March 13/14


Bible Quotation for today/T the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Matthew 12,38-45./Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none. Then it says, "I will return to my house from which I came." When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.’

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 13/14
Opinion: Sisi’s Realistic Discourse/By: Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat/March 13/14

A war of words in the Middle East/Octavia Nasr/Al Arabiya/March 13/14

The Gaza-bound weapons shipment is in political stormy water/Yossi Mekelberg/Al Arabiya/March 13/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 13/14
Lebanese Related News

Hezbollah security chief’ Wafiq Safa's, Sidon visit sparks attack fears
Lebanon PM could quit over policy statement: source

Lebanon's Cabinet crisis: Matter of urgency
Pentagon Official Expresses Fear over Extremist Plots against Lebanese Army
Report: Samir Kassab in Syria's Riqqa as Abductors Remain Anonymous
Finnish President, Suleiman Inspect UNIFIL: Army Will Receive All Types of Weapons

Berri, Jumblat Await March 14 Rally to Make Policy Statement Proposal
Berri Says March 8 Will Not Budge an Inch on Resistance, Calls for Agreement

Mashnouq: We Understand Saudi Arabia's Purpose to Label Some Groups as Terrorist
Lebanon at Bottom of Rankings of Women in Parliament

Tripoli militia leader will not leave the business of vegetables and guns

Tripoli mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar missing as tensions with Salafists on the rise

Miscellaneous Reports And News

IAF strikes dozens of Gaza targets after rocket attack

Liberman in response to rocket attack: Israel should take over Gaza

'The moment Iran goes nuclear, the Saudis will buy the bomb from Pakistan'

British PM David Cameron addresses Knesset speech
Russia launches paratroop exercise east of Ukraine. Moscow tycoons move assets from West to Far East
Iran: Russia Agrees to Build at Least 2 More Nuclear Plants

Ukraine Vows Not to Fight Russia over Crimea

State TV: Assad Visits Displaced Outside Capital

UN refugee chief warns of 'total disaster' in Syria
European Court Upholds EU Sanctions on Assad's Sister

Rouhani Arrives in Longtime Gulf Arab Ally Oman

Iran and Russia sign on to build more nuclear plants at Bushehr

Report: Saudi Arabia to close down Al Jazeera
Israeli-Palestinian talks shaping up over next prisoner release


IAF strikes dozens of Gaza targets after rocket attack

By YAAKOV LAPPIN/J.Post/LAST UPDATED: 03/12/2014/Israel responds to volley of at least 40 rockets fired by Islamic Jihad at communities in the South; air strike follows IDF shelling of 2 terror infrastructure targets in Strip; no casualties reported on Israeli side.The Israel Air Force has struck 29 targets in Gaza on Wednesday in response to a large-scale Islamic Jihad rocket attack on southern communities earlier in the evening.The IDF said at least 40 rockets had been fired toward Israeli communities near the borders with southern and northern Gaza in the largest attack since 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense. According to the army, eight rockets had fallen in urban, civilian areas. One rocket landed in Sderot, according to police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, although there were no immediate reports of casualties. Israeli media reported that up to 55 rockets had been fired into Israel in the deluge of projectiles. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, saying that over 90 rockets had been fired toward Israel, a spokesman for Al-Quds told Palestinian news agency Ma'an. "You haven't yet seen the extent of our capabilities," added the spokesman, who further threatened to fire extended range missiles. Southern residents have reported several rocket alerts going off consecutively.
The Iron Dome rocket defense system shot down three of the rockets, according to the IDF Spokesperson's Office. The IDF fired artillery rounds at two terror infrastructure targets in response. On Tuesday, the Israel Air Force struck an Islamic Jihad cell in southern Gaza, minutes after identifying it as being behind a mortar attack on an IDF unit on the Gaza-Israel border. According to military sources, the terrorists fired a mortar shell at soldiers who were conducting routine security measures near the frontier. The IDF released a video on Wednesday of the Islamic Jihad members firing toward army forces the day before.


Liberman in response to rocket attack: Israel should take over Gaza
By HERB KEINON, MICHAEL WILNER/J.Post/03/12/2014 18:18
Netanyahu vows Israel will continue to hit hard at those trying to attack; US condemns onslaught of rocket fire from Gaza.Netanyahu vows Israel will continue to hit hard at those trying to attack; US condemns onslaught of rocket fire from Gaza. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in reaction to the rocket barrage Wednesday evening that Israel should re-take the Gaza Strip. "We can not just let this pass," he said in a Channel 2 interview. "An attack like this, after operations like Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead, leave no alternative other than the full occupation of the Gaza Strip, cleaning it out, and only then looking for a solution with the Egyptians. I am talking about the full occupation of Gaza." Liberman said that thousands of missiles are hidden in Gaza, and the terrorist organizations are increasing their own rocket manufacturing capabilities. "There is a need to put an end to this," he said. "The citizens of the south cannot be allowed to be hostages in the hands of the terrorists." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, asked about Liberman's comments at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, did not endorse them, saying that he would not get into "operational details." Netanyahu said that the number of rockets fired from Gaza last year was the lowest it has been in a decade. "But we are not satisfied with that," he said. "We will continue to work to ensure the security of Israeli residents in the south and throughout the country."


'The moment Iran goes nuclear, the Saudis will buy the bomb from Pakistan'
By YAAKOV LAPPIN 03/12/2014/J.Post
Director of Political-Military Affairs for the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad, warns Iran could set off nuclear arms race in Arab world.
As soon as Iran gets a nuclear bomb, Egypt will develop its own nuclear weapon, and Saudi Arabia will purchase one from Pakistan, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, director of political-military affairs at the Defense Ministry, warned on Tuesday. Speaking at a conference held by the Institute for Policy and Strategy, at IDC Herzliya, Gilad said, "The Arabs will not tolerate the Persians having the bomb. From the moment the Iranians get the bomb, the Egyptians have the resources, capability and know-how to achieve nuclear capabilities, and the Saudis will run to buy the bomb from the Pakistanis with a 'member's discount.'"
Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons, and won't give up on this goal in talks with the powers, Gilad cautioned. The Islamic Republic will not forfeit "any essential component in its quest for nuclear capabilities. This is true even if it agrees to reduce uranium enrichment for tactical needs, and maintaining the stability of the regime there. I'm disturbed that they [the international community] are going for an interim agreement mechanism. After six months, there will be another six months, and then there will be cracks in the wall of sanctions," he added. Israel has exercised a great deal of deterrent power, Gilad stated.
"The sense among our rivals is that we can deal with every aggregate of strategic threats," he said. The good news in the region, Gilad said, is that in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had been beaten back by Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, meaning that a ring of Islamist powers has not formed around Israel. The Egyptians have managed to block "between 90 to 95 percent of [smuggling] tunnels to Gaza, and are fighting a determined war against al-Qaida in Sinai," Gilad said. "In Turkey, [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has been substantially weakened, and returned to his natural dimensions. The stability of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan is an optimistic point of light," Gilad observed. Turning his sights to Syria, Gilad said, "there is no military threat to the north. The Russians, the Iranians and Hezbollah allow the Assad regime to survive with artificial life-support. There is not a Syrian state, but there is a regime. And there's a difficult humanitarian problem. I'd like to officially declare Syria dead, but the date of the funeral is not yet known."

Lebanon's Cabinet Crisis: Matter of urgency
March 12, 2014/The Daily Star/The struggle to produce a policy statement by the members of Lebanon’s government is threatening to do away with all of the relief that resulted when Prime Minister Tammam Salam and a new Cabinet team were finally able to take up their duties. By allowing the dispute over the policy statement to drag on, certain politicians are behaving cavalierly with Lebanon’s short- and medium-term future.
They are acting as if the government won’t resign in a few short months because of an upcoming presidential election. They are acting as if Lebanon has all the time and resources in the world to deal with having a million Syrian refugees on its territory. They are acting as if the security threat is something that doesn’t require the presence of a fully functioning executive branch of government.
It’s very simple: the Salam government must handle several critically important issues, such as the economy and security. It must also ensure that the presidential election goes smoothly and, ideally, prepare a new parliamentary election law for polls scheduled later this year. And by failing to settle the policy statement impasse, politicians risk plunging the country into the unknown. When it was finally formed, the Salam government was an example of “less is more.” No one wants it to promise the Lebanese the world; it has only a short window of opportunity to act, and leave behind a positive legacy. And after the monthslong struggle over the formation of the Cabinet, every day – or even every hour – lost to needless bickering over the policy statement is valuable.

Lebanon PM could quit over policy statement: source
March 12, 2014 /The Daily Star/
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam could step down in the next few days if the committee drafting the government’s ministerial statement fails to complete its mission on time, a source close to Salam said Wednesday.
“If the dispute over the resistance clause is not resolved in the next two days, Salam might submit his resignation,” the source told The Daily Star. Salam called a Cabinet meeting at Baabda Palace Thursday to make an “appropriate decision” on the row over the resistance that is threatening to break up the Cabinet. “Thursday’s Cabinet session on the policy statement is crucial because it will subsequently decide its fate if no agreement is reached over the resistance issue,” a political source told The Daily Star Tuesday. The March 8 and March 14 coalition appear to have reached a deadlock over how to address the thorny issue of the resistance in the Cabinet’s policy statement. Salam’s decision to convene the Cabinet came shortly after the committee announced its failure Tuesday to reach consensus on the contentious clause.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri warned that Salam’s Cabinet runs the risk of losing its chance in the next few days if the March 14 coalition fails to make concessions over the resistance clause in the ministerial statement.
“The Cabinet has until midnight Monday [March 17] to finalize its policy statement. We should exert all efforts to finalize the statement within this timeframe,” Berri told As-Safir newspaper in remarks published Wednesday.
“If this deadline passes without the policy statement having been finalized, I will inform the president Tuesday morning that as far as I am concerned the Cabinet has become a resigned one,” he added.

Pentagon Official Expresses Fear over Extremist Plots against Lebanese Army
Naharnet /A U.S. defense official has warned that extremist groups could carry out terrorist attacks against the Lebanese army and state institutions, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Wednesday. The Pentagon official, who was not named, expressed fears that the terrorist networks would attack the military and some government buildings after making several threats in that regard. The official also expressed his “extreme concern” over the deterioration in the situation in Lebanon as the fighting in neighboring Syria between regime troops and rebels intensifies. The battles between the army, which is backed by Hizbullah, and the mainly Sunni rebels come as President Michel Suleiman's six-year term expires in May, posing a threat to the presidential elections, al-Joumhouria said. The al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in Lebanon stated on Sunday that the Lebanese army “has become a pawn in the hands of the Shiite project” in Lebanon. It accused Shiite members of the army of taking part in the fighting in Syria, “defying any side to hold those who ordered them to go there accountable for their actions.”

Panel Refers Policy Statement to Cabinet after Failing to Reach Agreement

Naharnet /The panel drafting a government policy statement failed on Tuesday to agree on a draft that meets the demands of the rival March 8 and 14 camps. It therefore decided to refer the issue to the cabinet, which will convene on Thursday to take the appropriate stance on the matter, said the premiership. Labor Minister Sejaan Qazzi told reporters after the panel's tenth meeting: “Hizbullah is insisting that the resistance be granted freedom of mobility and action” away from the authority of the state. The March 14 camp has been insisting that the policy statement highlight the importance the state's authority. “Given this discrepancy in positions between the March 8 and 14 camps, the panel decided to refer what it has achieved so far in the policy statement to cabinet,” added Qazzi. The statement can then be tackled by the cabinet and President Michel Suleiman, he explained.
He remarked however that the panel would convene again immediately if positive developments that may yield an agreement over the statement emerge.
“Each camp made its own proposals over the statement, but the discussions made it clear that an agreement over one draft was not possible at the moment,” said the minister.
“The panel has not shied away from its duties by referring the statement to the cabinet,” he stressed. “We will simply inform cabinet that we have not reached an agreement on a final draft,” he stated. Qazzi added: “It is clear that one camp is rejecting any reference to the state in the policy statement. This contradicts with the position of the March 14 alliance.”
“Neither the March 8 or 14 camps want their respective drafts to be adopted, but the least that should be done is refer to the state in the policy statement,” he added.
The March 14 coalition continued to hold onto its condition for the adoption of a clause under which the resistance is put under the authority of the state. Several alliance officials have stressed “the right of Lebanon as a state and not the right of the Lebanese to resist Israel.” Later on Tuesday, LBCI television said Prime Minister Tammam Salam "hinted that he might take a decisive stance before Monday." Quoting unnamed sources, the TV network said the premier intends to "submit his resignation." According to information obtained by OTV, Salam "will immediately resign in case of failure to agree on a policy statement on Monday."
OTV said that a formula devised by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialiat party leader MP Walid Jumblat was not discussed during the panel's session.
The formula includes "'the right of Lebanon and the Lebanese to resistance', the spirit of the previous sessions' discussions and (Foreign Minister Jebran) Bassil's formula," according to OTV. A March 8 ministerial source told OTV that a formula suggested by Telecom Minister Butros Harb was "aimed at besieging the resistance, especially that the state is not capable through its means to defend Lebanon."
"At the end of the panel statement meeting, a March 8 minister asked whether the statement would be put to a vote (in cabinet) and Salam said no," OTV added.
MTV said the March 14 members of the ministerial panel were "in contact with their leaderships" during the session, adding that "they voiced the unified stance of these leaders, who reject the resistance's actions outside state authority." MTV said Harb suggested two formulas during the meeting. The first states that "the government holds onto the right of its army and all people to resist occupation and confront attacks" and the second mentions "the right of the state, supported by the Lebanese, to resist occupation." AMAL Movement's representative Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil described the first formula as "muddled" while the second formula was rejected by the March 8 forces, MTV added.

Mashnouq: We Understand Saudi Arabia's Purpose to Label Some Groups as Terrorist

Naharnet/Interior Miniser Nouhad al-Mashnouq stated on Tuesday that Lebanon has taken a “clear position” on all forms of extremist terrorism. He added in statement: “We understand Saudi Arabia's recent designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah in the kingdom, and al-Nusra Front as terrorist.”The minister is currently in Morocco to take part in the 31st conference for Arab interior ministers. “Lebanon has long suffered from terrorism and understands Saudi Arabia's purpose for designating the groups as terrorist,” remarked Mashnouq. “There can be no leniency in confronting terrorism that is a threat to the future of all Arab countries,” he stressed.
Granting political freedom for peaceful organizations to function under the authority of the state will allow a country to confront division, he explained. Saudi Arabia on Friday listed as terrorist groups the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaida's official Syrian affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Shiite Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen, and "Hezbollah inside the kingdom", apparently referring to a little-known Saudi Shiite group. The decision to brand the Brotherhood a terrorist group came a day after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, which backs Brotherhood-linked groups across the region.

Report: Samir Kassab in Syria's Riqqa as Abductors Remain Anonymous

Naharnet/Lebanese Sky News Arabia cameraman Samir Kassab, who has gone missing in Syria in October last year, is reported to be held captive in the northern province of al-Riqqa, media reports said on Wednesday. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper, Kassab is held in Syria's al-Riqqa along with the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia crew, who were abducted with the Lebanese cameraman, and several other journalists and French doctors. The newspaper said that the kidnapped men were transferred to al-Riqqa from Aleppo after the area witnessed fierce clashes. The Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia said in October it had lost contact with its crew on assignment in the north Syria province of Aleppo, where abductions have been on the rise. “Kassab and the crew are in good health and alive and were transferred to al-Riqqa as it is a more secure area,” a source told the newspaper. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and the abductors haven't announced any specific demands since the abduction of Kassab and the crew.
However, an informed source told al-Joumhouria that “they are a hefty catch as the crew includes Europeans that might be used for blackmail.” The source also noted that “they could be used as human shields as neither the opposition nor the regime troops would dare to bombard the area of their captivity.” Contacts were lost with Kassab, his Mauritanian colleague Ishak Moctar and their Syrian driver, who wasn't named at his family's request, as they arrived in the Syrian region of Aleppo in October 2013 to conduct a field report on the humanitarian aspect of the Syrians' plight during Eid al-Adha. On Monday, Syrian militants released a group of Greek Orthodox nuns in exchange for dozens of women held in government prisons — a rare deal between Damascus and al-Qaida-linked rebels that was mediated by Qatari and Lebanese officials.

Berri, Jumblat Await March 14 Rally to Make Policy Statement Proposal

Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblat have decided to wait for a rally organized by the March 14 alliance on Friday to make their proposal to resolve the policy statement deadlock, media reports said. Prime Minister Tammam Salam called for a cabinet meeting on Thursday to take an “appropriate decision” on the dispute between March 14 and the Hizbullah-led March 8 camp over the resistance clause after a seven-member committee failed in its tenth meeting to resolve the row. The government is not likely to resort to voting during the session that will be chaired by President Michel Suleiman at the Baabda Palace despite the looming deadline for the cabinet to approve the political blueprint and refer it to parliament for a vote of confidence. Berri has warned that when the deadline expires next Monday, Suleiman will have to call for binding parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister. There were intense contacts between him and Jumblat on Tuesday to discuss the details of their proposal, but local dailies said that both officials decided to await the March 14 rally and hear the speeches of the alliance's officials. The newspapers expected them to adopt a high rhetoric against March 8, which is holding onto a statement made by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil at the meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers held in Cairo on Sunday. The closing statement of the meeting called for "the right of Lebanon and the Lebanese to liberate and recover the Shebaa Farms, the Kfarshouba Hills and the Lebanese part of the Ghajar village, and to resist any Israeli aggression or occupation through the legitimate means." Bassil proposed it after coordinating with President Michel Suleiman and Salam. But March 14 wants the adoption of a clause under which the resistance is put under the authority of the state. Several alliance officials have stressed “the right of Lebanon as a state and not the right of the Lebanese to resist Israel.”
Al-Liwaa newspaper said the rally, which will be held on the ninth anniversary of the Cedar Revolution, will include speeches by Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Phalange leader Amin Gemayel, al-Mustaqbal movement's head ex-PM Saad Hariri or al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc chief MP Fouad Saniora, and March 14 general-secretariat coordinator Fares Soaid. Geagea will not attend the rally. He will address the March 14 supporters via video link, al-Liwaa said. Source/Agence France Presse

Berri Says March 8 Will Not Budge an Inch on Resistance, Calls for Agreement

Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri expressed resentment on Wednesday over the failure of the ministerial panel drafting a government policy statement to reach agreement over controversial issues, adding that March 8 coalition is holding onto the resistance clause. “The remaining timeframe for the panel to draft the policy statement ends next week,” Berri warned in comments published in As Safir newspaper, calling on all sides to exert efforts to find common grounds. Berri said that if the constitutional timeframe for drafting Prime Minister Tammam Salam's cabinet's policy statement ends then he will inform “President Michel Suleiman on Tuesday morning that the cabinet is considered resigned and binding consultation must be carried out to name a new Premier.” The constitutional deadline for the cabinet to draft it's policy statement to refer it to the parliament for confidence vote ends on March 17 as PM Salam is warning that the row over the resistance article is threatening to topple the cabinet. The Speaker, who is Hizbullah's ally, described the debate at the panel between the political arch foes over the resistance article as a “farce.” He stressed that the March 8 alliance will not compromise concerning the resistance. Asked about calls for the state to control the resistance, Berri wondered if those who suggested such a proposal understand the danger of such calls. “Israel would then have an excuse to attack the state and its headquarters... If such a proposal happened then the state and the resistance would vanish,” head of the AMAL movement pointed out. Berri noted that if “Salam's cabinet was a national interest government then the rival parties shouldn't squander the resistance.” On Tuesday, the ministerial committee's 10th session failed to resolve the ongoing dispute over the resistance clause. The committee referred the issue to the cabinet, which will convene on Thursday to take the appropriate stance on the matter, said the premiership.

Finnish President, Suleiman Inspect UNIFIL: Army Will Receive All Types of Weapons
Naharnet /President Michel Suleiman stressed on Wednesday that the capabilities of the Lebanese army should be fortified, pointing out that the military can receive any type of weapons it needs. “There are no banned arms,” Suleiman said after a short visit to the Headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the southern town of Naqoura accompanied by his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.
Suleiman called for the adoption of a defense strategy that enables the country to benefit from the resistance and neutralize it from all the political rows locally.
Lebanese political leaders were discussing the defense strategy during a national dialogue session ahead of its suspension in September 2012. President Michel Suleiman revealed in late December that Saudi Arabia has decided to donate $3 billion with the aim of purchasing French weapons for the Lebanese army as soon as possible. France had reportedly proposed selling Lebanon used equipment despite a pledge by French army chief-of-staff Edouard Guillaud during talks with Army Chief General Jean Qahwaji in Saudi Arabia to provide the army with all its needs. Italy is set to host in March a conference that aims at fortifying the capabilities of Lebanese Armed Forces and easing the Syrian refugees crisis. Suleiman also called for enabling the army to fully carry out its responsibilities with the support of the resistance “whenever needed.” “The political cover for the army is fully granted without any reservations,” Suleiman said. Concerning the ongoing conflict in the neighboring country Syria, the president pointed out that the war had a tremendous impact on Lebanon, topped by the huge influx of Syrian refugees. Lebanon, with a population of four million, is hosting around 900,000 registered Syrian refugees, with estimates of more than a million in the country, including those not yet registered with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. On the presidential elections, Suleiman stressed that “it will happen no matter what.” Suleiman’s tenure ends in May 2014, but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. Earlier, media reports said that the Finnish President arrived in Lebanon for talks with senior officials to discuss the bilateral cooperation and regional developments.
Soon after his arrival, Niinisto headed to Tyre to inspect the Finnish contingent operating within the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the state-run National News Agency reported.
The Finnish President arrived at the UNIFIL Headquarters in the southern town of Naqoura accompanied by President Michel Suleiman aboard a helicopter. Niinisto is expected to tackle the two countries bilateral ties and the situation in the region and in Lebanon amid the huge influx of Syrian refugees. The Finnish President will also discuss the Syrian conflict and its impact on Lebanon, especially concerning the alarming influx of Syrian refugees into its territories.

Lebanon at Bottom of Rankings of Women in Parliament

Naharnet/Lebanon has come at the bottom of a ranking of women in the lower house or single house of parliament in The Women in Politics Map 2014, launched by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and U.N. Women.
The research, which was released on Tuesday, gave Lebanon a 3.1 percent of female representation, putting it 139th in the rankings. There are only four women in the 128-member parliament in Lebanon. At the bottom of the rankings are Micronesia, Palau, Qatar and Vanuatu without a single woman parliamentarian and 13 countries, with less than 5 percent female representation — Yemen, Oman, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Comoros, Lebanon, Iran, Belize, Tonga, Samoa, Haiti and Kuwait. The research, showed the number of women parliamentarians at a record 21.8 percent globally, following a 1.5 percent increase in the past year.
IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson said 10 years ago he was predicting that even his children would never see gender parity in parliaments because progress was so slow. But if the 1.5 percent rate can be sustained "we would reach gender equality, gender parity, in parliaments globally less than 20 years from now," he said. In the ranking of women in the lower house or single house of parliament, Rwanda tops the list with 63.8 percent female representation followed by Andorra with 50 percent and nine countries with 40 percent or higher — Cuba, Sweden, South Africa, Seychelles, Senegal, Finland, Ecuador, Belgium and Nicaragua.

Tripoli mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar missing as tensions with Salafists on the rise
March 12, 2014 /By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Suddenly, and without warning, the mufti of Tripoli and north Lebanon has disappeared. Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, a prominent moderate sheikh, has not been seen since mid-February, leaving an extensive agenda filled with appointments at his house, the place he had once resolved to take refuge in upon his return from trips abroad as a result of ongoing death threats.
Unlike during previous instances, however, this time there was no fuss about the mufti’s departure, with those closest to him completely silent about his travels and the possibility of his return, as well as the reasons that drove him to leave. Yet a source close to Shaar told The Daily Star the mufti’s return was imminent and that his travels had merely been extended. But while the source denied knowledge of any imminent threat to Shaar’s life, the mufti’s nearly monthlong absence strongly hints at him being in danger. However, this is not a recent development, but is instead heavily tied to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Shaar said in 2012 that members of the Internal Security Forces had told him to leave the country because his life was at risk. His name has appeared more than once on a list of targets of assassinations, something that has in the past prompted him to leave the country for months at a time. And given the deteriorating security situation in Tripoli, which has led to a rise in the number of assassinations and clashes in broad daylight, the city has become increasingly risky for Shaar. For example, pro-Hezbollah Sunni Sheikh Saadeddine Ghiyyeh was murdered last November, while an official with the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party, Abdel-Rahman Diab, was killed last month. Diab was the father of Youssef Diab, one of those detained over suspected involvement in last August’s deadly twin mosque bombings in Tripoli.
Retired Army intelligence officer Mohammad Mistou, who used to interrogate Islamists for the military, was shot to death just a week ago as he was leaving a mosque in Tripoli’s Souk al-Atarin. All of these murders, which are linked to the rise of hard-line Sunni groups, suggest that the mufti’s disappearance comes as a result of a very serious threat. The background for all of this is the growing animosity toward Shaar from more extreme Islamist groups. More than one Islamist activist has said that the large number of Lebanese fighters inside Syria, particularly in Qalaat al-Hosn in the Homs region, and those who sent them feel orphaned politically, believing that all sides have abandoned them following a campaign of regional and international condemnation of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has taken a tough stance on fundamentalist groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria and the Nusra Front, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said such radical groups are linked to the Syrian regime. Islamist circles have suggested that it is possible that Shaar’s sudden, unexplained absence has to do with this. This growing aversion toward extremist Islamist groups, however, has simply led to more radicalization, as the groups feel they are alone in fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
This sense of betrayal has also bred an intense hatred of moderate Islamic figures, the head of which is Shaar. The fact that he is mufti of Tripoli, which is considered a city that embraces Islamists and stands with the Syrian revolution, further irks some of these extremists. Many worrying signs can be brought up regarding the mufti’s relationship with Islamist groups that support the Syrian opposition from within Lebanon. The most notable of these is that a large number of demonstrators attending a protest in Tripoli in November last year called out a number of slogans specifically citing him, including: “There is no God but God, and the mufti is the enemy of God.”
The comments got a lot of attention from Tripoli officials, who said it constituted a threat to high-ranking religious figures. But a Salafist in Tripoli told The Daily Star that the mufti was not necessarily being threatened by fundamentalist groups. “We all know that during security and military tensions, a third party enters and performs an assassination that serves its interests, therefore it is possible there is a plot to assassinate the mufti and there is a serious danger to his life, but not necessarily from extremist Islamist groups from Al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” the source said. “Even given the continuous resentment of the fundamentalists, the threats on Shaar’s life are serious but they definitely do not emanate from Salafist circles.”When asked about the same issue, another Salafist sheikh chose to quote an old Lebanese saying that roughly translates to: “When nations change, watch out for yourself,” pointing out that the Syrian crisis had precipitated several regional and international changes, which in turn increases the danger of extremism. The Salafist sheikh said that these complex geopolitical circumstances could lead to several assassinations of high-level figures, not just the mufti. Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, refuses to give an answer over the mufti’s disappearance, and it is true that the sheikhs and employees have grown used to his regular travel. Obtaining information as to why the mufti has disappeared is a complex mission, but a source close to Dar al-Fatwa said last week: “The mufti is in Saudi Arabia and he has answered his cellphone without telling us the reasons for his leaving or the date of his return.”

Hezbollah security chief’ Wafiq Safa's, Sidon visit sparks attack fears

March 12, 2014/By Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star
SIDON, Lebanon: A visit by a senior Hezbollah official has stoked fears that the party is worried about possible terror attacks in the south, political sources said Tuesday.
Such fears are linked to the political standoff engulfing the newly formed Cabinet and deteriorating relations between states in the region, they added. Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s top security official, held several meetings with politicians and security officials in Sidon in the last couple of days, prompting questions about the impetus behind a visit by such a senior member of the party. Sources in Sidon said that Safa’s visit comes at a “very sensitive moment” in order to prevent what they described as “major dangers” facing the city. Political sources said Hezbollah was worried about attacks in south Lebanon, a concern that has risen with the increase in hostility between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and disagreements between the March 8 and 14 political blocs over the Cabinet’s policy statement. Hezbollah accuses Saudi Arabia of backing militants in Lebanon. The Cabinet has been deadlocked over whether to acknowledge the party’s right to resist Israel’s occupation in its policy statement, which declares the government’s priorities during its tenure.
Both developments risk enflaming the situation in Lebanon, which is already reeling from the impact of the civil war in Syria. The sources said Hezbollah disclosed intelligence related to possible security threats to officials in Sidon. Safa met with Samir Shehadeh, a senior Internal Security Forces officer in charge of security in the south who survived an assassination attempt years ago. Hezbollah’s relationship with the ISF has long been strained as the organization’s leaders have in recent years been close to the Future Movement. The sources said engagement between the party and the ISF had increased in recent days due to the police force’s decision to go after networks of “vandals” working for Israel. Hezbollah routinely accuses militant groups of inadvertently aiding Israel. The visit also aimed at resolving a dispute between the ISF and elements of the Resistance Brigades, a quasi-militia with links to Hezbollah, which threatened to boil over into widespread clashes in Sidon where the group is based. Members of the group have in the past clashed with forces loyal to the radical preacher Ahmad Assir, whose supporters later fought pitched battles with the Lebanese Army. The sources said that Safa also delivered information about “elements” in Sidon that aimed to strike at the city’s stability by targeting the Army and officials here. Hezbollah believes that Israel may seek to exploit these elements to sow problems in the south. The intelligence was delivered to Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour, the chief of military intelligence in the south.
Safa also met with Osama Saad, the secretary-general of the Popular Nasserite Organization in Sidon, to warn him that Lebanon, and Sidon in particular, is likely to face renewed security threats and bombings.
Lebanon has endured a spate of bombings and suicide attacks in recent months linked to the crisis in Syria. The attacks have mostly targeted areas traditionally associated with Hezbollah.
Army checkpoints in Sidon have also been attacked. Sources told The Daily Star that Safa stressed the need for unity among the Lebanese to combat future terrorist attacks and said that terrorist organizations may seek refuge in the large Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh. Accusations have long been leveled that the camp is a haven for extremists, but Palestinian officials have repeatedly said that the security of the refugee camps is under control and that most militants emerge outside them.

Tripoli militia leader will not leave the business of vegetables and guns

March 12, 2014 /By Wadih El Hayek/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Upon his return from what he dubbed a “well-deserved” vacation in Turkey last October, Tripoli’s notorious militiaman Saad al-Masri received a hero’s welcome in the northern city.
“I will never leave the business of vegetables or guns,” Masri told supporters, denying rumors he had fled the country after amassing a fortune. Oddly, his comments are an accurate reflection of the reality the man has been living since the death of his brother Khodor, also a militia leader, in one of the many rounds of fighting between Tripoli’s rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. The predominantly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh lies in the slums on the outskirts of Lebanon’s second biggest city and is notorious for two things: being separated from the Alawite enclave of Jabal Mohsen by (the aptly named) Syria Street, and Saad al-Masri.
Commanding with the mentality of a mafia don, Masri controls the fighters of the so-called vegetable market front, instilling fear and respect among residents and traders. Syria Street and the nearby vegetable market are the most infamous of the neighborhoods’ front lines with Jabal Mohsen, but there are many others just as brutal and bloody. Masri, however, has bestowed a more romantic flavor on the scene, leading some in Bab al-Tabbaneh to view him as a modern-day Robin Hood, although others disagree.
A tour through the narrow, bazaarlike streets of Bab al-Tabbaneh’s vegetable market reveals a prosperous and lucrative business district. Lucrative to those who control it and the man who controls them: Masri. Ahmad, a skinny, bearded shop owner in the market, told The Daily Star that Masri made the rules. “He is the undisputed monarch,” the trader said with some hesitation. “Not even a bouquet of parsley can be sold at the market unless [it has been cleared] by Saad al-Masri”
It is believed that Masri has developed a form of monopoly on all incoming goods that earns him a few thousand dollars a day.
Masri is the son of a Sunni father and an Alawite mother and has relatives who serve in the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Sheikh Bilal al-Masri, a pro-Syrian-rebels Salafist from Bab al-Tabbaneh. Sheikh Masri, not related, said that Saad al-Masri inherited his status as a fighter and a businessman from his late brother Khodor.
Khodor al-Masri emerged as a fierce fighter during clashes with Jabal Mohsen in 2008 and took part in several rounds of fighting until he was killed by Lebanese Army fire in 2012.
The sheikh described Khodor al-Masri as charismatic and a “God-fearing man,” saying he was famous for having captured the hearts and souls of young Tripoli fighters and leading by example. “Khodor, rest his soul, was killed by a Lebanese Army sniper because he wanted to leave [former Prime Minister Najib] Mikati who was financing him and his group,” the sheikh said. Khodor prohibited any sort of transgression in the vegetable market and had many “honorable” stands in his days, the sheikh said.
“Saad is merely an heir to Khodor and is working on expanding his brother’s legacy and fortune,” the sheikh added. “The money he makes from the vegetable market, added to the financial and political support he gets from Mikati, has made him a very rich man.”When contacted by The Daily Star, sources close to the former prime minister said the sheikh’s allegations were part of an ongoing slander campaign against Mikati. “Everyone knows that premier Mikati does not finance the children of Tripoli with weapons but rather with education,” one source said. Although the link has never been proven, it is well known that Tripoli’s major militia leaders, who in recent years have stolen the limelight from the long-neglected city’s politicians, thrive due to the financial and political backing they get from local parties and figures.
Whether he is getting help or not, Saad al-Masri has certainly come into money. Hailing from a relatively modest family in Minyeh, the militia leader dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work at Bab al-Tabbaneh’s vegetable market with his father. He now lives in a villa in his home region estimated to be worth over $1 million and has recently purchased an apartment in Tripoli’s upmarket Damm and Farz district.
A senior political source from Tripoli told The Daily Star that Masri was at one point receiving $50,000 a month from Mikati as support for his fighters, “who are the best armed among all of Tripoli’s militias.”But according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the sum has since substantially diminished and has now been replaced by social and health benefits. “This has lead Masri to devise a system whereby he forces the owners of 20 shops in the vegetable market to pay him what ranges between $200-$300 in protection money on a monthly basis,” the source said. Masri’s newfound fortune has raised questions among his supporters and opponents.
“Who pays for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ammunition?” asked Abu Rami, a veteran fighter in Jabal Mohsen. Abu Rami argued that a regional compromise was about to take place that would render all of Tripoli’s fighting squads and their commanders useless and that Masri’s maneuverings were in preparation for this. “Masri has understood that and is now polishing his social and political talents,” he said. “I think Masri wants nothing to do with fighting anymore, he wants to tend to his growing empire and send young men off to kill and get killed.”For the political source from Tripoli, however, Masri’s goal is not to gather a fortune but to establish himself as a leader: “Masri believes he should be the next Sunni leader in Tripoli.”

Iran: Russia Agrees to Build at Least 2 More Nuclear Plants

Naharnet /Russia has signed a preliminary agreement to build at least two more nuclear power plants in the Iranian port city of Bushehr, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday.
The deal was reached during a visit to Tehran on Tuesday by a senior official of Russia's state atomic energy agency Rosatom, IRNA said.
"Iran and Russia reached a preliminary agreement to build at least two new nuclear power plants," Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the news agency.
The two new 1,000 megawatt plants will be constructed alongside the existing power station in Bushehr, which was also built by Russia, Kamalvandi said.
Further talks will be held on technical and financial aspects of the project, but a final agreement is expected to be signed "very soon", he added.
In January, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that establishing long-term relations between the two countries "can serve the stability and security of the region".
Iranian media last month speculated that Rouhani could travel to Russia for a regional conference of Caspian Sea states that Tehran's envoy to Moscow has said will be in late September.
Construction of the new Bushehr nuclear plants is likely to spark concerns among Gulf Arab states, which have often raised concerns about the reliability of the existing Bushehr facility and the risk of radioactive leaks in case of a major earthquake. Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent quakes. On April 9, a 6.1-magnitude quake rocked the south, with an epicenter just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Bushehr.
Both Iran and Russia have dismissed the claim, saying the Bushehr facility is subject to inspection by and the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog.
- 'Reducing reliance on oil' - Western powers and Israel suspect the Islamic republic's nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive. Tehran denies the charge, saying that by diversifying its energy resources it wants to reduces its reliance on oil revenues. Iran, which still faces tight Western sanctions on its oil and banking sectors despite a landmark agreement reached with major powers in November on its nuclear program, is expected to fund the new Bushehr project on a barter basis. Tehran's ambassador to Russia, Mehdi Sanaei, said last month that the close trading partners have been negotiating the delivery by Iran of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day (bpd) in return for Russian goods and services, including the planned new nuclear plants. Russian officials have neither confirmed nor denied the discussions, while stressing that they would not break U.N. sanctions.
But the White House has raised "serious concern" about the potential of the mooted deal to undermine EU and U.S. sanctions which it credits with bringing Iran to the nuclear negotiating table.
One Russian report said the barter agreement could see as much as 500,000 bpd of Iranian crude exchanged for Russian goods, which Sanaei said could also include heavy trucks and railway equipment.
That would represent a boost of more than 50 percent to Iran's crude exports, undermining the crippling sanctions that Western governments credit with securing its signature to the long-sought interim nuclear deal agreed in November. Iran and world powers are still negotiating a long-term agreement to allay Western concerns about its nuclear ambitions. Source/Agence France Presse

State TV: Assad Visits Displaced Outside Capital
Naharnet /Syria's President Bashar Assad is making a rare trip outside the capital to meet people displaced by the country's three-year-old civil war, state media reported on Wednesday. "President Assad is inspecting conditions for the displaced in Damascus province," state television said. "President Assad is touring shelters for the displaced... and listening to their needs," it added. "The state continues to secure basic necessities for the displaced until they can return to their homes in Adra and elsewhere," state television quoted Assad as saying. The official SANA news agency said Assad was visiting people in Adra, northeast of the capital.
The town is considered a strategic gateway to Damascus and has seen frequent clashes between the army and rebels. Control of the town and its adjacent industrial park remain contested, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Assad rarely makes public appearances and most of those have been within the confines of the capital. He was last reported at a public event in January, when he attended prayers at a Damascus mosque.
Assad is expected to seek a new term in a presidential election planned for the middle of the year, despite the raging conflict which has killed more than 140,000 people since March 2011.
Source/Agence France Presse

European Court Upholds EU Sanctions on Assad's Sister

Naharnet /A European court on Wednesday upheld EU sanctions against the sister of Syrian President Bashar Assad, finding that her strong family ties justified the decision. Bushra Assad, also the widow of Syria's former deputy defense chief Assef Shawkat, had challenged her inclusion in the EU sanctions list, arguing she was a "housewife" with no role in the regime. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union, second only to the European Court of Justice, ruled that as Assad's sister she was linked to the regime, "particularly given the existence of a tradition of family management of power" in Syria. Bushra Assad was included on the list of people affected by EU sanctions against Syria, which include the freezing of assets and a ban on all travel in EU member states. "If the restrictive measures applied only to leaders of the Syrian regime, the objectives pursued by the (European) Council could be defeated, because the officers concerned could easily use their relatives to bypass the sanctions," the court said. A number of Assad's closest female relatives have been targeted by the EU sanctions, including his wife, mother and sister-in-law. However, Assad's wife Asma Assad, a British citizen, cannot be included in the overall ban. Bushra, 53, is the eldest child and only daughter of Assad's father and former Syrian leader Hafez Assad. Shawkat was killed in a 2012 bomb attack in Damascus. Source/Agence France Presse

Rouhani Arrives in Longtime Gulf Arab Ally Oman
Naharnet /Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Muscat Wednesday for a visit dedicated to talks with leaders of the Islamic republic's historic ally in the Gulf on regional tensions and bilateral cooperation.
Rouhani was greeted on arrival at the royal airport in Muscat by Oman's deputy prime minister for the council of ministers, Fahd bin Mahmoud Al-Said, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported. He then headed to the Alam palace in eastern Muscat to meet Sultan Qaboos, who has acted as an intermediary between Western countries and the Islamic republic.
The sultanate is reported to have hosted secret talks between Iran and the United States ahead of the signing in Geneva last November of an accord between world powers and Iran on its nuclear program.A government official said Rouhani was also to hold talks Wednesday with senior Omani officials, the sultanate's top cleric Ahmad al-Khalil and local businesspeople.
Before departing Tehran with a delegation of Iranian ministers for the two-day visit, Rouhani hailed the "good relations" that exist between Tehran and Muscat. "During this trip, we want to implement contracts (signed) in the field of trade and economy, especially those linked to oil and gas," as well as in finance, banking, and culture, he told reporters at the airport, as cited by the official IRNA news agency.
"This visit is of great importance to strengthen relations between Iran and Islamic countries, especially those neighboring Iran," he added. "The Strait of Hormuz gives countries south of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea great importance," Rouhani said. Rouhani is the second Iranian leader to visit Oman since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. His hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the sultanate in 2007.
Source/Agence France Presse

Ukraine Vows Not to Fight Russia over Crimea

Naharnet/Ukraine's acting president told Agence France Presse he would not wage war over Crimea as the ex-Soviet state's premier prepared Wednesday to seek U.S. President Barack Obama's help against Russia's expansionist threat.The first meeting between Obama and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk comes with the nation on the EU's eastern border in danger of breaking apart when the predominantly ethnic Russian region holds a Moscow-backed referendum Sunday on switching over to Kremlin rule. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said his heavily outnumbered army would never try to seize back the Black Sea peninsula from Russian troops who made their land grab days after the February 22 ouster in Kiev of pro-Kremlin leader Viktor Yanukovych. "We cannot launch a military operation in Crimea, as we would expose the eastern border and Ukraine would not be protected," Turchynov said in an interview with AFP.
Turchynov also said Russian President Vladimir Putin had so far resisted intense international pressure and refused all contacts with Kiev aimed at resolving the worst breakdown in East-West relations since the Cold War.
"Unfortunately, for now Russia is rejecting a diplomatic solution to the conflict," he said. "They are refusing all contact at foreign ministry and top government level."
Russia's first military involvement in a neighbouring country since its brief 2008 war with Georgia has sparked an explosive security crisis and exposed major rifts between Western allies over ways to deal with Putin's undisguised efforts to rebuild vestiges of the Soviet state.
Washington has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russians held responsible for violating the territorial integrity of the culturally splintered nation of 46 million people.
But the European Union -- its financial and energy sectors much more dependent on Russia than those of the United States -- has only threatened tougher measures after taking the lighter step of suspending free travel and broad economic treaty talks. The standoff has also seen U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry deliver a snub of immense diplomatic proportions by refusing a visit to Moscow that could have included a meeting with the Kremlin chief. European Commission President Jose Barroso said the Group of Seven most developed economies would later on Wednesday issue a joint "call on Russia to cease all efforts to annex Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea."
But the international community's almost unanimous rejection of the referendum's legitimacy has done little to slow Russia's attempt to redraw Europe's post-war borders by absorbing a region that was handed to Ukraine as a "gift" when it was still a Soviet republic in 1954.Russia's parliament is due on March 21 to consider legislation that would simplify the procedure under which Moscow can annex part of another country that has proclaimed independence -- as Crimean lawmakers did Tuesday.
- Ukraine 'will not attack' -
Ukraine's soldiers and marines have won plaudits from Western leaders for refusing to open fire against Russian troops and Kremlin-backed militia who have encircled their bases and kept their ships from going out to sea.
Turchynov said that as commander in chief he fully realised the futility of launching an all-out war against a much larger invading force that has nuclear weapons and tens of thousands of additional troops stationed just inside Russia. "Significant tank units are massed near Ukraine's eastern border," the acting president said in the interview.
"They're provoking us to have a pretext to intervene on the Ukrainian mainland... (but) we cannot follow the scenario written by the Kremlin."
Putin has accused Turchynov and Yatsenyuk of rising to power through an "unconstitutional coup" that came at the apex of three months of pro-Western protests that claimed 100 lives and forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia.
Turchynov said Moscow has turned down his overtures for dialogue despite efforts by leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel to set up an "international contact group" through which all sides could air their grievances in search of a compromise. He called the Crimea referendum a "sham" whose outcome had been already decided "in the offices of the Kremlin". Turchynov also rubbished as "madness" Putin's claim that Russian-speakers in the southeast of Europe's largest country by landmass needed his army's "protection" from the harassment they faced with the rise of new and more nationalist leaders to power in Kiev.
- Oval Office handshake -
The White House is leaving no doubt about the message it intends to send to Russia with the visit of Yatsenyuk -- a leader Moscow considers illegitimate.
He will be greeted by Obama in the Oval Office -- a symbol of U.S. power -- like any other foreign leader and also meet Vice President Joe Biden who rushed back from a trip to South America to join the talks.
Washington said Yatsenyuk's reception was intended to show that it believed that Kiev's interim government has been playing a responsible role in the crisis.
"We strongly support Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
But Carney also stressed that the White House was still offering the Kremlin an "off ramp" for ending the dispute without any bloodshed and with Ukraine's territorial integrity held intact.
Yatsenyuk will also use the chance to iron out the details of a $35-billion (25-billion-euro) aid package he says his nation's teetering economy needs to stay afloat over the coming two years after being mismanaged by Yanukovych -- now living in self-imposed exile in Russia. The White House said Obama would discuss an economic support package that has already seen Washington pledge more than $1 billion and the European Union 11 billion euros over two years. Source/Agence France Presse

Russia launches paratroop exercise east of Ukraine. Moscow tycoons move assets from West to Far East
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 11, 2014/The clash between the antagonists in the Ukraine crisis – Russia on one side and the US and Europe on the other – is heating up in the countdown to the Crimean referendum on secession on Sunday March 16. Tuesday, March 11, as European ministers discussed sanctions against Russia, Moscow launched its biggest military exercise in 20 years. It encompasses command elements, rapid deployment forces and paratroops and takes place in western Russia not far from the Ukraine border. The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt.-Col. Evgeni Meshkov said, “One of the key objectives of the exercise is to show how effective tactical landing force can be in different latitudes and conditions.” He reported that the Ivanovo paratroops’ formation of 4,000 troops and 36 military air transports would take part in the maneuver.
Also this week, DEBKAfile reported that the Russian army had moved mobile coastal defense batteries from the Russian base of Novorossiysk to its Crimean base of Sevastopol. The K-300Ps (Nato codenamed SSC-5), the most advanced of their kind, were deployed for any contingency such as fighting off naval units or repelling landing forces. This new exercise augments the drill Russia announced Friday, March 7, which mobilized its air and coastal defenses and deployed more than 1,000 missile and tank units in Kapustin Yar, around 450 km from the Ukraine border. That exercise was scheduled to last until early April to catch the referendum and its aftermath.
Washington and Moscow have virtually broken off any dialogue over the crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed that US Secretary of State John Kerry had “postponed” a face-to- face meeting with President Vladimir Putin that was to have taken place in Moscow Monday, March 10, to discuss US proposals. Lavrov said that Russia had effectively rejected them. And Kerry said that, before traveling to the meeting, he needed to know that Russia would “engage seriously” in a diplomatic solution and end “provocative steps.”
By Tuesday, Moscow had fielded a total of 60,000 troops - either in military exercises in areas adjoining Ukraine or in military movements in and around Crimea.
The US, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria also launched a series of military drills Tuesday on the Black Sea and along the Polish borders with Russia. They are on a far smaller scale than the Russian show of strength.
The West flexed financial muscle instead. Two European foreign ministers, Laurent Fabius of France and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland announced Tuesday, that the EU would almost certainly impose sanctions on Russia on March 17, the day after the Crimean referendum. In London, the US and a group of European officials began drawing up a list of Russian individuals who would be subjected to the sanctions of asset freezes and travel bans. That list is believed to target not just officials involved in the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy, but also individual businessmen close to President Putin who keep financial assets in the United States and Europe.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources disclose that, two months ago, Russian tycoons close to the Kremlin began shifting some deposits out of Western financial institutions to the Far East – just another clue to Putin having planned the Ukraine crisis some time ago.

British PM David Cameron addresses Knesset speech
Ynetnews/ March 12/14/British PM on first visit to Israel since taking office; will hold talks with Netanyahu, Peres and Abbas. British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Israel on Wednesday, for a two-day trip that includes a speech in the Knesset, and meetings with Israeli leaders that were expected to center on the Iranian issue and the peace process with the Palestinians.
Cameron was to hold talks with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, as well as opposition leader Isaac Herzog. He was also to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This is Cameron's first trip to Israel as the British leader; he did visit, however, before he became prime minister in 2010. The trip was originally scheduled for last month, but was delayed due to heavy flooding that left much of southern England underwater. The highlight of the trip will be Cameron's speech to the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon, which comes amid an internal political rift over the Israeli coalition's maneuvers on legislation. The members of Israel's opposition have announced that they will turn out for Cameron's address, but will return to their current policy of boycotting the Knesset immediately afterwards. Meanwhile, British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould has come under fire from Israeli diplomats for not cancelling Cameron's visit in a show of solidarity with their ongoing strike, the Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.According to the report, the Israeli Foreign Ministry workers union sent Gould a strongly worded letter in which it wrote that, "As professionals to a professional ... we express our disappointment that your embassy has been actively contributing to the ongoing efforts to break our struggle for better and fairer conditions." The letter to Gould said that the Foreign Ministry staff had "been hoping for your solidarity and support, especially since it is us who regularly provide your embassy with the vast majority of the services required for its smooth operation."

Opinion: Sisi’s Realistic Discourse
By: Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat
Wednesday, 12 Mar, 2014
There may be nothing new about Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s remarks in a recent interview, during which he said that the economic situation in Egypt is dire. That is pretty much to be expected after three years of political crises that have damaged key economic sectors, which really needed to grow by 7 percent annually in order to keep the economy on track. What is new, however, is that Sisi admitted these problems cannot be resolved quickly, and that it may require one or two generations of sacrifice for the third generation and their descendants to have a better life. As he acknowledged, no one individual can singlehandedly solve all a country’s problems.This sense of realism is exactly what Egypt’s political discourse needs going forward, particularly after the presidential elections, expected to be contested and won by Sisi. In this new era, a new president will face major challenges that have been building up over decades of failed economic and social policies. Those were not realistic policies; instead, past leaders preferred putting off solutions to problems in fear of any confrontation—to the extent that they would procrastinate until the very last minute, until it was no longer possible to procrastinate.
Paradoxically, Egypt’s economic problems have been on the agenda for decades. Most politicians, economists and experts know exactly where the problems lie, and those problems have blocked the natural, genuine and sustainable growth needed to unleash the power of the economy. The most prominent problem is subsidies, which have expanded over time and which now take up a big chunk of the state’s resources. All economists know that when a product or service is offered below market value, it paves the way for waste, exploitation and corruption. Often the subsidized goods fail to reach their target demographic.
In the early 1970s, there was an attempt to reduce subsidies. This lead to the so-called bread riots during the era of the late President Anwar Sadat, who eventually had to roll back his program. All Egyptian governments that have followed had this nightmare to contend with, and dealt with it in fits and starts. On some occasions, they even depended on subsidies as a quick fix, which only exacerbated the inherent problems. This cure grew more and more painful to society as both population and prices, especially in the energy sector, increased. No government yet has found enough resources to fund some of the more crucial sectors, such as education and healthcare, because subsidies were and are eating up the largest chunk of the budget. Even when revenues, say from tourism and foreign investment, increased, governments preferred to avoid political confrontation over subsidies, as the favorable economic conditions allowed them to delay. This merely delayed the treatment of structural economic problems.
The mistake that led to the bread riots by the Egyptian government at the time was not that it decided to reduce subsidies at the request of the IMF to help address the country’s budget deficit. Had they been successful, the government that followed Sadat’s would have found it easier to carry out deeper economic reforms, particularly during the 1990s, when conditions were favorable and debts were cleared as foreign investment poured in. Regional conditions were also favorable at that time, as well as a political climate promoting investment. The mistake was that those decisions were taken suddenly and without an effort to explain the program and its benefits to the public, which of course will suffer the brunt of efforts to scale back on subsidies, as well as the corresponding price hikes. There was no clear attempt to explain any of the measures taken to mitigate the effects on the poorest in society, who could not withstand the burden of higher prices. Like its predecessors, the next government will face the subsidies issue and the need to enact reforms, as well as the need to address the public regarding these tough decisions. The major difference this time is that the next government will not have the luxury of procrastination, and the economic situation is far worse than ever following three years of crisis and recession. The new government will also have to enact these reforms in the face of a politically mobilized street that, at times, holds unrealistic expectations. Getting through the hardest part is like swallowing a bitter pill in order to reap the benefits. This is not impossible, so long as there are creative ideas for implementing these reforms that save Egypt’s poorest from bearing the brute force of change. There are many ideas that have been silenced, many studies collecting dust, waiting for someone with the political will to hear them and take action. It would be easier if there were a popular political leadership that enjoyed the trust of the public, when they have to go before the Egyptian people and ask them to offer sacrifices in order to secure a better future.

A war of words in the Middle East
Wednesday, 12 March 2014/Octavia Nasr/Al Arabiya
A major power shift is taking place in the Middle East, this time it signals leaderships waking up to realities long overlooked and left to fester into insurmountable obstacles.Saudi Arabia has historically played a leading role among Arab nations mediating among factions and providing counsel in conflict resolution; but it has taken a back seat in the past decade, opening the door for the relatively more progressive Qatar and UAE to press forward with ideas and examples of how Arabs can play a role in their affairs rather than be other nations’ foreign policy recipients.Qatar, in particular, was very bold in its approach starting with Al-Jazeera’s creation, quickly turning it into a worldwide power, all the way to winning the World Cup in 2022. All this in between hosting two major U.S. think tanks, mediating reconciliation talks, playing a leading role at Arab Summits and taking over the conversation about relations with Israel.

Controversial ties
On the other hand, Qatar never explained its controversial ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite all efforts by Qatari leaders to distance themselves from Al-Jazeera by claiming it was free of their control, people and governments came to identify the politics of the nation through the channel which has taken a side in almost every conflict it covered.
The threats the region faces are explosive and deadly. This latest episode shows the decay in relationships, loyalties and responsibilities. During the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera’s close ties to al Qaeda made the U.S. accuse it of serving as the mouthpiece of the terror group. When Doha became home to the first Taliban headquarters, it was under the guise of facilitating peace talks with the U.S. and Afghanistan. Quickly, intentions were scrutinized and the lack of transparency backfired with the closing of the offices. During the split between Fatah and Hamas, Al-Jazeera sided with Hamas, polarizing viewers and Palestinian leadership. The network sided with Hezbollah against other Lebanese groups, polarizing Lebanon. In Egypt, the coverage bluntly supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The confrontation became so severe that Al-Jazeera journalists are now in jail accused of aiding a terrorist organization. Since its inception, Al-Jazeera has been kicked out of many countries with accusation of incitement meant for Qatar itself not only the media organization. What we are witnessing with recalling ambassadors and blockade threats so close to Obama’s visit to the region is an overdue duel of power and influence; what Arabs need however is a division of responsibility. The threats the region faces are explosive and deadly. This latest episode shows the decay in relationships, loyalties and responsibilities.*This article was first published in al-Nahar on March 10, 2014.

The Gaza-bound weapons shipment is in political stormy water

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Yossi Mekelberg/Al Arabiya
It is hard to imagine that when the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was delivering his speech last week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (AIPAC), he was unaware of an unfolding drama taking place in the south of the Red Sea. Thousands of miles away from the fanfare of the pro-Israeli gathering in Washington, Israeli Special Forces were on the verge of stopping a weapons shipment whose end destination was Gaza. It must have been unbearable for him, as he was castigating Iranian policies and their deceitfulness in the nuclear negotiations, not to share with his most ardent supporters, that Israeli elite units were about to board a vessel carrying Syrian missiles, which were allegedly being delivered by Iran to Israel’s sworn enemies in Gaza.
This operation concluded a very busy week for the Israeli military forces. First, they attacked a military convoy on the border between Syria and Lebanon, which Israeli security sources argued had carried weapons to the Hezbollah. Later in the week, IDF soldiers shot at Hezbollah militants attempting to plant a bomb near the fence between the Israeli occupied side of the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. Considering the current tensions with the American President Obama, the capture of Klos-C with its dozens of Syrian M-302 missiles and large pile of ammunition could have only served as a morale boost for Netanyahu. It provided him with the necessary ammunition for his current central foreign policy theme that Iran has not changed an iota on the nuclear policies, in addition to supporting those who aspire to harm, even destroy, Israel.
No denial
There is no denial that the introduction of the Syrian made M-302, with a range of around 160 kilometres, to the Israeli-Palestinian future battlefield would have been a game changer. These missiles can reach some of Israel’s major population centres, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Considering the embarrassment, as a result of exposing this illicit shipment of weapons, it should come as no surprise that no country or political movement is keen to claim any link, let alone ownership, to this hoard of missiles and other large quantities of ammunition. For the Israelis, it is both a military and a political coup. They must have effectively used their intelligence for many months to trail these weapons’ movement. Militarily, it is part Israel’s ongoing attempts to stop advanced weaponry from reaching Gaza. Politically, it serves as a much needed smoking gun in implicating Syria and especially Iran in clandestine operations in support of Israel’s enemies.
In his speech to AIPAC, Netanyahu went to great lengths to project himself as a great proponent of peace in the face of a very tough and hostile neighborhood
Making the link between capture of the missiles and the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 was an obvious response from the Israeli leadership. After the revelations about the capture of Klos-C, and while still in the U.S., he chided the Iranians for simultaneously negotiating with the major powers and at “the same [time]…sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations … that will be used to harm innocent citizens. This is the true Iran and this state cannot possess nuclear weapons.” In an ill-advised comment he also compared Iran to Nazi Germany, with regards to having the similar objective of destroying Israel.
Indeed, introducing this type of weaponry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is irresponsible and could lead to an even bloodier theater of war between the two. However, there is still no accurate information as to who in Iran was behind the missile shipment and what their final destination was. For now, both the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guard are denying any involvement. However, at least someone within the Iranian establishment is being economical with the truth. Worse, certain elements within the Iranian regime were either reckless or deliberately obstructive in getting involved with such an operation, especially at a time when the country is negotiating a resolution regarding her nuclear dispute with the world, let alone trying also to claw their way out of international isolation. For some, this might indicate that Iran is not negotiating the future of their nuclear program in good faith. However, a more plausible explanation is that there are divisions within the Iranian regime combined with a long standing animosity towards Israel, which results in conducting foreign policy with more than a hint of intrinsic contradictions and irresponsibility. This should not come as a complete surprise to Israel considering the threatening language between Tehran and Jerusalem for more than three decades.
The James Bond like operation
The James Bond like operation by the Israeli navy captured the headlines, but the political ramifications go well beyond the confiscation of one consignment of weapons. It reflects the instability in the region and the alliances that have been forged as a consequence. The timing of the capture of the Klos-C came at the worst time for American diplomatic efforts, which are attempting to negotiate concurrently peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a long term solution for the Iranian nuclear project, and an end to the Syrian civil war. The incident in the Red Sea can only lead to the toughening of Israel’s positions on Iran and the peace process. The Israeli government is entitled to be concerned by the introduction of this kind of weaponry, but might not necessarily be drawing the right conclusions. It is one thing to lambast Iran for being involved in the illicit trade of weapons to Palestinian organizations, it is another thing to overplay this with the objective of derailing sensitive negotiations which would stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is also legitimate to highlight that while peace negotiations are going on, some Palestinian factions arm themselves with weapons that can hit Israel hard. However, using this fact as a reason to hinder progress in the peace negotiations is problematic to say the least, as the Palestinian Authority had nothing do with this transfer of arms. Considering the rift between Iran and the Hamas since the latter left its headquarters in Damascus, it is more than reasonable to assume that the lethal consignment was not aimed to reach them, but one of the smaller groups, for instance the Islamic Jihad.
In his speech to AIPAC, Netanyahu went to great lengths to project himself as a great proponent of peace in the face of a very tough and hostile neighborhood. It might have been for the benefit of President Obama, who made it clear to him in their meetings last week, that he was displeased with the Israeli approach to the peace negotiations. Alternatively, it might have been that he thought it allowed him to show even a tougher line on Iran. In the past the Israeli prime minister threatened that Israel would not tolerate the possession of nuclear arms in Iranian hands; in his speech last week he underlined that there is a danger even if Iran only reaches the threshold of nuclear military capability. What his audience was not aware of was that he knew that within a matter of a few hours he would be able to pull out what he believed was a wild card in the shape of a ship full of weapons in the Red Sea. It was for him more proof for the world to see that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted, and that the world should keep them in check.
**Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg. 05:54