June 04/14


Bible Quotation for today/While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.
John 12,31-36/Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’ After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today

Thank you to all teachers: educating is an important mission, which draws young people to what is good, beautiful and true.
Pape François
Merci à tous les enseignants : éduquer est une mission importante, qui rapproche beaucoup de jeunes du bien, du beau, du vrai.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For June 04/14


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For June 03/14

Kuwaiti Emir's Vist To Tehran: Definitely Iran must deliver/Daily Star/June 04/14

Assad's Reelection Campaign Matters -- Really/By: Andrew J. Tabler/June 04/14

A Sickness in Lebanon and Syria/By: Diana Moukalled/Asharq Alawsat/June 04/14

Has Iran prevented the Syrian regime's collapse/By: Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/June 04/14


The Daily Star Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For June 04/14

Lebanese Related News

Kerry in Beirut Today for few Hours

World Bank chief holds out hope for Lebanon

Cabinet to govern in line with Constitution

Lebanon's Cabinet Fails Anew to Agree on Work Mechanism but 'Not Facing Collapse'

Four more Hezbollah members killed in Syria

Sheikh Omar Bakri charged with terrorism

Paoli: There is hope for Lebanon

Kanaan says work should resume on electoral law
Central Council boosts security at night in Beirut

Hezbollah backs Saudi-Iranian dialogue as essential for stability

Sami Gemayel: Campaign against Bkirki Unjustified, Evokes Civil War Era

Report: UNHCR Slams Lebanese Ban Imposed on Syrian Refugees

Damascus Rejects Lebanese State's Decision against Syrian Refugees

Report: Lebanese PM Welcomed World Bank Electricity Project

Berri to Hold Consultations on Vacuum Spillover to Parliament

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran's president vows to defend nuclear rights

Iran's demand for reactor fuel emerges as sticking point in nuclear talks

Abdul Halim Khaddam: Those who vote for Bashar are acting out of fear

US slams Syrian elections as 'a disgrace'

Amid war and shelling, Syrians vote

Russia: Syrian vote isn't obstacle to peace talks

Syrians flock to Lebanon border to vote

Israel ministers blast US for backing Palestinian govt

Obama defends deal with Taliban to free US soldier

Sisi calls on Egyptians to work for 'freedom', 'social justice'

Egypt plans Tahrir celebration for election result

International community welcomes Palestinian unity government

Netanyahu plans to counter US acceptance of Palestinian unity by blocking West Bank elections
UN, EU welcome Palestinian unity government

Kerry in Beirut Today for few hours
June 03, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: John Kerry will visit Beirut Wednesday, Lebanese political and security sources told The Daily Star, making his first trip to Lebanon since becoming U.S. secretary of state.  Kerry is expected to hold talks with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam during his visit to Beirut, a security source said. His visit to Lebanon is expected to last a few hours.  When contacted by The Daily Star, the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon could not confirm nor deny the reports. Kataeb MP Elie Marouni was optimistic about the visit, saying the trip opened a new page for Lebanon after authorities succeeded in restoring law and order. The crisis in Syria has laid a heavy burden on its tiny neighbor in light of the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Earlier this year, Lebanon witnessed a series of car bombings linked to Hezbollah’s involvement in the war-torn country alongside regime troops. A nationwide security plan curbed the attacks, claimed by Islamist rebel groups based in Syria. Lebanon has also plunged into a presidential vacuum after lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on a candidate, with no end in sight to the political stalemate in the near future.
Last week, Kerry stressed the importance of rapidly electing a new Lebanese president, while praising former President Michel Sleiman for his work throughout his six-year term
During a phone call with Sleiman, Kerry reiterated his country's support for Lebanon and the Baabda Declaration, which the U.S. official said represented a cornerstone for future stability.

Change and Reform Rejects 'Collaborators' Label for Lebanese in Israel, Says Vacuum Doesn't Forbid Passing Electoral Law
Naharnet /The Change and Reform parliamentary bloc on Tuesday stressed the need to approve a new electoral law while maintaining efforts to elect a president, rejecting the “collaborators” label for the Lebanese who had fled to Israel in 2000. “All parliamentary blocs had promised to prepare an electoral law so that we don't resort to another extension but nothing has happened until the moment,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters after the bloc's weekly meeting. “We're witnessing a presidential vacuum because there is a defect in the constitution, but what prevents us from working on an electoral law for the parliamentary elections?” Kanaan wondered, warning that “we risk resorting to another extension or deepening the defect of representation in terms of the needed equal power-sharing between Christians and Muslims.”“This reform is needed at the presidential and parliamentary levels and the electoral law is one of the extraordinary laws that the parliament is allowed to approve during the period of presidential vacuum,” Kanaan noted. He added: “Are we supposed to maintain the defect indefinitely? Why don't we implement real partnership in the political system? There are laws that were referred to parliament and do not require a meeting of the joint committees.”On Sunday, Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun said the country should head to parliamentary polls in order to prevent a protracted presidential vacuum. Turning to the issued of the exiled Lebanese in Israel, Kanaan said "a draft law proposed by General (Michel) Aoun had refrained from calling them collaborators, and we considered them Lebanese citizens who had sought refuge in Israel."He urged an end to the current controversy because "the issue was resolved at the legislative level,” adding that “the memorandum of understanding (with Hizbullah) and the 2011 legislation are well-known” by all parties. Hizbullah, which spearheaded military resistance against Israel's occupation of south Lebanon, has stressed that only the state can acquit or condemn those who fled to Israel while emphasizing that “we do not want collaborators in Lebanon.”The party's remarks came in response to a statement on Friday by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi from the Israeli village of Isfia near Haifa, during which he rejected that the Lebanese in Israel be considered “traitors and criminals” and called for their return to Lebanon without an amnesty law. “We will press on with the bill that was approved in 2011 regarding those who fled to Israel and we will follow up on the approval of the needed decrees. Overbidding is not appropriate and the criticism against us is unjustified,” Kanaan said. Separately, the MP said the issue of the stalled new wage scale requires "an extraordinary legislation that would provide stability at the political level." "We have given a chance for consensus over this issue but this does not mean forsaking the plan," he added. "The issue of the new wage scale will not be at the expense of the treasury and we hope the file will be finalized," Kanaan went on to say.

Paoli: There is hope for Lebanon

June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: There is hope for Lebanon, France’s Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli said Tuesday during a graffiti competition organized by French cultural center in the southern city of Saida. Eighty school students gathered at the event held in a market near the city’s central Nijmeh Square. Winners of the competition were given the chance to revive Saida’s walls with graffiti expressing happiness and hope. Paoli reiterated the students’ positive message by talking about his own high hopes for Lebanon: “Generally, the situation in Lebanon is stable and there is hope.”The French ambassador also said “the Lebanese can elect their own president,” urging lawmakers to elect someone to fill the post, which has been vacant since May 25, as soon as possible.

Four more Hezbollah members killed in Syria: report
June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Four additional Hezbollah fighters were killed during battles in Syria this week, Al-Mustaqbal reported Tuesday. The local daily said Hezbollah announced the deaths of four members identified as Mohammad Ali Lama from Adsheet, Ahmad Ali Jaber from Mayfdoun, Mohammad Hasan Ibrahim from Kfour and Ali Hasan Abboud from Adaysseh. The four bring the death toll to seven in less than two weeks with three deaths announced last week, including a man wanted by the FBI. Although there are no official figures on how many resistance fighters have been killed since the party announced it was fighting along regime forces, Hezbollah has repeatedly played down reports of 1,000.

Sheikh Omar Bakri charged with terrorism
The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Militant Sheikh Omar Bakri Fustoq was charged Tuesday with belonging to terrorist groups and planning to establish his own Islamic state. Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged Fustoq with belonging to the “terrorist organizations Daesh [Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria] and Al-Qaeda and with seeking to establish an Islamic emirate in Lebanon.”Saqr also charged Fustoq with “giving religious lessons, which included incitement against the state and the Lebanese Army and encouraging sectarian strife and internal fighting.”The Syrian-born sheikh was also charged with undergoing weapons and explosives training. Fustoq could face the death penalty if convicted. Saqr referred Fustoq to Military Judge Riad Abu Ghayda with a request for an arrest warrant against him. Authorities detained the wanted sheikh in Aley on May 25, after he fled his home in Tripoli before the Lebanese Army and police launched a security plan to restore law and order to the city, which was plagued by several rounds of clashes linked to the crisis in Syria. The Tripoli-based preacher had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, urging the radical Syrian rebel group to “reactivate its cells” in Lebanon.

Central Council boosts security at night in Beirut

June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The Central Security Council Tuesday agreed to boost security measures at night in Beirut including a ban on motorcycles, during a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk. "The council agreed to boost security at night by [increasing the number of] military and security personnel,” the council said in a statement issued after the meeting. A decision to ban motorcycles from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Greater Beirut area will go into effect next week. The council said the ban aimed to curb the rise of crimes carried out on motorcycles and would be followed by other measures that would take into consideration company motorcycles. Authorities have drafted and implemented a security plan for the capital earlier this year to address the rise of car bombings linked to the crisis in Syria. During the meeting, Machnouk spoke about the government’s recent decisions to limit and organize the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, stressing the importance of the latest measure to ban refugees from entering Syria or face losing their refugee status. He said such a measure was the only serious step taken by the government since the crisis began in 2011. He also reminded the council of the ministry's measures related to banning political demonstrations or pubic gatherings to avoid tensions between refugees and host communities. He noted that the ban on public gatherings came after several security incidents took place against refugees including last week’s fire in a refugee camp in the Bekaa. State prosecutor Samir Hammoud, head of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous and Beirut Governor Ziyad Shbib were among security and judicial officials who attended the meeting.

Lebanon’s Cabinet to govern in line with Constitution
June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Lebanon's Cabinet resumed discussion on a mechanism to govern its work in the absence of a president, with ministers agreeing to abide by constitutional texts. “The Cabinet will perform its duties according to Constitutional provisions and in a consensual framework, keeping in mind the current circumstances and the need to swiftly elect a new president,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporter at the end of a Cabinet session. Chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, ministers convened a session at the Grand Serail at around 4:30 p.m. aimed primarily at finalizing the mechanism for governing in a presidential void. Joreige said ministers discussed Article 62 of the Constitution, which vests full executive powers, including those of the president, with the Cabinet when the presidency is vacant. He also noted that ministers postponed their discussion to another session with an exact date to be announced later. During the session, Salam said political disputes should remain outside the Cabinet in order to refrain from crippling the government’s work, according to Joreige. Last week, the Cabinet agreed that the prime minister would send the agenda to the ministers 72 hours before scheduled sessions. The remaining issue is whether Cabinet decrees need the signatures of all 24 ministers, or only a third or a half of them. Once ministers resolve this issue, the Cabinet will then move to the 24 items on its agenda. Christian ministers, particularly those allied with the Free Patriotic Movement, have warned that they will boycott Cabinet sessions unless there is a clear mechanism to govern its work amid a presidential void. Lebanon plunged into a presidential vacuum after former President Michel Sleiman left Baabda Palace on May 25 without a successor in light of disputes among lawmakers over a consensus candidate. Before stepping into the session, Telecoms Minister Butros Harb said any progress in Cabinet sessions should not provide cover for those disrupting the presidential election, referring to his rivals in the FPM.

Hezbollah backs Saudi-Iranian dialogue as essential for stability

June 04, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah supports a resumption of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia and views them as essential for the region’s security and stability, a senior party official said Tuesday. “We support a Saudi-Iranian dialogue and we hope it will take effective steps. It is important for the region’s security and its political stability,” Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Iran’s late supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini at UNESCO Palace in Beirut. Departing Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi also said his country was ready to improve strained ties with its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Asked when a long-awaited dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran would begin, Roknabadi said after meeting Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh at the latter’s residence in Bnashi in the north: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to have the best relations with all neighbors in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia. When this intention exists on the Iranian and Saudi sides, setting a date [for dialogue] and other matters becomes a formality that can be easily agreed on.”
Rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran would have ramifications across the Middle East, possibly cooling political and military struggles in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.
In an ice-breaking move between the two countries, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last month he had invited his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Riyadh for talks on divisive issues that have strained relations for years between the two. Zarif has visited other Gulf Arab states, but has not yet been to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has long been wary of Iran’s influence in the region. Riyadh has also been apprehensive of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Saudi-Iranian relations have been further strained by policy differences, particularly over the 3-year-old civil war in Syria, where the two countries support opposing sides. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors back rebels fighting to topple Assad’s government, which is supported by Tehran.
In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran also support opposing sides. While the kingdom backs the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition, Iran supports Hezbollah-led March 8. In his speech at UNESCO Palace, Qassem said a military solution to end the conflict in Syria had failed, adding that takfiri groups who came from all over and were sent to fight with rebels against Assad were now posing “a danger to Western states.” “A military solution in Syria is finished. ... The solution in Syria is a political one,” he said. Qassem, whose party sent fighters last year to aid Assad’s forces, said the alleged plan to destroy Syria and turn it from “a resistance country into a Zionist Syria” had failed. Referring to Tuesday’s presidential vote that will keep Assad in power, he said: “They [Assad’s opponents] have been shocked by the heavy turnout in the presidential election in Syria. This is an expression of what the Syrian people want.”

World bank chief: Lebanon is suffering
June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The World Bank president acknowledged the incredible strain Lebanon is under due to the refugee crisis, supporting Prime Minister Tamman Salam's appeal for urgent international aid. At a donor meeting in Beirut's Grand Serail, Prime Minister Tammam Salam Tuesday called on governments of the world to immediately support Lebanon in order to rescue the country’s weak economy. “ Lebanon is in need for massive and speedy support from the international community in order to prevent an economic collapse,” Salam said. Lebanon is “incapable of bearing alone the burden of Syrian refuges.” Salam, who chaired the meeting, said he would seize the opportunity of a visit by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to “appeal to friendly governments to continue to provide aid to Lebanon.” “And I thank in advance the countries that will join this initiative,” Salam told participants at the meeting. Kim, in turn, expressed his “solidarity and admiration for the tremendous efforts that the government of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon have made in absorbing a staggering number of refugees.” “When I visited a social services center this morning, I felt the strain of the very, very well-trained staff efforts to deal with the influx,” he said at the meeting. “There’s a rising sense of resentment among the people of Lebanon as they find themselves losing their jobs, unable to pay their rent. As they find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation without receiving assistance. Being able to see this directly in front of me was a sobering, yet inspiring experience,” he added.
Before taking part in the donor meeting, Kim visited a social development center and a Syrian refugee school in Burj Hammoud and then met with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil. Kim is scheduled to hold an open debate with Lebanese youth at the Education Ministry before a 5 p.m. news conference at the Movenpick hotel in Beirut. Kim, who arrived in Beirut Monday, said his visit was the first by a World Bank president to Lebanon in 14 years. He said the purpose of his trip was to discuss ways to meet the urgent needs of the country particularly in terms of reform in various sectors, encourage economic growth and plan long and short-term strategic plans. Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator in Lebanon Derek Plumbly said the World Bank Trust Fund for host communities and the government was “up and running” and included donors and the United Nations. “[The fund] is the only one established specifically to provide assistance to the government and municipalities, established specifically to mitigate the impact of the Syrian crisis,” Plumbly said during the conference.  “We very much hope that it will attract more contributions in addition to the excellent help that has been forthcoming so far from Norway, from Finland, from France and I should add from the World Bank itself,” he said. Plumbly noted that the assistance to Lebanon had so far been minimal compared to the need. “It is true that there have been delays in putting in place some of the mechanisms which were envisaged in the original International Support Group conclusions, the Roadmap, getting it up and running and agreed collectively; and the Trust Fund,” he said.

A Sickness in Lebanon and Syria

By: Diana Moukalled/Asharq Alawsat
Tuesday, 3 Jun, 2014
The voting in Syria’s presidential election by expatriates in Lebanon on May 28 saw both a contrived public spectacle at the Syrian Embassy in Beirut and a fierce torrent of abusive exchanges on social media. Outside the embassy, large crowds raised posters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and sang songs of support for him—something we thought we would never see again in Lebanon following the Syrian withdrawal in 2005—causing shock and an explosion of sentiments that had until now been held back to burst out on social media.
Feelings of loathing erupted and abuse and insults prevailed, with both Lebanese and Syrian social media sites filling up with exchanges that included the use of repugnant language. From the intensity of the anger and mutual hatred expressed on Facebook, it seemed like you could almost hear the screams of rage and expect the combatants’ limbs to reach out of the screen to start hitting each other at any minute. This is not the place to repeat the expressions that were used to condemn all those who voted for Assad, or the calls to throw all Syrian refugees out of Lebanon, or the denunciations of the Lebanese people as a single loathsome group full of hatred for others, especially Syrians. All angry parties seemed afflicted with a rampant disease, the symptoms of which spread and infected everybody. At this point we could easily turn to psychiatry to analyze the Lebanese–Syrian situation, which seems to have become a syndrome in its own right.
Modern medicine defines a syndrome as the collection of signs and symptoms that characterize a single condition, which makes the appearance of one of them a warning of the possible appearance of the others. I do not of course claim to have any medical expertise, but I am comparing the situation we can observe today with what psychiatry has diagnosed as taking place in many other situations, such as Stockholm Syndrome, which has been abundantly analyzed and used to describe our situation in the Arab world.
In the Lebanese–Syrian case, there exists what seems to be a chronic disease that has worsened and spread in the past three years, and what took place last week was nothing other than an extension of a political, security and social clash that started decades ago and has now reached its peak. Without much effort, we can see that the ballot that took place in Lebanon among Syrians was not a genuine one, and the same will be true of the voting in Syria itself also. What actually took place was simply a public exhibition that was carefully planned under the sponsorship of, and pressure from, pro-Syrian parties in Lebanon and motivated by the ability of the Syrian regime to threaten anyone who did not go to the embassy with being banned from returning to Syria.
What happened in Lebanon was not an election. There were no ballot boxes or booths, and many did not have voting cards—some people who voted were even below the minimum legal voting age. Therefore, these were not elections, so there is no need to consider them as such. Why then did the events at the embassy of the Assad regime ignite this previously dormant fire? The reason is down to a flaw that the Lebanese and Syrian crowds did not openly display in their clashes, either physically or on the Internet. The crux of the problem is not mutual hatred, as we suppose, but the Ba’ath regime and the authority of the Assad clan, which has created a very deep abyss in whose fires we are now being swallowed.

Kanaan says discussion should resume on electoral law

June 03, 2014 /The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan Tuesday called on lawmakers to resume work on a new electoral law, saying Parliament can pass a draft law even amid a presidential void. "When Parliament extended its mandate, it was done on the basis that talks would continue to prepare a new electoral law so that we wouldn't reach a point of another extension," Kanaan told reporters after the bloc's weekly meeting. "Until this day, nothing has been done in this regard."He said it was necessary to discuss and pass a new law, otherwise, the country would be faced with another extension. "An electoral law is an exceptional proposal that Parliament is allowed to pass in light of a presidential vacuum," he said. In March of last year, lawmakers approved a law extending their mandate by 17 months after political parties failed to come to an agreement on an electoral law and in light of the deteriorating security situation in the country. The Change and Reform bloc voted against the extension. Christian lawmakers have rejected the 1960s election law, which is currently in effect. Kanaan also spoke about the issue of Lebanese who fled to Israel in 2000 after the Jewish state withdraw from south Lebanon, saying the matter was resolved by Parliament in 2011. "I will remind you of Law 149, which was presented by MP Michel Aoun and approved in 2011,” he said, adding that the law ruled out treating these people as agents of the Jewish state. "I think we should stop this commotion surrounding this issue ... because we all know why these people went to Israel,” he said. Hezbollah criticized Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai after he meet with Lebanese families who had fled to Israel and vowed to help them return, during his controversial trip to the Holy Land.

Kuwaiti Emir's Vist To Tehran: Definitely Iran must deliver

June 03, 2014/The Daily Star /The visit of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to Tehran is definitely a step in the right direction as far as Iranian-Gulf ties go. But as long as Iran insists on its narrow interpretation of the root causes of problems in the wider region, any tangible rapprochement will remain some way off. Until Tehran begins dialogue with Saudi Arabia, which has recently shown its openness to such a prospect with several invitations extended to Iranian figures, these other visits are but baby steps. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned neighbors Monday of the “high price” they would pay for continuing to support Sunni extremists in Syria. This warning lacks any semblance of context, for while the threat posed by certain elements fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is real, it does not exist in a vacuum. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Iran has been Damascus’ main supporter, propping it up with financial and logistical support directly and through Hezbollah. Taking a wider view, Iran continues to meddle in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Iran’s accusations against Sunni states are a case of those in glass houses throwing stones. The threat posed by extremists is real, and it poses the greatest threat to the countries from which the fighters themselves emerge, whether Egypt or the Gulf. And these governments are working as hard as possible to confront these militants as the terrorists they are. Any genuine easing of ties between Iran and the Gulf might perhaps be better served not by the slinging of accusations, but by working together to minimize the threats posed by extremists from both sides of the divide.

Assad's Reelection Campaign Matters -- Real
Andrew J. Tabler /The Atlantic/April 30, 2014
The Syrian president wants to impose a solution to the country's crisis on his terms.
The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a "political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria's June 3 presidential poll, "hoping the parliament would endorse it."
This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and "spontaneous rallies" calling for him to run -- many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader.
What's Assad's concession to his opponents after attempting to shoot his way out of the country's largest uprising, with 150,000-plus killed, 680,000 injured, and up to half of the country's 23 million people displaced? The Syrian president has made the next poll the first contested presidential election in the nation's modern history. That pledge, however, is undermined by the state of war in the country and Assad's previous referendums, including the last presidential election I observed personally in 2007, when he won by a Crimea-like 97.62 percent of the vote. In one polling station in Damascus's wealthiest and most Westernized neighborhood, a young woman-turned-poll worker not only urged me to vote even though I did not have Syrian nationality, but also encouraged me to follow the lead of Assad's main election poster and vote with a fingerprint in my own blood. Such tactics helped Assad improve upon his 97.24-percent showing in 2000, when his father Hafez died, and the Syrian parliament lowered the minimum age for seeking the Syrian presidency from 40 to 34 to allow Bashar to run.
Why, then, should anyone care about another rigged election in the Middle East? Because Assad's reelection is actually part of his larger strategy to destroy the international community-backed plan for a negotiated solution to the increasingly sectarian Syrian crisis in favor of a forced solution on his terms. This solution includes sieges and starvation of opposition-controlled areas, the manipulation of aid supplies, and the dropping of "barrel bombs," Scud missiles, and alleged chlorine gas canisters on his enemies. While this approach has helped him gain ground in western Syria with help from a legion of Hezbollah, Iraqi, and other Iranian-backed Shiite fighters, Assad lacks the troops to retake and hold all of Syria, unless his allies expand their involvement to a much more costly degree. Short of Syria's occupation by what is often described as "Iran's foreign legion," the opposition and their regional backers will not agree to a Potemkin transition with Assad and his Iranian allies calling the shots.
The likely outcome of all this is a failed state partitioned into regime, Sunni-Arab, and Kurdish areas, all of which are now havens for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations in the heart of the Middle East. Combined with regional tensions between Iran and the Arabs, as well as the deep chill in relations between Russia and the United States, diplomatic solutions seem distant as well. This presents Barack Obama with a dilemma that has far-reaching implications. Allowing Assad's forced solution to go forward will only contribute to the spread of a Syria-centered Middle Eastern proxy war between Iran and Arab countries, demonstrate to dictators that mass slaughter works, and show Moscow and other U.S. adversaries that Washington is unwilling to follow through on its foreign-policy principles and diplomatic agreements. But reversing Assad's course will require the kind of military action from the West and its regional allies that Obama has been extremely reluctant to use due to its expense and uncertain result for the United States.
In early 2012, as the armed insurgency in Syria gathered steam, the Assad regime's changes to the constitution to establish contested presidential elections attracted little attention in the West, which at the time was focused on Kofi Annan's five-point plan to end the crisis. When that effort failed, the United States and Russia negotiated the "Geneva Communique of 2012." At the time, the regime's contraction, if not its demise, seemed certain, so Western negotiators watered down the text's language over Assad's fate to overcome a Russian veto at the United Nations. Instead of demanding Assad "step aside" as part of a transition, the United States agreed to a "Transitional Governing Body" with "full executive powers" to be formed by "mutual consent" that "could include members of the current government and the opposition and other groups." American negotiators held up the "mutual consent" clause at the time as giving the opposition a veto over Assad's participation in the TGB. But by not ruling Assad out of the scheme, as well as failing to define which opposition groups had to agree to the TGB, the agreement gave Russia a veto over the process and allowed Assad to play for time.
And he did just that. Last year, with the backing of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia, Assad launched a counterinsurgency effort that -- combined with the use of chemical weapons, Obama's unwillingness to enforce his "red line" on their use in Syria, and the regime's foot-dragging on its deal with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Security Council Resolution 2118 -- decimated the opposition. As a seeming concession to the Russians for getting the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons, the United States helped deliver selective representatives from the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an opposition umbrella organization backed by the West, to negotiations in Geneva with the Assad regime in January and February. But the Syrian regime refused to negotiate a Transitional Governing Body, and went so far as to place opposition negotiators on a list of terrorists. At the same time, Assad increased bombardment of opposition areas with barrel bombs -- crude explosive devices dropped from regime helicopters. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power "the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict" occurred during the talks in Geneva. Russia, which in Security Council Resolution 2118 had effectively pledged to involve the regime in discussions on the TGB, is now suddenly unwilling to do so.
Meanwhile, in interviews with the Western, Russian, and Arab press, Assad and regime spokespersons have announced that he will run in the upcoming presidential poll and that international election observers will not be allowed into the country. The rules stipulate that each candidate file an application with the Supreme Constitutional Court, an all-Assad-appointed body that will reach a verdict on each application within five days. It is unclear what the final arrangements will be and who will run -- six other candidates have announced their candidacy. But what is certain is that Syria's election law forbids candidates who have not resided in Syria for the last 10 years, which eliminates many of the exiled opposition active in the Syrian National Coalition.
Assad says he will only deal with parties that have a "national agenda" in upcoming local and parliamentary elections, which essentially rules out not only the SNC, but also other armed groups that control large swaths of opposition-held Syria. The opposition acceptable to Assad encompasses groups in regime-controlled areas that have been tolerated for years, including the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCC). The NCC is headed by the elderly pan-Arab socialist Hassan Abdel Azim, who has little to no influence on the opposition outside Assad-controlled areas.
It is here where Assad's logic collides with the hard realities of Syrian demographics. Following the Assad regime's last attempt to shoot its way out of an uprising by its Sunni majority, which culminated in the Hama Massacre of 1982, in which up to 30,000 Syrians died, Assad's father launched a massive, decade-long crackdown in Syria that decimated the economy and confined people to their homes. Predictably, birthrates skyrocketed. In the decade following the Hama Massacre, Syria was among the 20 fastest-growing populations on the planet, particularly in Sunni-dominated rural areas (this accounts for the lack of gray hair among today's opposition fighters). This time around, there are many more Sunnis than Alawites, who had fewer children. If Assad only offers a bankrupt plan for reforms based on his "reelection" as a transition, along with promises of economic largesse that he can ill afford, there is little chance his regime will be able to shoot the Sunni opposition into submission to a degree that would stabilize and reunite the country.
The bad news for the fragmented Syrian opposition is that the loose language negotiated by Russia in the Geneva Communique of 2012 concerning the formation of a "Transitional Governing Body" by "mutual consent" could in practice mean that opposition forces who succumb to Assad ultimately form the basis of the TGB. And given the Obama administration's aversion to supporting the Syrian opposition with lethal assistance or direct military intervention, as well as its current outreach to the Assad regime's chief supporters in Tehran, the White House might be tempted to take the bait and agree to such a political transition. As might European governments concerned about the growth of jihadists among the Sunni opposition.
That would be a big mistake. Handing Assad and Iran's foreign legion even a partial victory in Syria right now would make it more difficult to contain Tehran's regional machinations and secure further concessions over its nuclear program. But more importantly, it would likely stoke a regional, sectarian proxy war centered on Syria. Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are deeply worried about Iran's spreading influence and nuclear ambitions, and appear committed to fighting Iran's legion to the last dead Syrian. These motivations have spurred some of their citizens to sponsor effective al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria with global aspirations.
The most effective and least costly way to contain Assad's advance, as well as the influence of jihadists, is through greater lethal support for the moderate opposition -- an option the White House has been debating for years and is reportedly debating now in light of the bravado that the Syrian and Russian presidents have been demonstrating recently. As the Assad regime has accelerated shipments of chemical weapons to the Syrian coast, American-made TOW anti-tank missiles have increasingly made their way to moderate Syrian opposition fighters vetted by Western intelligence. But the only way to stop the Assad regime's aerial bombardment of opposition areas and bring the government to the negotiating table is by providing anti-aircraft weapons to the opposition or launching missile strikes on the regime's airfields. In recent days, however, Obama has sharply rebuked critics of his Syria policy who are now calling for a military response to Assad's worsening behavior.
While Obama's equation of "Syria is Iraq" has worked with the American public so far, Assad's forced solution has global implications that run directly counter to American values and interests. Permitting the Syrian president to implement his strategy would demonstrate to ruthless dictators around the world that mass slaughter and blocked humanitarian access are effective tactics. And, at a time when Washington and its European allies are contending with a resurgent Russia, U.S. adversaries eager to challenge international law will conclude that the West is weak, does not uphold its principles, and can be effectively ignored.
***Andrew 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.

Abdul Halim Khaddam: Those who vote for Bashar are acting out of fear
Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—Abdul Halim Khaddam originally met Hafez Al-Assad in the early 1950s when still a student activist, the beginning of a life-long association that would see Khaddam elevated to the posts of foreign minister and then vice-president of Syria.
His relationship with Hafez’s son and Syria’s current ruler, Bashar Al-Assad, was less close. The last of Hafez’s “old guard” to leave—or be pushed out of—office, Khaddam left Syria for exile in Paris in 2005, shortly after resigning as vice-president of Syria.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the former regime stalwart about Syria’s ongoing crisis, this week’s presidential election and his thoughts on the Syrian opposition.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Will the Syrian people vote for Bashar Al-Assad in the presidential elections?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: The ballots are just a pile of papers; the votes that will be cast into the ballot boxes are as meaningless as piles of paper. Those who choose Bashar Al-Assad or anyone else will be either forced to do so or they will be acting out of fear. This is not a [real] election, and everyone knows that. But Bashar is keen on conducting the elections in defiance of the international community.
Q: Who is responsible for what is going on in Syria?
There are two main parties responsible: Russia, Iran and the [Syrian] regime on the one hand, and on the other, there are the Arab countries. There is a key difference between those who kill or participate in killing and those who can stop or reduce the bloodshed. The latter is what the Arab League did when—only after six months of the [Syrian] uprising—did it consider sending [Secretary-General] Nabil Elaraby to meet Bashar.
To be honest, the situation in Syria brings to mind the beginning of the Palestinian Nakba. Another important point to make is that Syria never had extremists, nor are the Syrian people extremist in nature. But their sense of defeat and the feeling of being abandoned by the world have prompted many Syrians to escape to extremism.
Q: Why did extremist groups emerge among the rebels?
When pressures on the Syrian people increased alongside the international community’s lax position, everyone began to fight. Of course, there are those who try to exploit this unruly [public] enthusiasm.
Q: Are you referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front, for instance?
Yes, and other armed groups. However, the Al-Nusra Front differs from ISIS in the sense that the majority of its fighters are Syrians and I can assert that they will immediately put down their arms once Bashar leaves power.
Q: Speaking of ISIS: Who brought them to Syria?
Iran brought ISIS to Syria. No one has any doubts about that, and I know what I am saying. Iran is a main part of the fighting in Syria. There are the Shi’ite organizations, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, fighting alongside Assad. The fall of Assad will [be] a painful blow to the Iranian regime. If Assad’s regime falls, Iran’s presence in Iraq will be over and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon will weaken, or shall we say, vanish.
Q: Under what scenario will Iran abandon Assad—reconciliation with the Gulf states, a wider international agreement . . .
Who said that Iran is seeking reconciliation with the Gulf [states] in the first place? Iran is seeking to temporarily calm things down until it finishes with the Syrian crisis. Then Iran will turn its attention to other countries to create conflicts, most prominently in Bahrain. Tehran will also support the Houthis in Yemen to cause tensions on Saudi Arabia’s borders. The Arab region will witness an unprecedented sectarian conflict in the coming years.
Q: If you were you still in your former position in Syria, what would you suggest doing to end the crisis?
In all honesty, after the death of Hafiz Al-Assad, I did not have any desire to be involved in any direct political activity. But I was embarrassed [not to know] how I [could] leave the partisan and political arena in peace. If one suddenly leaves, they face either death or prison. As for your question, I cannot answer it because it is speculation.
Q: There is much talk about a potential Alawite state being established in the coastal region in Syria. If this happens, what do you expect will happen to the Sunnis in the region?
This will not happen. More than 40 percent of the population in the coastal area are Sunnis. In the event the coast was taken, Syria would be a closed country with no access to the sea. Therefore, I very much rule out the establishment of an [Alawite] “statelet” . . . The present conflict may reach a stage where one part [of Syria] is more powerful than the other but not independent from it.
Believe me, if the Arab countries gave sophisticated weapons to the Syrian people, rather than [the president of the Syrian National Coalition] Ahmed Al-Jarba, Assad and his regime would fall within a month.
Q: Why are you so critical of Jarba?
Jarba has no direct relationship with the Syrian people. In other words, he has no presence inside Syria. Therefore, he will not be able to make a difference [on the ground].
Q: Are you prepared to attempt to reunite the Syrian people, or name figures capable of getting Syria out of its present crisis?
I have already tried and am still trying. I am in contact with many influential Syrians, who have been responsive. Returning to your question about Jarba: for example, out of the dozens of influential Syrian [opposition] factions leaders I contacted, only Jarba did not respond. When asked about the reason, he was reported to have said: ‘It is too late.’ I do not know why it is too late. Does he guarantee that he will go to Damascus tomorrow? He who wants to be a leader should be open to and accept everybody.
Q: What is left of the Ba’ath Party in Syria, and who represents it?
There is nothing left.
Q: Did you break with Bashar, or did he exclude you?
I decided to leave. I remember attending an hour-and-a-half-long meeting of the Ba’ath Party leadership in which I talked about what should be done in the future. By the way, I have not worked so much with [Bashar Al-]Assad. The only foreign trip I made with Assad was to Tehran before the US army entered Iraq . .&#160l;. We went to Tehran and Bashar suddenly suggested to the Iranians that they should train Shi’ite combatant factions to fight the Americans if they entered Iraq.
Q: Why would Assad make such a suggestion when the Syrian borders were almost open for terrorists to enter Iraq?
The borders were not open in this way. But there was indeed something akin to leniency [on the part of the government] towards the access of those wanting to go to Iraq
Q: Will the Syrian crisis continue for other ten years, as has been suggested by some reports from international intelligence agencies?
If they so wish, the crisis will continue for more than twenty years. If they so wish, Assad will meet his end in one month. They need not worry much about armed groups, because they will vanish after the fall of Bashar.


Netanyahu plans to counter US acceptance of Palestinian unity by blocking West Bank elections
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 3, 2014/The US and European decision to continue funding the Palestinians under their new, Hamas-backed government, is a landmark: For the first time, the US and Europe will be bankrolling an organization branded under their own laws as terrorist, as well as its armed militia, the Ezz e-Din al-Qassam, debkafile’s counterterrorism sources note.
The structure of the Fatah-Hamas coalition government, sworn in by Mahmoud Abbas under prime minister Rami Hamdullah in Ramallah Monday, June 2, says it all: From that date, the Hamas regime ruling the Gaza Strip is dissolved and its prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and ministers step down. They are replaced by the government of reconciliation in Ramallah, which is henceforth responsible for ruling both territories, and running their public services, education, health, and law and order enforcement.
The Islamist Hamas ruled the Gaza for seven years after ousting Fatah in a coup. Now, to the relief of its rulers, it is able to shrug off the responsibility for scrounging for half a billion dollars a year to sustain the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants – especially now that Gaza is under siege by Egypt as well as Israel.
The people of Gaza will be fed, clothed, housed and educated with the help of the financial aid the US and EU have pledged the government in Ramallah. And Hamas is now free to devote its resources from other quarters to maintaining its own, automous security and militia branches – its tools of terror - numbering 20,000 serving and reserve personnel.
Those resources are provided by Qatar, Gulf tycoons, Iran and Hizballah.
The Palestinian power-sharing deal has therefore maneuvered the Obama administration and European Union into supporting the efforts of Iran and fellow radicals for keeping Hamas alive as a viable operational arm, in keeping with Tehran’s objectives - and in direct conflict with the interests of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has found no answer to this dangerous development.
He commented Tuesday: “I'm deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas, which has murdered countless innocent civilians.” He then appealed to “all those who genuinely seek peace to reject President Abbas' embrace of Hamas… as simply unacceptable.”
That appeal, much like Netanyahu’s rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear issue, fell on deaf ears, because it was not backed by action. It only underscored the disarray in Israeli government circles over the international points Abbas had scored by healing the breach in the Palestinian movement.
Some ministers, led by right-wing members of Netanyahu’s Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, are saying that talk is not enough: Israel should hit back at Washington’s willingness to do business with the Hamas-backed Palestinian regime by annexing settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria.
However, the Netanyahu government set itself on course toward this blind alley in November 2012 when, instead of letting the IDF finish Operation Pillar of Defense to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip after its decade-long missile campaign against Israel, the prime minister accepted a premature ceasefire, orchestrated by the US. He accepted the Hamas’ inclusion in a US-led diplomatic process. That process was part of Barack Obama’s grand design to establish a “moderate” Muslim bloc composed of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey, that would form a bridge to the Palestinian Hamas.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of this arrangement proved short-sighted: The Muslim Brothers no longer rule Egypt, the Qatar emir was ousted in a coup and Hillary Clinton may not even remember how she powered this short-lived process as Secretary of State.
But in Israel, the chickens came to roost. Mahmoud Abbas decided to take advantage of the plight of the radical Hamas. He also recognized that President Obama had never given up the hope of reconciling the two wings of the Palestinian movement. He gambled on the Hamas card and it paid off.
Netanyahu is left casting about for a strategy to even the score. He hopes his chance will come when elections to the Palestinian parliament and presidency come around in six months – that is if they take place on schedule and if the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation lasts that long. He confided to his close advisers Tuesday, June 3, that he is determined not to let those elections take place and so repeat the mistake made by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who permitted the vote, knowing that Hamas would sweep the board and seize control of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Olmert acted under pressure from Washington. There is no guarantee that Netanyahu will behave any differently.

Has Iran prevented the Syrian regime's collapse?
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya
When dealing with the region’s countries and the U.S., Iran acts like it won the war in Syria - the war which the Syrian regime launched against its people. Is such a behavior appropriate and is there anything to justify it? What is certain is that it’s too early to decisively say that Iran won in Syria and that it can demand Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and regional countries to negotiate with it upon the basis that Bashar al-Assad is staying in power and that any discussions on Syria’s future cannot be carried out without the participation of the regime with Bashar himself as part of it.
Regardless of statements that Iran has devised a plan to end the Syrian crisis and regardless of the fact that Iran has become a major player - or has rather become the major player in Syria particularly since Assad has become like Hezbollah Lebanon, a tool run by Tehran - there are still certain reservations that must be taken into consideration. “Iran opened the borders of Iraq in order to provide a flow of money, men and arms and thus serve itself and the Syrian regime”The first of these reservations is that there is a sectarian aspect to the ongoing war in Syria. Syria is a country of a Sunni majority which totally rejects remaining captive to a family that belongs to a particular sect no matter how much this family attempts to hide behind slogans of the Baath Party and resistance.
Avoid wasting time
In clearer words and to avoid wasting time, I’ll just get straight to the point. About 75 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni. The demographics there are complicated yet simple at the same time. There are several sects, religions and ethnicities in Syria. The majority is Sunni while the percentage of Alawites does not exceed 12 percent. The Sunnis’ sweeping majority simply refuses that the Alawite governance should remain. So, what do you think they want when it comes to a specific Alawite family which monopolized power and wealth since Bashar succeeded his father in 2000?
Hafez al-Assad was sly. He knew early on that it’s difficult for an Alawite to govern Syria without making certain alliances with a part of the Sunnis. So he resorted to Sunnis in the countryside after he squashed any influence that Sunnis in cities had. Before seizing power in 1970, Hafez, who hated Sunnis in cities a lot, began to gradually eliminate any presence of prominent Sunni officers at the military institution. He particularly targeted officers who came from big cities, like Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama. In return, he hired Sunnis from the countryside as officers - people like Mustafa Tallas, Hikmat al-Shehabi, Naji Jamil and many others. Meanwhile, the real power was in the hands of Alawite officers in support of him. These Alawite officers, whom Bashar al-Assad turned his back on most of the time, are the ones who protected Hafez al-Assad’s throne when his brother, Refaat, attempted to succeed him at an early point in 1983 and 1984.
When Bashar al-Assad made it to power and as he established a fragile alliance with specific non-Alawite groups which are not influential on the level of political, security and economic decisions, Iran filled the vacuum. Iran sometimes filled the vacuum directly and sometimes it did so indirectly by, for example, using its Lebanese tool, Hezbollah.
In all cases, Iran realized Bashar al-Assad’s weaknesses at an early stage. It gradually contained the Syrian regime. Therefore, the latter came under Iran’s mercy in Lebanon after former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and his comrades were assassinated on February 14, 2005 and after Syrian troops totally withdrew from Lebanon by April 26, 2005. If it hadn’t been for Hezbollah, and what the Shiite party represents on the Iranian level, the Syrian regime would not have had any presence worth mentioning in Lebanon.
As the Syrian revolution erupted in March 2011, the Iranian presence in Syria became dominant. Bashar al-Assad wouldn’t have had a chance to confront the Syrian people if it hadn’t been for Iranian support. Iran supported the Syrian regime on all levels and in all fields. In the end, one cannot but admit that most victories which Assad achieved against the Syrians were thanks to Iran, the militia of Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias fighting across Syria.
Iran opened the borders of Iraq in order to provide a flow of money, men and arms and thus serve itself and the Syrian regime. Above all that, Iran, which sent Hezbollah to Syria, is the one paying for the arms which the Syrian regime is getting from Russia. Meanwhile Russia does not hesitate to resort to its veto power at the U.N. Security Council in order to protect the Syrian regime whenever needed.
Preventing the collapse of the Syrian regime
Iran succeeded at preventing the collapse of the Syrian regime. This is something which cannot be ignored. But is this enough for Tehran to consider that it owns Syria to the extent where it plays the pivotal role in finally reaching an agreement in which rebels exit specific Homs neighborhoods under U.N. supervision? Iran has the right to pride itself in what it achieved in Syria but this does not mean that it owns Syria. The Syrian people’s revolution hasn’t yet said its final word. This revolution completely rejects Iran just like it rejects the Syrian regime. What’s unfortunate is that the revolution has taken a sectarian angle that cannot be ignored. What’s even more unfortunate is the presence of some parties who think that Syria is a mere bargaining chip used in negotiations between Tehran on one hand and Riyadh and Washington on the other.
Iran’s giving up on Bashar al-Assad, who gave up all Arab relations for Iran’s sake, is difficult. But what’s even more difficult is for Iran to win its Syrian bet. This is unlikely for the simple reason that the sweeping majority of the Syrian people don’t want Iran. If it had been possible to eliminate the Syrian people, their revolution would not have lasted for over three years and despite all the injustice and backstabbing practiced against them from inside and outside Syria.