March 23/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Lost Son/ Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 15,11-32.
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me." So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ "So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe the best one and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" And they began to celebrate. ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound." Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." ’

The Lost Son Parable and Repentance
By: Elias Bejjani
Lent is a prime time for spiritual change through genuine praying, serious and in depth self-examination, return to the roots of faith, repentance and forgiveness.
Almighty God is ready and always willing to turn everything around and take the hands of those who seriously and honestly pursue His mercy with perseverance forgiveness and repentance. He, with love and extreme happiness leads their steps towards all virtues of righteousness. He who in the Cana Wedding changed the water into wine and cleaned the Leper is willing all the time also to transform our minds and consciences from wickedness to goodness and salvation if and when we call for His help.
In our Maronite Catholic Church's rite, on the Fourth Lent Sunday  we recall and cite the biblical Lost Son's parable that is known also as The Prodigal Son. This impulsive, selfish and thoughtless son, as the parable tells us, fell prey to evil's temptation and decided to take his share of his father's inheritance and leave the parental dwelling.
He travelled to a far-away city where he indulged badly in all evil conducts of pleasure and corruption until he lost all his money and became penniless. He experienced severe poverty, starvation, humiliation and loneliness. In the midst of his dire hardships he felt nostalgic, came back to his senses and decided with great self confidence to return back to his father's house, kneel on his feet and ask him for forgiveness. On his return his loving and kind father received him with rejoice, open arms, accepted his repentance, and happily forgave him all his misdeeds. Because of his sincere repentance his Father gave him back all his privileges as a son.
The Lost (prodigal) Son's parable: Luke15/11-32: He said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property.’ He divided his livelihood between them. Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living. When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any. 15:17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants .”’ “He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ They began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’ But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him. But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 15:30 But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.
This parable is a road map for repentance and forgiveness. It shows us how much Almighty God our Father loves us, we His children and how He is always ready with open arms and willing to forgive our sins and trespasses when we come back to our senses, recognize right from wrong, admit our weaknesses and wrongdoings, eagerly and freely return to Him and with faith and repentance ask for His forgiveness.
Asking Almighty God for what ever we need is exactly what the Holy Bible instructs us to do when encountering all kinds of doubt, weaknesses, stumbling, hard times, sickness, loneliness, persecution, injustice etc. Matthew 7/7&8: "Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened" All what we have to do is pray and to ask Him with faith, self confidence and humility and He will respond. Matthew 21/22: "All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
We are not left alone at any time, especially when in trouble, no matter how far we distance ourselves from God and disobey His Holy bible. He is a Father, a loving, caring and forgiving Father. What is definite is that in spite of our foolishness, stupidity, ignorance, defiance and ingratitude He never ever abandons us or gives up on our salvation. He loves us because we His are children. He happily sent His only begotten son to be tortured, humiliated and crucified in a bid to absolve our original sin.
God carries our burdens and helps us to fight all kinds of Evil temptations. Matthew11/28-30: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
God is waiting for our repentance, let us run to Him and ask for forgiveness before it is too late

Pope Francis's Tweet for Today
Pope Francis ‏
Jesus is our hope. Nothing – not even evil or death – is able to separate us from the saving power of his love.
Pape François ‏
Jésus est notre espérance. Rien – ni le mal ni la mort – ne peut nous séparer de la puissance salvifique de son Amour.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 23/14

Potential candidates for top Lebanese job/By Joseph A. Kechichian/March 22, 2014

Why the Media Doesn't Cover Jihadist Attacks on Middle East Christians/By: Raymond Ibrahim/The Torch/March 23/14

The Missing Girls: Christian Girls Kidnapped in Egypt/By: Todd Daniels/ICC/ March 23/14

It’s Erdogan vs. Twitter/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 23/14

The talented, dangerous Mr. Putin throws the gauntlet/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/March 23/14

Controlling the Media Scene/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 23/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 23/14
Lebanese Related News

Obama Calls Salam, Urges Timely Presidential Vote Without Foreign Meddling

Suleiman Calls on Army to Strike with Iron Fist, Denounces Attacks against it

State Security Detains Four-Member Network Smuggling Weapons to Armed Groups in Syria

Report: Hizbullah Will Not Attend All-Party Talks over Rift with Suleiman

300 Refugees Flee Syria's Hosn Village to Lebanon

43 Syrians Arrested to Date at Arsal Checkpoints

Hale Meets Lebanese Officials, Stresses Importance of Staging Elections

ISF Investigates Embezzlement of Public Funds at Social Security Bureau

Former Adviser to Saudi King Drugged, Kidnapped and Freed in Lebanon

Jordan King Voices Fear over Situation in Lebanon

Clergymen Gearing Up to Hold Conference to Defend Christian Presence in Region

Implementation of Security Plan in Tripoli Awaiting Higher Defense Council Meeting
March 14 Urges Complaints over Syrian Attacks, Asks Hizbullah for 'Clear Stance'

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Famed Syria Crusader Castle Survives Fierce Battles

Flight MH370: Satellite spots possible debris

New Satellite Image Boosts Malaysia Plane Search Hopes

Three Palestinians Killed as Israelis Try to Arrest Militant

Egypt to Begin Mass Trial of Morsi Backers

Vatican Names Former Victim on Child Abuse Commission

Lavrov, Kerry to Discuss Ukraine in The Hague

Canada's Harper Says Putin's Russia Spurs Nations to 'Arm to Teeth'


Obama Calls Salam, Urges Timely Presidential Vote Without Foreign Meddling
Naharnet /Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Friday received a phone call from U.S. president Barack Obama who congratulated him over the new cabinet's formation.
Obama stressed during the call on the importance of holding the presidential elections on time, before the constitutional deadline. He also emphasized that the vote must take place without any foreign interference. The U.S. president urged strengthening the disassociation policy, noting the importance of national unity.He also assured that the United States will continue supporting Lebanon. Meanwhile, Salam expressed his appreciation of Obama's support, vowing to preserve Lebanon's democratic path. Almost a year since he was designated, Salam won on Thursday a parliamentary vote of confidence after 96 MPs voted in favor of his government.
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. However, 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.

Intense Sniper Activity Continues in Tripoli, Wounding at Least One
Naharnet /Sniper activity continued on Saturday afternoon in the northern city of Tripoli, wounding at least one man.
"Ahmed Mheish was wounded by sniper fire at al-Malloula highway in Tripoli's Bab al-Tabbaneh,” the state-run National News Agency reported. The NNA said that the wounded man was transferred to a hospital in the region, noting that he is in a critical condition. LBCI television added that another person was wounded by sniper fire while he was in his car in al-Malloula. Highway in Bab al-Tabbaneh also came under intensified sniper fire,” NNA said. “The army staged raids in Jabal Mohsen (neighborhood in Tripoli) in search for two suspects from the Sana and the Deeb families and who are accused of firing gunshots at Mheish,” LBCI later revealed. Earlier in the day, a bomb was hurled in Tripoli's Syria street, according to LBCI. A security source said earlier Saturday that clashes in the northern city have killed 24 people since March 13, as sniper fire forced the closure of the highway to Syria. The security source said that since March 13, "there have been 14 killed and 128 wounded". Fierce fighting on Friday killed 10 people raising the death toll to 24 since March 13, the security source said, adding that 128 people have also been wounded in the nine days of violence. “Seventeen soldiers were among the wounded,” the source said. The army has been deployed in Tripoli for several weeks to try to bring peace to the warring districts but troops have repeatedly come under fire. Relative calm prevailed on Saturday although snipers forced the closure of the highway leading from Tripoli to the Syrian border. Most of the fighting in the city has taken place under the cover of darkness.

Implementation of Security Plan in Tripoli Awaiting Higher Defense Council Meeting
Naharnet/A security plan was established to restore calm in the northern city of Tripoli after the death toll rose to 25 as clashes flared again, Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas revealed in comments published in An Nahar newspaper on Saturday that a comprehensive security was established and will be discussed during a meeting for the Higher Defense Council. The meeting is set to be held on Monday. For his part, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told the newspaper that “negotiations made a progress to reach a cease fire in the northern city.” He noted that President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Premier Tammam Salam are leading endeavors to restore calm in the city. Rifi noted that a successful security plan should be reached in Tripoli to restore stability, those who were harmed should receive compensations and a development roadmap should be launched to revive the city's economy and social situation. Clashes intensified on Friday between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen as the death toll from nine days of fighting rose to at least 25 and 175 wounded. Tensions between the two districts go back decades, but have been exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, where President Bashar Assad, an Alawite, is battling a Sunni-led uprising. The latest clashes began last Thursday after the death of a resident from Jabal Mohsen. The clashes are linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. Jabal Mohsen residents are Alawites from Syrian President Bashar Assad's sect, while Bab al-Tabbaneh is majority Sunni. The rebels seeking to topple Assad in the three-year-old war are Sunnis.

Suleiman Calls on Army to Strike with Iron Fist, Denounces Attacks against it

Naharnet/President Michel Suleiman warned on Saturday of the consequences of the continuous assaults against the army, calling on the military to strike with an iron fist. “We should expressed our solidarity with the army and support it in its national missions inside the country and across the border,” Suleiman said after talks with General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim. Suleiman stressed that the army is carrying out its role in protecting the nation and the Lebanese. “Instructions were given to target any member who carries out an assault against the army,” the president said. He pointed out that attacking the army is “an attack at a national symbol.” Gunmen have targeted army posts in the northern city of Tripoli in clashes between the two neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. Tensions between the two districts go back decades, but have been exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, where President Bashar Assad, an Alawite, is battling a Sunni-led uprising. The latest clashes began last Thursday after the death of a resident from Jabal Mohsen. The clashes are linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. Jabal Mohsen residents are Alawites from Syrian President Bashar Assad's sect, while Bab al-Tabbaneh is majority Sunni. The rebels seeking to topple Assad in the three-year-old war are Sunnis.

Report: Hizbullah Will Not Attend All-Party Talks over Rift with Suleiman
Naharnet/Hizbullah will not attend the national dialogue session set to be held on March 31 at the Baabda Palace, local newspapers reported on Saturday. A Hizbullah source hinted in comments published in al-Liwaa newspaper that the party prefers to participate in a session headed by a new president other than Michel Suleiman. “What is the need to resume dialogue over the state's national defense strategy as long as the resistance is wooden,” the source pointed out. The rift increased recently between the President and Hizbullah after Suleiman described the people-army-resistance formula as "wooden" during a speech at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) in February. Suleiman's comments had angered Hizbullah, accusing him of not being able to differentiate between “what's golden and what's wooden." Informed sources told al-Joumhouria newspaper that Hizbullah is mulling Suleiman's all-party talks invitation. The sources noted that the rift between the party and Suleiman's over the role of the resistance enraged Hizbullah's leadership. The sources revealed that Suleiman's invitation didn't include any necessity to confirm the participation in the upcoming session. The presidency issued on Friday invitations to the concerned political parties to resume the national dialogue on March 31 to continue discussions on a national defense strategy. The invitations were sent in light of parliament granting the new government its vote of confidence on Thursday. The last session was held on September 20, 2012. On Friday, Suleiman lashed out at the resistance in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper. He said that the resistance overstepped the power given to it when it decided to engage in battles in the neighboring country Syria.

March 14 Urges Complaints over Syrian Attacks, Asks Hizbullah for 'Clear Stance'
Naharnet/The March 14 General Secretariat on Friday called on the government to file complaints with the Arab League and the U.N. over the latest Syrian shelling of border areas, urging Hizbullah to take a “clear and frank stance over the Syrian regime's attacks.” In a statement issued after its weekly meeting, the general secretariat said it “thoroughly discussed the Syrian regime's recurrent violation of Lebanese sovereignty through ground and aerial shelling and its assassination and chasing of innocent Lebanese citizens with military helicopters.” “These repeated attacks push us to call on the Lebanese government to file complaints against the Syrian regime with the Arab League and the United Nations, and we also called on Hizbullah to take a clear and frank stance over the Syrian regime's attacks on national sovereignty,” it added. The general secretariat emphasized on the authority of the Lebanese state in “controlling security domestically and on the Lebanese-Israeli and Lebanese-Syrian borders,” noting that “the only solution that can preserve security is the deployment of the army along the Lebanese-Syrian border, with the assistance of U.N. forces as allowed by (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1701,” which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah.
Turning to the recent standoff over the border town of Arsal, the general secretariat lauded the announcement about the entry of the Lebanese Army and security forces into Arsal and its outskirts, praising the town's residents for “their compliance with this necessary step.” The general secretariat also called on the army to “control security and secure the public roads to prevent the besiegement of any town on the area … at the hands of armed militias under the pretext of stopping the flow of bomb-laden cars into Lebanon.” Commenting on the protests and blocking of roads that erupted across the country to demand the opening of the al-Labweh-Arsal road, the general secretariat said the unrest “evoked the scenes of the civil war” It stressed the government must shoulder its responsibility and “implement the law fairly in all Lebanese regions so that no one in Lebanon would sense that there are double standards.”And on the occasion of Mother's Day, the general secretariat greeted all Lebanese mothers, “especially those of them who are awaiting any news about the fate of their sons who are in Syrian prisons.”
It urged Lebanese security agencies, “especially those who exerted lauded efforts for the release of the Syria nuns,” to employ all available means to secure “the release of Lebanese detainees from Syrian jails.”

Former Adviser to Saudi King Drugged, Kidnapped and Freed in Lebanon
Naharnet /A previous political adviser to the King of Saudi Arabia has been freed early this month after being abducted from his own house in the northern Metn District of Mount Lebanon and held hostage for one day, the An-Nahar daily reported on Saturday. In an phone interview to the daily, Ahmed al-Ajaji said: “On March the 9th I was sleeping at my own home in the Beit Misk project and woke up later to find myself somewhere else,” he believes that he was drugged and taken a hostage. The kidnappers had demanded a 20 thousand dollars ransom in exchange for his release. Based on the kidnappers' accent, Ajaji suspected that they were from the Bekaa town of Baalbek despite their revelation that they were Syrians. Hostage-taking of wealthy businessmen in Lebanon has risen more than seven-fold in an unlikely knock-on effect from Syria's civil war. The kidnapping is creating a sense of palpable panic. Lebanese media routinely runs pleas from families of the abducted.

Hale Meets Lebanese Officials, Stresses Importance of Staging Elections
Naharnet /U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale stressed on Saturday the importance of carrying out the presidential and parliamentary elections, pointing out that his country's role is to safeguard the democratic process.
“The U.S. role is not to pick or choose (instead of the Lebanese) but we want to help protect the process and prevent outsiders from making choices that only the Lebanese should make,” Hale said via twitter after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail. On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Lebanon to hold elections as planned in May, despite tensions aggravated by the conflict in neighboring Syria, the American embassy in Beirut said. President Michel Suleiman's mandate ends on May 25 and there are worries a successor will be hard to find because of disagreements between Lebanon's pro- and anti-Syria regime blocs. In a telephone call to Salam, Obama "urged that the upcoming presidential elections be held on time and in keeping with the Lebanese constitution", a statement from the US embassy said. Hale pointed out that the cabinet's main task should be confronting the urgent challenges, in particular, the spillover form Syrian conflict on the country. The Ambassador lauded the cabinet's win of the parliament's confidence. Hale noted that his country "provides tangible support to Lebanon, such as more than 1 billion dollars in recent years to the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces to aid them in their mission to protect all of Lebanon, including from terrorist attacks originating in Syria, and we have provided more than $340 million to help Lebanese host communities deal with the stress of refugees from Syria." Salam's government garnered the support of 96 out of 101 lawmakers who attended Thursday's vote. His 24-person Cabinet includes members of March 8 and 14 coalitions. Following more than 10 months of political wrangling, Salam cobbled together his government in February after bridging a political divide among the political forces. The government is not expected to remain in office long. A new Cabinet should be formed after Suleiman's six-year term ends in May and a new head of state is elected. Hale urged political parties to abide by the dissociation policy, considering it “right.” “We see the tragic consequences of not adhering to the dissociation policy all across Lebanon,” the official said in a tweet. He warned of the involvement of the Lebanese in Syria “on behalf of Syrians,” adding the matter will only draw war and violence to the country. Baabda Declaration was unanimously adopted during a national dialogue session in June 2012. It calls for Lebanon to disassociate itself from regional crises, most notably the one in Syria. "The longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the more the spillover into Lebanon will occur," the U.S. official said. He noted that the "regime (of President Bashar Assad) is the author, not the victim, of violence and extremism," warning that "support for that regime is only delaying the end of the conflict, and therefore increasing the dangers to Lebanon." Hale later held talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh. The state-run National News Agency reported that the two officials discussed the latest developments. Hale also met with Head of al-Mustaqbal Parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora.

ISF Investigates Embezzlement of Public Funds at Social Security Bureau
Naharnet /Internal Security Forces raided on Saturday a branch for the National Social Security Fund in the Beirut neighborhood of Wata el-Msaytbeh, the state-run National News Agency reported. The NNA said that an ISF patrol was investigating a violation carried out at the National Social Security Fund branch. NSSF said in a statement that “the ISF deployment in Wata el-Msaytbeh branch is due to investigations by the competent judicial and security authorities in violations by a citizen.”“The offices were not raided. We have been notified about the measures taken by the authorities to unveil those who are involved and the accomplices,” the statement added. LBCI reported earlier that the owner of an audit and accounting office near the NSSF was also detained for interrogation. General Director of the NSSF Mohammed Karaki revealed in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that an employee was detained several days ago while trying to set ablaze some documents. A judicial source told the channel that ISF is investigating reports of embezzlement of public funds. A photocopy shop was also shutdown in the area.

Clergymen Gearing Up to Hold Conference to Defend Christian Presence in Region

Naharnet/Clergymen are preparing for a Muslim-Christian conference to denounce extremism and defend the presence of Christians in the Middle East, As Safir newspaper reported on Saturday. According to the newspaper, the Muslim Scholars Coalition and the Muslim Scholars of the Levant are holding talks with various religious and political figures in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan to prepare for the conference. The head of the Muslim Scholars Coalition administrative board, sheikh Hassan Abdullah, told As Safir that the “developments in the Arab countries, in particular, Syria and Iraq and the assaults against Christians in these countries... compelled us to push forward the holding of this conference.” “We are seeking a strong stance against extremism and the adoption of pluralism and sectarian diversity,” Abdullah said. Some 1.8 million Christians live in Syria, they make up around 10 percent of the country's population. Many have remained neutral in a conflict that erupted in March 2011. Others have rallied to President Bashar Assad's side, fearing the harsh Islamist ideology of some rebel fighters. Abdullah considered that the conference will constitute a roadmap to defend the presence of Christians in the Middle East. “We have been met with an overwhelming response from religious and political figures,” he pointed out. The conference is set to be held at the end of April.

Jordan King Voices Fear over Situation in Lebanon
Naharnet/Jordanian King Abdullah II expressed fear on Saturday over the situation in Lebanon, deeming that it's the most affected by the ongoing conflict in neighboring country Syria. “Our hearts are with Lebanon as it is affected the most by the Syrian crisis in light of the demographic structure,” the king said in comments published in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. He pointed out that Lebanon's composition “cannot bear the intervention by any side in the Syrian conflict,” considering that it would have negative consequences on all of Lebanon. Hizbullah forces are openly fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops despite what had been an official Lebanese policy of "dissociation" from the conflict. The group is believed to have played a key role in the army's recapture of Yabrud on Sunday, which lies close to the Lebanese border. The fall of the town and subsequent operations nearby to seal off the border will sever rebel supply lines that ran across it. The town's capture came after a lengthy regime operation in the surrounding Qalamun region last year, during which it captured a string of nearby towns and began shelling Yabrud. More than three years into the Syrian civil war that has killed more than 146,000 people, Jordan has taken in some 584,000 Syrian refugees and there are some 226,000 in Iraq, according to U.N. figures, with nearly one million Syrians in tiny Lebanon alone. The country host nearly a million refugees and has seen tensions rise between Sunni citizens that largely back the Syrian revolt and Shiites, including Hizbullah, who support the regime.

State Security Detains Four-Member Network Smuggling Weapons to Armed Groups in Syria
Naharnet /The General Directorate of State Security detained a four-member network specialized with trafficking and smuggling weapons to armed groups in the neighboring country Syria, the state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday. The NNA said that the State Security Bureau in the southern Nabatiyeh province thwarted an attempt by the network to smuggle arms to gunmen in Syria. The network is comprised of four Lebanese men, identified by their initials: W. N., S. Q., S. D., S. A.. A large quantity of arms were seized in their possession. The NNA said that the four suspects were referred to the competent judicial authority. Smuggling weapons to Syria has increased in recent months. Several individuals have been arrested in Lebanon on suspicion of carrying out such operations. Lebanon and Syria share a 330-kilometer border, but have yet to agree on official demarcation.

300 Refugees Flee Syria's Hosn Village to Lebanon

Naharnet /The number of Syrians that have arrived in Lebanon after fleeing the village of al-Hosn in central Syria has risen to 300, the state-run National News Agency said Saturday. "300 Syrian men, women, children and elderly have crossed the Grand River stream and arrived in Lebanese border towns,” the NNA detailed, adding that many of these refugees were concentrated in the villages of the Wadi Khaled region in the North. "They temporarily took refuge at the houses of Wadi Khaled residents, until they relocate.”The same source noted that a delegation of relief organizations visited these newly displaced Syrians, and provided them with urgently-needed supplies. The influx of Syrian refugees has been on the rise after 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 number of refugees also increased after Syrian troops took full control of the town of Zara and its surroundings in the western Homs countryside, as well as of the former rebel stronghold of Yabrud, with the help of Hizbullah fighters.

43 Syrians Arrested to Date at Arsal Checkpoints

Naharnet/The army has arrested 43 Syrians in the northeastern border town of Arsal and handed them over to the Military Police, the state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday.
"The number of men arrested by the army at checkpoints erected three days ago in the Arsal plains has risen to 43,” the NNA said. It noted that the detainees are members of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaida-linked Al-Nusra Front. "The detainees were handed over to the Military Police in Bekaa's Ras Baalbek region.”Troops had arrested 15 Syrians on Wednesday also in Arsal, among whom were several Al-Nusra Front members.
And on Tuesday, five others were held in the Akkar town of Shadra for entering Lebanon illegally. Meanwhile on Monday, the army arrested two Lebanese and 19 Syrians in Wadi Khaled for entering Lebanon with a Kalashnikov rifle, two guns, ammunition, 30 mobile phones, a laptop and various foreign currencies in their possession. Since the eruption of the uprising in Syria in March 2011, security forces and the army have arrested a number of gunmen and individuals who sought to enter Lebanon illegally. The un-demarcated Lebanese-Syrian border has facilitated the flow of gunmen to and from Syria.

Potential candidates for top Lebanese job
President must be Christian and there are eight leading candidates
By Joseph A. Kechichian/March 22, 2014 /Gulf News
Instead, members of parliament, currently 128 deputies who were last elected in 2009 through an outdated mechanism and who cavalierly extended their own term of office for 17 months until November 2014, do the honours.
According to the 1943 national charter and the 1989 Taif Accords, the “lucky” individual who will be asked to preside over a wholly dysfunctional state must be a Maronite Catholic, which pretty much reduces the pool of eligible contenders. Consistent with Article 49 of the Constitution, the president is elected by secret ballot by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies on the first ballot, or an absolute majority starting with the second.
The term of office is for six years and no incumbent can succeed himself unless the Constitution is properly amended, which occurred on three previous occasions, and may yet ensue in 2014.
The incumbent, the third commander of the armed forces who assumed the post of president, publicly expressed his desire to leave office, though a three-year extension of his mandate cannot be ruled out at this stage, especially in case of a political deadlock among leading parties. Therefore, and if all goes according to plan, which in Lebanon is the stuff of speculation, parliament must convene within a 30-day window before May 25 to elect a successor to President Michel Sulaiman.
Hezbollah challenges Lebanese President
Obama urges Salam not to delay presidential poll
While every Maronite was a putative aspirant to the office, who were the leading candidates for the president of Lebanon? Eight leading candidates are profiled below, listed according to age, starting with the oldest.
Michel Aoun: At 80 years old, Michel Aoun served as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces and was elected a member of parliament in 2005. A controversial figure, Aoun leads the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and was prime minister from September 22, 1988 to October 13, 1990, when two rival governments contended for power.
He declared a “Liberation War” against the Syrian Occupation in March 1989 but was muzzled by Damascus in October 1990 when Syrian forces invaded Beirut, inflicting heavy casualties.
Aoun fled to the French embassy, though he was later allowed to travel to France, where he remained in exile for 15 years. He returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005, 11 days after Syrian troops withdrew, and visited Syria in 2009 after he transmogrified his political views. Surprising most, Aoun signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah in 2006, which enhanced his electoral opportunities given the military strengths of this alliance. Notwithstanding profound ideological differences among FPM and Hezbollah constituencies, the presumed coalition was valid, even if wholly unpredictable.
Jean Obaid: Born in 1939, Obeid served in several cabinet posts, including, as minister of foreign affairs from 2003 to 2004. A trained journalist as well as an attorney, Obaid was an adviser on Arab affairs to two former presidents, Elias Sarkis and Amin Gemayel. The latter appointed him special envoy to Syria in 1987, which earned the minister Damascus’ support. On February 11, 1987, Obaid was kidnapped in West Beirut but was freed unhurt four days later, largely through Syrian intervention. Viewed as a moderate politician with excellent relations across the political spectrum, Obaid was nevertheless pro-Syrian in his outlook, which was reflected in 2008 when he was considered as a possible consensus presidential candidate.
Cardinal Mar Bisharah Boutros Rai: Much like the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai was a serious contender given his immense political appetite. Born in 1940, Rai was selected as the 77th Maronite Patriarch of Antioch in 2011, succeeding the charismatic Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, and was appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. A highly controversial prelate, Rai declared in April 2011 that he would work “to establish a sincere and complete dialogue” with Muslims, “and build together a future in common life and cooperation.”
His views on Syria and Hezbollah were problematic. He supported Hezbollah’s right to hold arms in defence against Israel, and lamented that the Syrian uprising awakened the rise of Islamists, which he feared.
More controversial, he told Reuters on March 4, 2012, that while all Arab regimes adopted Islam as a state religion, Syria was the exception, which made it “the closest thing to democracy.” Given the legacy of the Ba‘ath regime in Lebanon, and notwithstanding Rai’s unprecedented February 2013 visit to Damascus, the Über cleric-cum politician was perceived by many as a serious contender for the position.
Amin Gemayel: At 71, Amin Gemayel wished to return to the position he first occupied between September 21, 1982, and September 22, 1988. Gemayel, a leader of the Kataeb Party, was elected president a few weeks after his brother, President Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. His rule, which coincided with an Israeli invasion and occupation of the country, proved problematic as Washington imposed a bilateral peace accord with the occupier in 1983 that was never implemented. To his credit, Gemayel dissolved the “Arab Deterrence Force” in 1984, which was then composed of Syrian troops that cherished the legal framework for their presence in Lebanon after 1976.
Equally important, he promulgated the 1987 law that annulled the 1969 “Cairo Agreement,” which was imposed by the Nasir regime on President Charles Helou and that authorised the Palestine Liberation Organisation to use Lebanon as a base for military operations against Israel. His current candidacy, ostensibly to bring various factions together, posed serious challenges since his own son, Pierre, was gunned down on November 21, 2006. Pierre’s killers issued a communiqué in which they referred to themselves the “Fighters for the Unity and Liberty of Greater Syria,” and justified the assassination allegedly because the 33-years old minister was “one of those who unceasingly spouted their venom against Syria and against Hezbollah, shamelessly and without any trepidation.”
Boutros Harb: A deputy from Batroun, Boutros Harb, 69, served as a minister in several cabinets, most recently as Minister of Telecommunications. A participant in the Taif Accords, Harb was a maverick politician with a rare command of the Arabic language, which allowed for acerbic commentaries against foes. He first announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1998 but withdrew his nomination the day the polls began under Syrian pressure.
Though he switched sides several times before 2004, Harb helped create the National Face for Reform along with Nayla Moawad, Omar Karami, Salim Hoss, Hussein Husseini and Albert Mansour. He eventually broke his alliance with Omar Karami whom he considered to be too pro-Syrian. After the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, Harb joined the massive protests and demonstrations against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and demanded that Syrian troops withdraw. Importantly, Harb called for the integration of Hezbollah’s military arm into the Lebanese Army in 2007, and escaped an assassinate attempt in early July 2012, allegedly ordered by Hezbollah.
Jean Kahwaji: The current Commander of the Army, Brigadier-General Jean Kahwaji was born in 1953 and received command training in both the US and Italy, before he was elevated to his position on August 30, 2008. Because his predecessor moved from the army to the presidency, many speculated that critical security conditions required a steady military hand at the helm, although such an outlook was deemed less likely in 2014 because wily politicians no longer approved of officers making the jump from army headquarters at Yarze to the Baabda presidential palace.
Samir Geagea: At 61, Samir Geagea led the Lebanese Forces, which he first joined in 1986. To date, Geagea was the only politician who was arrested and tried for crimes committed during the Lebanese Civil War, including the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rashid Karami in 1987. He denied all charges but was found guilty and sentenced to four death sentences in 1994 by a pro-Syrian court, each of which was commuted to life in prison, and was kept in solitary confinement below the Lebanese Ministry of Defence building for 11 years.
In the aftermath of the 2005 Cedar Revolution, and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, parliament granted him amnesty in July 2005 [three dozen Islamist criminals were also released simultaneously]. After his release from prison, Geagea acknowledged that his time in jail permitted for meditation and significant review of his actions during the war, to determine whether what he did was right. As he devoted most of his time to reading (literature, Christian theology, and Hindu philosophy), Geagea channelled his anger into patience, and patriotism. He remained avowedly anti-Syrian and rebuild the Lebanese Forces into a popular party aligned with March 14. Close to Saad Hariri, he nevertheless rejected the latest compromises, and opted to remain outside of the Tammam Salam-led government.
Sulaiman Franjieh: A grandson of a past president with whom he shared a name, Sulaiman Frangieh was born in 1965, and led the pro-Syrian Marada Movement that was also aligned with the March 8 coalition. Like his namesake, Frangieh was a traditional Za‘im (strongman) beholden to Damascus. In fact, in August 2012, Frangieh opined that the pro-Al Assad coalition would win the war, and gave his full support to the Syrian government. Nevertheless, he supported the “positive neutrality” of Lebanon, because he wished to ensure the country’s stability, though he quickly added that he opposed “negative neutrality,” allegedly because no Lebanese could pretend “to be neutral while arms were smuggled from Lebanon to Syria.”
An openly pro-Syrian candidate, a Frangieh election would mean a wholesale victory for Damascus, which was unlikely under current circumstances.
Beyond these eight contenders, several other Maronite aspirants were available, including Central Bank Governor Riad Salame, former minister Charles Risk, March 14 Secretary-General Fares Bouaiz, and deputy Robert Ghanem. Even the eminently qualified parliamentarian Sethrida Tawk Geagea, Samir Geagea’s spouse, was a serious candidate although Lebanese misogyny probably ruled that candidacy out. It was now up to Speaker Nabih Berri to convene parliament.

Three Palestinians Killed as Israelis Try to Arrest Militant

Naharnet /Three Palestinians were killed in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank early on Saturday after Israeli soldiers launched an operation to arrest a militant, Palestinian officials said. Medical and security sources said two of those killed were militants and the third was a civilian. They said 14 Palestinians were also wounded, with two in critical condition. The Palestinian sources said soldiers entered the camp in the northern West Bank city to arrest Hamza Abu Alheja, 20, a member of the Hamas military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, with clashes resulting in the death of Mahmud Abu Zena, 19, an Islamic Jihad militant.
A civilian named as Yazan Jabarin was also killed in the clashes, the Palestinians said, as a day of mourning and general strike were announced. Army spokesman Peter Lerner called Abu Alheja "a ticking bomb" who took part in shooting attacks and was in "advanced stages of the preparation of further attacks". Lerner told reporters security forces shot Abu Alheja only after he shot and lightly wounded two Israelis while trying to escape from the building in which he was holed up. Meanwhile, "Palestinians began to shoot and throw explosive devices at the troops, and as a result we have two more killed", Lerner added. While there is security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinians were not involved in the Jenin operation, he said. Israeli forces had previously tried to arrest Abu Alheja in a December raid that resulted in the death of an Islamic Jihad militant. Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday's incident "saved lives" since it "thwarted a terror attack that had already been planned and was supposed to target Israelis". Around 15,000 mourners calling for Palestinian unity and vengeance, as well as and end to Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, attended a joint funeral for the three dead men at noon.
An Agence France Presse correspondent said the bodies of Abu Alheja and Abu Zena were wrapped in flags of their Hamas and Jihad movements, while Jabarin was wrapped in the flag of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party. A rare joint statement by the three movements issued during the funeral vowed revenge and accused the PA which is headed by Abbas of complicity in the killings through its security cooperation with Israel. PA security forces had arrested Abu Alheja in the past. Gaza rulers Hamas called on the PA to "end security coordination with the Israeli occupation and leave the resistance to act freely," in a statement. Abu Alheja's father, Jamal Abu Alheja, is a prominent leader of the Islamist movement Hamas who was been in Israeli prison since 2002. An Islamic Jihad statement issued from Gaza said the Jenin killings demonstrated that "resistance continues". "The United States and Israel want to force the Palestinians and the entire region to surrender, but Gaza and the West Bank resist this," senior Islamic Jihad official Nafez Azzam said. The movement called for a demonstration in the northern Gaza town Beit Lahiya later Saturday to condemn the Jenin killings and "support resistance." A spokesman for Abbas condemned the "continuing escalation against the Palestinian people", for which he blamed Israel. "We call on the U.S. administration to move quickly to prevent a general collapse in the region," Nabil Abu Rudeina said. On Thursday, he said U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel have reached an impasse because of Jewish settlement activity. The talks are on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year's end after an April 29 deadline. The violence in Jenin came as Palestinians in Gaza prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, in an Israeli air strike. Saturday's deaths mark the bloodiest clash in the West Bank since November, when Israel killed three men it said were Salafist militants. Since the beginning of 2014, Israeli forces have killed nine Palestinians in the West Bank, according to an Agence France Presse tally. Source/Agence France Presse

Controlling the Media Scene
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al awsat
Saturday, 22 Mar, 2014
The head of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, wanted to convey a simple message: society needs authority to deal with chaos. Without authority, he said, people would not even be able to protect their behinds. This controversial statement kept people busy for a week, with more than a million funny comments. In the past, the head of the religious police was not obliged to be so descriptive in his statements, and nobody would have been able to see the response to such an out-of-context statement. Today, however, we live in an interactive world where what we write echoes instantly, regardless of whether the response is logical or abusive
In the past, the media scene was easy to control, and dominating it was achievable either by controlling it through decisions—such as granting or denying licenses for printed or audiovisual media—or through big investments. Nowadays, no licenses are necessary to communicate with the public in the open media space. On some platforms, only minor investments are needed to create media outlets that can, through partnerships and recycling news, represent a fair chunk of the media market. Are the critics of the old media scene satisfied with the new one? Not quite. The media market has grown exponentially and is scattered among thousands of individuals. Between trade and entertainment, other groups who had dreamed of breaking the government and business monopolies found themselves lost. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is one of the biggest users of smartphones. It is even considered by a United Nations report as having the highest cell phones per capita: 180 cell phones for every 100 residents. Of course, this doesn’t reflect the real value of the digital market, as the digital media market is still crawling in terms of growth and transformation. In my opinion, despite what others say, we will revert to the old situation in due time: the era of the domination of big organizations and licensing authorities. This is because data exchange is slowly changing from being an individual activity to a public market activity, and the market will definitely lead companies to expand, develop and dominate. The regional market is chaotic; it has not split into two markets as some predicted. Those in charge of the market are embroiled in personal attacks against each other with never-ending scandals and pornography, verbal and audio-visual, spreading more than any time in the past. Nothing is controllable anymore in terms of organizing the digital market. At the moment, chaos reigns and everybody is striving to control the biggest possible chunk of the media. Some are building themselves media kingdoms while others seek to form groups or intellectual blocs to gather people with common interests. In this era of technological openness it is no longer easy for one person to impact public opinion, because of the magnitude of plurality in reporting. Hence there are no dominant opinion trends—those who opposed the current of unipolar media wanted and wished for this. Chaos, or plurality if we want to be more accurate, is a characteristic that best describes the current situation. With an unlimited number of broadcasting and receiving devices, the losers do not only include government bodies and their satellites but other forces that had hoped to see the end of monopolies so they could have the opportunity to exist and exert greater influence. The only agent that remains impactful, efficient and a catalyst is the content now available—be it a message, a tweet, a video or an item in the newspaper or on TV. The content developer is the only body that dominates the scene. This has always been the main challenge facing traditional media; to find creative content developers, copywriters or scriptwriters, or just people with new and fresh ideas. With time, every party will be content with his audience, backing off from colonial ambitions to control multiple audiences. Because of the multiple horizontal fissions, which are often positive for the development of the industry, new media or communication channels have emerged. Some are extremely profession-oriented: forums for doctors, astrologists or special interest groups, for example. There are also those who are only interested in informing and impacting public opinion without any professional rules or ethics and without an understanding of the difference between integrity and falsification.

The talented, dangerous Mr. Putin throws the gauntlet
Saturday, 22 March 2014/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
In the span of few weeks Russian President Vladimir Putin changed the map of Europe, when he stealthily invaded Crimea, then flamboyantly annexed it in the first land grab in Europe since World War II.
The invasion undermined the tenuous political order that was supposed to have taken shape in that vast land mass called Eurasia after the end of the Cold War and exposed the limits of NATO’s power.
The talented but dangerous Mr. Putin threw the gauntlet to President Obama, challenging his belief in the inviolability of international law, the sanctity of treaties, smart diplomacy and soft power. It is still too early to say what will be the shape of the new relationship between the U.S. and its allies and Russian’s Putin Post Crimea, since we don’t know the geographic limits of Mr. Putin’s revanchist dreams.
After all Mr. Putin pledged to defend the rights of Russian communities in neighboring states and has spoken of the common Orthodox faith and the “culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” He told the Ukrainians that they are not simply close neighbors, “but as I have said many times already, we are one people” and that “Kiev is the mother of Russian cities.” Believers in Revanchism use identical language. The late Syrian President Hafez Assad used to talk about the Syrians and Lebanese as one people living in two countries.
The partner was always an adversary
Mr. Putin’s determination to restore parts of the former Soviet imperium into a new Russian space led him to sacrifice the gains that Moscow achieved since the breakup of the Soviet Union: Russia’s ascent into the World Trade Organization in 2012, its entry into the exclusive club of powerful economic states, the group of seven making it the G-8 in 1998.
His annexation of Crimea ended the so-called “reset” policy adopted by the Obama administration with great fanfare, since it was assumed that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was an aberration and that we could do business with our partner Mr. Putin. The Russian president, who loves to show the world his physical prowess and machismo, does not have a sunny outlook on international relations. The cunning Mr. Putin does not hesitate to play rough inside and outside Russia. The “pacification” of Chechnya was brutal. His intimidation of his domestic critics has been merciless and thorough.
His threats of withholding energy supplies to Ukraine and the rest of Europe shows that he is more than willing to play rough. Mr. Putin ran circles around the Obama administration’s Syria policy.
While he seemingly collaborated with the U.S. to arrange a peace conference, he kept his Syrian ally well supplied with weapons, provided him with diplomatic immunity at the United Nations, and while his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was talking about a political transition in Syria, Putin in fact was pushing for a military victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The partner was always an adversary.
“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”Mr. Putin sees himself as the faithful son of an aggrieved Russia that has been wronged and violated repeatedly by predatory Western empires determined to keep it a landlocked contained country. To leaders like Mr. Putin, history is always alive and staring us in the eyes. One would think that he would have admired the great William Faulkner’s observation that “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”Obama and Kerry are indignant because of Russia’s aggression in Crimea and they have every right to be so. However, indignation even when justified is an attitude at best and not an effective strategy.
It was no surprise then, that president Putin told the Russian people and the world in his speech last Tuesday proclaiming the “reunification” of Crimea with Russia that “we have every reason to assume that the infamous policy of containment, led in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today.” Not too many people took seriously Mr. Putin’s remarkable lament in 2005 that “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the (20th) century.”The Russian President is still yearning to those good old days of strength, power and respect the Soviet empire enjoyed. In his recent speech, he bemoaned the fact that “after the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet, we no longer have stability.”
The intersection of retrenchment and assertiveness
What makes President Putin’s challenge to the United States and Europe dangerous is that it takes place at a time when a sizable number of Americans and many in the world see the U.S. and the West in general in retrenchment mode.President Obama’s allergy to the application of military force to settle thorny and horrendous conflicts such as the one in Syria is well known to friend and foe. His use of Drones and special operations against terrorists, is of limited risk, and was in part at least driven by his desire to prevent another successful terrorist attack, since this would be disastrous for the country as well as to his political viability.
In his policy towards Syria, President Obama has never seriously included the military option in his tool box. He truly wanted to believe that the “tide of war is receding” and that his mission was to end the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited from his predecessor George W. Bush.
The president of the United States, when he realized that he cornered himself after declaring that he will punish the Syrian regime militarily because it used chemical weapons against civilians, allowed the very cunning Mr. Putin to save him from his predicament when he proposed a deal to dismantle Syria’s CW arsenal.
Even when Putin was behaving as if the Cold War was still alive when he annexed Crimea, President Obama’s aid said that the “United States does not see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia.” In every statement by President Obama or his Secretary of State John Kerry, there is a renewed commitment to diplomacy, and another urgent appeal to Mr. Putin to negotiate.
The tone of U.S. officials and their cautious statements are deepening the concerns of Washington’s allies from Europe to the Middle East to East Asia.
If the United States and the European Union seem to be looking inward, Russia and China, to a lesser extent are in an aggressive or assertive mode. China is flexing its muscles in the East China Sea unnerving Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, and trying to create a different environment for the U.S. before it proceeds further into its much talked about “pivot” to Asia.
President Putin observed that the once powerful militaries of Western Europe were unable to bomb a militarily weak and fractious country like Libya into submission without the United States. Mr. Putin correctly calculated that whatever the U.S. and the European countries would throw at him after Russia absorbed Crimea.
He knew that NATO lacks a military option and that the will to even arm Ukraine and the other vulnerable former Soviet states and enhance NATO’s military profile is not strong enough. Putin also knows that militarily powerful states can create facts on the ground in their neighborhoods and force the world to live with them, while continuing to do business with the aggressor.
This is true in the case of Georgia of course, but it is also true in the case of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories where it continues to build illegal settlements. It is also true with the forgotten Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus, just as it is true in the case of China’s control of Tibet.
Crimea is gone
Few politicians would say publicly what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said explicitly that ‘Crimea is gone,’ but many in fact believe so. The limited military deployments taken after Crimea’s takeover, such as sending a destroyer to the Black Sea or 10 additional jet fighters to the three Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to patrol their skies are symbolic at best.
Deploying these assets, along with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Poland to meet with Baltic leaders to assure them that the U.S. and NATO are committed to their defense, shows that the U.S. is focusing now on preventing the Putin juggernaut from further advances and not rolling back the invasion of Crimea.
The financial sanctions and visa restrictions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies on individuals and entities in Ukraine and Russia, who facilitated the takeover of Crimea will inconvenience these individuals but it will not make a serious dent in Putin’s armor. Visa restriction as a foreign policy tool is probably seen as amusing by the likes of Mr. Putin. They are not the stuff of lethal ammunition that a great power is supposed to wield.
From the beginning of the crisis, President Obama kept insisting that if Putin does not back down, he will impose “additional costs on Russia.” Clearly, president Obama and Kerry are trying to change Putin’s calculus.
This approach is reminiscent of the efforts of Kerry to change Syrian President Assad’s calculus by putting pressure on him to force him to sue for a political solution. One wonders that if the Obama administration could not force Assad to change his calculus, how could it force Mr. Putin to change his. Weak sanctions will not change Russian behavior. It is doubtful that serious, painful sanctions will be imposed on Russia, especially if it does not move into Eastern Ukraine, because of European economic ties with Russia, dependence on its energy supplies and fear of Russian financial retaliation.
Also the United States is still reluctant to completely alienate Moscow because it needs Russian help in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program in addition to keeping the supply routes and Russian airspace that the Pentagon uses to supply U.S. forces in Afghanistan. More importantly, the U.S. will need Russia during the final withdrawal of soldiers and materials.
Even America’s space program – to the extent that it has one- is totally dependent on Russian rocketry. This is an ironic twist of fate that is breathtaking, for the country that dominated space exploration for decades.
However, if anything, the sanctions are likely to harden Russia’s position on Syria. One cannot see how the U.S. after imposing sanctions on Russia would turn and ask Moscow to put pressure on Assad. The chemical deal would likely proceed, but along with it one could see stepped up Russian military supplies to Assad. This new reality means that the Geneva II process has died and gone like Crimea. Obama and Kerry are indignant because of Russia’s aggression in Crimea and they have every right to be so. However, indignation even when justified is an attitude at best and not an effective strategy.

It’s Erdogan vs. Twitter
Saturday, 22 March 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
“I don’t care what the international community will say,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to his opponents over his decision to block Twitter. No leader has done it since former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak blocked the internet in Egypt in the last days of his rule when millions of demonstrators filled Tahrir Square demanding his ouster. Even Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad hasn’t done this. Even his friend and comrade in the same party, the Turkish president Abdullah Gul, had to declare he did not approve of blocking the social media service.
A temporary solution
But Erdogan did it. Just one week before the municipal elections in Turkey he blocked the site, depriving 10 million Twitter users in the hope of covering up scandals against him and his party. But why Twitter? The answer is this: Erdogan is currently controlling more than half of the public and private mass media, TV, radio and newspapers. I don’t believe that Erdogan fears losing his position, glamour and popularity, or even his potentially brutal descent, as much as he fears being brought to trial if the evidence proves his personal involvement in his son’s illegal trade with Iranians. He even forced judges to retire and cracked down on police investigators who dared to investigate accusations against his son and the children of two other ministers over large profits made from trading in Iranian gold. Even if Erdogan succeeds with a news blackout on his citizens and wins the municipal elections, he still has to face the upcoming presidential elections and his situation will become more and more difficult.
Covering up the trail
I don’t believe that Erdogan fears losing his position, glamour and popularity, or even his potentially brutal descent, as much as he fears being brought to trial if the evidence proves his personal involvement in his son’s illegal trade with Iranians. The leaked audio recordings make it appear that he’s the one who brought his son into this, advising him on financial negotiations with the Iranians in a secret deal, and asking him in a taped phone call on Dec. 17 to dispose of the cash he has after police investigators raided the houses of the ministers’ children. Erdogan says the phone call was fabricated and was an attempt to defame him. That is why if he loses, he will face a decisive challenge that may put his political future at stake and defame his brilliant career. In fact, blocking Twitter is an indicator of Erdogan’s confusion. This is another flop that will increase oppositional voices, especially among the young people who rallied against his decision to eliminate a public park one year ago, an issue he stubbornly defended before ceding later.
A scary precedent
Blocking Twitter means that the besieged government is going bust and it will only harvest additional anger. We all remember that the former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Bin Ali blocked Twitter and Facebook in 2009 and he was ousted two years later through opposition messages on the social media site which became out of his control. Former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi did the same in 2011 when the Libyans revolted against him, but he didn’t benefit much from this as the rebels were already carrying their arms in the streets. **This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 22, 2014.

Flight MH370: Satellite spots possible debris
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Saturday, 22 March 2014
China has new satellite images of one or more floating objects that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Saturday.
“The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received satellite image of floating objects in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify,” Hishammuddin told a news briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
It was not immediately clear how many possible objects had been spotted, but the minister said one was estimated at 22 meters by 30 meters (72 by 98 feet). “The Beijing government will announce this in a couple of hours,” he added. As the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 now enters its third week, six Australian planes took off Saturday for a third day of scouring the desolate southern Indian Ocean for possible parts of the missing plane. The search teams are focusing on an area of wild and remote sea 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth after five planes on Friday criss-crossed 23,000-square kilometres without any sightings of wreckage.
Planes from China and Japan are also expected to join the multinational air and sea hunt in coming days. There have been no sightings of interest since Australia announced on Thursday that a satellite spotted two large objects in the area, raising hopes of finding the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss cautioned that any possible debris may have sunk.
“Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating. It may have slipped to the bottom,” he said.Poor weather initially hampered the search but forecasters said conditions appeared good for Saturday
“The area will have pretty much light surface winds, generally less than about 10 knots. We’re not expecting any significant weather,” Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Luke Huntington said. “Visibility should be greatly improved.”
In Kuala Lumpur, where the Flight 370 plane took off for Beijing, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called the process “a long haul” as he thanked the more than two dozen countries involved in a search that stretches from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.
Final communication from MH370
The Telegraph newspaper carried a report on Friday showing a transcript of the conversation between the pilots and traffic control before the plane disappeared. The paper said it may have been noteworthy because one of the pilots repeated his altitude about the same time a transponder was turned off. Peter Marosszeky, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, cautioned against reading too much into the transcript as pilots occasionally repeat themselves. “I’ve sat through many thousands of flights myself and it’s not something that would really strike me as unusual,” he told The Associated Press. On Friday, the planes flew low under cloud cover rather than rely on radar, and the same procedure is expected to be followed Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse. “We replanned the search to be visual, so aircraft flying relatively low, with very highly skilled observers looking out of the windows,” said AMSA official John Young. “That means the aircraft are spaced more closely together and we will need more aircraft for a search of that type.” (With AFP and AP)

The Missing Girls: Christian Girls Kidnapped in Egypt

Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East
3/19/14 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - On February 28, Amira Hafez Wahib and her mother went to the morning prayer service at St. George church in Luxor, Egypt. Amira, age 15, asked her mom if she could go to buy something at a nearby store. Her mom agreed, urging her to hurry back once she was finished. But Amira did not come back. She has not been seen since.
When Amira had not returned after some time, her mother became worried and searched for her around the church and in the nearby streets, Ayman Wahib, Amira's uncle told International Christian Concern (ICC). But Amira was nowhere to be found.
The next day, Saturday, March 1, Amira's parents went to the police station and filed a formal complaint with the authorities documenting that Amira had gone missing, Rafla Zekry Rafla, a lawyer handling the case, told ICC.
"We received promises from the police here that they would arrest the accused and return Amira to her family, but there is not any positive step from them till now," Rafla told ICC. "It has been more than two weeks since the kidnapping of Amira and the police haven't done anything up till now."
In Amira's case, the family believes they know who is responsible for her disappearance. Yasser Mahmoud is a soldier who was stationed in Luxor and at one time was assigned to protect the St. George church.
Amira was working in a Christian store near the church, Ayman told ICC. Yasser had tried to convince Amira that he was in love with her. "Then five months ago this Muslim person entered the shop where Amira works and attempted to take her by force," Ayman said.
At that time some neighbors were able to prevent the kidnapping. "After this incident her father did not allow her to work in this shop anymore," Ayman told ICC. The situation seemed to have calmed down until the Friday morning when Amira went missing.
Knowing about the previous attempt the family immediately suspected that it was Yasser who was responsible for Amira's disappearance. The family was able to track down the place where Yasser lives with his family. Yasser was not there and his family said that they did not know where Yasser was and had not seen him since the time Amira disappeared.
The police were informed of all of this information as well, but have shown no interest in seeing Amira returned home, her family told ICC.
Unfortunately the police cannot help us to release her," Ayman said. "We are so angry with their weakness and indifference towards the case of Amira," he continued.
Amira is a part of a bigger story
What makes Amira's story even more heart-breaking is that her story is one of many stories of Christian girls being kidnapped all throughout Egypt.
On March 9, Azizza, whose name is changed for security, a student in her final year of secondary school was abducted from in front of her school, Mina Milad of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights told ICC. Her family has taken the case to the police and asked for their help in tracking Azizza down.
Her father, Fadil, whose name is changed for security, returned from working abroad to help in the search for Azizza. On Wednesday, March 12, two masked men on a motorcycle stopped Fadil alongside the road near his house.
"They told me, 'Don't look for Azizza, just forget her,'" Fadil told ICC. He said that the two men threatened his life and said that they would abduct his other daughters if he continued the search.
On March 16, Fadil went to the Civil Status Authority to obtain a copy of his daughter's birth certificate. When the clerk pulled her file they discovered that her name had been changed and her religion had been changed from Christianity to Islam.
The family was shocked, but still was without any new information for how to find where Azizza might be.
The number of these kinds of cases is again on the rise in Egypt. "Due to the absence and weakness of the security in Egypt, the cases of the abduction of Christians have been surging," Mina Melad told ICC. "I accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamic groups of abducting the Christian girls in Egypt and forcing them to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim," he said.
Ebram Louis, founder of the Association for the Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), presented a report documenting 19 cases of Christian girls who have gone missing. These cases were brought before a fact-finding commission responsible for investigating human rights abuses since June 30th, 2013. The office of the prime minister has promised to respond to this report, Louis told ICC.
All throughout Egypt, Christians find themselves in danger. Since the start of 2013, in just the Minya province alone there have been 20 cases of abduction, Ezaat Ibrahim of the Word Center for Human Rights told ICC. "Four of those cases were girls that were taken," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim reported to ICC, that on Friday, March 14, Sabah, age 18, was returned to her family. She had been missing since February 20. Her family was contacted by the kidnappers who threatened to kill her if they did not receive a ransom. Ultimately her family paid more than 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,000 USD) for her release.
For Sabah and her family they can now start the process of healing from the trauma and abuse of the past few weeks. In far too many cases, these girls go missing and are never heard from again. Left behind are fathers and mothers like Nasser, aching for their daughters, asking for the church to pray for the return of their daughter, and realizing that human leaders seem either unwilling or unable to help.

Why the Media Doesn't Cover Jihadist Attacks on Middle East Christians
by Raymond Ibrahim/The Torch/Winter 2014

"To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace"—Hebrews 6:6
The United Nations, Western governments, media, universities, and talking heads everywhere insist that Palestinians are suffering tremendous abuses from the state of Israel. Conversely, the greatest human rights tragedy of our time—radical Muslim persecution of Christians, including in Palestinian controlled areas—is devotedly ignored. The facts speak for themselves. Reliable estimates indicate that anywhere from 100-200 million Christians are persecuted every year; one Christian is martyred every five minutes. Approximately 85% of this persecution occurs in Muslim majority nations. In 1900, 20% of the Middle East was Christian. Today, less than 2% is.
In one week in Egypt alone, where my Christian family emigrated, the Muslim Brotherhood launched a kristallnacht—attacking, destroying, and/or torching some 82 Christian churches (some of which were built in the 5th century, when Egypt was still a Christian-majority nation before the Islamic conquests). Al-Qaeda's black flag has been raised atop churches. Christians—including priests, women and children—have been attacked, beheaded, and killed. Nor is such persecution of Christians limited to Egypt. From Morocco in the west to Indonesia in the east and from Central Asia to the north to sub-Saharan Africa to the south; across thousands of miles of lands inhabited by peoples who do not share the same races, languages, cultures, and/or socio-economic conditions, millions of Christians are being persecuted and in the same exact patterns.
Muslim converts to Christianity and Christian evangelists are attacked, imprisoned, and sometimes beheaded; countless churches across the Islamic world are being banned or bombed; Christian women and children are being abducted, enslaved, raped, and/or forced to renounce their faith. Far from helping these Christian victims, U.S. policies are actually exacerbating their sufferings. Whether in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, or Syria, and under the guise of the U.S.-supported "Arab Spring," things have gotten dramatically worse for Christians. Indeed, during a recent U.S. congressional hearing, it was revealed that thousands of traumatized Syrian Christians—who, like Iraqi Christians before them are undergoing a mass exodus from their homeland—were asking "Why is America at war with us?"
The answer is that very few Americans have any clue concerning what is happening to their coreligionists.
Few mainstream media speak about the horrific persecution millions of people are experiencing simply because they wish to worship Christ in peace.
There, is of course, a very important reason why the mainstream media ignores radical Muslim persecution of Christians: if the full magnitude of this phenomenon was ever know, many cornerstones of the mainstream media—most prominent among them, that Israel is oppressive to Palestinians—would immediately crumble.
Why? Because radical Muslim persecution of Christians throws a wrench in the media's otherwise well-oiled narrative that "radical-Muslim-violence-is-a-product-of-Muslim-grievance"—chief among them Israel.
Consider it this way: because the Jewish state is stronger than its Muslim neighbors, the media can easily portray Islamic terrorists as frustrated "underdogs" doing whatever they can to achieve "justice." No matter how many rockets are shot into Tel Aviv by Hamas and Hezbollah, and no matter how anti-Israeli bloodlust is articulated in radical Islamic terms, the media will present such hostility as ironclad proof that Palestinians under Israel are so oppressed that they have no choice but to resort to terrorism. However, if radical Muslims get a free pass when their violence is directed against those stronger than them, how does one rationalize away their violence when it is directed against those weaker than them—in this case, millions of indigenous Christians? The media simply cannot portray radical Muslim persecution of Christians—which in essence and form amount to unprovoked pogroms—as a "land dispute" or a product of "grievance" (if anything, it is the ostracized and persecuted Christian minorities who should have grievances). And because the media cannot articulate radical Islamic attacks on Christians through the "grievance" paradigm that works so well in explaining the Arab-Israeli conflict, their main recourse is not to report on them at all.
In short, Christian persecution is the clearest reflection of radical Islamic supremacism. Vastly outnumbered and politically marginalized Christians simply wish to worship in peace, and yet still are they hounded and attacked, their churches burned and destroyed, their women and children enslaved and raped. These Christians are often identical to their Muslim co-citizens, in race, ethnicity, national identity, culture, and language; there is no political dispute, no land dispute. The only problem is that they are Christian and so, Islamists believe according to their scriptural exegesis, must be subjugated.
If mainstream media were to report honestly on Christian persecution at the hands of radical Islamists so many bedrocks of the leftist narrative currently dominating political discourse would crumble, first and foremost, the idea that radical Islamic intolerance is a product of "grievances," and that Israel is responsible for all Jihadist terrorism against it.
**Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.