March 21/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Parable Of The Rich Man

Luke 12,16-21/: "Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
May we learn to say “thank you” to God and to one another. We teach children to do it, and then we forget to do it ourselves!
Pape François
Apprenons à dire ‘Merci’ à Dieu, aux autres. Nous l’enseignons aux enfants, mais ensuite nous l’oublions !


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 21/14

Down and out in Yabrud and Tripoli: Lebanon suffers Syria’s war//Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya/March 21/14

Three Years of Revolution and Two Years of Betrayal/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/March 21/14

Tunisia’s fake jihadist and the war in Syria/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Alarabiya/March 21/14

Egypt's Invisible Insurgency/Eric Trager/New Republic/March 21/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 21/14
Lebanese Related News

96 MPs Grant Salam's Cabinet Their Confidence as LF, Fattoush Vote Against

Roads Blocked after Man Kidnapped from Cherokee in Baalbek's Shlifa
Families of Lebanese Missing in Syria Call on Ibrahim to Intervene

Fresh Syrian Air Raids on Arsal

Fresh Syrian airstrikes hit Arsal outskirts

Village in Akkar Hit by Shells, Gunfire as Battles Intensify along Border

Army, police deploy in Arsal to contain tension
Syrian army kills 11 rebels fleeing to Lebanon

Syrian Army Seizes Bomb-Laden Cars in Yabrud Carrying Lebanese License Plates
Rebels killed in Homs, wounded brought to Lebanon
Suggested National DIalogue: For now, avoid friction

Syria Army Seizes Famed Krak des Chevaliers Fort in Border Push

Gunmen Abduct Man from Cherokee in Baalbek's Shlifa

Al-Rahi: It is Shameful to Await Foreign Countries to Nominate President for us

Serra Says Hizbullah, Israel Not Seeking Escalation

Report: Leader of Armed Group Disappears from Arsal

Analysts Fear Jabhat al-Nusra's Capabilities in Lebanon to Receive a Boost

Aoun: I Reject Anything Leading to Conflict, Even if This Rejection Cost Me Presidency

Miscellaneous Reports And News'

Kerry calls Netanyahu after anti-U.S. remarks

Ya'alon clarifies comments: No intention to hurt US-Israel relations
Hillary Clinton tells US Jews: Iran nuclear talks should be given chance before sanctions

Analysis: Iran talks continue in Vienna, but now they’re on Russian terms

Nearly half of Syrian chemicals removed
Kuwait seeks to heal Gulf rift ahead of Arab Summit
Australia reports possible debris from Malaysian plane in Indian Ocean

Australia Says Two Objects Spotted Possibly Related to MH370
Al Qaeda-Iraq infiltrates Golan as well as Sinai, plots twin attacks
Russian Lower House Ratifies Treaty on Taking Crimea as Ukraine Parliament Vows to Fight for Liberation

Pentagon to Host Saudi Deputy Minister for Talks

Over Half Syria's Chemical Arms Surrendered

U.N. Chief Calls for Deployment of U.N., OSCE Rights Monitors to Ukraine

Washington, Moscow in Tit-for-Tat Sanctions over Ukraine

Obama Calls on Iran to Seize Opportunity of Nuclear Talks  


96 MPs Grant Salam's Cabinet Their Confidence as LF, Fattoush Vote Against
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Thursday won a parliamentary vote of confidence after 96 MPs voted in favor of his government as the Lebanese Forces bloc and MP Nicolas Fattoush voted against. Jamaa Islamiya's only representative in the legislature MP Imad al-Hout abstained from voting. Only 101 out of 128 lawmakers were present during the vote. MP Nicolas Fattoush of Zahle and LF bloc MPs George Adwan, Elie Keyrouz, Tony Abou Khater and Shant Janjanian withheld their confidence from the cabinet while four of the bloc's eight members were absent.
“We thank the MPs for their valuable suggestions and we stress to them that this cabinet shares their national concerns. We promise that we will put the legitimate demands on the track of implementation,” Salam said in a speech that preceded the vote, responding to the lawmakers' remarks that were voiced during two days of discussions. “Some of the speeches were not fair towards the cabinet because they asked it to do things that are beyond its capacity in this short period,” Salam added. Defending the controversial wording of the cabinet's policy statement, the premier said: “We did not use concise clauses to be ambiguous but we rather sought to use a consensual language that resembles our government, which is the product of consensus among various forces and we did not promise things that we can't achieve.”
“Let no one think that our government is seeking to fill a presidential vacuum as it is rather seeking to revive our constitutional institutions and it believes that vacuum is the worst thing that can hit our political system,” Salam went on to say. “Let no one expect miracles and we will do everything in our capacity to address the problems,” he said, calling for “strengthening accord so that it becomes a net of safety for our country." “Zahleh was left out of this government and consequently deprived the participation of the most important Christian city in the Levant,” Fattoush said in his address before the parliament. “The majority of decisions taken in Lebanon are done at foreign orders," he lamented. “I cannot grant confidence to a cabinet that does not have a clear identity,” he said.
For his part, head of al-Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora noted that the cabinet “will not be in power for a long time, which should serve as an opportunity for us to cooperate to make its short term a success.”
“The cabinet should restore the role of the state and its institutions. Only then can we succeed in ending the crisis we are experiencing,” he added. “We believe in a sovereign Lebanon and therefore will not pause at petty disputes,” he said. “We agreed to join this cabinet in spite of our deep differences because we believe in Lebanon's democracy and the Taef Accord,” Saniora stressed. He underlined that his bloc remains committed to “confronting the spread of illegitimate arms,” emphasizing that “the army alone is the sole authority that can protect Lebanon."
"Our participation in this cabinet is aimed at achieving continuity in Lebanon and preventing the collapse of the state," Saniora stated.
Head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc then took to the podium, noting that “placing factional interests above national ones is unacceptable." "The Israeli enemy poses a constant existential threat to Lebanon and our internal differences have distracted us from this danger," he said. "In politics, the resistance is a fundamental factor in national consensus. This was highlighted in all cabinets since the adoption of the Taef Accord," Raad pointed out. "The resistance will remain as long as Israel exists and occupies Lebanese land. The state regained its sovereignty thanks to the resistance," he said. Raad stressed Hizbullah's keenness on "ensuring the success of this cabinet's mission," hoping that "the presidential elections will be held on time." Phalange MP Fadi al-Haber was the first to address lawmakers and cabinet ministers on Thursday morning.
He granted the government his vote of confidence after calling for distancing Lebanon from wars and consolidating security by arming the military. Al-Mustaqbal lawmaker Khaled al-Daher called on the state to spread its authority on all Lebanese territories. He accused the army of being lenient with gunmen in certain areas while taking strong measures against their rivals in other regions. Al-Daher seemed to be hinting that the military was supporting Shiite gunmen against their Sunni rivals. “Your army is righteous even if it was unjust,” Speaker Nabih Berri responded. "The resistance is the right of all the Lebanese. But all arms should be put under the authority of the state," al-Daher said. He said he was giving his vote of confidence to the cabinet although the northern district of Akkar was deprived from a services minister. Another member of the same parliamentary bloc, MP Ahmed Fatfat, criticized ex-PM Najib Miqati without naming him in his statement at parliament.
“He is the first to be held responsible for the deterioration of the security, economic and political situation in the country,” Fatfat said about Miqati, who is a Tripoli MP. “It's been years that we've been calling for the deployment of the army on the border,” he said about the boundary with Syria. “We then ask why arms are being smuggled across the border,” the MP added mockingly. Salam interrupted him by saying security and military agencies should be held accountable if they commit mistakes "but we should liberate them from our political differences." Fatfat, who gave his vote of confidence, later asked: 'If Hizbullah backs the army as it claims, then is it ready to hand over its weapons to it?”He criticized the policy statement for not mentioning the Baabda Declaration. His criticism drew a sharp retort from Miqati, who defended the performance of his cabinet.
Phalange MP Sami Gemayel, who was next, slammed Hizbullah without naming it, saying those who claimed they were fighting in Syria to prevent Takfiris from coming to Lebanon, have now allowed them to infiltrate into Lebanese territories after the fall of the Syrian town of Yabrud. Syrian government troops have captured Yabrud, a town that had served for months as a main rebel logistics hub, with the support of Hizbullah, driving hundreds of Islamist fighters to Lebanon's northeastern border town of Arsal.
The Phalange “has a single objective in its presence in this cabinet and it's not partnership with the party that is destroying Lebanon,” Gemayel said. “We are here to coordinate on all what we agree on in the interest of the Lebanese and to confront any effort to destroy Lebanon,” he added. "Is it very difficult to deploy only 200 troops on the border with Syria to prevent smuggling and infiltration of gunmen?" he asked as he gave his vote of confidence. Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, whose party has refused to participate in the government, said: “We have reached a stage where we need a settlement to salvage the nation.” “We want to seek with the rest of the factions ... to search for this settlement,” he said. “The Lebanese entity is in danger,” he warned. Addressing Hizbullah, the lawmaker said: “We should agree on our patriotic choices.”
“We don't want Hizbullah's arms to be part of the equation of the Lebanese state. We only want it to be used to fight Israel,” he said as he voted against Salam's cabinet.
Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah defended his party, saying "there wouldn't have been a state had there not been the resistance." The government line-up was announced on February 15, after 10 months of political wrangling.
But another five weeks were needed for final parliamentary approval because of disagreement within the government over the thorny issues of resistance against Israel and the Baabda Declaration.
The March 14 camp had called for Hizbullah's arsenal arsenal of weapons to be brought under state supervision. But Hizbullah wanted to enshrine its military role in the ministerial policy statement under a "people, state, resistance" formula that was rejected by the March 14 coalition. Last week, the cabinet agreed a compromise formula that no longer accords Hizbullah a specific "resistance" role, yet affirms that all citizens have the "right to resist the Israeli occupation, repel its attacks and take back the occupied territory."After all the time taken to form it, the new government's mandate is set to expire by May 25. That is the date by which parliament must vote on a new president, who will then choose a new government.


Roads Blocked after Man Kidnapped from Cherokee in Baalbek's Shlifa
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/A man was kidnapped Thursday from his Cherokee Laredo in the Baalbek region, according to state-run National News Agency. “Gunmen in a yellow Toyota FJ Cruiser and a white Grand Cherokee kidnapped Lebanese citizen George Kahmazian after intercepting his gray Cherokee Laredo near the Dar al-Ajaza al-Islamia center in the Baalbek region town of Shlifa,” NNA said.The kidnappers took the man to an unknown destination and investigations are underway to identify the perpetrators, the agency added. Later in the day, NNA said Kahmazian's brother Ara received a phone call from the kidnappers, who asked for a $50,000 ransom. “At once, Kahmazian held a gathering at Baalbek's Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishopric in the presence of Archbishop Elias Rahhal,” the agency added. “George is our son and if he doesn't return to his home, we will take escalatory measures that might reach the extent of closing the archbishopric in Baalbek,” Rahhal warned. Meanwhile, several residents of Douris and relatives of Kahmazian blocked the town's entrance with burning tires, cutting off the route that leads to Baalbek and northern Bekaa. Later, the road was blocked at the southern entrance of the city of Baalbek in protest at the abduction. On March 7, Michel al-Saqr, the 10-year-old son of prominent businessman Ibrahim al-Saqr, was abducted at gunpoint in the Bekaa city of Zahle. He was released the next day. And On March 6, Antoine Daher al-Kaadi was kidnapped by masked gunmen on the Ablah road in the Bekaa and was freed later during the day in unknown circumstances. The kidnap-for-ransom phenomenon increased last year and has been strongly criticized by officials from across the political spectrum. Lebanon had also witnessed a wave of sectarian abductions sparked by the war in Syria.

Fresh Syrian airstrikes hit Arsal outskirts
March 20, 2014 10:07 AM (Last updated: March 20, 2014/HERMEL, Lebanon: Fresh Syrian air raids hit the outskirts of Lebanon’s border town of Arsal Thursday morning, security sources told The Daily Star, adding that no casualties were reported. The first strike hit the area of Wadi Ajram, around five kilometers away from the border, at 9:00 a.m. The sources said that it may have been a barrel bomb due to the size of the explosion. Twenty minutes after the airstrike hit Wadi Ajram, two other airstrikes hit the area of Kherbet Younin on the outskirts of Arsal, the sources said. Another four airstrikes hit Kherbet Younin at 11:45 a.m., the sources said. The airstrikes are likely targeting rebels fleeing the Qalamoun area in Syria where the Syrian government troops have taken control. The outskirts of Arsal have been subject to dozens of Syrian airstrikes since the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah, retook the rebel bastion of Yabroud in Qalamoun.


Suggested National Dialogue: For now, avoid friction
March 20, 2014/The Daily Star/Media reports suggesting that President Michel Sleiman intends to convene a session of National Dialogue should spur politicians to conduct a careful cost-benefit analysis of such a move. An official announcement has yet to be made, but there is talk of a session being held after the Arab summit in Kuwait later this month. Naturally, there are potential benefits in terms of discussing a long-delayed national defense strategy, but are there any indications that a resumption of National Dialogue won’t have significant costs? Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government is spending this week winning a vote of confidence in Parliament, after around a month was lost to wrangling over its policy statement. Meanwhile, the end of Sleiman’s mandate is approaching, in late May, and huge political efforts are required to ensure that presidential polls takes place on time, in line with the Constitution. The objectives of National Dialogue are honorable, and of paramount importance for Lebanon’s immediate future, but is there any chance of this mechanism succeeding, while the rival camps stumbled over the same topic – the role of non-state resistance to Israel – when trying to put together a policy statement for the Salam government?
Any attempt to bring together the same sides that have generated so much turbulence in the executive branch, and bouts of paralysis in the legislature, is likely to create more tension and political instability at a time Lebanon can least afford it. A magic, behind-the-scenes deal that can suddenly erase all of the disagreement over a national defense strategy would be welcome, but under the current circumstances, it is best to let a long-awaited government finally get down to the job of governing, with as few obstacles in its way as possible.


Fresh Syrian Air Raids on Arsal
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/Syria's air force on Thursday carried out fresh strikes on areas on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said Syrian warplanes carried out eight raids in two stages on Khirbet Younin on the outskirts of Arsal at noon, targeting Syrian opposition fighters. A similar attack was made on Wadi Ajram on Thursday morning. The new raids came after an assault on Wednesday night. "Syrian helicopters carried out two strikes against the areas of Wadi Ajram and Khirbet Younin on the outskirts of Arsal, just after 9:00 pm" on Wednesday, said a Lebanese security official. "The strikes caused no injuries," he told Agence France Presse. The official said the strikes may have been targeting rebels fleeing the Qalamoun area where Syria's forces are on the offensive. Syria's army and Hizbullah overran the rebel bastion Yabrud in the Qalamoun mountains on Sunday and are now targeting other opposition strongholds along the frontier with Lebanon. Mainly-Sunni Arsal has been periodically targeted with often deadly air strikes by Syria's forces in the past few months. Arsal's residents support the Syrian revolt against President Bashar Assad, and the town is hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Smuggling routes used by opposition forces to move fighters and weapons back and forth between Lebanon and Syria pass through the Arsal area. The state-run National News Agency said the army on Wednesday arrested 15 Syrian men at a checkpoint in Arsal.
"The men had entered Lebanese territory with forged papers, and some of them were members of (Syria's al-Qaida affiliate) al-Nusra Front." Sourc/Agence France PresseNaharnet.


Village in Akkar Hit by Shells, Gunfire as Battles Intensify along Border
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/Clashes intensified on Thursday between the Syrian regime troops and gunmen along the Lebanese-Syrian border with shelling and gunfire targeting Khat al-Petrol village in the Akkar border area of Wadi Khaled. ate-run National News Agency, heavy gunfire and shelling from the Syrian side of the border targeted the northern town as battles flared up along the border.
The NNA reported that mortar shells hit at dawn the banks of Nahr al-Kabir in northern Lebanon. Ambulances had rushed to Khat al-Patrol town after casualties were reported. Houses along the border were also damaged during the gunbattles. The news agency said that the battles are in the cross-border town of Bqayaa. At least 35 Syrians wounded in the clashes were admitted to a hospital in the nearby town of al-Qobayat for treatment.
The shelling came a day after Syrian troops recaptured the town of Al-Hosn close to the border, sparking a new exodus of refugees adding to the thousands who had already sought shelter in mainly Sunni Muslim Wadi Khaled.
Later, the NNA reported that Syrian authorities closed the legal border crossing in Bqayaa, causing traffic to come to a halt in both directions. Wadi Khaled residents called on the Lebanese army to interfere to stop the Syrian shelling on the area. The international highway in the Beddawi area was shortly blocked to protest the incident. NNA later reported that two houses burned in the village of Bani Sakher in Wadi Khaled after coming under Syrian shelling. An army post near al-Bqayaa border crossing reportedly came under fire from the Syrian side. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq urged the residents of the areas to reopen the roads to facilitate the transportation of the injured. For his part, Health Minister Wael Abou Faour ordered the hospitals to receive Lebanese and Syrian people, who were injured in the clashes. Several border areas in the north and east have been frequently struck by cross-border shelling, while the Syrian regime has told Lebanon to better control its porous border to prevent the smuggling of fighters and arms.

Army, police deploy in Arsal to contain tension

March 20, 2014 01:05 AM/By Rakan al-Fakih, Dana Khraiche, Kareem Shaheen/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army’s airborne regiment backed by police officers deployed Wednesday in central Arsal after angry demonstrations threatened to upend the fragile security of Beirut and north Lebanon in protest over a blockade of the Bekaa Valley border town. The Army reopened the only road to Arsal, which is accused of harboring Syrian rebels, after nighttime protests forced the closure of several major highways in Beirut and throughout Lebanon in support of the mainly Sunni town. Outraged residents continued to block roads in the capital using burning tires in protest against the killing of Hussam al-Shawwa, who was shot during a demonstration Tuesday night. Angered by the death of Shawwa, several young men cut off the road connecting Cola to Cite Sportive Stadium as well as the Beirut neighborhood of Qasqas. Shawwa, 40, was shot when soldiers fired into the air and used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators blocking the Qasqas road. He later died of wounds in hospital. An Army source said that the investigation into his killing, which is being conducted by the military police, is ongoing to reveal the details of the incident. The source said the military was awaiting the results of forensic tests to identify the source of the bullets, their type, caliber and the rifles from which they were fired. Friends and relatives of Shawwa fired several gunshots into the air during his funeral procession at the Khashokji Mosque in Qasqas. Residents, along with the ISF, cleared overturned garbage dumpsters in the area and reopened the road at around 5:30 p.m. Young protesters in the area said they took to the street in anger at the siege of Arsal and Shawwa’s death. They said the protests were key to reopening the road to Arsal.
They also said it was an opportunity to release pent up frustration over what they saw as the oppression of the Sunni community and Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria.
“We are frustrated and our blood is boiling,” said one protester, who declined to give his name. “We are oppressed, we are many but we have no weapons, we only have God.”
“We used to consider Hezbollah a resistance,” a demonstrator said. “We were with them in fighting Israel. Why are they defending the Baath [party]?”
Protesters said they had resorted to peaceful means in their demonstrations against the Arsal siege, but warned that the streets could turn violent if the town was blockaded once again. Residents from the predominantly Shiite neighboring town of Labweh had sealed off the main road to Arsal with a sand barrier after one person was killed by rocket fire allegedly coming from the direction of the Sunni town. The closure sparked protests by angry Sunnis, who took to the streets in Taanayel, Jdita and Saadnayel in the Bekaa Valley, blocking major highways with burning tires. Similar protests also saw the closures of several Beirut highways as well as the coastal highway connecting the capital to the south and key roads in the northern Akkar region. Policemen teamed up with soldiers to beef up security in Arsal after residents protested the so-called “siege” imposed by Labweh residents who claim Arsal has turned into a safe haven for Syrian militants. Security forces found a warm welcome as they reached Arsal Wednesday morning and the town’s mayor, Ali Hujeiri, slaughtered sheep to honor them. Hujeiri and a delegation of town officials took law enforcement officers on a tour of Arsal before soldiers began patrolling the streets alongside police. He said that Arsal was ready to cooperate fully with the state in order to arrest outlawed gunmen. “We do not provide cover to any gunmen no matter who they are.” Hujeiri expressed support for the Syrian revolution but said those who back it should fight in Syria instead of attacking nearby villages with rockets.
Local residents issued a statement welcoming the presence of security forces and expressing hope that peace and security would return to Arsal. “We reaffirm that we are Lebanese on Lebanese land and with Lebanese identity that we are proud of,” the statement said. “We also reaffirm our desire to live in our country Lebanon with all the Lebanese in peace and love.” The statement expressed regret at recent security incidents in the area.
The military removed the sand barriers that had been erected by Labweh’s residents on the road, and student demonstrators from Arsal’s schools marched in support of the Army. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said he planned to deploy backup police forces to enhance security and stability in Arsal, home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. “I decided to dispatch 40 police members to beef up Internal Security Forces [already deployed] in Arsal.” Hezbollah retained two checkpoints near Labweh that examined cars visiting the town from the direction of Arsal. Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman chaired a high-level meeting which focused on the country’s security situation mainly in Arsal and the northern city of Tripoli, which has seen renewed clashes linked to the crisis in next-door Syria. The meeting held at Baabda Palace was attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam and the country’s top military and security leaders. Salam said the conferees decided to call a meeting of the Higher Defense Council to discuss a security plan “to address the concerns and restore state prestige.”
Also Wednesday, two rockets struck a deserted area in the northeastern town of Hermel near the public hospital. No casualties or material damage were reported. – Additional reporting by Wassim Mroueh


Syria Army Seizes Famed Krak des Chevaliers Fort in Border Push
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/Syrian regime forces seized the famed Crusader fort Krak des Chevaliers on Thursday, marking a significant advance in their drive to seal the Lebanese border and sever rebel supply lines.
"The Syrian Arab Army raises the flag of the nation over the Krak des Chevaliers castle in Homs province, after crushing the terrorists who were holed up there," state television said. The government forces entered the fort, which had been under opposition control since July 2011, after fierce clashes in the nearby village of Al-Hosn. The Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, a private broadcaster sympathetic to Syria's government, broadcast live images showing regime forces atop one of the castle's towers, raising the Syrian government flag. A pro-regime militia chief said the fighting left at least 40 rebels dead, including the leader of the jihadist Jund al-Sham, Khaled al-Mahmud. He was better known by his nom de guerre Abu Suleiman al-Muhajer, the National Defense Forces commander said. The offensive in the Krak des Chevaliers area is one of two major operations by the Syrian army near the border with Lebanon aimed at cutting off rebel supply routes. The army, backed by fighters from Hizbullah, is also fighting to seal the border in the Qalamun region, where it seized the last major rebel bastion of Yabrud on Sunday. Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, said he expected the army to win more strategic victories along the Homs and Damascus province borders with Lebanon. Losing the border would have limited effect on the opposition's weapons supplies, he said, but "in terms of general logistics, communications, and small localized safe havens, its value is well established."
As the army shelled the area around Al-Hosn, dozens of people tried to flee for Lebanon. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 60 people "killed or injured" as they fled for the border. The Britain-based Observatory was unable to confirm a precise death toll, but said that among the casualties were both civilians and fighters. A Lebanese security source said some 60 people were wounded by army fire as they crossed the river that divides the two countries. Syrian army tanks also shelled the border area, causing at least one house in northern Lebanon's Wadi Khaled district to burn down. "The situation is very bad," Wadi Khaled doctor Tareq Dandashi told Agence France Presse. "The whole of Al-Hosn has fled to Lebanon, and the Syrian army has been targeting them as they crossed over," he said. Wadi Khaled resident Khaled Hussein said 130 Syrians had tried to flee to the town on Thursday, but many had been killed or injured trying. "There are still bodies in the river" that separates Lebanon from Syria, he said. The area of north Lebanon, whose residents are largely sympathetic to the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, has come under frequent cross-border shelling by his forces. It is home to thousands of families who have fled the three-year-old conflict.
Protesters in northern Lebanon took to the streets and set up roadblocks of burning tires to express their solidarity with people in Wadi Khaled. The Lebanese army meanwhile closed off unofficial border crossings in the north, citing the danger caused by the artillery fire. The flare-up on Lebanon's northern border came hours after twin Syrian air raids Wednesday night hit the Arsal area, on the eastern border, without causing any casualties, a Lebanese security source said. The Arsal area, which hosts tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, has been hit by repeated cross-border fire in recent months, some of it deadly. Smuggling routes used by opposition forces to move fighters and weapons back and forth between Lebanon and Syria pass through the Arsal area.Source/Agence France Presse.

Gunmen Abduct Man from Cherokee in Baalbek's Shlifa
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/A man was kidnapped Thursday from his Cherokee Laredo in the Baalbek region, according to state-run National News Agency. “Gunmen in a yellow Toyota FJ Cruiser and a white Grand Cherokee kidnapped Lebanese citizen George Mimas after intercepting his gray Cherokee Laredo near the Dar al-Ajaza al-Islamia center in the Baalbek region town of Shlifa,” NNA said. The kidnappers took the man to an unknown destination and investigations are underway to identify the perpetrators, the agency added. Several media reports had identified the abductee as George Tahmazyan. On March 7, Michel al-Saqr, the 10-year-old son of prominent businessman Ibrahim al-Saqr, was abducted at gunpoint in the Bekaa city of Zahle. He was released the next day. And On March 6, Antoine Daher al-Kaadi was kidnapped by masked gunmen on the Ablah road in the Bekaa and was freed later during the day in unknown circumstances. The kidnap-for-ransom phenomenon increased last year and has been strongly criticized by officials from across the political spectrum. Lebanon had also witnessed a wave of sectarian abductions sparked by the war in Syria.

Serra Says Hizbullah, Israel Not Seeking Escalation
by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/UNIFIL Commander Major-General Paolo Serra said on Thursday that Hizbullah and Israel are not interested in escalating the situation after the Golan incident. Israeli public radio quoted Paolo Serra, commander of U.N. peacekeeping troops in Lebanon, as saying Hizbullah too was unlikely to want a full-scale confrontation. "Hizbullah and Israel are not interested in escalation after the Golan Heights incident," it quoted him as saying. Israel launched air raids against Syrian army positions early Wednesday and issued a stark warning to Damascus just hours after a bomb on the occupied Golan Heights wounded four Israeli soldiers. In a rare departure, the Israel military issued a public statement acknowledging Wednesday's strikes on Syrian army facilities. Damascus. meanwhile, said one soldier had been killed and seven more wounded in an act of "aggression" that endangered regional stability. Although the targets in raids were Syrian army, it appeared that the bomb was planted by militants from Damascus ally Hizbullah, pundits said in comments published in Agence France Presse. Syria has long provided arms and other aid to Hizbullah, and served as a conduit for Iranian military aid to the movement, which battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a 2006 war.
Last week, Israel shelled Hizbullah positions after another explosion targeted Israeli troops patrolling the Lebanese border. And on March 5, troops on the Golan fired on what they said were two Hizbullah members allegedly trying to place an explosive device near the ceasefire line. Analysts linked the escalation in border tensions to a February 24 air strike on a Hizbullah position in Lebanon, close to the Syrian border, which a security source said had targeted "weapons sent from Syria to Hizbullah".
Hizbullah openly blamed Israel and vowed to respond. "Hizbullah is the first name that comes to mind when trying to figure out who masterminded (Tuesday's) roadside attack," a Jerusalem Post editorial said, while admitting that nothing was certain in war-torn Syria. "The country has deteriorated into a free-for-all fire zone the likes of which even this erratic region has never known. It has become an arena for every terrorist group."
Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Middle East expert Guy Bechor said that responsibility for the Golan attack was far from clear, and may not rest with either Hizbullah or the Damascus regime. "Assad controls approximately a fifth of his country and most of our border is no longer under his control but under that of the various rebels, mostly Sunni jihadists," he wrote. "Hizbullah, like the Syrian regime, is up to its ears in fighting deep inside Syria. The Israeli border isn't an area that is controlled by Hizbullah, but by Salafist rebels," he said. Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights plateau during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. The two countries went to war again in 1973. Since the Syrian civil conflict erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of stray projectiles hitting the Israeli side, prompting an occasional armed response. Commentators said also Thursday Israel's air strikes on Syria was unlikely to spiral into full-scale confrontation, with each side preoccupied elsewhere. Over the past year, Israel has reportedly carried out a series of raids on Syrian and Hizbullah targets but has not officially acknowledged them. But most commentators agreed that neither Israel nor the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad were seeking a faceoff as each was dealing with threats on other fronts. "Assad has no desire to get into a direct confrontation with Israel, which could bring about his end," Syria expert Eyal Zisser told the Jerusalem Post. Source/Agence France

Al-Rahi: It is Shameful to Await Foreign Countries to Nominate President for us

Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi demanded on Thursday that the presidential elections be held on time, saying that it is a national duty that should be respected. He said before a delegation from the editors syndicate: “It is shameful for us to await foreign powers to nominate a president for us.” “We may ask these powers for their opinions on a candidate, but we should not ask them who they prefer,” he explained. “The new president should be strong and must adhere to national principles,” al-Rahi added. Furthermore, the patriarch said that the president should enjoy good ties with the international community.
The presidential elections are scheduled for May when President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends. The constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Suleiman’s mandate. The formation of the government after months of consultations has revived hopes that the elections will be held by the constitutional deadline.

Syrian Army Seizes Bomb-Laden Cars in Yabrud Carrying Lebanese License Plates
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/The Syrian army found on Wednesday a number of explosive-rigged vehicles carrying Lebanese license plates while combing through southwest of the strategic town of Yabrud. According to the Syrian state television, the Syrian army located a factory for manufacturing bombs in Ras al-Ain village in Yabrud and seized several booby-trapped vehicles carrying Lebanese license plates. Al-Mayadeen Network said on Thursday that the bomb factory turned out to be a farm in al-Sarkha area near Yabrud. The channel said that the farm contains several chambers that are specified to manufacture certain explosive material. On Sunday, the Syrian army seized full control of rebel bastion Yabrud along the Lebanese border. Yabrud is a strategic prize because of its proximity to the highway and the Lebanese border, across which rebels have smuggled fighters and weapons. The capture of the town, and continuing army operations in the surrounding area, will sever important supply lines for the rebels as they face army advances on different fronts. The town's seizure could also pile new pressure on the Lebanese border town Arsal, which is hosting at least 51,000 Syrian refugees, many from the Qalamoun region. Hizbullah's involvement in Syria has prompted bomb attacks by extremist groups against areas in Lebanon sympathetic to the group, killing mostly civilians. Hizbullah and Lebanese security forces have said many of the car bombs used in those attacks originated in Yabrud. The town's fall comes a day after Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 146,000 people, entered its fourth year.


Syrian army kills 11 rebels fleeing to Lebanon
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Thursday, 20 March 2014
Syrian troops killed 11 rebels who were fleeing the village of al-Hosn, home to famed Crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers, for the nearby Lebanese border on Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported a military source as saying. “During the operations in the Al-Hosn area, armed men [rebels] tried to flee for Lebanese territory. They fell to an ambush laid by the army, and 11 armed men were killed,” the source told AFP.
Earlier, 41 wounded Syrian rebels crossed a river into Lebanon after the Syrian army ambushed the fighters as they tried to flee a besieged area, Reuters reported two Lebanese medical sources in the area as saying.
Eight more rebels either arrived dead or succumbed to their wounds after managing to escape Syria into the northern Lebanese area of Wadi Khaled, the sources, a hospital employee and a medic who requested anonymity, told Reuters. The flare-up came as Syrian troops backed by fighters of its Lebanese ally Hezbollah pressed offensives on the Syrian side of the frontier, prompting an exodus of both rebels and civilians. The artillery fire hit several homes in the Wadi Khaled area on Lebanon’s northern border, a Lebanese security source said. The shelling came a day after Syrian troops recaptured Al-Hosn, sparking a new exodus of refugees adding to the thousands who had already sought shelter in mainly Sunni Muslim Wadi Khaled. “The situation is very bad,” Wadi Khaled doctor Tareq Dandashi told AFP. “The whole of Al-Hosn has fled to Lebanon, and the Syrian army has been targeting them as they crossed over,” he said “In coordination with the Lebanese Red Cross, we have transported some 40 wounded.”The Al-Hosn area is home to the famed Krak des Chevaliers, one of the Middle East’s best preserved Crusader castles. The Syrian army bombarded rebel positions near the castle on Wednesday. The Al-Hosn offensive is one of two major operations by the Syrian army close to the border aimed at denying rebels supply routes for weapons. Troops and Shiite militants of Hezbollah have also been engaged in a major offensive since November in the Qalamun mountains north of Damascus, where they recaptured the last major rebel stronghold Yabrud on Sunday. The advances brought the Syrian government forces right up to Lebanon’s eastern border, where air raids hit the mainly-Sunni Arsal area late on Wednesday, a security official said.
(With Reuters and AFP)


Rebels killed in Homs, wounded brought to Lebanon
March 20, 2014/By Misbah al-Ali/The Daily Star/BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: Several rebels were killed and at least 45 wounded in a Syrian army ambush and ensuing gunbattle in Al-Hosn, Homs, near the Lebanese border region of Wadi Khaled Thursday, security sources said. A Syrian military source in Damascus told Agence France-Presse that 11 rebels were killed as they fled Al-Hosn to Lebanon. At least 45 of the wounded who reached Wadi Khaled were transported by Lebanese Red Cross ambulances to hospitals in the northern region of Akkar.Only 28 wounded remain hospitalized, the sources told The Daily Star, adding that despite media reports, as of midday, none of the wounded had died. They said troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad ambushed militants from the Nusra Front, a Sunni jihadist group, while trying to flee a siege imposed on Al-Hosn in the central province of Homs. Syrian regime forces chased the fleeing militants across Rajm Hussein, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Wadi Khaled, engaging them in fierce fighting, the sources said.
The Syrian army entered Al-Hosn Monday and was fighting for control of the famed crusader fortress. Meanwhile, the sound of artillery bombardment and heavy machine gun fire reverberated across the border as Syrian warplanes were seen circling the northern frontier. Volleys of rockets could also be heard throughout Wadi Khaled. The sources said several Syrian rockets hit towns bordering Wadi Khaled during the dawn ambush.
The National News Agency said several homes were hit by Syrian shelling, but there were no reports of casualties among civilians. The Syrian army closed the Bqaiaa border crossing with Lebanon in both directions in an apparent effort to tighten the noose on the rebels and block the entry of wounded to Lebanon, the sources added. Angry residents briefly blocked the road to the Abboudiyeh border crossing and to Halba, Akkar, in protest against the Syrian shelling of Wadi Khaled. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk pleaded with protestors not to seal off the roads in order to facilitate the entry of “Lebanese and Syrians wounded by Syrian shelling” to hospitals.

Nearly half of Syrian chemicals removed
By Reuters | Beirut /Thursday, 20 March 2014/Nearly half of Syria's declared chemical weapons have been shipped out of the country after two more cargoes were loaded onto vessels in the Mediterranean over the last week, the international team overseeing the disarmament process said. The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement late on Wednesday that 45.6 percent of the chemicals had been removed from Syria's Latakia port for destruction outside the country. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons program last year in a deal with Russia and the United States, but it is several months behind schedule and risks missing a June 30 deadline for the chemicals to be destroyed. It has asked to be given until April 27 to complete the removal of the chemicals, which would put the mission two-and-a-half months behind schedule. Syrian authorities, battling a three-year uprising and insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, blame security problems for the delays in bringing the chemicals to the Mediterranean port Latakia.
Five rockets were fired towards the Latakia port area earlier this month, with one landing near to where the international chemical team were staying, sources said on Tuesday. The joint U.N.-OPCW mission said the delivery of the latest two consignments to vessels off Latakia means that 29.5 percent of the 'Priority 1' chemicals, considered the most dangerous, have been removed and 82.6 percent of 'Priority 2' chemicals.


Speak the Language that the Axis Of Evil Understands

Elias Bejjani/Very rational analysis, but as far as the Syrian regime and its criminal supporters, all such rational falls on deaf ears. In summary the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah Evil Axis understands and only respond to the force language and unless the West and the Arab countries decide to speak this language, this evil will continue devouring the Syrian people and destabilizing all the Middle East countries.


Opinion: Three Years of Revolution and Two Years of Betrayal

Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/Thursday, 20 Mar, 2014
Earlier this week, the Syrian revolution marked its third anniversary. But in some Western quarters the word “revolution” has given way to “civil war,” despite the fact that the Syrian revolution is perhaps the only real revolution in modern Arab history.
“Civil war,” then? Why not? It is a comfortable term that expresses the disregard that has been shown towards the revolution, or should we say, the betrayal of that revolution. It has become necessary for the Syrian regime, Iran, the West, Russia and China to downplay the political and moral significance of the Syrian revolution by dealing with it as a civil war.
After three years of blood, tears and suffering, it is in each of these interest to portray what is happening as civil war so that they can avert their eyes from the Syrian people’s spontaneous uprising which, actually, remained peaceful for almost a year in the face of criminal and fascist oppression.
In civil wars it is wrong to take sides, given that there is neither a sheep nor a butcher, neither an oppressor nor an oppressed, neither a murderer nor a victim. “All are equally to blame,” as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov might put it. And the Syrian “civil war is a very complex situation,” as US President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry and former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford seem to believe. This kind of stance is also what we should expect from the new star in the US arena of “inaction,” namely the new US Special Envoy to Syria, Daniel Rubenstein.
A couple of days ago I read the aptly-titled “Nobody Knows Anything,” an article by Naval War College Professor John Schindler. It deals with the ignorance of the younger generation running US foreign affairs—most of them under 45—when it comes to the basics of politics and deterrence. Schindler borrowed the title of an article from the screenwriting legend William Goldman’s 1983 Adventures in the Screen Trade. Schindler writes: “Goldman repeatedly cites a line, ‘Nobody Knows Anything,’ meaning that despite vast hours and sums spent by Hollywood on testing films with audiences, nobody in Tinseltown really has a clue how a movie will do at the box office until it’s actually released. It’s all guesswork, and always has been.”
Schindler says the recent Ukraine crisis has comprehensively revealed that US foreign policymakers do not have the vaguest idea what the outcomes will be of their maneuvers and options. He continues: “I have repeatedly explained just how weak I think the Obama foreign policy team is, filled with impressive-sounding people who clearly cannot handle a real struggle with Moscow . . . Recent weeks have made abundantly clear that the White House simply does not know what to do when confronted with hard problems being pushed by hard men who are more than willing to use cunning violence and naked intimidation as a matter of routine.”
Having explained that “the rot goes far deeper than this White House, and is not confined to any party,” Schindler adds: “A related factor here surely is that the United States has groomed a whole generation of foreign policy wonks-in-training who lack any real understanding of how the world actually works. These impressive-on-paper people—let it be noted they are legion in both parties—the under-45s . . . are no match for the stone-cold killers of the Kremlin, led by the Chekist-in-Chief [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Nice words, indeed. And perhaps they frankly explain the bland, or rather clumsy, reaction of Washington and its European Union followers to the geopolitical–strategic step Moscow is mulling. In fact, facing such circumstances, it would have been better that Washington and its allies did or said nothing rather than make ridiculous announcements and take weak measures that will neither change the equation nor likely deter Putin from moving forward with ensuring the failure of Ukraine as a sovereign entity, while capitalizing on Russia’s large influence in the country’s eastern and southern parts.
Anyway, let’s leave Ukraine aside and return to the Syrian issue.
Schindler’s words about the modest capabilities of US foreign policy planners and makers may be true. However, the way in which the US has been dealing with Syria is different. In fact, it is worse. Washington’s attitude towards Syria has been not only clumsy, but also suspicious. Without the need to refer back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Obama published in The Atlantic—which I presume constitutes the most important document revealing Obama’s true attitude towards the Middle East—we have also noticed an attempt to bluff almost all the regional players.
In “Three Years of War in Syria,” a critical article published in the neo-con Weekly Standard, Lee Smith accuses the White House of launching a campaign of “half-truths and lies” over the past three years to mislead the US public regarding Obama’s true intentions towards Syria, in particular playing down Iran’s rise in the Middle East.
Smith writes: “The history of the Syrian civil war is also a chronicle of White House mendacity,” a reference to Obama’s sarcastic remarks in an interview with The Atlantic about “people saying, ‘They’re [Iran is] winning in Syria.’—“It’s [Iran] bleeding them because they’re having to send in billions of dollars. Their key proxy, Hezbollah, which had a very comfortable and powerful perch in Lebanon, now finds itself attacked by Sunni extremists. This isn’t good for Iran. They’re losing as much as anybody.”
What is worse than Obama’s words is what Ford said in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat. He said one of the lessons . . . that the US has learned from the Iraq experience is that in Syria there is no US solution, and that “it is going to have to be an international community solution which the US will be a big part of, but not the only part.” This remark first lacks logic and, second, insults people’s intelligence. By saying this, Ford adopts the White House’s belief that intervention in Iraq was a mistake that must not be repeated. In this argument, Ford is actually ignoring the political and military reality that this intervention produced, namely surrendering Iraq, Syria and Lebanon into the hands of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
This reality—if Washington really rejects it—requires correcting the “mistake” by changing it on the ground. However, what is suspicious about Ford’s comments, and by extension the White House’s stance as confirmed in the interview with The Atlantic, is the fact that Washington is today building its regional strategy on the basis of the continuation of the effects of that putative “mistake,” because it does not consider the current Iranian regime as an enemy, but rather a regional partner.
Syria and its revolution—or shall we say the very Arab identity of the region—are paying the price of this partnership.


Al Qaeda-Iraq infiltrates Golan as well as Sinai, plots twin attacks
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 20, 2014/The presumption is gaining ground in Israel that the bombing attack on an Israeli Golan position Tuesday, March 18, injuring four paratroops, may not have been the work of Hizballah, but of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–ISIS, which is revealed now to have to have infiltrated the Syrian Golan as well as Sinai.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report two disturbing developments in this regard: ISIS Sinai cells are plotting a big coordinated operation to strike Egypt and Israel simultaneously. The other is that Syrian military intelligence is arming and funding Iraqi al Qaeda and some its commanders are working directly for Syria. These clandestine links have been developing for some time and were picked up by anti-terrorism agencies watching the serpentine relationships evolving on the Syrian-Israeli border. They discovered that the Assad regime had decided to use ISIS as a surrogate for hitting the IDF on the Golan. This follows a previous Syrian decision to use the Iraqi al Qaeda group’s rivalry with the Syrian Nusra Front for its own purpose. The Assad regime accordingly unleashed the Iraqi al Qaeda group to fight Nusra and so save Syrian government forces the trouble of crushing the Syrian Islamist front. To help ISIS, the Syrian government has opened its border with Iraq to allow the jihadists to set up operational headquarters on the side of the border and enjoy free passage between the two countries.
Western agencies say that if Assad is willing to use Iraqi jiahdists against Syrian Islamist rebels, he would have no qualms against using them as his hirelings for striking Israeli military targets on Golan.
According to DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources, ISIS fighters gained access to Golan through the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border intersections before taking a route which cicumvented Jebel Druze.
Another ISIS group reached Sinai through Jordan: They traveled along remote trails through the Edomite Mountains and headed south to the Red Sea port of Aqaba. There, Sinai Bedouin smugglers affiliated with Al Qaeda’s Sinai cells and ready to serve anyone for cash, were waiting with boats to carry them across to the Egyptian peninsula.

Kerry calls Netanyahu after anti-U.S. remarks
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Thursday, 20 March 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to protest remarks by Israel’s defense minister that portrayed the United States as weak in its handling of nuclear talks with Iran and other world affairs, Reuters reported a State Department spokeswoman as saying. Speaking during a lecture at Tel Aviv University on Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel could not rely on its main ally to take the lead in confronting Iran over its nuclear program. He also pointed to Ukraine’s crisis as an example of Washington “showing weakness.” In a telephone call, Kerry told Netanyahu that Yaalon’s comments were inconsistent with strong ties between Israel and the United States. “Clearly his comments were not constructive,” Agence France-Presse quoted State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki as telling reporters. “Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and protested to him his concerns about these comments,” Psaki said, adding that the United States has an “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security. “It is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Yaalon would continue his pattern of making comments that don’t accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel.”But Kerry has a “thick skin” and “we’re ready to move forward and keep talking about the peace process,” Psaki added.
Yaalon’s apologizes
In a later statement issued by the Israeli defense minister’s office, after he spoke with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel, Yaalon said: “There was in my comments no criticism or intention to offend the United States.”
“The strategic relations between our countries is of supreme importance as are personal relations at every level. I highly value the relations between Israel and the United States.” It is not Yaalon’s first diatribe against the administration of President Barack Obama and Kerry himself. In January, the State Department denounced as “offensive” comments made by the minister accusing Kerry of an “incomprehensible obsession” with his push for Middle East peace. Yaalon was later forced to apologize to the top U.S. diplomat. The United States is seeking to broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, with efforts intensifying in recent weeks to secure agreement on a framework for talks by the end of April. (With AFP and Reuters)


Kuwait seeks to heal Gulf rift ahead of Arab Summit
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya News/Thursday, 20 March 2014
Kuwait is seeking to mediate an end to the standoff between Qatar and three Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain – ahead of a planned Arab summit to be held on March 25, a prominent Kuwait lawmaker has said. Ali al-Rashid, the head of the foreign affairs committee at the Kuwaiti parliament, told reporters on Tuesday that his committee was supporting official efforts to “heal the rift” and push for reconciliation between the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar earlier this month to protest Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group blacklisted by both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as a terrorist group. The trio said that Qatar had not “committed to the principles” of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), adding that "Qatar has to take the appropriate steps to ensure the security of the GCC states."
Qatar expressed “regret” and “surprise” at the recall of Gulf envoys, vowing to change its foreign policy. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Tuesday the political crisis with Qatar is unlikely to be solved "as long as Doha does not revise its policy," the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper cited him as saying. "If Qatar’s policy, which sparked the crisis, is amended, then there will be a breakthrough," he told the newspaper.
The minister also said that it is unlikely that Western mediation will play a hand in settling the dispute with Doha. "There is no American mediation to resolve the Gulf crisis," he said. Al-Hayat quoted sources as telling the newspaper last week that a number of Saudi officials did not attend bilateral meetings in Doha with their Qatari counterparts.


Down and out in Yabrud and Tripoli: Lebanon suffers Syria’s war
Thursday, 20 March 2014/Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya
It is hard to miss the specter of the Syrian conflict while visiting Lebanon. The refugees, the clashes, the sporadic car bombings, the economic downturn and even the graffiti on the walls scream Syria. Just last Saturday, as some Lebanese were celebrating the fall of Syrian border town Yabrud to regime forces aided by Hezbollah, Sunni-Alawite clashes resumed in Tripoli and a suicide bomber struck in Bekaa.
For reasons related to the magnitude of the spillover, the increasing sectarian tension, Hezbollah’s role, the regional bickering and the fear of a presidential vacuum, the contained instability could collapse if Lebanon is left with no political strategy and no international help.
Between Yabrud and Tripoli
By virtue of geography, demographics, and politics, Lebanon is the most shaken by the conflict out of all Syria’s neighbors. From the beginning of the armed struggle, Lebanese fighters crossed the unmarked border into Syria either to help the embattled Assad regime or the rebel groups. Hezbollah’s decision, however, to intervene directly and en masse in the Syrian war last May, marked a turning point in the repercussions and the intensity of the spillover into Lebanon. While Hezbollah defends its involvement as a preemptive strategic measure to protect Lebanon and keep extremists away from the border, so far the move has done the exact opposite. Terrorist groups in Syria such as the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are more prevalent in Lebanon today, and see in Hezbollah’s involvement an invitation to strike inside Lebanese territory. The Bekaa bombing on Saturday, claimed by al-Nusra and which took the life of a Hezbollah security member, was the number 14 such attack this year according to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, and signifies a new trend in the threat facing the country. Even during its civil war, Lebanon did not allow for a presidential vacuum and the current situation should be no exception
It is hard to see how Hezbollah’s strategy will work given that there is no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, and that security strategies almost always fall short on foreign land, especially when not accompanied by a political roadmap. Sectarian Sunni-Shiite tension is also on the rise inside Lebanon. The Tripoli clashes between Bab Tebaneh and Jabal Mohsen have only become more aggressive as the fighting in Syria intensifies, and the Lebanese army’s efforts have been rendered futile in restoring the calm.
Presidential elections
Adding to the turbulence are looming critical benchmarks for Lebanon. A new president should ideally be voted by the parliament into office by May 25, but the deepening divisions and lack of consensus on a candidate could promise a political vacuum. Interestingly, the elections and the desire of many political figures to become the head of state is repositioning alliances and coalitions inside Beirut. The March 8 and March 14 split is being blurred when it comes to voting in the next president, with Michel Aoun (March 8) engaging with the Hariri camp (March 14), and Samir Gaagaa (March 14) and showing readiness to talk to Hezbollah (March 8). Several Christian leaders appear to be playing musical chairs in attempt to get the 65 parliamentary votes and make it to Baabda, the residence of the president of Lebanon.
The pool of presumed candidates –all unannounced as of yet - includes Aoun and Gaagaa, former President Amin Gemayel, former Parliamentarian Jean Obeid, the head of the army Jean Kahwaji and the head of the central bank Riad Salameh. Other less known names are being considered, as is the option of extending the term of current President Michel Suleiman. Meeting the presidential deadline is essential for Lebanon and getting a civilian face after two heads of military could help in promoting political consensus and easing regional tension.
The Syrian conflict is nowhere near ending and containing its repercussions starts with ensuring political stability, strengthening the Lebanese army and seeking more help from the international community, especially on the issue of refugees. None of that can be properly achieved with a presidential vaccum. Even during its civil war, Lebanon did not allow for a presidential vacuum and the current situation should be no exception.

Tunisia’s fake jihadist and the war in Syria
Thursday, 20 March 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Alarabiya
Tunisia is a relatively faraway and small country and like the rest of the region’s countries, it is suffering from the effects of the Syrian war. It is not suffering as much as Jordan and Lebanon, but it is concerned about the recruitment of its youth as suicide bombers. It seems there are those who wish to halt the flow of Tunisian youth to jihadist groups in Syria, such people are attempting to intimidate people.
Last week, for example, a man who hid his face and called himself Abou Qusai appeared on a Tunisian TV channel. He claimed that he was a jihad fighter who returned from Syria after realizing it was not truly a dirty war not a holy war. As it turned out, the man was a fake. He appeared on the show to urge Tunisians to prevent their sons from getting involved with terrorist groups. The message is good, but the means was wrong. There are dozens like Abu Qusai who have real experience and who can reflect the truth without forgery or exaggeration.
Fighting in Syria
There are currently two wars in Syria that are not linked to one another. The first one is the Syrians’ war against the regime and the second one is the extremists’ war against the people. the second is waged because women don’t wear the veil or because the people don’t pray on time or because they are Christians or Druze. The Syrian people' war against the regime was launched because the latter is a suppressive body of authority that has been ruling them for 40 years. The regime represents the appalling, fascist, Baathist intellect. It is led by a gang which exploits its small sect to run the country.
Extremist groups consider fighting against civilized society as one of their priorities. They don’t care about people’s freedom or political aspirations
A country ruled by suppression will inevitably reach such a point. This is what happened in 2011, when Daraa’s people revolted after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces tortured their children and threatened their lives and property. Mutiny against the regime spread across the republic and the Syrians’ war to get rid of the Assad regime continues. The second appalling war is run by groups which call themselves jihadists. This war has nothing to do with the Syrian people’s demands or feelings; it does not take into account the Syrian people’s aspirations. Its agenda is aimed at establishing an extremist state like that of the al-Khawarij peoples who revolted against Caliphs Othman and Ali. They called themselves “the believers” and they accused rulers of infidelity and punished the public because it wasn’t “Muslim enough.”
Al-Qaeda's aim
When the extremist al-Qaeda fought in Iraq over the past few years, its aim wasn’t to expel the Americans or support one political regime against another. It first targeted the areas in which it secured a stronghold, like Fallujah, and tortured its people because they didn’t meet the criteria of religious extremism which al-Qaeda championed. Hideous graves and jails were later discovered in the areas the group used to control. Al-Qaeda is currently doing the same thing in areas it seized in north Syria. Residents of these areas are fighting it and they consider it as evil as the Assad regime.
Does convincing people to reject extremist organizations like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Nusra Front call for resorting to fake stories? Of course not. This is political and media stupidity because there are real people out there who were part of these groups and who defected from them in objection to their activities. One can resort to their testimonies without distorting what’s happening in Syria and without indirectly serving the Assad regime. The dispute with Islamist groups, including the Brotherhood, does not justify the act of confusing them for moderate national political and military groups. The Syrians need someone who supports their just demands. They are not involved in the emergence of brutal extremist groups which were previously present in Tunisia, the Gulf, East Africa and Pakistan. These extremist groups consider fighting against civilized society as one of their priorities. They don’t care about people’s freedom or political aspirations. For example, the ISIS in Syria is more authoritarian than the Assad regime which is considered one of the region’s most brutal regimes.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 20, 2014.


Ya'alon clarifies comments: No intention to hurt US-Israel relations
Amid reports that the US demanded a public apology, defense minister publishes 'clarification' of critical comments, saying 'no defiance or criticism or intention to hurt US or its relations with Israel.'
Yitzhak Benhorin/03.20.14/ Israel News/Ynetnews
WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke on the phone with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel late Wednesday night and clarified he had no intention to harm US-Israel relations, after a comment he made caused a furor between the two allies. Wednesday a US official told Israeli media that Ya'alon was "determined to undermine US-Israel relations," after the defense minister called the US "weak" on Iran, and questioned its commitment to Israel's security. In response, sources close to the defense minister charged that some in the Obama administration were "trying to hurt (Ya'alon's) legitimacy and his great popularity," and State Department Spokeswomen Jen Psaki said Kerry spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to protest Ya'alon's comments, which she described as "unconstructive" and "confusing."
During the conversation with Hagel Wednesday night, Ya'alon chose not to apologize, which some reports claimed the US had demanded, but rather to clarify the remarks which have topped headlines and generated copy.
"My remarks had no defiance or criticism or intention to hurt the United States or its relations with Israel. The strategic relationship between the two countries is of utmost importance, as are the personal relations and common interests." The defense minister said he personally appreciated all levels of the US-Israel relations and particularly the warm relationship between their respective security establishments.
Ya'alon told Hagel: "I have a deep appreciation for the relations between our countries and to you personally. I appreciated these relations as IDF Chief of Staff and I appreciate them today as defense minister, I recognize their depth and importance."
Ya'alon commits
The Israeli defense chief emphasized to his counterpart that he was committed to maintaining the close relations between the two countries: "I am fully obligated to these relations and to the cooperation between Israel and the US." Hagel thanked Ya'alon for the clarification, and told the under-fire defense minister he recognized that parts of his remarks may had been taken out of context. Earlier, a sources close to Ya'alon said the defense minister was not someone who was willing to compromise on issues of security in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "The Americans are calling him a 'hard nut to crack' and an 'extremist,' but in actuality he is standing firm facing what he identifies as a danger to the state and the security of its citizens," a sources said. Sources close to Ya'alon explained that he had been expressing his concern of American weakness in the world and particularly in the Middle East. They pointed to American policy about Iran and Syria, saying "the United States' confused policy weakens it in its activities in the region." "Both American and Israeli officials are trying to hurt (Ya'alon). It is a fact his relations with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are great, and relations between the two (security) institutions are great," the source added. Ya'alon has been vocally critical against the United States in recent months, saying US Secretary of State John Kerry was "acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor" during the latest round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and adding that Kerry should just "win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace."

Hillary Clinton tells US Jews: Iran nuclear talks should be given chance before sanctions

By JTA/J.Post/03/20/2014 12:50
NEW YORK — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that nuclear negotiations with Iran should be given a chance and warned Congress against imposing new sanctions.
Clinton, speaking Wednesday night at an American Jewish Congress gala in New York, credited international sanctions that she worked to implement with bringing Iran to the negotiating table. She stressed the importance of pursuing the current multinational talks aimed at reaching an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Now, the odds of reaching that comprehensive agreement are not good. President Obama has said that,” Clinton said at the dinner, where she was presented with AJCongress’ Stephen S. Wise Award. “I’m also personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver. I have seen their behavior over years. But this is a development that is worth testing.”
Clinton, who is considered a likely 2016 presidential frontrunner, focused her speech on the Iranian nuclear issue and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On both fronts, she said, “the status quo is unsustainable.”
In her half-hour address, Clinton pointed to her experience as secretary of state in building international support for Iran sanctions and in bringing Israeli and Palestinian leaders together.
“It was clear to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu had a deep commitment to testing whether it was possible to create the conditions for peace,” she said, referring to her meetings with the Israeli leader. “He made some unprecedented moves during my four years which convinced me that he was willing to have the substantive conversations that are required for such a difficult undertaking.”
She praised her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, as a “forceful advocate” for the peace process.
Clinton reiterated her support for the Obama administration’s stance that Congress should refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran while nuclear talks are underway.
“If the world judges, fairly or unfairly, that negotiations have collapsed because of actions by our Congress, even some of our closest partners will falter,” Clinton said.
She said that if diplomacy ultimately fails, “then we can always — and we will — put on additional sanctions. And we will have the international support necessary to ensure enforcement. And, yes, we will explore every other option. And let’s be clear, every other option does remain on the table.”
Clinton was introduced at the gala by actress Julianna Margulies, star of CBS’ “The Good Wife,” and by AJCongress’ president, Jack Rosen.
AJCongress, a storied Jewish advocacy group, suspended its operations in 2010 after suffering massive losses from Bernard Madoff’s financial fraud. Over the past year, Rosen, a businessman, prominent political donor and longtime AJCongress leader, has worked with a board that includes his sons to reorganize the group. The reorganization has drawn criticism from some of the group’s past activists.

Australia reports possible debris from Malaysian plane in Indian Ocean
New, credible information has come to light', Australian prime minister says, as country spots two floating objects possibly pertaining to missing jetliner in ocean.
Search aircraft are investigating two objects spotted by satellite floating in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia that could be debris from a Malaysian jetliner missing for 12 days with 239 people on board.
Australian officials said the objects, the largest of which measured up to 24 meters (78 ft), were around 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, and appeared to be awash over water several thousand meters deep."I can confirm we have a new lead," Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, where the investigation into the missing airliner is based. Another official in Malaysia said investigators were "hopeful but cautious" about the Australian discovery.
No confirmed wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. "New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the country's parliament.
"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search."John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of AMSA, told reporters that an Australian air force AP-3C Orion plane was already at the scene, and more aircraft were on the way. A merchant ship diverted for the task was due to arrive in a few hours, he said.
"They are objects of a reasonable size and probably awash with water moving up and down over the surface," he said.
Young said it could be some days before authorities have anything to report and added that poor visibility reported in the area could hamper the search.
"It's probably the best lead we have right now but we have to get there, find them, see them, assess them, to know whether it's really meaningful or not," he said.
Prime Minister Abbott said he had already spoken with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and cautioned that the objects had yet to be identified.
"The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out they are not related to the search for MH370," Abbott said.
FBI helping probe
Investigators believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial aviation navigation switched off the plane's communications systems before diverting it thousands of miles off its scheduled course.
Exhaustive background checks of the passengers and crew aboard have not yielded anything that might explain why.
Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and satellites believe that, minutes after its identifying transponder was switched off, the plane turned sharply west, re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following an established commercial route towards India.
After that, ephemeral pings picked up by one commercial satellite suggest the aircraft flew on for at least six hours.
The methodical shutdown of the communications systems, together with the fact that the plane appeared to be following a planned course after turning back, has focused particular attention on the pilot and co-pilot.
The FBI is helping Malaysian authorities analyze data from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of the missing plane, after initial examination showed some data logs had been deleted early last month.
A Malaysian official with knowledge of the investigations into the pilots said three simulator games that 53-year-old pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had played were being looked at.
"We are following up on the data logs being erased," the source said. "These could be logs of the games that were erased to free up memory, so it may not lead us to anything. He played a lot of games, going into hundreds and thousands of hours." An unprecedented multinational search for the plane has focused on two vast search corridors: one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island to west of Australia. Australia is leading the search in the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the US Navy. The depth of the water where the possible debris has been sighted would likely make recovering the "black box" voice and data recorders that may finally unlock the mystery of what happened aboard Flight MH370 extremely challenging.


Analysis: Iran talks continue in Vienna, but now they’re on Russian terms

By MICHAEL WILNER/03/19/2014/WASHINGTON – As the Russian Federation officially moved to annex Crimea on Tuesday, US Vice President Joseph Biden conducted damage control in eastern Europe, promising NATO allies the support of the United States, up to a point.The establishment of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, abandoned by US President Barack Obama in 2009, is still off the table, Biden told his European partners.“He won’t be discussing changes in the missile defense approach,” a senior administration told reporters en route to Warsaw. The vice president’s message came as American diplomats resumed negotiations in Vienna with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. At the table with the US were its partners in peace, known as the P5+1 – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia. Unity within the group against Iran’s nuclear program remains stalwart, US officials said. And yet US options in Crimea are limited, in part due to America’s interest in maintaining that unity. Pushing Russia too aggressively – whether through sanctions, missile defense projects or expanded NATO operations – risks jeopardizing the nuclear negotiations with Iran, now at a fragile, strategically significant stage. Throughout the Pentagon’s planning for an eastern European missile shield, officials from the George W. Bush administration insisted the purpose of the project was to protect NATO allies against improved Iranian missile technology.
Russia never accepted this line of argument.
It saw the shield as antagonistic and opposed its construction, threatening obstruction on other policy efforts.
In scrapping the shield in 2009, Obama administration officials hoped that Russia would reciprocate with accommodation on Iran. Indeed they have: Russia has not opposed four strong sanctions resolutions in the United Nations Security Council and generally obliged the independent sanctions regimes imposed by the EU and the US.
“I haven’t seen any negative effect,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told reporters in Vienna on Tuesday. “We continue our work in a unified fashion.”
Robert Einhorn, a former senior Obama administration official involved in the Iran negotiations who is now with the Brookings Institution, said Russia and the international community have a strong enough shared interest in a diplomatic solution to the crisis to maintain unity in Vienna. “We will see in the days to come whether the tensions over Crimea will spill over on Iran and make Russia a less responsible player on Iran,” Einhorn said. “But so far, we haven’t seen the Russians pulling back from the generally constructive role they have so far played.”Russia has its own interests in a negotiated settlement to the crisis, Einhorn said: Kremlin officials want as few countries as possible to have nuclear weapons. “They have their own concerns over the Muslim population in Russia. So they have a vested interest in maintaining stability in the Middle East.”
Asked whether the US fears the international consensus may fray on Iran over to the broad-reaching Crimean crisis, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the evidence was to the contrary.
“Russia is not a part of this because they’re doing [the US] a favor,” Psaki had said. “We fully expect – and evidence of the last week shows you this – that they will remain an active partner at the negotiating table.”


Obama Calls on Iran to Seize Opportunity of Nuclear Talks
Naharnet Newsdesk 20 March 2014/U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday called on the "entire" government in Tehran to seize on nuclear talks with world powers to end Iran's economic isolation.
Obama made what appeared to be a direct effort to build political pressure among Iranians in favor of the nuclear diplomacy led by the government of President Hassan Rouhani in an annual video message marking Nowruz, new year celebrations. Obama noted in his message that Iranians had elected the comparatively moderate Rouhani last year to strengthen the economy, improve their lives and engage constructively with the world.
Blaming Iran's recent economic hardship on "the choices of Iranian leaders," he said "you deserve better," as he made a highly political case to the Iranian people on the importance of reaching a final nuclear deal, which could loosen the damaging grip of economic sanctions on Iran's economy. But, a day after the latest round of talks between P5+1 powers and Tehran wrapped up, Obama warned he was under "no illusions" and knew the work to cement an interim deal last year, in which Iran froze aspects of its nuclear program in return for limited relief from sanctions, would be difficult. Obama also sought to build political pressure on hardliners in the Iranian government, noting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said Iran was not developing nuclear weapons. "There is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only," Obama said. He openly tried to sell the benefits of a full nuclear deal, which he said would mean more trade with the rest of the world, higher economic growth, and jobs for young Iranians and the chance for Iranian students to travel the globe. "If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and it's role in the world," he said.
Obama has faced a tough battle to convince critics in the U.S. Congress about the wisdom of his diplomatic approach and fought off a bid by lawmakers to impose new sanctions which he said could scupper the diplomacy.
Israel has also expressed extreme skepticism over the interim deal and said a final agreement must include a complete dismantling of all Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
Obama has previously argued that such a "perfect" solution to the years-long standoff is not practical, but that a way could be found to verifiably ensure that Tehran is not producing nuclear weapons.
The Nowruz message was the latest in an annual series that Obama began addressing to Iranians in the first year of his presidency in 2009. But until the election of Rouhani -- with whom he spoke in a historic telephone call during UN meetings in New York last year -- his advances were rejected.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was instrumental in opening the talks, said in his own statement that although America and Iran had suffered "harsh winters" in the past, a new opportunity was at hand.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday he saw "signs" a long-term nuclear deal could be reached after the latest talks in Vienna.
"An understanding is possible that respects the rights of the Iranian nation," the Fars news agency quoted Zarif as saying. The next meeting will come in April and will begin drafting the text of an agreement. Under an interim agreement Iran struck with the six powers in November, the two sides are aiming for a long-term deal by July 20.
There are four key issues in any agreement -- the status of Iran's Arak heavy water reactor -- which Israel fears could offer an alternative route to a bomb -- its enrichment of uranium, civil nuclear cooperation and the lifting of Western sanctions. The six powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its nuclear activities to make it extremely difficult for it ever to develop nuclear weapons. Iran always denied any such ambition. Source/Agence France Presse.

Egypt's Invisible Insurgency
Eric Trager/New Republic/March 19, 2014
Young Islamists are using Facebook to organize violent opposition.
After Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's ouster last summer, analysts warned that a disempowered Muslim Brotherhood might embrace jihad. Toppling an elected Islamist government, some argued, would lead the Brotherhood to abandon the democratic procedures that it accepted only belatedly, and advance its theocratic vision through al-Qaeda-like terrorism instead. Nearly eight months later, however, these expectations haven't materialized. While Sinai-based militants have killed over 300 military and police officers since July, there is little evidence that many, if any, Muslim Brothers have joined the jihadis' ranks.
Yet amidst a crackdown that has killed over 1,000 Morsi supporters, Muslim Brothers aren't turning the other cheek. Armed with improvised weapons such as flaming aerosol cans and Molotov cocktails, they are directing a campaign of lower-profile violence against various governmental and civilian targets, aiming to stir chaos and thereby weaken the post-Morsi regime. Ironically, they are embracing the same tactics that anti-Brotherhood activists used to undermine Morsi's authority after his November 2012 power grab.
To promote these violent efforts, Muslim Brothers appeal to their supporters through social media, establishing violent Facebook groups that have attracted thousands of "likes." For example, the "Execution Movement" Facebook page, which was founded in early September to call for the deaths of Egypt's top security officials, urges its roughly 3,000 followers to burn police cars. "There are 34,750 police officers in Egypt...80% of them have cars," reads a January 26 post that spread across pro-Brotherhood Facebook pages. "If we exploit the current situation of chaos and, during the night…burned 1000 [police] vehicles...Either the government will compensate [the officers] with new cars, which will cause imbalance in the budget and popular anger...or leave them without cars like the rest of the population, and this of course will have a big impact on their morale and their performance." Indeed, police vehicles appear to be these groups' most frequent targets.
One of the most prominent violent pro-Brotherhood Facebook groups is the "Molotov Movement," which emerged in late 2013. Beyond posting photos of attacks, it provides instructions for mixing Molotov cocktails, constructing Molotov cocktail launchers, and using fire extinguishers as weapons. Its popularity exploded in late January, when it took credit for a series of arson incidents, and it reportedly had over 70,000 followers by the time Facebook shut it down for promoting "vandalism" in mid-February. The "Molotov Movement" quickly resurrected itself, however, creating numerous regionally-oriented Facebook pages that claimed responsibility for burning a checkpoint in October 6 City on February 18, an Alexandria police station on February 19, and three vehicles belonging to a Giza police major on February 21, among other incidents.
Despite their best efforts, Facebook and the Egyptian government struggle to contain these violent groups, because Muslim Brothers can always establish new Facebook pages and publicize them through other pro-Brotherhood pages. This is precisely what happened after the February 24 arrest of eight alleged "Molotov Movement" activists: As the group's activity slowed considerably, violent Brotherhood content simply migrated to other pro-Brotherhood pages, such as "Islamic Egypt" (554,000 "likes") and "Movement 18" (58,000 "likes"), which touted attacks on police cars, television station vehicles, roads, and even the engagement party of a military general's son. These pages also encourage their members to continue fighting the current regime, and often inspire Muslim Brothers with quotes from Sayyid Qutb and images of Hamas fighters.
Technically speaking, the young Muslim Brothers' targets are physical assets, not human lives. It's a rather false distinction, of course, since people can get killed whenever Molotov cocktails go flying, but this is how Muslim Brothers often rationalize their behavior to themselves and others. As young Muslim Brothers who set a police officer's home on fire told McClatchy reporter Nancy Youssef, "We tried not to kill...It's a punch to scare them." Yet in some cases, Brotherhood-affiliated Facebook groups have called for targeting individuals directly, including for assassination.
The Batman-themed "Bat Movement," which has nearly 1,900 "likes," stands out in this regard. It called on its followers to beat a television cameraman who, it alleges, is a spy for the domestic intelligence services; provided the home address and phone number of a State Security officer whom it's accused of killing protesters; and published a list of security officers in Asyut whom, it said, were wanted "dead or alive."
The "Martyr Brigades" is an even more worrying group. In its first statement, published by the "Molotov Movement" on February 10, the "Martyr Brigades" warned that it would go after "all who were involved in killing martyrs from the beginning of the coup until this day," claiming that it had the addresses of those it intended to target. Six days later, it announced that it had killed an alleged "thug" in Mansoura, and it established its own Facebook page on March 1, promising "retribution" in its first post.
This low-profile violence is likely to continue indefinitely and worsen, because young Muslim Brothers are unlikely to find other, more formal, avenues for advancing their ideology anytime soon. Egypt's military-backed government fears that permitting the Brotherhood to participate politically will enable it to return to power and seek vengeance, and by the same token Muslim Brothers are unwilling to participate in the current transition and thereby accept Morsi's ouster. The most likely outcome, at least in the short-run, is thus a desperately unpleasant stalemate: The Brotherhood cannot beat the post-Morsi regime through its current strategy, nor can the regime achieve anything approximating stability.
**Eric Trager is the Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute.