It said it will not do so until investigators have conducted a “very thorough and complete investigation,” examining all physical evidence and testimony, and exhausting all possible leads. Al-Jadeed TV said the Ezzeddine family has expressed reservations on the initial results of the probe.

Nusra Front warns Lebanese to avoid Hezbollah ‘areas’

January 24, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Members of Lebanon’s Sunni sect should avoid areas where Hezbollah has a presence or enjoys support, the Nusra Front in Lebanon, a group of radical Syrian rebels that has claimed responsibility for bombings in the country, warned Friday. “The Nusra Front in Lebanon announces that all the strongholds, headquarters and military and security bases of Iran’s party [Hezbollah] are targets, regardless of their locations,” said a statement posted on the group’s Twitter account. “ Hezbollah deliberately spreads in populated areas to protect itself from the blows of jihadists and as we are keen on preserving the blood of our Sunni people in Lebanon ... we call on Sunnis in Lebanon in general not to approach or reside in [Hezbollah] areas or come near [the party’s] headquarters and gathering places,” it said.  “Faithful Sunnis, help your sons the jihadists in their war against Iran’s party and its agents,” it added. The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the country, including Tuesday’s deadly bombing in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik that killed four people and wounded scores more. The group, an offshoot of Syria’s Nusra Front that is blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group, has warned of further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria.
In May 2013, Hezbollah acknowledged it was fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebels seeking to end the Syrian leader’s more than two-decade reign. Hezbollah says its Syria involvement serves to protect Lebanon from jihadists. But critics say its intervention next door has only prompted Hezbollah’s opponents to retaliate on Lebanese soil.

Two Syria rockets hit Lebanon’s Hermel, no casualties
January 24, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Two rockets from Syria hit Lebanon’s northeastern region of Hermel Friday, a Lebanese security source said, adding that there were no casualties. The source said the rockets, fired from the eastern mountain range on the Syrian side of the border, struck rugged terrain in Hermel.

Army needs to step up
January 24, 2014/ The Daily Star/After this latest round of fighting in the northern city of Tripoli, the Lebanese are left asking what has to change before this tragic cycle of events ends. We have almost lost count now of how may rounds of clashes there have been over the last three years, old feuds given new life by the Syrian conflict, but it is nearing 20.  And it is well over 100 lives lost, and not just militants themselves, but soldiers, and civilians, women and children included, people just trying to go about their daily lives, and being caught up in this vicious, destructive violence, which achieves nothing. And the excuse for the Army being unable to prevent fresh violence from erupting is that it has not been given the political cover to do so. That without a functioning government, or a legitimate Parliament, it is ill-equipped to prevent the warring sides from sparring. Certainly, with each new instance of fighting, various politicians swoop in to manipulate the situation for their own ends or those of their parties. This cynical pattern keeps repeating, and all the while the lives of people are being interrupted, with schools and businesses closed, and nothing improving on the ground. But in the absence of political cover, and knowing it has the full backing of the people, it is time for the Army to take the initiative. It is no longer sufficient to blame the lack of a central government or authority: The Army has the physical capability to quash such violence, and therefore it must. It must protect Lebanese civilians, and indeed its own members, and allow the people of Tripoli to live with dignity and security.

Hezbollah part of money-laundering ring: Aussie police

January 24, 2014/Daily Star/SYDNEY: Australian police revealed Thursday they had cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds syphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah. The Australian Crime Commission said more than AUS $580 million ($512 million) of drugs and assets had been seized, including AUS $26 million in cash, in a yearlong sting code-named Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people smugglers and others. According to the ACC, the operation disrupted 18 serious organized crime groups and singled out 128 individuals of interest in over 20 countries, tapping information from agencies including the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The full details of which countries had been involved were not revealed, but acting ACC chief Paul Jevtovic said, “The reality is that the Middle East and Southeast Asia have featured prominently.”Eligo saw 105 people arrested on 190 separate charges and resulted in the closure of three major clandestine methamphetamine labs and Australia’s largest-ever urban hydroponic cannabis hothouse in Sydney. It was described as “one of the most successful money-laundering investigations in Australian law enforcement history” by the ACC.
Legitimate international cash wiring services were a major focus of the operation, with the government’s anti-laundering agency AUSTRAC saying they had been identified as at “high risk of being exploited by serious and organized crime groups.”A Fairfax media expose said at least one of the exchange houses used in the Middle East and Asia delivered a cut from every dollar it laundered to Hezbollah, which is banned as a terrorist organization in Australia. The ACC is also monitoring the use of Bitcoin, a so-called virtual cryptocurrency generated by a complex computer algorithm. Bitcoin made headlines last year when U.S. authorities closed the Silk Road website after the currency was found being used to buy illegal drugs, forged documents, hacker tools and even the services of hit men. Profits from transnational organized crime were estimated at $870 billion in 2009 – the latest available data – according to the ACC’s 2013 report into the sector.

Hizbullah Continues Mediation with Aoun as Jumblat Denies Portfolio Rotation 'Plot'

Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/Hizbullah failed again to convince its ally Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to give up his demand for keeping the energy and telecommunications portfolios as part of his share in the new government. Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad visited President Michel Suleiman in Baabda Palace on Thursday. The adviser of the party's leader Hussein Khalil also visited Premier-designate Tammam Salam. Hizbullah official Wafiq Safa also held talks with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat in Clemenceau. Jumblat told As Safir daily that he held “positive” talks with Safa. The discussions during these meetings focused on Aoun's request to be left out of a deal on the rotation of portfolios in the new cabinet or giving his party so-called “sovereign” and services ministries. But well-informed sources told An Nahar that such conditions were difficult to meet. The first request contradicts the agreement reached between the rival parties to form a 24-member cabinet based on the rotation of portfolios, they said. As for the second condition set by Aoun, it is almost impossible to meet because the agreement lies in giving President Michel Suleiman the fourth “sovereign” portfolio. Jumblat stressed in his remarks to As Safir that “the concept of rotation is very important and … we cannot give it up.”“We have agreed from the beginning on the the rotation between sects. So there are no plots or hidden deals against anyone or at the expense of anyone.”

ISF Scuffles with Naameh Landfill Protesters as They Vow to Go On with Sit-In
Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/..A scuffle erupted on Friday between Internal Security Forces deployed on the road leading to the Naameh landfill and protesters who tried to prevent Sukleen waste trucks from entering the area. Protesters lashed out in a statement at Interior Minister Marwan Charbel for allowing police members to storm into the protest camp at dawn and forced “peaceful protesters” out of their tents. A statement read by one of the activists vowed to go on with their open-ended strike until the landfill is shut. Earlier on Friday, ISF removed the protest camp near the Naameh landfill and opened the road for Sukleen trucks to enter after vows to close the dumpster by the end of 2015. According to the state-run National News Agency, protesters stood on the sidewalk while security forces opened the road. Activist Ragheda al-Halabi, the protesters spokeswoman, told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that around 300 police members removed the erected tents near the Naameh dumpster. NNA reported that Ajwad al-Ayyach, the spokesman of “Campaign to Close the Naameh Landfill,” was detained over charges of provoking protesters. The protesters appealed in their statement for the police to release al-Ayyach. Sukleen waste trucks later began collecting the garbage that has piled up on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon since Sunday evening after protesters decided to open the landfill for 48 hours as a good will gesture. Activists and demonstrators soon blocked the road again after negotiations with the Council for Development and Reconstruction failed to resolve the crisis. The blockade of the road leading to Naameh landfill by protesters kicked off on Saturday after activists and residents in the nearby areas complained of what they described as bad living conditions. The protesters prevented Sukleen dump trucks from entering the landfill, calling on the state to resolve the matter. Garbage in Beirut and Mount Lebanon piled up on roadsides but Sukleen assured that street sweepers would continue cleaning streets and that dumpsters would be sprayed with pesticides. On Thursday, the protesters issued a statement giving the state until January 17, 2015 to close the landfill, stressing that their open-ended sit-in will go on until their demands are achieved. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. Sukleen is the only company tasked with collecting garbage in the governorates of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. CDR argues that there is no swift solution to the problem, saying: “the most realistic solution is finding a new landfill to sort and compose (organic) waste before transferring them to Naameh landfill.”The council deemed that finding a new land and a disposal waste treatment plant would require at least 6 month. Also on Thursday, a joint meeting for the public works and environment parliamentary committees urged the state to carry out a complete study concerning the health hazardous caused by the landfill. The attendees voiced support for the protesters, suggesting that the state generates electricity for the neighborhoods near the dumpster. For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat vowed the closure of the Naameh landfill by the end of 2015.

Mansour Says Syria Transitional Govt. Unhelpful, Slams Terror Labeling of Hizbullah
Naharnet Newsdesk 24 January 2014/Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour on Friday rejected accusations of terrorism against Hizbullah, noting that the formation of a transitional government in Syria would be counterproductive. “When one of the parties goes there and puts crippling preconditions, I believe this will not contribute at all to finding the solution,” Mansour said at Beirut's airport upon his return from the Swiss town of Montreux, where he took part in the opening session of the Geneva II peace conference for Syria. “For example, when a certain party demands the departure of a president or ceding power immediately to a transitional council or transitional government, that also does not contribute to finding the aspired solution and we must take into consideration the viewpoints of all parties,” Mansour added. The Syrian regime rejects the opposition's contention that the Geneva I agreement requires President Bashar Assad to go. The Geneva communique reached in June 2012 envisaged a transition for Syria, but did not specify whether Assad should leave. "After my speech (at the conference), I noticed that there is a tendentious chorus that wants to insult Lebanon's foreign minister,” Mansour added. “When some parties at the conference described Hizbullah as a terrorist group, that was totally unacceptable, because the resistance -- which honored its country, nation and people, struggled against the Israeli enemy and protected Lebanese land – cannot be given this label,” the minister went on to say. “I stressed in my speech the need not to interfere in the Syrian affairs and said that such an interference will only complicate the crisis, but when foreign parties describe the resistance as terrorist, this is unacceptable, regardless of the reasons behind this labeling,” Mansour added. At the conference's opening session on Wednesday, Mansour had noted that "those claiming that what is happening in Syria is a result of Hizbullah's involvement in the war want to divert attention from the fact that there are foreign terrorist groups in the region.”

U.N. nuclear chief says still 'long way to go' on Iran
By Fredrik Dahl | Reuters –VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear chief said on Friday there was "still a long way to go" to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program, a note of caution days after Tehran curbed its atomic activity under an interim deal with world powers. Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the comment as he won broad backing from the IAEA's 35-nation board for the U.N. body's expanded role in Iran to check that it complies with the accord over the next six months. Many governments said they would help pay the estimated $8 million the IAEA needs to inspect Iranian nuclear sites under the deal, which took effect on Monday, diplomats who attended the closed-door meeting said. The IAEA will nearly double the number of people it already has working on Iran. Amano said the interim agreement - under which Iran will get relief from some economic sanctions - was an "important step forward towards achieving a comprehensive solution" to the nuclear dispute. But, he added: "there is still a long way to go". He told a news conference it would take "quite a long time" to resolve all outstanding issues, including a long-running IAEA probe into suspicions that Iran may have carried out research relevant for the development of nuclear weapons. In the deal with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia, Iran agreed to suspend its most sensitive nuclear activity in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions that are battering its oil-dependent economy. After years of increasing economic isolation, Iran, under new President Hassan Rouhani, is seeking "constructive engagement" with the world, including the United States which Iranian politicians regularly refer to as the "Great Satan".
The agreement hammered out in Geneva in November is designed to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the dispute over an Iranian nuclear program Tehran says is peaceful but the West fears may have military aims. Those talks - expected to start in February - are likely to be more difficult than last year's negotiations, diplomats say, as the West is likely to seek a significant scaling back of Iran's uranium enrichment activity.
Refined uranium can provide fuel for nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or provide weapons material if processed much further, which Western states fear may be the real goal.
The IAEA already inspects Iranian nuclear facilities regularly to make sure there is no diversion of material for military purposes. That work will now increase. Until now, the IAEA had one-to-two teams of two inspectors each in Iran most of the time as well as experts working on the Iran file at its Vienna headquarters. "We will need to nearly double the staff resources devoted to verification in Iran," Amano said. "We will need to significantly increase the frequency of the verification activities which we are currently conducting." The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, said the United States would provide a funds and a dozen other countries told the board they would be ready to contribute. "There won't be any problem in financing this," a diplomat said. Confirming a Reuters story earlier this month, Amano told the news conference that the agency may ask Iran's permission to set up a temporary office there for logistical purposes. He also said inspectors would visit Iran's Gchine uranium mine in the next few days. Iranian state television earlier this month said visit - the first since 2005 - would take place on January 29.(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Syrian delegations to meet in same room on Saturday: mediator
Reuters – BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's government and opposition have agreed to meet in the same room on Saturday and accept that their talks will be based on a 2012 communique which called for a transitional governing body to be set up, mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Friday. "Tomorrow we have agreed that we shall meet in same room," Brahimi told a news conference after he held separate meetings with government and opposition delegations in Geneva. "The discussions I had with the two parties were encouraging," he said, adding that negotiations would be based on a June 2012 statement by world powers which called for the two sides to agree on the establishment of the transitional body. "I think the two sides understand that very well and accept it," Brahimi said. (Reporting by Tom Miles, John Irish and Mariam Karouny; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)

Harper caps Middle East visit at burgeoning Syrian refugee camp in Jordan
By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – ZA'ATRI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan - Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited a massive Syrian refugee camp on Friday, taking in first-hand the sea of humanity that has fled the brutal, bloody civil war of their homeland. On his first trip to the Arab kingdom of Jordan, Harper made a half-hour stop at the Za'atari camp in the northern reaches of the country, near the Syrian border. Za'atari is the second-largest refugee camp in the world, a veritable city stretching for eight square kilometres and straining Jordan's resources and infrastructure.
The camp is a mass of criss-crossing laneways where as many as 120,000 people live, go to school and try to earn a living. The camp is encased by chain-link fences festooned with lengths of barbed wire; its residents live in ramshackle structures of corrugated metal.
"We talk in terms of hundreds of thousands of refugees and millions of displaced persons; it's sometimes easy to forget that these are all individual lives," Harper said. "We are touched by this. This is the reason we try to provide food and shelter and sanitation and education and security, to do what we can." Not far from where Harper and his wife, Laureen, met with the international officials and aid workers who run the camp, Syrians in makeshift shops sold everything from wedding dresses to pet birds in cages. There were barbers, fruit vendors and women selling hand-knit sweaters to ward off the cold on chilly desert nights, during which the pounding of artillery fire can often be heard from just across the border. Children smiled shyly at a Canadian photographer as he snapped shots of their daily routine on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. Many waved at the Canadian motorcade as it arrived at the camp. Women held babies; twelve are born every day at the camp. Half of Za'atari’s population, in fact, are school-age children. Harper, however, didn't see much of the activity. Due to security reasons, he was kept close to the base headquarters and its police station, as are most world leaders when they visit the camp. The prime minister echoed what he was told by the man known as the Mayor of Za'atari, Kilian Kleinschmidt of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "This is just the tip of the iceberg of the scale of the refugee problem and the tremendous human suffering that we see," Harper said.
"As large as this camp is, this is only one small piece of the refugee crisis and the refugee crisis here is only one small piece of a broader humanitarian displacement in Syria itself .... Obviously, unfortunately, it appears that this is going to, if anything, get worse or continue. So our commitment must be for the long term.” To that end, Harper announced another $150 million in aid for Syrian refugees on Friday.
That's in addition to the approximately $200 million Canada has already earmarked for the refugees. The new money will go towards basic needs that include food, water and shelter while another $50 million will be provided to a UNICEF education and child-protection initiative.
He also announced an additional $15 million to aid in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. “The use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians was an atrocity that cannot be allowed to happen again,” he said in a statement announcing the new funding. All told, Canada has so far committed more than $630 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance in response to the Syrian crisis.
A Jordanian general referred to simply as General Omar by the Prime Minister's Office effusively praised the prime minister, and all Canadians, for their help when he appeared with Harper at the camp.
The general thanked "the Canadian nation, everybody, each and every single person, mother, father, woman, child, a teacher, a businessman, who contributed. I know it's taxpayers' money, but it's going to the right people."
From the relative squalor of Za'atari, the Harpers then travelled south to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Petra archeological site and prehistoric city famous for its rock-architecture and water system.
Located between the Red and Dead Seas, Petra has been inhabited since prehistoric times. It is half-built, half-carved into rock, and is surrounded by mountains riddled with breathtaking passages and gorges.
One of the prominent features carved into the rock is Al Khazneh, or the Facade of the Treasury. It was used to depict the front of a temple housing the Holy Grail in the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
The Harpers, holding hands, wandered the spectacular site in awe, then enjoyed an open-air lunch at the foot of one of the pink sandstone mountains that characterize Petra. Camels and donkeys, used to haul tourists through the site, lounged in the sun or ambled by with tourists on their backs.The Petra visit marked Harper's last public event on his first visit to the Middle East. The prime minister flies home on Saturday.

Archbishop found guilty of sexually assaulting one of two boys in Winnipeg
By The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press – WINNIPEG - An Orthodox archbishop has been found guilty of sexually assaulting one of two brothers in Winnipeg almost 30 years ago. The judge said in his ruling that Seraphim Kenneth Storheim was evasive and untrustworthy in his denials on the witness stand. The Court of Queen's Bench justice also said one brother was clear in his testimony, while the other had memory and mental illness problems. The brothers, who are now in their 30s, testified they lived with Storheim briefly, on separate occasions, when they worked as altar boys in 1985.
They said Storheim walked around naked and touched them sexually — accusations Storheim denied.
Storheim's lawyer had suggested in closing arguments last fall that the evidence against his client was unreliable. Jeff Gindin told Justice Christopher Mainella that the brothers' testimony just wasn't enough to convict Storheim beyond a reasonable doubt. One of the brothers admitted he had large gaps in his memory and couldn't provide many specifics. He told court he is on several medications and has spent time in a psychiatric hospital. But Crown attorney Breta Passler told the court Storheim's version of events didn't make sense. She argued that the brothers' testimony, in contract, was genuine and honest as they tried to recall difficult events which occurred several decades ago. Storheim testified he met the boys in the early 1980s when he was posted in London, Ont. When he moved to Winnipeg, Storheim said, he agreed to have the boys stay with him separately during the summer of 1985 to further their Christian education.

UN: More than 140,000 Iraqis flee Anbar province as clashes with al-Qaida militants intensify
By Sameer N. Yacoub, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press – BAGHDAD - More than 140,000 Iraqis have fled parts of Anbar province over clashes between security forces and al-Qaida militants, the worst displacement of civilians in years, a United Nations official said Friday. The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Peter Kessler, described it as "the largest" displacement witnessed in the country since the sectarian violence of 2006-2008. He added that more than 65,000 people fled the conflict just in the past week alone. Since late December, members of Iraq's al-Qaida branch — known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni province of Anbar. They also control the centre of the nearby city of Fallujah.
Kessler said that many civilians are trapped and suffer from a lack of supplies. "Many civilians are unable to leave conflict-affected areas where food and fuel are now in short supply," he said. Calls to Iraq's Justice Ministry over the report rang unanswered Friday, the start of the weekend in the Muslim world. Some displaced families have ended up in abandoned buildings, schools and half-built houses while others stay with relatives. International aid agencies appealed to the warring parties on Wednesday to allow humanitarian aid to reach those affected. Farhan Haq, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Friday that the world body asked the Iraqi government to open a "humanitarian corridor" to help aid get into affected areas. "It's impossible right now to reach the area from Baghdad, and relief agencies are using roads coming from northern Iraq," Haq said.
As sporadic clashes resumed Friday night in Fallujah, a mortar shell landed on a house in the city's centre, killing six people, including an 8-year-old boy, local doctor Waisam al-Mohammadi said. Political and sectarian tensions are running high in Iraq, raising fears that the country is being pushed back toward the sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands of people following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Palestinian leader turns to Putin for Palestinian state, dumps US and Israel as peace partners

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 24, 2014/Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) launched his “diplomatic intifada” against Israel and exit from the Kerry peace initiative Thursday, Jan. 23, from Moscow. His meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev marked his breakaway from the US-led peace process with Israel, four months before it was due to expire, and signaled his bid for Russian backing for a Palestinian state. The Palestinian leader’s defection caught both Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin unprepared – and surprised their intelligence agencies. Putin and Abbas almost certainly planned in advance to drop their bombshell on the day both Kerry and Netanyahu were otherwise engaged at two international events in Switzerland, Geneva 2 on Syria and the World Economic Forum.
For the Russian leader it was a chance to show the international community and the Obama administration that he was several steps ahead of the game on the three hottest Middle East issues – Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil conflict and the Palestinian bid for statehood. The first intimation that something big was up came from an ITAR-TASS agency report Thursday that Abbas and Medvedev were due to sign an intergovernmental agreement for a $1 billion natural gas project in the Gaza section of the Mediterranean Sea. Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom hoped to produce 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas at the site.
The report added that Russia's Technopromexport engineering firm was also considering a small oil development project near the West Bank city of Ramallah, hub of the Palestinian Authority government headed by Abbas.
The Palestinian leader began his conversation with Putin by calling Russia a "great power" that deserved to play a more prominent role in the volatile Middle East region.
Clearly taken aback by the news coming in fast from Moscow, Israeli official sources said Thursday night they could not understand how the Russians and Palestinians came to an agreement on Mediterranean waters off the shores of Gaza, when the rights were already owned by British Gas. It did not occur to them that the deal Russia proposed to sign with the Palestinians was designed to be an extension of the Russian-Syrian oil exploration contract signed on Dec. 27 in Moscow. This move confronts Israel with two troubling concerns:
1. Russian interests could potentially encircle Israel’s offshore Mediterranean gas and oil sites and Russian pipelines may block Israel’s export facilities.
2. Under international law, the Palestinian Authority is not recognized as an independent state and is therefore not empowered to establish Special Economic Zones in the Mediterranean as closed areas for prospecting for oil or gas. This was one of the topics placed on the agenda of the peace talks led by John Kerry. However, Moscow has high-handedly circumvented this obstruction by taking charge of the offshore exploration opposite Gaza, thereby proffering its Palestinian partner to the deal implicitl Russian recognition of its status as an independent national entity authorized to sign international contracts. This could be the precedent for a process of creeping Palestinian statehood without engaging Israel in negotiation. Moscow has already proved it can get away with busting international sanctions by concluding a $1.5 bn contract with Tehran for the purchase of half a million barrels of Iranian oil a day, without incurring a word of complaint from Washington. Two weeks later, Putin and Abbas have acted together to wreck a painstaking US diplomatic initiative actively partnered by Israel for a negotiated peace accord with the Palestinians. They have left John Kerry and Binyamin Netanyahu holding an empty shell. Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian Fatah veteran, could not have put the situation more bluntly when he said Thursday night that it was time to "end the American monopoly on peacemaking, after Washington had proved incapable of imposing agreements on Israel."
Russian tactics for Syria and Iran had proved effective, he said, and there was no reason why Moscow could not perform the same function on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
The Palestinians have clearly opted to follow the examples of other Middle East leaders, ranging from Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Syria’s Bashar Assad, Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, in making tracks, overtly or covertly, to Moscow. They are opening the door for Russia to fill the void left by American disengagement from region under the Obama administration.

Inside Iran: Iran's demographic problem

by Ariel Ben Solomon/The Jerusalem Post
January 24, 2014
Is there a correlation between Iran's nuclear program and its low fertility rate or, perhaps as well, between the vitality of Islamic civilization and its shrinking birthrates? There is, according to David Goldman, a fellow at the right-wing, US-based think tank the Middle East Forum, and a longtime writer for Asia Times Online under the moniker Spengler. The author of How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too), Goldman, an economist by training, explains the impact demographic fluctuations have on the greater strategic balance of power between states and civilizations.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post during a recent visit to Israel to promote the launch of the Hebrew version of his book, Goldman explained how he has followed demographic literature and the changes in Muslim demography. Positive demographics are a result of societies that are forward-looking and self-confident, he said.
"A lack of desire for children is typically a symptom of civilizational decline," and the Muslim world is currently witnessing such a phenomenon, he avers.
Europe is going through a similar phase and there are obvious parallels with the Muslim world, he says, pointing out that when "traditional societies encounter the modern world and lose self-confidence, traditional behavior such as religion, childbearing, and other cultural patterns change radically." "In Iran this occurred in one generation, while in Turkey it took two." The estimated birthrate in Iran is around 1.86 children per woman for 2013, below the replacement rate of two births per woman, according to the CIA World Factbook. However, many demographers think Iran's fertility rate is even lower, at around 1.6 to 1.7.
A fertility rate higher than 2.1 births per woman indicates population growth.
Contraception is also widely used in Iran, having been previously promoted by the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the 1980s – although in 2012, Tehran scrapped its birth control program after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic Republic should aim for a population of 150 million to 200 million. Other Middle Eastern states' birthrates have also been declining. According to the CIA World Factbook 2013 estimates, Turkey had a birthrate of 2.1 children per woman, Tunisia 2.01, Morocco 2.17, Saudi Arabia 2.21, Kuwait 2.56, Syria 2.77, Algeria 2.78, Egypt 2.9, Jordan 3.32, and Iraq 3.5.
According to a 2009 UN report titled "Fertility Prospects in the Arab Region," carried out by John Casterline of Ohio State University, a sharp decline in birthrates is charted, especially since the 1980s.
For example, from 1950-1955, the Algerian fertility rate was 7.3, Egypt 6.4, Tunisia 6.9, Iraq and Syria 7.3, Jordan 7.4, and Morocco, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia at 7.2.
Under the rule of the shah, before the 1979 revolution, Iran became the first Muslim country to achieve universal literacy.
The higher the literacy and education, the lower the birthrates tend to be, said Goldman, adding that Turkey is suffering from a similar trend. By the middle of this century, a third of Iranians will be older than 60, compared to only 7 percent today, and the cost of caring for elderly dependents will crush Iran's economy, he says. Iran is undergoing economic and demographic decline, explains Goldman, and in order to carry out the regime's regional and global expansionist ambitions, it needs more resources, which could be easier to obtain under the umbrella of nuclear weapons.
Goldman compares Iran's predicament to that of the former Soviet Union. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the country's leadership began to act more aggressively – perhaps because they understood that it was the last chance to push for power amid an economic and demographic decline, Goldman explains.
In Iran, mosque attendance is low, just as church attendance is in England, he states. "The best predictor of the number of children in industrial societies is religious observance," he says.
Asked about initiatives by some countries to counter birth rate decline by offering government subsidies, Goldman responded, "Subsidies have some effect, but the main reason to have children is not economic, but emotional."
Regarding Israel and the Palestinians, he points out that from the river to the sea, not including Gaza, the birthrate for Arab Muslims and Jews is around 3. However, the trends are going in opposite directions, with Jewish fertility increasing and Arab fertility decreasing.
"In fact," says Goldman, "the situation is worse for the Palestinians," because the official data provided by the Palestinian Authority is inflated. US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a speech at the Saban Center in December that Israel needs to heed the "demographic time bomb" of Palestinian population growth. Goldman refutes the validity of this argument.
"The argument that there is an urgent reason to do something right now is simply false – there is no urgency," he asserts. "Palestinian Arabs have the highest living standards and upward mobility of any Arabs in the world except for some in the Gulf states." Another important factor, he says, is that aging populations are less warlike than younger ones. The Good Friday agreement in Ireland was reached in 1998, and it was helped by a population decrease, he notes. Asked about how this knowledge could benefit US policy, he says, "The US needs to abandon the illusion that it can stabilize most of the Muslim world."
There is going to be "a long period of chaos, and the best we can do is prevent it from hurting us."
Goldman says he agrees with Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, who said that the concept of individual rights comes even before democracy. In Western society, this is a concept derived from the Jewish idea that human beings have inalienable rights. "No such concept exists in Islam," he says. Egypt, he says, is a "banana republic without the bananas," and is "in danger of a humanitarian disaster and social collapse."
The best-case scenario is that the Gulf states subsidize the country. As for Syria, he believes there are two evil sides, and that a partition of the country would be best. The Russians would probably agree to some formulation where an Alawite state would be formed, he adds. Concerning the Kurds, he says, "A Kurdish state is inevitable, and it is in the interest of the US to encourage it to be pro-American."
Regarding US politics, Goldman thinks the problem with Republican foreign policy is that it continues to "bet so much on president George W. Bush's freedom agenda" of spreading democracy throughout the Muslim world, and it "is difficult for many to back out of it."The best policy at the moment? "Manage the chaos in the region."


Kerry Boasts of ‘Pluralistic’ Syria Once Assad Gone
By Raymond Ibrahim on January 23, 2014
in Muslim Persecution of Christians, Other Matters
U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, was recently interviewed about Syria. While many of his assertions can be debated, one especially requires a response. Throughout the interview, he repeatedly insisted that, if Bashar Assad would only leave power, everything would go well — especially for all of Syria’s minorities.
In his words: “I believe that a peace can protect all of the minorities: Druze, Christian, Ismailis, Alawites — all of them can be protected, and you can have a pluralistic Syria, in which minority rights of all people are protected.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Kerry declared that “The world would protect the Alawites, Druze, Christians, and all minorities in Syria after the ousting of Assad.”
The problem here is that we have precedent — exact precedent. We’ve seen this paradigm before and know precisely what happens once strongman dictators like Assad are gone. As demonstrated in this article, in all Muslim nations where the U.S. has intervened to help topple dictators and bring democracy, it is precisely the minorities who suffer first. And neither the U.S. nor “the world” do much about it.
After the U.S. toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, Christian minorities were savagely attacked and slaughtered, and dozens of their churches were bombed (see here for graphic images). Christians have been terrorized into near-extinction, so that today, a decade after the ousting of Saddam, more than half of them have fled Iraq.
The “world” did nothing.
Ever since U.S.-backed, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists overthrew Qaddafi, Christians—including Americans—have been been tortured and killed (including for refusing to convert), their churches bombed, and their nuns threatened.
Not much “pluralism” there.
Once the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt, in place of Mubarak — and all with U.S. support — the persecution of Copts practically became legalized, as unprecedented numbers of Christians—men, women, and children—were arrested, often receiving more than double the maximum prison sentence, under the accusation that they “blasphemed” Islam and/or its prophet.
Not only did the U.S. do nothing — it asked the Coptic Church not to join the June Revolution that led to the ousting of the Brotherhood and Muhammad Morsi.
In short, where the U.S. works to oust secular autocrats, the quality of life for Christians and other minorities takes a major nosedive. In Saddam’s Iraq, Qaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria (before the U.S.-sponsored war), Christians and their churches were largely protected.
ay, Syria is the third worst nation in the world in which to be Christian, Iraq is fourth, Libya 13th, and Egypt 22nd.
So how can anyone — especially Christians and other minorities — have any confidence in Kerry’s repeated assurances that religious minorities will be safeguarded once secular strongman Assad is gone — and by the “world” no less — leading to a “pluralistic” Syria?

Canada Contributes to IAEA’s Efforts to Verify Iran’s Nuclear Program

January 24, 2014 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:
“Canada remains deeply skeptical of Iran’s intentions regarding its nuclear program, particularly in light of the years of secretive nuclear activities, the potential military dimension of the program and selective disclosure by the Iranian authorities.“The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]’s verification of Iran’s nuclear program will be an essential part of a comprehensive solution. To that end, Canada is pleased to contribute $1-million to support the Agency’s robust monitoring and verification efforts in relation to the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.
“Much more needs to be done to address the long-standing issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. Canada stands ready to assist the IAEA and the P5+1 group as they attempt to definitively verify the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

What Rowhani DIDN’T say in Davos

By: Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya
Friday, 24 January 2014

Very few people paid attention to what Iranian President Hassan Rowhani actually said as he took the stage at the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Annual Meeting in Davos.
With his elegant robes, turban, radiant smile, soft-spoken approach and carefully chosen words, I can understand why an international audience would be mesmerized by Rowhani. Although it really doesn’t take much to leave a positive impression if your predecessor was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad!
However, as appealing and eloquent as he was, and underneath all the smiles and the heart-warming calls for building bridges and “constructive engagement”, one only needed to listen carefully to what Rowhani DIDN’T say to understand that he is best described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
To his credit, Rowhani managed to strike a nuclear deal rather quickly with the six world powers last November. And in Davos - where his real agenda is to lure investors back to his country to help save its crumbling economy - he reiterated that Iran’s nuclear ambition was and always will be peaceful.
Of course, many people don’t buy this but for now, let us take it at face value.
Position on Syria
What was worrying on the other hand was Rowhani’s response to WEF founder Klaus Schwab’s question on what the Islamic Republic intended to do “soon” to stop the humanitarian disaster in Syria.
The ever-so-articulate Rowhani, whose government continues to support Assad’s brutal regime, said that it was sad to see Syria being engulfed in catastrophe.
His words describing the situation of refugees and all the aid and support Iran was giving them almost brought tears to people’s eyes.
However, what he failed to say was that these millions of Syrian refugees were forced to leave their homes, villages and cities BECAUSE of Tehran’s stance on the Syrian crisis.
Rowhani also made no indication that he was even considering pulling out his Revolutionary Guard units (which continue to fight alongside Assad’s troops against his own people) nor did say he would instruct Hezbollah fighters which Iran controls to withdraw from Syria. Instead, he attempted to blame the deteriorating situation in Syria on terrorism.
Let us not be fooled
Let us be clear here: we all agree that ISIS is a terrorist group and that both Syria and the world would be better off without the likes of it. (Let us not forget that the Free Syrian Army is actually fighting against both ISIS and Assad’s troops.) However, let us also not fool ourselves or allow Rowhani to fool us!
First of all, ISIS doesn’t represent the Syrian opposition. Second, the rise of terrorism in the Levant region didn’t cause the plight and disparity of the Syrian people; it was BECAUSE of it.
I am not sure if Rowhani forgot or chose not to remember that the Syrian revolution started as a peaceful one; and it was the bloody retaliation of Assad, whose family has been in control of Syria for 43 years, which forced members of the opposition to carry arms - and some of Assad’s own army to defect.
Iran supports terrorism
Rowhani also subtly criticized “countries that support terrorists” - in reference to some GCC countries - warning them that they might be the next target of terrorism.
“Recent reports have shown that it was in fact Iran which was supporting Al-Qaeda and ISIS
Again, Rowhani is right - terrorist groups should not be supported and we should all be wary as to where they might hit next.
However, the Iranian president should be giving this wise advice to his own government; after all, recent reports have shown that it was in fact Iran that was supporting al-Qaeda and ISIS to worsen the situation in Syria and make it more difficult for the opposition to win.
With well over 100,000 Syrians killed and millions of refugees dispersed across the region, the community of global investors, business executives and influencers whom Rowhani is seeking to woo in Davos should remember that, until he takes affirmative action to put an end to the suffering in Syria, the Iranian president’s hands are soaked in blood.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, and a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.