March 06/14


Bible Quotation for today/if I were still pleasing men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians Chapter 1/6-13: "I marvel that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different “good news”;  and there isn’t another “good news.” Only there are some who trouble you, and want to pervert the Good News of Christ.  But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed.  As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.  For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? For if I were still pleasing men, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ. But I make known to you, brothers, concerning the Good News which was preached by me, that it is not according to man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my way of living in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the assembly of God, and ravaged it."


Pope Francis's Tweet For Yesterday
Lent is a good time for sacrificing. Let us deny ourselves something every day to help others.
Pape François
Le Carême est un temps approprié au renoncement. Privons-nous de quelque chose chaque jour pour aider les autres.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 06/14

Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors - why now/By: Dr. Theodore Karasik/AlArabiya/March 06/14

The normalization of Syria’s tragedy/Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya/March 06/14

Turkey's Muted Reaction to the Crimean Crisis/By: Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey/Washinton Institute/March 06/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 06/14
Lebanese Related News

Tensions on Lebanon's border after Israeli claim

Maronite Bishops Call for End of Assault on Suleiman's Dignity

Israel Claims to Hit 2 Hizbullah Fighters on Golan Border

Suleiman Requests Aid for Army to Implement Defense Strategy at Lebanon Support Meeting
Israel Intercepts Ship Transporting 'Iranian Weapons'
Conflicting Reports over Army Firing at Syrian Warplanes after Airstrike on Arsal
Maronite Bishops Call for End of Assault on Suleiman's Dignity

Arab Democratic Party Denies Leader Fled to Syria

Al-Nusra Front, ISIL Haven't Decided Yet to Move Syria's Conflict to Lebanon

Resistance Deadlock Unresolved as Both Sides Exchange Concession Accusations

Mashnouq Sets Two-Stage Plan to Resolve Roumieh Prison Crisis

Hezbollah attempts to plant bomb on Syrian-Israeli border
Report: Bkirki Seeks to Hold Maronite Summit, Shies Away from Naming Presidential Candidate

Efforts Underway for Suleiman, Hizbullah Rapprochement
Arab Democratic Party Denies Leader Fled to Syria

Landmark ruling rubbishes anti-gay law in Lebanon

Al-Akhbar editor, Ibrahim Amin remains defiant as Rifi files case

In Lebanon's Baabda palace, there are words of gold
Miscellaneous Reports And News

I'm not a superman, Pope Francis says

Netanyahu from LA: Weapons ship interdiction shows true face of Iran
UN reports: Chemical weapons used in Syria are from army stockpile

Barbaric punishments, executions under ‘moderate’ Rowhani

Israel Navy seizes Iranian ship carrying missiles bound for Gaza. Mid East sources: They were destined for Muslim Brotherhood
Lavrov Meets Kerry,Vows to Prevent Bloodshed in Ukraine
Doha Regrets but Won't Reciprocate over Saudi, Bahrain, UAE Envoys Recall

Blind to the big picture

Liberman to Abbas: Israel will not accept more conditions to continue talks
Egypt panel blames Morsi supporters for deaths during protest camp break-up 

Maronite Bishops Call for End of Assault on Suleiman's Dignity
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Maronite bishops regretted on Wednesday Hizbullah's campaign against President Michel Suleiman and condemned the "assault on his dignity" as the symbol of the nation's unity.
Following its monthly meeting under Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki, the council of Maronite bishops “urged all parties to stop the campaign against the president … out of respect for the nation.”
The tension between Suleiman and Hizbullah reached unprecedented levels over the weekend when the president said during a speech that Lebanese parties should not hold onto inflexible equations that hinder the adoption of the new government's policy statement. His remark drew a sharp retort from Hizbullah, which said the president needed “specialized care.” “There are no need for differences … which should be resolved at the national dialogue table,” the bishops said. “After the consensus on the National Charter, the bishops would have hoped that the policy statement would be inspired by it,” said the statement issued by the council. The Maronite church unveiled the charter last month. It calls for holding the elections of a new president on time and for Muslim-Christian partnership to run the country's affairs. The bishops lauded the army in its confrontation of terrorism, saying providing it with assistance is a necessity after the security chaos that the country witnessed and after attempts by some parties to impose self-rule. The Maronite bishops hoped that a meeting by world powers in Paris on Wednesday would succeed. During the conference, which is hosted by the International Support Group for Lebanon, the major powers are set to pledge aid to Lebanon to help it cope with the repercussions of Syria's civil war. The bishops condemned the latest Israeli raid on Lebanon, which came after warplanes bombarded a Hizbullah position in Janta on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Israel neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the Feb. 24 strikes. The bishops also condemned the continued shelling from Syria on Lebanese territories. They regretted the assaults by some Takfiri groups on Christians in Syria, urging the United Nations and Arab and Islamic countries to “immediately interfere” to stop the attacks that in no way are linked to Islam.

Mashnouq Sets Two-Stage Plan to Resolve Roumieh Prison Crisis
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq established a two-stage plan to resolve the situation at Roumieh prison and improve the conditions of the inmates, As Safir newspaper reported on Wednesday. “I will rehabilitate the facility and dismantle the state that was established in it,” Mashnouq said in comments published in the newspaper. He pointed out that he rejects any cover-up or protection granted to the prisoners by any side. “I will rectify the unjust treatment that the inmates are suffering from,” the minister stressed. Roumieh, the oldest and largest of Lebanon's overcrowded prisons, has witnessed sporadic prison breaks in recent years and escalating riots over the past months as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment. During the first stage of the plan set by Mashnouq, the minister seeks to equip a new facility near the prison to accommodate around 700 to 1000 inmate. The first stage reportedly requires three months to be implemented. The second stage, which needs around a year to be accomplished, will be the establishment of a new facility for dangerous prisoners, who will have a separate court room. According to the daily the cost of the second stage will reach 40 million dollars. The newspaper said that Mashnouq is expected to request a financial aid for his plan during the upcoming meeting of the Arab Interior Ministers in Morocco in order to resolve the crisis in Roumieh facility. Informed security forces told As Safir that the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau is ready to control the situation in Roumieh prison after the first stage of the plan is implemented. Corruption, negligence and the maltreatment of inmates spread at Roumieh prison as some inmates have access to cellphone, internet connection and soft arms. Last week, inmates at Lebanon's largest prison held a strike at the facility after dozens stitched their lips together as part of a hunger strike to demand better living conditions.
The inmates threatened to further escalate their measures if their demands weren't met.

Arab Democratic Party Denies Leader Fled to Syria
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid denied on Wednesday that his father and the party's leader and ex-MP, Ali Eid, had fled to the neighboring country Syria.
“My father is practicing his normal life in Hikr al-Dahri town in (the northern district of) Akkar,” Eid said in comments to LBCI. Al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported earlier on Wednesday that ex-MP Eid escaped to Syria after an arrest warrant was issued against him. “We were created to confront others not to run away,” the party's Secretary-General said, addressing former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In November, State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr issued a search and investigation warrant against former MP Eid. The Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau had summoned Eid to question his alleged involvement in the August double bombing in the northern city of Tripoli. But the northern leader said he was willing to appear before any security agency except for the Intelligence Bureau. Eid's driver Ahmed Mohammed Ali is being held by the Intelligence Bureau on charges of smuggling to Syria Ahmed Merhi, one of the main suspects in the bombings against al-Taqwa and al-Salam mosques in Tripoli on August 23. On October 14, seven people involved in the August bombings were charged, including three in custody. The majority are from the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. Forty-five people were killed and over 800 wounded in the twin bombings.
However, the Arab Democratic Party has denied any involvement in the attacks and stressed that the suspects are not members of the party while slamming media leaks attributed to the Intelligence Bureau.


In Lebanon's Baabda palace, there are words of gold
Wednesday, 5 March 2014/Nayla Tueni/Al Arabiya
May God prolong the life of Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir who, during political tension and mobilization, rejected rebels marching towards the Baabda presidential palace to topple Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. Sfeir always wanted to protect the status of the presidency from any harm and wanted to prevent such an act from becoming a precedent in which people can end up relying on whenever they see fit.
This is how the major post of the Christians was maintained after it was emptied of its real authority upon the sponsorship of Syria, which knows well that values of freedom are stronger than tutelage. These values are deep-rooted and await the right moment to swoop down on injustice and slavery. Although the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon, tutelage has not exactly ended as certain Lebanese parties are trying hard - more than before - to subjugate the presidency to all sorts of conditions. These people seek to control or infiltrate security institutions and accuse whoever doesn't take this path of collaboration. The Baabda palace does not need anyone to take care of it and its occupant deserves to be honored because he accepted to be president and refused to extend his term. We've recently heard a speech that's first of its kind in the history of Lebanese politics and in which the president was insulted by Hezbollah. "With all due respect to the status of the presidency and what it represents, the latest speech [the president delivered] makes us think that during the days left of the presidency, the Baabda palace needs specialized care as its occupant can no longer distinguish between gold and wood." The real question here must be directed to Hezbollah. Can it distinguish between gold and wood, between submitting to state institutions and defying them, between respecting the principle of not interfering in other countries' affairs and getting involved in the Syrian struggle; between helping security forces and fighting some of them and submitting to judicial rulings and not handing over crime suspects? Following all this, how come the president is being questioned and held accountable for calling to commit to the constitution and law and to implement the decisions of the national-dialogue sessions and the Baabda declaration? Do they want the president to be a puppet who others direct any way they want? Do they want to turn him into a tool that submits to pressure, threats and intimidation so others can achieve their aims? The Baabda palace does not need anyone to take care of it and its occupant deserves to be honored because he accepted to be president and refused to extend his term. Some have insulted him by linking his stances to his decision not to extend his term because they know well that his election was not upon their orders but upon an international or a foreign agreement. The current cabinet was also formed upon international or foreign agreement. The same goes for some parties' involvement in the wars of others, and the same will go if they ever decide to withdraw from these wars.*This article was first published in al-Nahar on March 5, 2014.

Israel Claims to Hit 2 Hizbullah Fighters on Golan Border
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/
Israel said Wednesday it fired at and hit two members of Hizbullah as they tried to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian border, but Syrian state media accused the Jewish state of targeting its forces. "Earlier today, two Hizbullah-affiliated terrorists were identified attempting to plant an explosive device near the Israel-Syria border in the northern Golan Heights,” the army said in a statement. “IDF (Israeli army) forces... fired towards the suspects (and) hits were identified," it said. The army did not specify what weapons were used to fire at the suspected Hizbullah members. The incident came just over a week after reports that Israeli warplanes bombarded a Hizbullah position in Janta on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Israel neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the two February 24 strikes, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the Jewish state would do "everything necessary" for its own security. Hizbullah threatened to retaliate for what was the first reported Israeli air raid on a position of the Shiite party inside Lebanon since the 2006 war between them. Syria's state news agency SANA, citing a military source, said that Israeli forces fired four tank shells toward the Golan village of al-Hamidiya, hitting a school and a mosque early Wednesday. It said Israeli forces also fired another four shells toward another area called al-Houriyah, and then opened fire a third time, again toward al-Hamidiya. It said the attacks wounded seven members of the security forces and four civilians. It provided no further information.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that Israeli forces fired several tank shells and two missiles toward the Golan Heights. The group said one missile hit a school in the village of al-Hamidiyeh, where Syrian troops were concentrated. The Observatory obtains its news from a network of activists in Syria.


Israel Navy seizes Iranian ship carrying missiles bound for Gaza. Mid East sources: They were destined for Muslim Brotherhood
DEBKAfile Special Report March 5, 2014/Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) early Wednesday, March 5, boarded an Iranian Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C. Concealed in its hold under sacks of cement were dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 kms, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip after being offloaded in Sudan. The Israeli commandos seized the vessel in open sea on the maritime border of Sudan and Eritrea, 1500 south of Israel, and have set it on course for Eilat. Sudan has been revealed by DEBKAfile’s military sources as having been transformed in the last two years into a major Iranian weapons manufacturing and logistic depot, which supplies Syria, HIzballah and Hamas. Port Sudan is also the hub for the smuggling of Iranian arms to various Middle East locations. The IDF said the Iranian missile cargo was destined for the Palestinian Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip. If this is so, it would mean that Iran had gone back to arming Hamas with missiles and rockets after a two-year pause during which the Palestinian extremists were cold-shouldered by Tehran for their animosity to Syria’s Bashar Assad. By the same token, it is hard to believe the Assad would consent to relay Syrian-made missiles to this antagonist. Some Middle East military sources believe the shipment as not destined for Palestinian terrorists for use against Israel, but rather for Muslim Brotherhood activists fighting the Egyptian army from their forward base in the Gaza Strip. They don’t rule out the possibility of Al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Sinai as being the address. Western intelligence has recorded instances of Iran entering into ad hoc operational collaboration with al Qaeda elements when it suits Tehran's book.
The operation was carried out under an air umbrella by hundreds of naval commandos without casualties. It was directly commanded by the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz from high command headquarters and the Navy Chief Maj. Gen Ram Rottberg from a floating command post at sea. The rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, then loaded on a ship where they were concealed under sacks of cement inside containers. From the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the ship headed into the Red Sea bound for Sudan where it was intercepted by Israeli commandos. The Iranian arms ship’s progress was tracked all the way. In congratulating the forces which seized the shipment, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented that this episode showed Iran’s true colors - in contrast to its diplomatic posture in nuclear negotiations with the West. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran is again exposed as the biggest arms exporter in the world to terrorist organizations
SourceAgence France Presse/Associated Press.

Suleiman Requests Aid for Army to Implement Defense Strategy at Lebanon Support Meeting
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/..President Michel Suleiman hoped on Wednesday that the international community will commit to pledges it had made towards Lebanon concerning tackling the Syrian refugees and assisting the Lebanese army. He said: “We hope the international community will support the army to help it implement a defense strategy that I had proposed at the national dialogue.” He made his remarks during the opening of the International Support Group meeting in Paris, France alongside President Francois Hollande. He thanked Saudi King Abdullah for his kingdom's three-billion-dollar grant to the army, while also hailing the Italian government for providing equipment and training to the troops. He noted that the meeting “demonstrates the international community's keenness to help Lebanon.” “We are determined to overcome the various obstacles that are facing the country in implementing various projects aimed at revitalizing its economy,” Suleiman continued. Moreover, he hoped that countries would contribute to the fund aimed at aiding Lebanon. Addressing the flow of Syrian refugees to Lebanon, the president lamented that the “aid to the refugees has not met our expectations.” “Countries should commit to the pledges they made towards the refugees,” he demanded. “We ask for the international community's help in confronting the consequences of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon,” he urged, while hoping that Lebanon will be “kept neutral from the conflict.” The launch of the conference was attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Minister William Hague, and other top officials. The Lebanese delegation included Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and several of Suleiman's advisors. The support group was set up in New York in September 2013 on the sidelines of the 68th session of the General Assembly to help Beirut deal with the implications of the brutal war in Syria that began in March 2011. It is intended to provide financial, political and security support to the country. It undertook to work together to mobilize support for the sovereignty and state institutions of Lebanon and to highlight and promote efforts to assist the country where it was most affected by the Syrian crisis, including in respect of strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese army, assistance to refugees, and structural and financial support to the government.
The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has surged to more than 900,000 according to the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) and Lebanon is facing difficulties in coping with their burden.

Conflicting Reports over Army Firing at Syrian Warplanes after Airstrike on Arsal
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Conflicting reports emerged on Wednesday on whether the Lebanese army opened anti-aircraft fire at Syrian warplanes that intensively hovered over regions the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa. MTV said that a Syrian airstrike targeted an area near a post for the Lebanese army in village of Aqba al-Mabeeda, prompting the army to open anti-aircraft fire. However, security sources denied in comments to LBCI that the Lebanese army used its air defense systems against Syrian warplanes. The state-run National News Agency reported that Syrian warplanes staged three airstrike, targeting the villages of Kherbet Younine and Wadi Ajram on the outskirts of Arsal. Reports said that several people were submitted to nearby hospitals after sustaining injuries, however, the number of casualties wasn't clear. Later, NNA reported that another raid targeted the border town of Kherbet Younine, Khirbet Daoud, Wadi al-Khayl and routes that link Lebanon with the Syrian territories. Blasts caused by the Syrian bombarding of areas on the outskirts of Arsal were heard in Hermel, a Hizbullah stronghold. Later, the news agency said that a rocket from the Syrian side of the border landed on the outskirts of the Bekaa town of Jinta. The raid was the latest in a string of cross-border strikes against Arsal. On Monday, Syrian warplanes fired 18 missiles on the outskirts of Arsal and nearby areas. A December air raid prompted the Lebanese Army to fire back with anti-aircraft guns.
Arsal has a long shared border with Syria, stretching along much of Damascus province and part of Homs province. That was believed to be the first time the Lebanese army had responded to a raid, though it had previously threatened to do so. Since the eruption of the neighboring country's war, Arsal has repeatedly been targeted with Syrian rockets.
Smugglers have long taken their goods across the porous border, and since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, weapons and fighters have moved across the border too.

Tensions on Lebanon's border after Israeli claim
March 05, 2014/The Daily Star/MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: Tensions soared on Lebanon's southern border Wednesday in the wake of the Israeli Army's announcement that it struck two Hezbollah fighters as they were planting a bomb near Israel's frontier with Syria. Israeli jets began conducting aerial maneuvers over south Lebanon and the eastern region in the early morning as U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon dispatched patrols along the border. Israel raised its alert level, deploying a tank behind a barrier of sand bags across from the border village of Maroun Ras, the National News Agency reported, adding that a tank tread was also seen near the village of Blida. The Israeli Army said “two Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists were identified attempting to plant an explosive device near the Israel-Syria border in the northern Golan Heights.”Soldiers "fired toward the suspects (and) hits were identified," it added. Military sources, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, confirmed the suspected Hezbollah fighters were wounded, without elaborating on the seriousness of the injuries. "This incident is no surprise, and we believe that clashes with Hezbollah could follow in the coming days," the military sources told AFP. "After Hezbollah threatened last week to retaliate for the army raid, Israeli special forces were deployed at the border with Syria," they said. UNIFIL Spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the situation along the peacekeeping operation's mandated area was calm. "The situation is quiet with the parties from both sides. We haven't had any situation that could tell us otherwise," Tenenti told The Daily Star. The alleged shooting of two Hezbollah operatives comes only a week after Israeli airstrikes hit a Hezbollah target just inside Lebanon near the Syrian border, in a rare attack on Lebanese soil. Hezbollah vowed to retaliate to the Feb. 24 Israeli’s air raid, saying: “The resistance will choose the right time and place as well as the appropriate response method.” Although Israeli officials did not directly confirm the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government was doing “everything necessary” to protect the country. A rocket attack on an Israeli post over the weekend was widely believed to be in response to the airstrikes near the Lebanese-Syrian border, security and military sources told The Daily Star Monday, adding that Hezbollah was the main suspect.


Landmark ruling rubbishes anti-gay law in Lebanon
March 05, 2014/By Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A judge presiding over a case prosecuting homosexuality has ruled that a notorious piece of legislation criminalizing gay sex is not valid, a decision that has been hailed as a major achievement by activists in Lebanon.
The latest edition of The Legal Agenda, a quarterly magazine published by the non-governmental organization of the same name, reported Tuesday that, in January, Judge Naji al-Dahdah cleared a transsexual woman of having a same-sex relationship with a man, an act criminalized under Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code. “It’s a big step; it shows we’re moving in the right direction,” said Georges Azzi, a prominent activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights who is also the co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese group that has long been campaigning to change the law. “The more we have decisions like this the more Article 534 becomes irrelevant,” Azzi told The Daily Star. “Any legal change takes a lot of time but at least this article might stop being used to persecute gay and transgender people in Lebanon.” The case was held in the Metn town of Jdeideh and concluded on Jan. 28. The defendant, whom the report does not name, was born with deformed or incomplete genitalia, but was described as male on her personal status registry. However, she said she always felt she was a woman, and underwent surgery in the 1990s to remove her male genitals and create a vagina. Dahdah ruled that Article 534, which criminalizes “unnatural sexual intercourse,” did not provide a clear interpretation of what was considered unnatural.
The verdict relied in large part on a December 2009 ruling by Judge Mounir Suleiman that consensual homosexual relations were not against nature and could therefore not be prosecuted under Article 534.
Suleiman said: “Man is part of nature and is one of its elements, so it cannot be said that any one of his practices or any one of his behaviors goes against nature, even if it is criminal behavior, because it is nature’s ruling.”
The February case is thought to be the first ever involving a transsexual, and although Dahdah initially referred to the defendant as male, he later switched to using “he/she.” This demonstrates “the matter’s complexity and depth,” wrote the author of the Agenda article, trainee lawyer Youmna Makhlouf. In his final ruling, Dahdah said that a person’s gender should not simply be based on their personal status registry document, but also on their outward physical appearance and self-perception. “Dahdah is not someone that we know is particularly involved in these issues,” said Azzi. “He’s not part of the circle of activists, lawyers and judges [who campaign for gay rights], which makes his decision even more impressive.”Azzi nonetheless insisted there was still much to do. “On the judges front we are making huge steps. Now we need to change the attitude of the police and security forces,” he said.


Al-Akhbar editor remains defiant as Rifi files case
March 05, 2014/By Dana Khraiche/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Ibrahim Amine, editor of pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, was defiant Tuesday against Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi’s decision to refer a critical article he penned about President Michel Sleiman to the prosecutor’s office. Amine said such a measure was part of a larger campaign aimed at “attacking the resistance.”In a rare statement defending the freedom of press, Hezbollah expressed solidarity with Amine and implicitly accused Rifi of abusing his powers with malicious intent. “I think Hezbollah recognizes that there are serious efforts that are part of a larger war to attack the resistance, even in the media, and I don’t think I can explain [Rifi’s] move any other way,” Amine told The Daily Star. A proud supporter of the resistance group, Amine is known for his fiery criticism of Sleiman and Rifi, who he said was “too eager to begin his work in politics.”
Should the public prosecutor summon Amine over the case, the editor said he would not appear for questioning. “As a newspaper, we will not respond to the summoning because I think the prosecutor should act on warrants issued against Rifi first.”A judicial source told The Daily Star that acting Prosecutor Samir Hammoud has not yet made his decision over the case. Although cases similar to Amine’s are usually referred to the Court of Publications, Rifi referred the article to the state prosecution “because he wants us to face a penal offense rather than a publication offense.” Amine also voiced his distrust of the Court of Publications, arguing that recent decisions against Al-Akhbar had revealed its biases. “It seemed they [the judges] were sending us a message not to insult corrupt officials,” he said. “Just like the president has the right to criticize the resistance, I also have the right to give my opinion on the issue as a supporter of that resistance,” said Amine, who noted that the case against him was not only political but also infringed on his freedom of expression.
In his article, published on March 3, titled “Lebanon without a president,” Amine said Sleiman had committed “ethical treason” because he “rejected the resistance in the face of [Israeli] occupation as something that did not need to be mentioned in a Cabinet’s [policy statement].” Amine raised doubt over Sleiman’s intentions, calling for early presidential polls “because his [Sleiman’s] presence is a shame on all Lebanese.”
Rifi, a retired police chief and an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, is seen as a controversial figure by Hezbollah and its allies who vetoed a Cabinet proposal last year to extend his term as head of the Internal Security Forces. The newly appointed justice minister referred Amine’s article to the prosecutor’s office on the basis that it was defamatory and insulted Sleiman and the presidency. In a statement, Rifi said that the article promoted disobedience and insulted the military establishment and security institutions.Unexpectedly, Hezbollah strongly condemned Rifi’s “swift response and called for a retraction,” expressing its solidarity with Amine.

Israel Intercepts Ship Transporting 'Iranian Weapons'
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Israel intercepted a ship in the Red Sea carrying Iranian "advanced weaponry" bound for Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday, the military said.
Israel, which has long accused Iran and Syria of providing military aid to Hizbullah and Palestinian militant groups, said the ship was carrying "advanced weaponry," including rockets "capable of striking anywhere in Israel."The military said the Syrian-made weapons aboard the "Klos-C" were shipped overland to Iran and then onward towards Gaza by sea before being intercepted between Sudan and Eritrea. "Dozens of surface-to-surface M302 Syrian-manufactured rockets were found (aboard)," Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters, adding that the crew of the ship had "fully cooperated." "We know for a fact the Iranians are behind this shipment," Lerner said. "We've been following this for several months." The military said in an earlier statement it had "prevented an attempt to smuggle an Iranian shipment of advanced weaponry intended for terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip."The military spokesman's office tweeted that the rockets were "capable of striking anywhere in Israel." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation proved that Iran was playing a double-game with the international community, conducting talks on its controversial nuclear program while supporting "terrorism." "This clandestine operation was conducted by Iran. While Iran is conducting these talks, smiling to the international community, it continues to arm terrorist groups, continues to perpetrate terrorism around the world," Netanyahu, who is currently in the United States, said in a video statement.
Militants in the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, have fired dozens of rockets at the Jewish state since the beginning of the year, and Israel has responded with numerous air strikes killing both militants and civilians. The ship interception came just hours after the Israeli army claimed to have struck two Hizbullah fighters as they tried to plant a bomb near the Israeli-Syrian frontier. It also came just over a week after the Jewish state reportedly bombarded Hizbullah positions inside Lebanon for the first time since the 2006 war, prompting a threat of retaliation. Israel is bent on halting any transfer of weapons to arch-enemy Hizbullah, which has sent thousands of fighters across the border to aid Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime as it battles Sunni-led rebels. In May 2013, Israel launched two raids targeting what it said were arms convoys near Damascus destined for Hizbullah. And in November, there were reports of an Israeli strike against a Syrian air base where missiles to be supplied to Hizbullah were located. Syria has long provided arms and other aid to Hizbullah, and served as a conduit for Iranian military aid to the movement. Israel has accused Iran of trying to establish similar supply lines by sea to Gaza. Israeli commandos in 2011 seized a ship carrying what Israel said were Chinese-made arms from Iran bound for Gaza militants. In 2002 Israel seized 50 tonnes of weapons from the Karine A on its way to Gaza, which dealt a major blow to relations between the Palestinians and the United States.

SourceAgence France Presse.


Doha Regrets but Won't Reciprocate over Saudi, Bahrain, UAE Envoys Recall
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Three Gulf monarchies recalled their ambassadors from Doha Wednesday in an unprecedented escalation in tension with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar, accused of backing the largely banned Muslim Brotherhood. Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said the decision was made in protest against Qatar's alleged interference in their internal affairs.
Doha said it regretted the recall of its envoys, but added that it would not follow suit. The ambassadors' recall followed what newspapers described as a "stormy" late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh. The pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily reported that the "marathon" talks lasted nine hours because of "differences on several issues, among them inter-Gulf relations".
The Qatar Stock Exchange closed 2.09 percent down following the decision. GCC nations "have exerted massive efforts to contact Qatar on all levels to agree on a unified policy... to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state," the three states announced in a joint statement. They have also asked Qatar, a perceived supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood which is banned in most Gulf states, "not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member", it added, citing antagonistic media campaigns. Critics accuse the influential Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel of biased coverage in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and several of its journalists are on trial on Egypt for allegedly supporting the group.
The statement stressed that despite the commitment of Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to non-interference, made during a mini-summit in Riyadh last year with Kuwait's emir and the Saudi monarch, Doha has failed to comply.
During the tripartite meeting in Riyadh on November 23, Kuwait's emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah tried to ease tensions between Saudi King Abdullah and Sheikh Tamim.
Doha said the decision by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was linked to "differences over issues outside the Gulf Cooperation Council," in an apparent reference to differing policies mainly regarding Egypt.
"The move taken by the brothers in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain has nothing to do with the interests of the Gulf peoples, their security and stability," said a council of ministers statement.
"Qatar is very keen on maintaining brotherly links between the people of Qatar and all other Gulf peoples," it said.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.
Most Gulf states hailed the Egyptian military's overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July and pledged billions in aid, while Qatar, which had strongly supported him, has seen its influence in Cairo evaporate.
Tensions that have been rising for months peaked in early February when Abu Dhabi summoned Doha's ambassador to protest against "insults" to the UAE made by Egypt-born cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi, a Qatari citizen.
The three Gulf countries "have lost hope for change in Qatar's policy. They were deeply disappointed," Emirati analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla told Agence France Presse on Wednesday. "Qatar's emir was unable to honor the commitment" he made in November.
"It seems that the old guard is still active and influential in Qatar," he said, referring to the entourage of former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani who abdicated in favor of his son Tamim in June. For Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama, "it is now the time to pressure Qatar to change its policy, which has become unacceptable on an Arab and regional level", Abdulla said.
On Monday, a UAE court which has already jailed dozens of Emirati and 20 Egyptian Islamists sentenced Qatari Mahmud al-Jidah to seven years in prison after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al-Islah.
A Qatar rights body on Tuesday slammed the ruling as "unfair", saying Jidah had been convicted based on confessions made under torture. Differences with Qatar are also linked to its "increased coordination with Turkey at the expense of other Gulf monarchies", Abdulla said, amid fears of Ankara's regional ambitions. The GCC, formed in 1981, includes two other countries -- Kuwait is currently the bloc's president and preparing to host the Arab summit later this month, and Oman, known for its reserved policy.
SourceAgence France Presse.

Lavrov Meets Kerry,Vows to Prevent Bloodshed in Ukraine
Naharnet Newsdesk 05 March 2014/Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed to prevent bloodshed in Ukraine as forces partly occupied a second missile defense unit in Crimea.
"We will not allow bloodshed. We will not allow attempts against the lives and wellbeing of those who live in Ukraine and Russian citizens who live in Ukraine," visiting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Madrid.
A day after U.S. President Barack Obama said Russia was "not fooling anybody" over its role in Ukraine, Lavrov insisted the armed troops were not taking orders from the Kremlin.
"If they are the self-defense forces created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we have no authority over them," Lavrov said.
"They do not receive our orders," he said.
The Russian foreign minister, who left Madrid for a Paris meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the conference, said Moscow would not allow bloodshed to erupt in Ukraine.
"We will not allow bloodshed. We will not allow attempts against the lives and wellbeing of those who live in Ukraine and Russian citizens who live in Ukraine," he said.
Later on Wednesday, Kerry and Lavrov held direct talks on Ukraine in Paris on the sidelines of an international meeting on Lebanon, a diplomatic source said.
Kerry and Lavrov held discussions along with their German and French counterparts over coffee after lunch at the French presidential palace, an Agence France Presse journalist witnessed. Ukrainian troops remain blocked inside their barracks in Crimea in the gravest stand-off between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, at one base in Cape Fiolent, near the city of Sevastopol in southern Crimea, Russian soldiers hold some parts of the base although the missile depot remains in Ukrainian hands, Volodymyr Bova, a defense ministry spokesman in the disputed Black Sea peninsula, told Agence France Presse.
Pro-Moscow forces are also in partial control of a second base in Evpatoria, which does not have missiles on its grounds.
Ukrainian soldiers still held the command post and control center there, said another spokesman for the defense ministry in Kiev, Oleksey Mazepa. The takeovers seemed to have occurred without any violence, officials said.
Some 20 Russian soldiers, backed by hundreds of pro-Moscow forces, had already tried to occupy the Evpatoria base on Tuesday evening, leading to some skirmishes although no shots were fired.
Russian-speaking Crimea has come under de-facto control by pro-Russian forces since the ousting of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych and the installation of a new pro-European government in Kiev.
Putin however continues to deny there are any Russians operating in Crimea, insisting that gunmen that many have identified as Russian soldiers were in fact "local self-defense forces."
SourceAgence France


I'm not a superman, Pope Francis says
March 05, 2014/By Philip Pullella/Reuters
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has played down the notion that he is a "superman" who will bring sweeping reforms to the Roman Catholic Church, stressing that its ban on contraception and opposition to gay marriage will remain in place. The pope, in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper published on Wednesday, also said no institution had moved with more "transparency and responsibility" than the Church to protect children in the wake of its sexual abuse scandals. That prompted a sharp rebuke from victims, with one group calling the assertion "disingenuous". Since his election nearly a year ago, Francis has promoted the idea of a more humble Church focused on the needs of the poor, winning huge popularity and raising expectations that it would soften its rules on such issues as contraception, cohabitation, sacraments for the divorced who remarry, and gay relationships. Asked what he felt about his celebrity status, Francis said he disliked the "mythology" of him as a man who could meet all expectations. "To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. Francis made clear he did not envision changing the Church's stance on such issues as the ban on artificial birth control enshrined in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). A synod of bishops to be held in October would discuss ways of applying and explaining it better, he said, calling the encyclical "prophetic and courageous". "It's not a question of changing the doctrine but going deeper so that pastoral concern takes into account situations and what can be done for people," he said.
Francis restated the Church's position that marriage is between a man and woman. But indicating a small opening, he said some states wanted to "justify civil unions" of various types in order to regularise economic issues such as property rights and health coverage. A worldwide survey of Catholics last year showed a deep divide between Church officials and the faithful on issues of sexual morality. Last month Francis urged a gathering of cardinals to be "intelligent, courageous and loving" in a debate on family-related issues. But his words in the interview appeared to be a warning to liberals not to expect too much. Asked about the sexual abuse scandal, in which many priests who molested children were moved from parish to parish instead of being dismissed, he said the Church had done much since the scandal first broke some 15 years ago and was being singled out for attack.
He defended the Church's record, including that of his predecessor former Pope Benedict, whom Francis credited with having the courage to start reforms. "On this path, the Church has done much, perhaps more than all others," he said. "The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No-one has done more, and yet the Church is the only one that is being attacked," he said. Victims of sexual abuse by the clergy rejected this. "His central claim - that no one has 'done more' on abuse than the Catholic Church - is disingenuous," said the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "It would be far more accurate to say that no one has done more to deny, minimize and hide child sex crimes than the Church."The pope appeared to be referring to a report by a United Nations committee last month which accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse of children by priests, and demanded it turn over known or suspected offenders to civil justice.
The Vatican said the report was distorted, unfair and ideologically slanted.


Blind to the big picture
March 05, 2014/The Daily Star
Stopping short of labeling it a terrorist organization, an Egyptian court banned Hamas Tuesday, just the latest evidence that the party’s priorities are warped and it has failed the Palestinian people.
In favor with the authorities during the tenure of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi, Hamas has suffered greatly since his downfall last July. The tunnel network between Egypt and Gaza – closed off on the other side due to Israel’s blockade – has largely been destroyed, rendering the coastal enclave, one of the most densely populated places on earth, even more of a prison than it already was.
After refusing to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, the group was already suffering financially, having lost the support of Iran. And now, after allegedly transferring weapons to militants in Egypt, likely including those who have targeted the army in the Sinai, it has made an enemy of itself in Cairo. Democratically elected in Gaza in 2007, its subsequent military takeover of the strip and the extremist policies it has enacted since have served only to weaken the Palestinian cause and strengthen Israel’s argument that sign any peace agreement would jeopardize its own security. Netanyahu cited that very logic Tuesday while speaking to AIPAC.
While Hamas leaders have built themselves palatial mansions in Gaza, ordinary citizens continue to suffocate: from the blockade, from oppressive social policies and from heavy Israeli bombardments in retaliation for clumsy rocket attacks. Preoccupied with dress codes for women and haircuts for men, Hamas is concerned with debating the furniture before the house has even been built. Unless it joins a unified Palestinian umbrella, a state may forever be unachievable.


Barbaric punishments, executions under ‘moderate’ Rowhani
Most recently, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani ordered the hangings of a poet and a human rights activists from Iran’s Arabic-speaking ethnic minority Ahvazis.
TBy Staff Writer | Al Arabiya News /Wednesday, 5 March 2014/An Iranian man was sentence to having his eye gouged out and nose and right ear cut off after throwing acid in a young girl’s face, The Daily Mail reported Tuesday.Opposition group, The National Council of Resistance of Iran, said the man would have his face mutilated after the girl went blind as a result of the acid. She also lost her right ear.
The national council said Iran’s high court defended cutting off the man’s body parts, saying that such punishments are part of the country’s legal system. Last month, the state-run Mehr news agency reported another Iranian man was sentenced to have a hand and a foot cut off. His crime was not stated. As many as 95 people are thought to have been executed in Iran this year. Most recently, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani ordered the hangings of a poet and a human rights activists from Iran’s Arabic-speaking ethnic minority Ahvazis. Rowhani won in a surprise election last year after pledging to fix the economy and be more open to relations with the West.
While many welcomed the seemingly moderate leader, he has presided over a startling wave of executions. In 2013, Iran executed 625 people, including 29 women and political prisons, many of whom were tortured.
An estimated 80 to 95 people had been executed within the first month of 2014, Reuters reported. Rowhani cleverly released dozens of political prisoners to coincide with his United Nations visit after his presidential victory to boost his international image, but his record on human rights since has been bleak.Iran’s rate of execution is second only to China in the number of people it puts to death, a figure which sharply contrasts the sensible image the Iranian leader tries to portray. Last Update: Wednesday, 5 March 2014 2

Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors - why now?
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
By: Dr. Theodore Karasik/AlArabiya
Today, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The statement from SPA stated that Qatar had not lived up to its agreements with the rest of the GCC states (from November 2013) regarding “among them and committing to principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries and not supporting anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries including organizations and individuals and not supporting the antagonistic media.” There are several significant reasons for this abrupt and sudden action.
First, Doha continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan). Ever since the ascension of Emir Tamim, and much to the chagrin of the rest of the GCC, the Qatari government is continuing to support all vestiges of the Ikhwan. Ikhwan institutions continue to function in Doha including associations and commercial entities.
Fuelling the fire, Qatar also refuses to quiet the Egyptian cleric Yousuf Qaradawi who continues to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Sermon after sermon is dedicated to Riyadh’s policies on Egypt as well as the UAE, which he accused of being “against Islamic rule.” These comments drew the ire of senior Emirati officials who lashed back at Qatar for not honing in Qaradawi.
Qatar's 'old tricks'
The Qatari Ambassador to the UAE had already been summoned at least once about Qaradawi especially with the sermons broadcasted on state television for all to see and hear that attacked the reconciliation deal and pledges made by the Emir last November. The heightening of tensions led Abu Dhabi leaders to tell Emir Tamim in a phone call to apologize for Qaradawi’s statements and to silence him immediately or else there will be consequences. Clearly, the lower GCC states are sending a very strong signal to Qatar in order to penalize Doha for inaction.
The GCC states see Doha returning to its old tricks of pursuing policies unilaterally and outside of a GCC framework
Second, in terms of non-interference, is related in part to Qatar’s relations with Turkey. The GCC states see Doha returning to its old tricks of pursuing policies unilaterally and outside of a GCC framework. Qatar’s overtures to Turkey are causing major friction. First, Turkey, of course, is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood but wants military action to take out the Syrian government and specifically remove President Assad from power. Doha wants to link up with Turkey regarding the support for the Ikhwan which automatically puts Qatar in opposition to many other states in the region including Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Egypt. But there is another more serious matter. Arab officials are claiming that Doha and Ankara are establishing spy networks in the GCC states to report on anti-Ikhwan planning and the future of GCC support for Egypt. This accusation goes to the very heart of the “non-interference in internal affairs” of GCC states.
A return to the 1990s?
The real question is what comes next. As of today, all the movement to create a GCC Union and to rally the monarchies around each other in defense and preservation of the old order of the Gulf region seems to be crumbling. What we could see next is a return to the days of the early 1990s when the Saudi-Qatari border was the site of occasional shoot-outs and road blockages in order let imported food rot by the side of the road. Qatar may also choose to use tribal disputes across the Gulf region, particularly the al-Murrah who have been pawns before between Riyadh and Doha.
We may see Qatar pull its Ambassadors from the GCC states which will further isolate Qatar, forcing Doha to move closer to Iran and Turkey. On the commercial front, there may be a closure of air space which would have a tremendous impact on Qatar Airlines plus the shutting down of trade of goods to Doha by both land and sea as noted above. Finally, we may also witness the restriction of gas flow via the Dolphin Project. In other words, all types of unofficial sanctions are plausible if Qatar does not make real, immediate, meaningful changes.
Overall, this event is a real test for Emir Tamim. The emir will need to make some real decisions. Arab officials have been noting for months the literal freeze in Doha about any meaningful movement in reforms and major business deals. Some of these officials argued that Qatar’s new leadership is under a one year probationary period as new Qatari officials and their staffs are still get use to the new leadership. If true, that means that the old regime of Father Emir is still in play and that his policies, and not his son’s, are still active.
**Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

The normalization of Syria’s tragedy
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Diana Moukalled/Al Arabiya
If I were asked to highlight some of the many images that have come out of Syria in recent days, there are three that immediately come to mind.
First is the one of thousands of people trapped in the rubble of Yarmouk, begging for their lives and to be spared a slow death.
Second is the video of a sobbing young girl, pleading with the person bandaging her still bleeding wounds not to take away her new uniform, stained with her own blood.
And third is an image broadcast by the regime and pro-regime media of a bulldozer lifting dozens of corpses, said to be rebel fighters, killed in an ambush.
Inured by images
Choosing these images and publishing them, either in the media or on private websites, is a daily exercise that has become part of our routine as we monitor what is happening in Syria. We lift them from the videos and stills that reach us, whether taken by rebels, soldiers or civilians or even broadcast by the regime itself. We choose the ones we find shocking and expressive, but eschew the ones whose horror we are unable to bear.
And yet we find ourselves unable to resist this daily flogging of the soul. We have become like addicts who, while a small dose used to satisfy their craving, now cannot get their fix no matter how much they increase the dosage of their chosen poison. Our situation is just the same, as we find ourselves unmoved by everything going on around us.
We know that the picture from Yarmouk shows the consequences of the government siege and the slow death it is inflicting on Palestinian refugees as well as its own people. That video of the wailing girl is the pinnacle of the sadness thrust upon the children of Syria, their safety and their dreams.
And then there is the third image with all its contempt for the enemy, even in death. Yet nothing has changed now that we have seen these scenes and know their story. Everything is exactly as it was three years ago.
Three years of death and destruction
The Syrians are approaching the third anniversary of their revolution, which has become a nightmare with levels of violence nobody predicted. Everyone has succeeded in making the death of Syrians easy, cheap and almost meaningless. On this third anniversary, there is monotony towards all the pain in Syria. This is perhaps due to people’s grim memories of the conflict so far—but there are no lessons to be learned from looking back.
Nothing has changed now that we have seen these scenes and know their story. Everything is exactly as it was three years ago.
Perhaps at such a time we ought to employ the cool logic shown by the documentation research centers that strive to keep people wondering how many of the images we see in social media from Syria are authentic and how many are misleading.
It is not unreasonable to mention the harm inflicted on the Syrian opposition movement by images that have been fabricated or show atrocities that have been provided by people assumed to be members of the opposition. After three years and millions of images, we have to return to the core of the crisis—how could the world leave the Syrians to die this way?
In three years the government has turned the country into a wasteland. There is now a government that is little more than a group that exists only to kill with heavy weapons, planes and poisonous gas, an opposition with no clear structure and no future, and vicious gangs that grow more insane and bloodthirsty by the day.
The prolific photographic record of all the death and grief is all that thrives, but both sides have become unable to use these images effectively. We don’t know exactly how many lives the crisis has claimed or how high the death toll will rise in the future. Indeed we are still asking the same question as three years ago: who is responsible?
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 3, 2014.
**Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

Turkey's Muted Reaction to the Crimean Crisis
By: Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey/Washinton Institute
March 4, 2014
Issues such as energy dependence, deep-rooted fears of the Russian military, and Black Sea navigation policy all offer clues to Prime Minister Erdogan's vacillating response to Russian activities in Crimea.
Russian troop deployment in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula is likely to trigger a reaction from Turkey. Crimea lies only 173 miles from the Anatolian coastline, across the Black Sea. It is home to a community of Turkic Tatars, who are ethnic and linguistic kin of Anatolian Turks and oppose potential Russian annexation of the peninsula. Turkey has established close ties with Ukraine, a useful buffer with the bear to the north, since that country's independence and will take issue with violation of Kiev's sovereignty.
At the same time, Turkey's dependence on Russia for around half of its natural gas imports and historic Turkish fears of the Russians will temper Ankara's reaction to Moscow's takeover of Crimea. In case of NATO action in the Black Sea, for instance, Turkey would balance its NATO affiliation with its treaty obligations, rooted in the 1936 Montreux Convention, which limits the access of nonlittoral powers into the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits, including the Bosporus. Ankara could adopt a position in the Crimean conflict similar to its stance in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, another of Ankara's Black Sea neighbors, with Turkey playing a balancing game between NATO and Russia. In no case will Turkey ignore the treaty, essential to the country's sense of Great Power status.
Covering ten thousand square miles and home to two million residents, the Crimean Peninsula is connected to the mainland through a narrow, swampy isthmus. It is, however, effectively an island, separated from mainland Ukraine and Russia by the Sea of Azov, a Black Sea gulf nearly as large as the peninsula itself.
Crimea's peculiar geography has allowed it to maintain an identity distinct from the Eurasian mainland to its north for much of its history. In the medieval period, Genoa maintained colonies in Crimea. And in the premodern period, Crimea's population was almost entirely ethnically Turkic and Tatar speaking, making Crimea a khanate in commonwealth with the Ottoman Empire.
Nevertheless, the Russian Empire gradually established control over the territories of the Crimean khanate as it expanded into the Black Sea basin. In 1774, the Ottomans relinquished control of the Crimean khanate, which then became autonomous but was soon absorbed into the Russian Empire. Thereafter, Russia saw Crimea as a vital outlet to the warm seas, establishing its Black Sea fleet in the Crimean deepwater port of Sevastopol in 1783.
During the ensuing centuries, the czars settled many Russians in the peninsula to solidify their rule. Yet even as religious and political persecution of the Tatars led to their mass migration, Crimea's population was still 39 percent Tatar at the onset of World War II. After the war, Joseph Stalin furthered Crimea's Russification by deporting the Tatar population en masse to the Soviet interior, together with other targeted groups, alleging that they had collaborated with Nazi Germany.
In 1954, Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a "gift" to Ukraine. Even then, given Crimea's strategic importance in Moscow's eyes, the Tatars were not allowed to return to their homes, although other nationalities deported by Stalin were eventually repatriated to their homelands. In another sign of Crimea's strategic importance to Moscow, Russia kept its military presence in Crimea. As recently as 2010, Russia and Ukraine signed a treaty leasing the Crimean port of Sevastopol to Moscow for use by the Russian navy until 2042.
Since the collapse of communism, many Tatars have returned to Crimea. As of the most recent official Ukrainian census, in 2001, the Tatars constitute more than 11 percent of Crimea's population. According to the same census, ethnic Russians and Ukrainians constitute 59 and 24 percent of Crimea's population, respectively.
The Tatars vehemently oppose the return of Russian rule to Crimea. Following the ouster of Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, many Tatars took part in anti-Russia rallies in Crimea, otherwise a bastion of pro-Russia sentiment. On February 26, two Tatars were killed and thirty-five injured in these rallies.
Turkey's large Crimean Tatar diaspora, numbering in the millions, is concentrated in certain provinces, including Eskisehir, Ankara, and Konya, as well as elsewhere in central Turkey. No doubt, the killing of Tatars in Crimea will rile Turkey's Tatars, resulting in pressure on the Ankara government to oppose Russian control of Crimea. At the same time, while many of Turkey's Tatars have a secular outlook in politics and tend to support the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), the Ukraine issue could be a complicating factor for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as the country prepares for the March 30 nationwide polls for local government.
Turkey imports around 55 percent of its natural gas needs and 12 percent of its oil from Russia, and it curiously turned to Russia for its first nuclear plant as well. Dependence on these resources has shaped Ankara's foreign policy toward Moscow, tempering Turkish frustration with Russian policy. For instance, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known for his mercurial style in foreign policy, often criticizing foreign heads of government in public. That tendency notwithstanding, Erdogan treads carefully around Russian president Vladimir Putin. A case in point is Turkish policy in Syria. Even though Russia has blocked international action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, effectively undermining Ankara's policy of helping Assad's opponents, Erdogan has shied away from picking a fight with Putin, knowing that his country's economic growth and his political fortunes depend on his ability to maintain a steady supply of Russian gas and oil. Finally, Turkey does considerable nonenergy business with Russia, ranging from massive Russian tourist flows to Turkish investment, exports, and construction and other contract deals involving Russia.
Beyond the energy issue, Ankara suffers from a deep-rooted historic reluctance to confront the Russians. Between 1568, when the Ottomans and Russians first clashed, and the end of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Turks and Russians fought at least seventeen wars. In each encounter, Russia was the instigator and the victor. Having suffered at the hands of the Russians for centuries, the Turks have a deeply ingrained fear of the Russians. This is the reason Turkey opted for NATO membership and U.S. protection when Stalin demanded territory from Turkey and a base on the Bosporus in 1945. Fear of the Russians made Turkey one of the most committed Cold War allies to the United States. The same fear will now make Turkey reluctant to confront Moscow in Crimea.
A third factor that will dampen Turkish policy against Moscow in Crimea is Ankara's static view of Black Sea navigation, which is embedded in the Montreux Convention of 1936. As already noted, this treaty limits the navigational rights of nonlittoral states' navies on the sea. Unlike the post-World War I treaties, which limited Turkey's control over the Turkish Straits, the 1936 treaty benefited Turkey, allowing it to militarize the straits and manage traffic coming in and out. The weight limitation for nonlittoral states to sail in the Black Sea can be as low as 15,000 tons, limiting a naval presence to two or three surface combatants. If the United States or NATO were to attempt to patrol actively and frequently in the Black Sea to deter Russian policies, Ankara's vigorous application of the Montreux Convention would have an impact on operational flexibility.
In the 2008 Georgia crisis, all these factors came to bear. Ankara recognized that part of Russia's motivation for its invasion was to limit competition from Azeri and other Caspian Sea states' gas and oil shipments to Turkey and on to the outside world via Georgia. But concern about Russia's retaliatory capabilities, particularly with gas sales, and what Turkey saw as the Georgian president's reckless behavior tempered Turkish reactions. With some hesitation, Turkey facilitated U.S. naval and air movements into the Black Sea and Caucasus region, but it made clear it wanted full coordination in advance and did not want to be dragged into a confrontation with Moscow.
Putin's gambit in Ukraine will hit a cultural-historical nerve focused on Crimea. But if he moves to neutralize or dominate all of Ukraine, then Turkey will be in an uncomfortable position. Ukraine has served as a buffer between Russia and Turkey -- apart from minor Russian holdings on the Black Sea from Rostov to Sochi -- since 1991. If Ukraine cannot maintain full independence, Turkey will be faced to its north with a Russia looking more and more like its czarist predecessor, with a record of successful Black Sea aggression, first against Georgia, then against Ukraine. All this comes at a time when the situation to Turkey's south is extremely unstable. Normally, these factors would suggest closer Turkish consultations with, and reliance on, the United States. But with Prime Minister Erdogan, times are not normal. His view of democracy has a troubling resemblance to that of Putin, with whom Erdogan has a good relationship. Furthermore, and most dangerously, both share a sense of inferiority vis-a-vis a "West" that supposedly ignores their unique past glories and perceived global potential. In sum, while the United States should consult closely with Turkey, as an ally and as the "corridor" for power projection into the Black Sea, Washington must be aware of how erratic Erdogan is likely to be concerning Russia for ideological, historical, strategic, and energy reasons.
**Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. He is author of the recently released book The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century's First Muslim Power. James F. Jeffrey is the Institute's Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Turkey.


UN reports: Chemical weapons used in Syria are from army stockpile

Human rights investigators also place blame on international community for failing to stop war crimes in Syria.
Chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military, United Nations human rights investigators said on Wednesday in a report that went beyond previous findings.
The team of independent experts, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, said that so far they had confirmed the deadly nerve agent sarin was used in three incidents: the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta on August 21, in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in March 2013 and in Saraqeb near the northern town of Idlib last April. The first two attacks bore "the same unique hallmarks," according to the team of some two dozen investigators who include a military advisor. "The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents," the UN investigators said in the report.
"Concerning the incident in Khan al-Assal on 19 March, the chemical agents used in that attack bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in al-Ghouta," it said.
Pinheiro said his team was investigating up to 20 incidents where chemical weapons were used.
Chief United Nations investigator Ake Sellstrom, who led a team of inspectors to Syria, reported in December that chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven attacks they had examined, but did not assign blame.
Sellstrom, without categorically saying which side was to blame, then said in January that it was "difficult to see" how the opposition could have weaponized the toxins used.
The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, banned under international law, and both have denied it.
President Bashar Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons following global outrage over the sarin gas attack at Ghouta in August, the world's deadlist chemical attack in 25 years. It drew a US threat of military strikes that was averted after Assad pledged to give up his chemical arms.
Specialized expertise
Pinheiro said on Thursday his investigation had relied on the findings of the Sellstrom mission, going further.
"But we had made other investigations in terms of interviews of experts, interviews with functionaries involved," Pinheiro told a news conference. His team interviewed a broad array of people including doctors, victims, journalists and defectors.
The task was compounded by the fact that Syria has never allowed the UN human rights investigators into the country.
"We conducted our own investigation including specialized expertise and of course we have been in close contact with the members of this Sellstrom mission," Pinheiro said.
It was not able to establish a verifiable casualty figure from the attacks, he said, adding: "What we can say is that at least several hundred people were affected."
Syria has shipped out about a third of its chemical weapons stockpile, including mustard gas, for destruction abroad, the global chemical arms watchdog said on Tuesday.
World powers failed to stop war crimes
The report also assigned responsibility to world powers for allowing the war crimes in Syria to persist.
The UN investigators found that all sides in Syria's civil war are using shelling and siege tactics to punish and starve civilians.
The independent investigators, presenting their latest report documenting atrocities in Syria, called again on the UN Security Council to refer grave violations of the rules of war to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. "The Security Council bears responsibility for not addressing accountability and allowing the warring parties to violate these rules with total impunity," Paulo Pinheiro, who leads the UN commission of inquiry, told a news conference.  "One of most stark trends we have documented is the use of siege warfare, the denial of humanitarian aid, food and basic necessities such as medical care and clean water have forced people to choose between surrender and starvation."
More than 140,000 have been killed in the conflict, which enters its fourth year next week, 2.5 million refugees have fled abroad and 6.5 million people are uprooted within Syria. Divided world powers have backed both sides in the conflict and a diplomatic deadlock has exacerbated the bloodshed. Fighters and their commanders may be held accountable, but also states which transfer weapons to Syria, the report said. Syrian government forces under President Assad have besieged towns including the Old City of Homs, shelling relentlessly and depriving them of food as part of a "starvation until submission" campaign, the report said. It said the Syrian air force had dropped barrel bombs on Aleppo with "shocking intensity," killing hundreds of civilians and injuring many more. "I remember most vividly speaking to a doctor who was treating survivors of barrel bomb attacks. Some victims including infants had lost limbs," said Pinheiro. Insurgents fighting to topple Assad, especially foreign Islamic fighters including the al-Qaeda affiliated ISIS, have stepped up attacks on civilians, taken hostages, executed prisoners and set off car bombs to spread terror, it said. The report, covering July 15-January 20, is the seventh by the United Nations since the inquiry was set up in September 2011, six months after the anti-Assad revolt began. The investigators have not been allowed into Syria, but their latest findings were based on 563 interviews conducted by Skype or by telephone with victims and witnesses still in the country or in person with refugees in surrounding countries.
Four lists of suspects
All sides have violated the rules of war embodied in the Geneva Conventions, according to the team of two dozen who include former UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
It has now drawn up four confidential lists of suspects. War crimes had been committed on both sides, including torture, massacres, rapes and recruitment of child soldiers.
Pinheiro, asked about Assad's responsibility, declined to be more specific about names on the lists of suspects. "We mentioned several times the responsibility of people in high echelons in the government."
"The reports, if they were not able to ensure accountability in the present, I think that they will be important material for the future. But also our data bank and list of perpetrators that we have established," he added.
Despite some tactical gains by Syrian government forces backed by more foreign combat forces of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi militia, the fighting has reached a stalemate, causing significant casualties and material losses, the report said. "The government relied extensively on the superior firepower of its air force and artillery, while non-state armed groups increasingly resorted to methods of asymmetric warfare, such as suicide bombs and use of improvised explosive devices." As part of a strategy aimed at weakening the insurgents and breaking the will of their popular base, government forces have besieged and bombarded civilian areas, it said.
"Partial sieges aimed at expelling armed groups turned into tight blockades that prevented the delivery of basic supplies, including food and medicine, as part of a 'starvation until submission' campaign."
Rebels throughout Syria have "inflicted severe physical or mental pain or suffering on civilian populations in areas under their control", including on prisoners, it said.
Referring to the northern Raqqa area under control of an al-Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the report said: "The acts committed by non-state armed groups ... in areas under their control against the civilian population constitute torture and inhuman treatment as a war crime and, in the context of (Raqqa), as a crime against humanity."
Rebels have encircled Nubl and Zahra, besieging 45,000 people in the two Shi'ite towns in Aleppo province, it said.
"The siege is imposed by groups affiliated to the Islamic Front, Jaish Al Mujahedeen, Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Syrian Revolutionary Front by checkpoints erected around the area and by cutting off their electrical and water supply lines."