LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Luke 9,37-45. /: "On the next
day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met
him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to
look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him,
and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he
foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I
begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus
answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer
must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he
was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But
Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back
to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While
everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his
disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is
going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand
this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could
not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying."
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 24/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 24/14
Lebanese Related News
Miscellaneous Reports And News'
29 killed so far in n. Lebanon
March 23, 2014 /By Antoine Amrieh/The Daily Star
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Intermittent sniper fire and fierce overnight clashes between rival neighborhoods in the troubled northern city of Tripoli dashed hopes Sunday for an end to the fighting that has claimed 29 lives so far.
Two people, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed and one person was wounded late Saturday, reportedly when a personal dispute escalated into armed clashes in Bab al-Tabbaneh. Eissa al-Sayad Akla and Omar Ali al-Asaad were shot and killed while Khaled al-Zaghloul remained in critical condition. The incident raised the death toll from 10 days of fighting to 29, the highest number of casualties from a single round of fighting since the uprising in Syrian began in 2011, eventually spilling over into Tripoli where supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad now regularly engage in gunbattles. Fighters from the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which largely supports the armed Syrian opposition, have engaged in 20 rounds of clashes with their rivals in the Alawite Jabal Mohsen, which enjoys close ties to the Syrian regime. Rumors circulated late Saturday that head of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party Ali Eid had died, prompting residents in Bab al-Tabbaneh to fire celebratory gunfire for at least an hour.As news broke that Eid was still alive, Jabal Mohsen fighters fired shots into the air, which triggered hours-long clashes in several neighborhoods in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city. In the early hours of the morning, people were seen taking cover from snipers while witnesses told The Daily Star that the Lebanese Army had scaled back its patrols.
Tripoli MP Mohammad Kabbara said the government has devised a plan to contain the violence in the area under the auspices of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, after a truce called for by the city’s lawmakers fell on deaf ears. Prime Minister Tammam Salam said that the government was working on a plan to address security there. “The situation in Tripoli is complicated and it is an accumulation of many issues. Resolving the situation cannot be done with just a statement or a stance,” Salam told Ash-Sharq Radio Station over the weekend. “I hope that Tripoli residents can be a little more patient with us until we achieve something for the city but at the end of the day, only security institutions can reign over Tripoli,” he added. Civil society groups held a demonstration Saturday to protest the repeated rounds of clashes that have plagued the city for three years, holding security agencies and politicians responsible for the situation. The Gathering of Tripoli Civil Society Groups said political parties were to blame for the “tragic reality of the city,” asking officials to lift “political and sectarian” cover for perpetrators of violence and to prepare a city-wide reconciliation between Jabal Mohsen and surrounding areas. In a statement, the gathering also asked for development projects to address the high level of poverty among residents and also called for a resolution to the issue of detained Islamists in Lebanese prisons.
Salam Condemns Beirut Clashes,
Blames them on Spread of Arms
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned on Sunday the clashes that broke out at at dawn near Beirut's Sports City, saying that they are part of the “ongoing developments that violate the state's authority,” reported Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5). He blamed in a statement the unrest on the spread of weapons among the people. He therefore urged the need to bolster security agencies in Lebanon, adding that no sect in the country enjoys impunity. “We are all paying the price” for the unrest, noted the premier. Salam therefore urged the need for all forces to set aside their disputes in order to protect the Lebanese people's security and future. Clashes erupted at dawn on Sunday between Arab Movement Party supporters and Salafists near the Sports City area in Beirut. One person was killed and 13 people were wounded in the fighting. The heavy deployment of the army in the neighborhood put an end to the unrest.
Suleiman: We Need for a National Defense Strategy that Adheres to Army, State
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/President Michel Suleiman stressed on Sunday the need to devise a national defense strategy for Lebanon, while emphasizing that he seeks to hold the presidential elections on time.
He said: “The defense strategy should adhere to the army and the state.”He made his remarks after attending a Sunday mass that commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the death of Saint Rafqa, which was held in the region of Jrabta. Commenting on the presidential elections, Suleiman told reporters: “I am exerting all possible efforts to stage the presidential elections on time.”“Suleiman: I seek to exercise democracy and portray Lebanon as democratic country at a time when Arab countries are aspiring to reach such a goal,” continued the president after the mass that was led by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. The next president should base his actions on the constitution, he stressed. “These actions should protect Lebanon and its sovereignty,” added Suleiman. Al-Rahi meanwhile hoped during the sermon that all concerned parties would respond to Suleiman's call to resume the national dialogue. The presidential elections are set for May when Suleiman's six-year term ends. The president called on Friday for the resumption of the national dialogue on March 31 in order to continue discussions on a defense strategy.
Hezbollah, Amal decry abductions in Lebanon
March 22, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Amal Movement Saturday denounced in a joint statement the phenomena of abductions in different Lebanese regions. “The leaderships of Amal Movement and Hezbollah denounce the recurrent incidents of abduction in different Lebanese regions and the detention of citizens in exchange for ransoms,” the statement said. “We call on the new Cabinet to [put this issue] on its list of priorities and put an end to the abductions,” it added. The two parties also noted the positive roles they played in securing the release of hostages.
Hezbollah: Yabroud 'victory' will lessen security risk to Lebanon
March 23, 2014 12:31 PM (Last updated: March 23, 2014 /The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Hezbollah official Sheikh Naim Qassem said Sunday that the recent defeat of rebel groups in Syria’s Yabroud will curb suicide and car bombings in Lebanon. “Some are not paying attention to the grand victory that took place in the Qalamoun region or Yabroud. These achievements will certainly decrease the number of deadly cars and the devil’s suicide bombers,” Qassem, Hezbollah’s Deputy General Secretary, said during a ceremony in Beirut. “These are important steps to protect Lebanon, its security and stability and independence,” he added. Backed by Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian regime announced last week it had taken over Yabroud, a rebel stronghold near the border with Lebanon, dealing a blow to the opposition on the ground. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television said the Syrian Army carried out a "security operation in the heart of the Qalamoun" region, targeting leaders of an armed rebel group responsible for sending car bombs into Lebanon. The report said the operation led to the killing of three “experts in rigging vehicles” identified as Ahmad Ali Hamra, Farid Mohammad Jomaa, and Hussam Massaad Hammoud, along with four of their "assistants." Over the past year, Lebanon has been the target of over a dozen suicide and car bombings, mostly in Shiite areas commonly associated with Hezbollah. Most of the bombings were claimed by Islamist groups citing the Hezbollah's role in Syria.
One Killed in Clashes between Shaker al-Berjawi Supporters, Salafists near Beirut's Sports City
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/One person was killed and at least ten were wounded on Sunday in clashes that erupted at dawn between Salafists and supporters of Arab Movement Party leader Shaker al-Berjawi near the Sports City center in Beirut. Al-Jadeed television identified the victim as Khalil Nabil al-Hanash, whom Agence France Presse said Hanash was a member of the Arab Movement Party. The Internal Security Forces said that 13 people were wounded in the unrest that witnessed the use of rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns. The clashes ended as soon as the army intervened and deployed heavily in the area. Al-Jazeera television said that the clashes broke out after a verbal dispute erupted between the rival forces. The National News Agency meanwhile said Berjawi's supporters came under attack by hardline Sunni Islamists. Witnesses said that the opposing gunmen were members of small Lebanese and Palestinian factions hostile to Hizbullah, whose fighters have intervened in Syria alongside the forces of President Bashar Assad, reported AFP. A spokesman for the Mustaqbal Movement denied to MTV claims of the existence of Salafists in the area, saying that Berjwai was using this as an excuse to spark the fighting. Berjawi meanwhile accused supporters of the Mustaqbal Movement of being behind the unrest, reported al-Jadeed. The Army Command later said that the clashes broke out in the western neighborhood behind the Sports City. The army intervened to contain the fighting and then cordoned off the area in order to restore calm. It has also been carrying out raids against gunmen hideouts to arrest the perpetrators. Sunday's battle between members of the small pro-Damascus Sunni group -- the Arab Movement Party -- against gunmen opposed to Assad's regime was not the first to take place between the two sides. The Arab Movement Party was at the center of the fighting when the first Syria-linked violence erupted in Beirut in May 2012. Its supporters were forced out of the Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood in fighting with gunmen sympathetic to the Mustaqbal Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The latest Beirut fighting came after nine days of clashes between pro- and anti-Assad groups rocked the northern city of Tripoli, killing 24 people and wounding 128. Tripoli has been the scene of chronic sectarian fighting since the war in Syria erupted three years ago, with gunmen from the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh battling fighters from neighboring Jabal Mohsen, whose residents belong to Assad's Alawite sect. Berjawi is a veteran militant whose career has spanned multiple decades and causes.
He fought in the Lebanese civil war under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization before heading to Iraq to fight alongside now executed dictator Saddam Hussein's forces in his 1980-88 war with neighboring Iran.
At the time the Iraqi and Syrian regimes were bitter rivals, and on his return home, Berjawi was a staunch opponent of the troop presence in Lebanon which Syria maintained from 1976 to 2005, earning him a spell in prison in Damascus. But he later changed sides and became a staunch ally of the Assad regime. Source/Agence France Presse
Nasrallah Likely to Voice Hizbullah Stance on Dialogue during March 29 Speech
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/Hizbullah's position on the national dialogue call issued by President Michel Suleiman will likely be expressed by the party's chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah next week, reported the daily An Nahar on Sunday. It said that Nasrallah is scheduled to hold a speech during a cultural event in the southern town of Ainata on the afternoon of March 29. Suleiman had called for the resumption of the national dialogue on Friday in order to continue discussions on a defense strategy. Hizbullah has recently been critical of the president since he was vocal in his rejection of the “army-people-resistance” equation in the government policy statement, describing it as wooden. Media reports on Saturday said that Hizbullah will boycott a national dialogue session chaired by Suleiman. The president is scheduled to chair the all-party talks at the Baabda Palace on March 31. March 8 sources meanwhile told An Nahar that Suleiman is seeking to hold the talks “to cover his implicit desire to extend his term,” which ends in May.
Baalbek-Deir Al-Ahmar Pastor Escapes Abduction Attempt
Naharnet Newsdesk 22 March 2014/The pastor of Baalbek-Deir al-Ahmar escaped a kidnap attempt on Saturday evening in the Bekaa. “Pastor Semaan Atallah was able to escape an abduction attempt on the Iaat-Deir al-Ahmar road,” the state-run National News Agency. "Two four-wheel drives followed our car and tried to intercept it,” Semaan detailed on the incident, according to NNA. "I was in the car along with the driver, and the latter decided to keep going forward,” he added. But when the vehicle neared an army checkpoint, the stalkers fled to an unknown destination, the pastor revealed. "When Semaan arrived in Deir al-Ahmar (in northern Bekaa), the towns' residents rang the churches' bells to protest the abduction attempt.” The NNA noted that Semaan is in good health.
Bassil Says Arab Foreign Ministers Approved his Plan to Back Lebanese Army
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil announced on Sunday that a meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Kuwait approved a plan he had presented aimed at bolstering the Lebanese army. He said via Twitter: “The foreign ministers agreed to support the army in its resistance of Israel and battle against terrorism.” This entails bolstering it financially and providing it with the necessary equipment in accordance to international initiatives, he added from Kuwait. The plan will also seek to support the Lebanese government to that end, explained Bassil. “There is a calamity and the Lebanese people are besieged by spiteful terrorism from which only Lebanon's army can liberate them, which would consequently protect you from its spread,” Bassil said, addressing the Arab foreign ministers. “Lebanon's strong army can be the army of the entire Arabs in their confrontation against terrorism and a strong Lebanese army would pave the ground for a strong Lebanon,” Bassil added. He noted that the Arab nations are facing a “major challenge” in the “joint battle” against terrorism. “Lebanon is its first arena, whether it chooses this or not, and this will not change if it dissociates itself or if it engages itself” in this battle, the FM went on to say. “I ask you to start your journey with backing Lebanon's strong army and I thank you for seeking an Arab Summit resolution that confirms the contribution of all states to this issue,” Bassil added. The Arab foreign ministers held their meeting in Kuwait ahead of the two-day Arab League summit that will kick off on Monday. President Michel Suleiman is scheduled to take part in the talks.
Arab Summit at Time of Deep Rifts
Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2014/
An Arab League summit opens in Kuwait on Tuesday at a time of deepening rifts between its member states and without any end in sight to the Syrian conflict. With Doha in the eye of the storm, the region's leaders are expected to discuss the row which has pitted Qatar against Gulf partners Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as Egypt. They will hold a special session to discuss "clearing the atmosphere and compromises," said the Arab League assistant secretary general for political affairs, Fadhel Jawad. Kuwait's foreign minister, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah, and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi confirmed at a joint press conference Thursday that the differences will be debated but declined to reveal any specific mediation efforts. Sheikh Sabah acknowledged that the summit was being held under "highly delicate" circumstances and that Arab countries were faced with serious challenges. Qatar's perceived support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood lies at the core of the dispute, over which Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama have recalled their ambassadors from Doha in an unprecedented move between Gulf states. Kuwaiti political analyst Dhafer al-Ajmi said the host country's ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, was likely to use his skills as a mediator.
"Internal Arab disputes are overshadowing the summit but I am optimistic that Kuwait and its emir could achieve a breakthrough," said Ajmi, who heads the Gulf Monitoring Group, an independent research center.
The summit will also debate a new counter-terrorism pact tabled by Egypt, Jawad said, amid reports that Cairo and Riyadh could press for the Muslim Brotherhood to be declared a terrorist organization.
Another top item will be the Arab Spring and the deadly fall-out from the uprisings which have rocked the region over the past three years.
"We are experiencing huge unrest in most parts of the Arab world... and it's time that we discussed the future," Arabi said. The revolts have resulted in the ouster of three presidents, the killing of a fourth head of state and triggered a devastating civil war in Syria. The democratic reforms demanded on the Arab street are not expected to figure on the agenda. "Most regimes have already branded the Arab Spring as chaos and terrorism," Ajmi said. Kuwait said 13 heads of state have confirmed they are attending the annual summit, this year being held under the slogan of "solidarity for a better future". The three-year-old Syrian conflict, which has cost more than 140,000 lives, will figure prominently at the summit, Arab League officials said, following the failure of two rounds of peace talks in Geneva. Arabi said that although the last Arab summit held in Doha in March 2013 decided to allocate Syria's vacant seat to the opposition National Coalition, steps remain to comply with League regulations. "We are holding consultations with the National Coalition over the issue but at this summit the Syrian seat will remain vacant," Arabi said. According to Ajmi, Arab leaders are sending the "wrong signal" by not allowing the opposition to fill Syria's seat. The Syria government's brutal repression of protests which erupted in mid-March 2011 resulted in its suspension from the Cairo-based Arab League. The Istanbul-based Syrian Coalition is an umbrella organization of several opposition groups. The latest U.S. push to advance peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel will also be discussed by Arab leaders. Arabi said Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, fresh from talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last Monday, will brief his Arab counterparts on latest developments.Source/Agence France Presse.
After Iran's leader questions
Holocaust, Liberman hits back at 'Hitlerian' Khamenei
By JPOST.COM STAFF/03/23/2014/ Khamenei used a Friday morning speech marking Norwuz, the Persian New Year, to call into question the Holocaust.Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman lashed out at Iran on Sunday just days after its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, questioned the “certainty” of the Holocaust. “The omnipotent ruler and spiritual authority of Iran, Ali Khamenei, denied the existence of the Holocaust over the weekend,” Liberman wrote in Hebrew on his Facebook page on Sunday.After [former president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad left the scene and after the charm offensive [of his successor Hassan Rouhani], a small, Hitlerian mustache continues to lurk underneath the ayatollah’s beard. This is yet another reminder for those who think we are seeing another Iran.”Khamenei used a Friday morning speech marking Norwuz, the Persian New Year, to call into question the Holocaust. “The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened,” Khamenei’s Twitter account quoted him as saying in the speech.“Does anybody dare talk about [the] Holocaust in Europe?” he asked. That tweet was preceded by one in which Khamenei said that “absolute freedom doesn’t exist anywhere in the word. Even countries that claim to have freedom, set redlines on which they are utterly strict.”Mark Regev, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, said in response that, “Despite an all too effective international PR campaign to camouflage Iran’s real intentions, these comments once again expose the hateful and aggressive mindset of Iran’s most senior leadership.”Khamenei, Regev said, “denies the Holocaust even as he seeks the means to threaten the Jewish state with nuclear genocide.”
One government source said Khamenei’s remarks, together with the recent interdiction of the Iranian orchestrated Klos C ship carrying missiles and mortars to the Gaza Strip, demonstrate that Iran has not changed either its behavior or its mindset. “It is a myth to talk about new Iranian moderation,” the official said. Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report
Iran is building a mock-up of
the USS Nimitz-class nuclear carrier near Bandar Abbas
DEBKAfile Special Report March 23, 2014/At the same time as President Barack Obama was sending New Year greetings to the Iranian people Thursday, March 20, US satellites snapped shots of a mockup of Iran’s first aircraft carrier under construction at the Revolutionary Guards naval base of Bandar Abbas. After decoding the images, US intelligence experts were astonished to find it was a replica of a US Nimitz-class super-carrier. DEBKAfile reports that the construction work was first picked up by drones from the US Navy's 5th Fleet, which operates in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea.
In his message, the US president challenged Iran’s leaders to “take meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only” for the sake of "a new beginning," including “a better relationship with the United States and the American people, rooted in mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Of the US Navy’s 10 operational Nimitz-class carriers, two - the USS George H.W. Bush and the USS Harry S. Truman — are currently deployed in the Middle East. Each is 330 meters long and carries on is decks up to 3,000 naval and air crew and 85-90 fighter craft and helicopters.
The Pentagon’s first response to the discovery was uncertain: "We are aware that Iran has constructed a floating barge that resembles a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier near Bandar Abbas,'' spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson said Saturday. "Commercially available imagery shows its construction. We are not sure what tactical value Iran hopes to gain by building a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier.”
Since the disclosure, Iran experts have been speculating on that question. Some have suggested that it was a crude model which the Iranians were planning to destroy as a propaganda stunt during a naval training exercise.
However some military experts are taking it more seriously and warn that the mock-up carrier signaled a new level of sophistication in the use of unconventional doctrine and capabilities for confronting superior US naval power."
Obama’s message of friendship for Nowraz was not exactly reciprocated: At a speech in Mashhad the next day, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the US the "enemy" and a "dictatorial and arrogant" power. Khamenei said the Americans “used rhetoric and language that was less courteous and more aggressive… and insulting to the people.”
DEBKAfile’s military experts offer six points of interest about Iran’s attempt to replicate a US carrier:
1. The discovery of this project was not random. Its construction has been going on for more than two years, but the Obama administration preferred to keep it dark so as not to spoil the climate of détente it was striving to build with Tehran. And indeed, the first response to the disclosure from the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel was that the mock-up “demonstrates Iran’s continued lack of good faith.”
2. The Iranians deliberately exposed the project by placing air force fighter jets on the deck of the fake Nimitz to make sure they were detected by US surveillance.
3. Its purpose is neither for propaganda nor for show in a training exercise. Iran’s method for its most ambitious military projects is to start from scratch and advance step by step until their goal is reached, our Iran experts sources report. Their UAV program began with primitive models, which were perfected stage by stage over a period of years, with the help of Chinese, Russian and North Korean experts. The drone project has by now advanced enough for Iran to hand the Lebanese Hizballah a fleet of drones with high-grade technological and surveillance capabilities.
4. The mockup vessel program is adjusted to the long-term prospects of nuclear diplomacy - in Iran’s estimation. Tehran is certain that negotiations with the six powers are going nowhere, fated to be dragged out to bar any diplomatic or military solution of their nuclear controversy forthcoming before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. By 2017, when his successor takes office, Iran’s policy-makers calculate that their mockup will have been developed into a full-scale operational aircraft carrier ready to go from Bandar Abbas.
5. On various occasions in the past year, officials associated with Iran’s nuclear program and senior commanders of its Navy and Revolutionary Guards have said that high-grade nuclear fuel will be needed for their nuclear-powered naval vessels and submarines – which they don’t possess. Iranian negotiators will for the first time be able to present a complete aircraft carrier to support their claim when they are confronted by skeptical world powers.
6. Iran obviously lacks the capacity to build an aircraft carrier to US standards. Nor does it possess advanced fighter jets comparable to US or Israeli air force aircraft; or the technology for constructing and operating the sophisticated military electronic devices installed in American warplanes and carriers.
At the same time, Tehran has surprised the world by its strides in drone and cyber technologies, while at the same time demonstrating the military and tactical mastery for turning the tide of the Syrian civil war from Bashar Assad’s almost certain defeat to success. Iran’s aggressive ambition to outperform its enemies should therefore not be underestimated.
Turkey downs Syria warplane on border
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Sunday, 23 March 2014
Turkish anti-aircraft fire shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday as it bombed rebels fighting to seize control of a border post in northwestern Syria, Turkey’s premier said, confirming media reports.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the military for downing the plane and warned of a “heavy” response if its airspace was violated.
“A Syrian plane violated our airspace. Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Erdogan told a rally of his supporters in northwest Turkey ahead of March 30 local elections. “Our response will be heavy if you violate our airspace,” Erdogan said during an election rally, referring to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s military confirmed the attack, calling the act a “blatant aggression.”
The unnamed army spokesman was quoted by Syrian state TV as saying the plane was downed in Syrian airspace as it was attacking rebels who have been on the offensive in the coastal province of Latakia. The spokesman said the pilot ejected from the aircraft. Turkey is among the main backers of Syrian opposition fighters trying to remove Assad from power. The downing of the plane came as Syrian government troops were trying try regain a border crossing point with Turkey near the town of Kassab that rebels captured Friday.
Netanyahu vows no let-up after West Bank raid
By AFP | Occupied Jerusalem/Sunday, 23 March 2014
Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that the army would use force against anybody plotting attacks against the Jewish state, after troops killed three Palestinians in a West Bank raid. "Over the weekend, our forces struck at a terrorist who had organized attacks on Israelis and was also planning attacks on innocent civilians," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting. "Our policy is to attack those who attack us and who are planning to attack us," his office quoted him as saying. "Both were applicable in this case." Israeli troops entered the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on Saturday in what the army said was an operation to capture wanted Hamas militant Hamza Abu Alheja, 20. Clashes broke out resulting in the deaths of Abu Alheja, another militant, Mahmud Abu Zena, 19, of the radical Islamic Jihad group, and a civilian identified as Yazan Jabarin. The Palestinians called a day of mourning and a general strike. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement, issued a rare joint statement vowing revenge and accusing Abbas's Palestinian Authority of complicity in the killings through its security cooperation with Israel. But Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner defended the operation, saying that Abu Alheja was "a ticking bomb" who took part in shooting attacks and was in "advanced stages of the preparation of further attacks".
French satellites spot possible MH370 debris
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
Sunday, 23 March 2014Malaysia said Sunday it had received new satellite images from France showing floating objects in the main search area for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean.
The images include "potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor," the Transport Ministry said in a statement.
It added the images had been passed on to Australian authorities who are coordinating the search for the plane, now focused on a remote stretch of ocean 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth.
Meanwhile, one of the aircrafts deployed in the hunt for the missing Malaysian jet has spotted a wooden cargo pallet along with belts or straps have been spotted in the remote Indian Ocean, Australian officials said on Sunday.
In what was confirmed as the “first visual sighting in the search so far,” the objects were seen on Saturday by a civilian aircraft assisting in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 which has now entered its third week.
“Part of the description was a wooden pallet and a number of other items which were nondescript around it and some belts of some different colors around it as well, strapping belts of different lengths,” AMSA aircraft operations coordinator Mike Barton said, according to Agence France-Presse. “We tried to refind that yesterday, one of the New Zealand aircraft, and unfortunately they didn’t find it. That’s the nature of it -- you only have to be off by a few hundred meters in a fast-travelling aircraft,” he told a press briefing. Aviation experts had advised that wooden pallets were quite commonly used to pack goods in planes, Barton added, describing it as a “possible lead.” Such pallets were usually packed into another container loaded into the belly of the aircraft he said, adding however that they were also used in the shipping industry.He cautioned that the nearby straps “could be anything” and “until we refind these items and have a good look at them it’s hard to say whether they are associated with this or not.” A “methodical search” would also continue of a 59,000 square kilometer expanse of sea to try and locate large items captured by satellite imagery on March 16 and 18. Barton said the operation had shifted away from an earlier emphasis on radar to focus on visual examination “of a more defined area based on the satellite imagery.”
New satellite image
Meanwhile, the search was set to resume Sunday with greater resources and boosted by a new satellite image of unidentified floating debris. A grainy March 18 photo released by China’s State Administration of Science Technology and Industry showed an object measuring 22.5 meters by 13 meters (74 by 43 feet) in the southern Indian Ocean. The location was just 120 kilometers (75 miles) distant from where March 16 satellite images -- released by Australia on Thursday -- had detected two pieces of possible wreckage in the remote ocean about 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth. “AMSA has plotted the position and it falls within Saturday’s search area,” the statement said. “The object was not sighted on Saturday. AMSA will take this information into account in tomorrow’s (Sunday’s) search plans.(With AFP)
Tough time to have an Arab League meeting?
Sunday, 23 March 2014/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya
This week the Arab League is holding its annual meeting entitled "Solidarity for a Better Future" in Kuwait. The timing of the event is of additional value. From the security perspective, the growing rift between the GCC states and the transition in Egypt and Libya is troublesome, and challenges the entire concept of solidarity. The changing situation in Syria is weighing on all participants' minds as well. It is quite doubtful that the Qatar issue will appear publically while the Damascus problem may be part of the final communiqué in terms of humanitarian necessities. The fact that Syria is not an active member, having been kicked out of the group for President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime’s military actions, is important because opposition will also not be present, leaving the inability to agree on an official representative. According to reports from Kuwait City, the Arab League summit is most likely to focus on ways to enhance the Arab League, the establishment of an Arab court for human rights, the activation of the council for peace and security to address conflicts that could threaten Arab security, the setting up of a crisis management center in cooperation with the European Union, the identification of goals to boost trade, ways to eliminate illiteracy and unemployment and improving the Arab League charter. For the first time, a representative from South Sudan will attend the Summit to give a report on the progress the country is making on stability and prosperity. The Summit intends to provide the troubled country a springboard for Arab integration. Thus, the agenda is robust and full of numerous goals to be agreed upon.
The Brotherhood issue
But if the GCC issue springs up, there may be a clear delineation and split within the Arab League over the Muslim Brotherhood, setting a dangerous precedent. A Them versus Us mentality may emerge over who supports the Ikhwan and who sees the Brotherhood as terrorists, and most importantly, if states give “sanctuary” to the Ikhwan being “state sponsors of terrorism.” Such statements will likely come from the mouths of pundits and not officially from Arab League official attendees. We will all know for sure if there is a major dispute behind the scenes if there are empty chairs around the table. The recent history of the annual Arab League meeting has focused on rallying Arab states around the need for economic and social welfare and improvement in correcting the disparity between member states. The problem is that the Arab League appears to be racked by an ongoing identity crisis. There are religious, ethnic, secular, and political differences that affect the ability of the Arab League to function in unison. Palestine is always a main, unifying cause. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Arab League seemed to be trying to emerge as a stronger regional organization because of the Syrian conflict, but appeared to fail to follow through because of internal regional disputes between member states.
Uniting the Arab countries
For some Arab observers, the Arab League is a debate club with little power. Hopefully, this year’s summit will be a bit more exciting and policy relevant. As such, two Egyptian journalists called to end the divisions among the Arab countries in order to pave way for stability and security for the Arab people. They argued that Arab leaders needed to activate a Defense Agreement in order to address violence and thus end divisions marring the Arab world. One of the journalists asserted: “The Arabs should be united against the West's vision to partition countries of the Arab world” and cited the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas.” This type of mentality may be counterproductive at this critical juncture in the regional environment.
This year, the Arab League Summit may add more “energetic words” to the final communiqué. It is interesting to note that last year’s conference in Doha is being linked to the Kuwait Summit. Qatar's Arab Summit in 2013 approved decisions aimed at solving Arab economic and social issues, especially those that hinder the establishment of an Arab free zone.
According to Kuwaiti officials, in order to complete the Arab free trade zone, it is of utmost importance to make progress in the Arab trade services agreement by setting up a timeframe to eliminate non-customs' restrictions and agreeing on unified custom tariffs in order to launch the Arab Custom Union. However, actions will speak louder than words in the current environment. Given regional turmoil, implementing such unifying economic reforms is going to be a tall order.
Overall, all of the intentions of the above goals are well, good, and notable. The problem is that the Arab League appears to be racked by an ongoing identity crisis. There are religious, ethnic, secular, political differences that affect the ability of the Arab League to function in unison. And the issues are only getting tougher with the changing geo-politics of the region and the impact that events in Ukraine and Iran’s negotiations with the West are having on Arab states. The good news is that Kuwait is a respectable location for such an event at this particular juncture. Given Kuwait’s own unique political system and the willingness of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and his royal court and advisors to act as mediators in all types of regional disputes, the Kuwait Summit may make one step forward but may also take two steps backwards depending on the assertiveness and agendas of attending states.
What awaits Obama in Saudi Arabia
Sunday, 23 March 2014/Faisal J. Abbas/Al Arabiya
All eyes are definitely going to be on Riyadh this week, where U.S. President Barack Obama will be meeting with the Saudi leadership on March 28.
There is no doubt about it; this highly-anticipated meeting comes at a time which is perhaps the most complicated in the 70-year history of the Saudi-U.S. “special relationship.”
Indeed, never since that landmark meeting between the late King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt onboard the U.S. Navy Cruiser Quincy in 1945 did the relation between the two allies raise so many questions.
Just like the 1945 meeting came at time where a new global order was taking shape (with the end of the World War II) and this newly-formed Saudi-American alliance helped serve the interests of both countries whereby the U.S. secured a steady flow of imported oil and Saudi Arabia received security guarantees from the World’s new super power; Friday’s meeting comes at time which is no less significant not just for both countries, but for the whole region as well.
A list of regional issues
The Saudis are concerned with the way the Obama administration has handled/continues to handle a number of regional issues; namely, Iran, Syria and Egypt.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House in June 2010. (Reuters)
At the heart of the problem is the White House’s new fondness of Iran, a country which is ruled by a malicious regime that continues to be a source of constant trouble not just for Saudi Arabia, but to all other U.S. allies in the region. What makes things more complicated is an enduring belief that President Obama, as popular and appealing as he once was, has got it all wrong when it comes to Iran.
Just like the 1945 meeting came at a time where a new global order was taking place, Friday's meeting comes at a time which is no less significant, not just for both countries but for the whole region as well.
This view was further supported following a recent interview conducted with Bloomberg’s Jeffery Goldberg.
Answering a question on what he thought was more dangerous: Sunni extremism or Shiite extremist; President Obama, whilst stating that he wasn’t big on extremism generally, said that Iran was “strategic,” “not impulsive” and “they respond to costs and benefits.” The best response to this comment came at the hands of renowned columnist Abdulrahman al-Rashed in a recent article, where he said that these attributes can also be said about people like Hitler, Saddam Hussain and Kim Jong Un. In other words, it doesn’t matter how strategic or non-impulsive a government is if it hails to a number of violent extremists, which is the main difference lies between Sunni and Shiite extremists in the region.
“Shiite extremists are in positions of authority - in Khamenei’s regime in Tehran and Hezbollah’s in Beirut. On the other hand, Sunni extremists are in the opposition camp, like al-Qaeda. They are outcasts, living in caves,” wrote al-Rashed.
A history of hostility
President Obama needs to remember all the crimes committed by Iran against American citizens and interests, all the way from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 attack on the U.S. marine barracks in Lebanon, to the kidnapped American colonel to the attack on the American compound in al-Khobar in 1996. He also needs to remember that it was Saudi security forces that were fighting side-by-side with their American counterparts in the global war against terrorism. He also needs to remember that it was Iran that sought to destabilize Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussain and that it is Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that are fighting side-by-side with the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Iran also supports the turmoil in Lebanon and Bahrain and it is also Iran that still occupies three Emirati islands.
If Iranian misbehavior is manageable, then why don't you do something about it right now?
As such, the U.S.’s vision of reducing all these issues to a mere negotiation over Iran’s nuclear ambition is certainly worrisome; particularly when one reads Obama’s take on such concerns.
“Let’s assume that Iran is not going to change. It’s a theocracy. It’s anti-Semitic. It is anti-Sunni. And the new leaders are just for show. Let’s assume all that. If we can ensure that they don’t have nuclear weapons, then we have at least prevented them from bullying their neighbors, or heaven forbid, using those weapons and the other misbehavior they’re engaging in is manageable,” Obama told Goldberg.
Allow me to interrupt here, Mr. President. But if the Iranian misbehavior is “manageable,” then why don’t you do something about it right now? Why let your allies - who your administration claims has an unshakable commitment to – continue to suffer from this Iranian misbehavior? Then, what if this charm offensive fails? You would have allowed Iran even more time to become even more malicious and create even more troubles for its neighbors.
As such, the Saudis will most likely tell President Obama that the path he has embarked on, when it comes to dealing with Iran, isn’t an advisable one and that this is the opinion not just of Riyadh alone, but of many of the U.S. allies in the region.
Syria, Qatar and Egypt
There are a number of other issues that are expected to be discussed; most notably, the ongoing crisis in Syria, which has just entered its fourth year. The Saudis haven’t shied away in the past from criticizing the White House’s reluctance in holding the Assad regime accountable for its crimes against its own people; particularly following Washington’s 11th hour U-turn on a possible strike last summer in retaliation for Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
On a positive note, Obama arrives in Riyadh having just ordered the closure of Assad’s embassy in Washington DC and diplomatic staff back to Damascus; this could be read as a positive sign and that there is likely going to be a further U.S.-Saudi alignment on a final solution for Syria which takes place before the end of this year. The Saudis are most likely also going to convey a legitimate Egyptian grievance over the Obama administration handling of the developing situation and Washington’s perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now considered a terrorist group among most U.S. allies in the region. This is a matter of high significance, particularly given that a new Egyptian-Saudi-UAE axis seems to have emerged; and one of the direct implications of this newly formed axis is the recent withdrawal of the Saudi, UAE and Bahraini ambassadors from Qatar over Doha’s insistence on supporting the Brotherhood, among other issues which will probably be elaborated on; however, as Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal pointed out recently, there is no U.S. mediation when it comes to the rift with Qatar, a matter which the Saudi official said will not be resolved so long as Doha doesn’t change its (foreign) policy). Many other things have changed in the bilateral dynamics since the first meeting of 1945; Saudi Crown Prince Salman just returned from a high-profile visit which included Pakistan, India, China and Japan which signals a clear indication that Saudi Arabia is preparing to head East; whilst the United States is expecting to soon become a net exporter of energy thanks to innovation on the shale-gas front. However, given that both parties realize that there is much good that their partnership can bring not just to the region, but to the whole world; the Riyadh summit could very well be monumental in its own way and forge a new long-lasting relationship that doesn’t only rely on interests, but on common beliefs and a commitment to the greater good.
**This article was first published in Gulf News on March 22, 2014.
Syria's rebels are pitting Israel against Hezbollah, and winning
Dr. Yaron Friedman/Ynetnews
Israel must think carefully about who benefits the most from the recent escalation along its Golan border with Syria.
"We will respond at the appropriate time and place." Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah have made much use of this expression, but the threats made by this "axis of resistance" against Israel have become a laughing stock among Sunni jihadist organizations.
The Syrian rebels have been claiming for the past three years that Assad and Nasrallah are turning their weapons on the Syrian people instead of Israel. The rebels have dubbed Assad the "Golan rabbit" and Nasrallah the "flat-screen sheikh", a reference to his decision to hide underground after the 2006 Lebanon War, for fear of being killed.
Are the pressure and criticism for lack of fighting against Israel starting to affect the Shiite axis? Israel rushed to blame Hezbollah for the explosive device in the Golan Heights that wounded four Israeli soldiers on Tuesday. Israel's response was swift and pointed, with the Israel Air Force attacking several Syrian army locations. The IDF blames the Assad-Hezbollah axis for the attack and for the recent escalation on Israel's northern border.
Israeli analysts have explained that Hezbollah is avenging a series of previous Israeli operations, including the elimination of several of the organization's leaders, and taking out a missile convoy from Syria to Lebanon. But is it fair to assume that after 40 years of relative calm in the Golan, Syria and Hezbollah have chosen to open a new front against Israel, when Syria is entangled in a civil war and Hezbollah is busy fighting in several different arenas as Assad battles for his very survival?
In late December, rockets were fired from Lebanese territory at the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, and the IDF responded by firing at the launching sites. On March 5, an IDF camera spotted three militants attempting to place an explosive device on the Golan border. The army, followed by the media, was quick to conclude that these were Hezbollah men. On both occasions, no direct link to Hezbollah was ever proven. Even the most recent incident did not yield conclusive proof tying Hezbollah to the attack. The organization praised the attack, yet did not claim responsibility.
Hezbollah has never been immersed in such a prolonged and bloody war as the conflict currently being waged in Syria. Thousands of the organization's fighters are in Syria, busy fighting on the harsh battlefields of the regime's army. They also guard holy Shiite sites in Damascus, and fight Sunni jihadists and rebel forces in different parts of western Syria.
The Shiite organization made a great achievement this week when it achieved a victory in the area of Qalamoun, close to the Lebanese border, thus allowing the Syrian army and its allies to achieve full control of the Lebanon-Syria frontier. Hezbollah helped Assad to turn the tide in western Syria, a process that began in early 2013. But make no mistake - Assad's army is not winning the battle for the whole of Syria, but rather only managing to achieve relative stability in areas still under its rule.
The frustration among Syrian rebels over Assad's achievements has given rise to new battle tactics, such as initiating attacks in the heart of Hezbollah-ruled areas in Lebanon. The rebels have long since given up on receiving substantial aid along the northern border with Turkey, or the southern one with Jordan. On the eastern border with Iraq and the Shiite rule of Nouri al-Maliki is under control. And the only real aid to the rebels comes from western Iraq, from al-Qaeda.
The assistance from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia is not sufficient to claim victory, since they are aiding rival parties within the rebel forces. The rebels' last hope is the southern border, with Israel. In order to motivate the Israeli army against the Syrian army, the rebels must create the illusion that Hezbollah is opening a new front against Israel in southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights.
Last year, there were several incidents of rocket fire at Israel emanating from the Lebanese border. Jerusalem realized there was danger of the Syrian civil war spilling into Israeli territory, and responded with force to each incident. In August 2013, Israel surmised that the rocket fire on the Western Galilee had been carried out by Global Jihad agents. Not long before the recent incident in the Golan Heights, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) claimed responsibility for laying an explosive device on the Israel-Lebanon border.
The area on the other side of Israel's border in the Golan is not under the control of neither the Syrian regime nor Hezbollah, but rather has been the scene of an intermittent war for the past two years. Despite the repeated aerial bombings in the Quneitra area, the rebels have managed to hold on to their many positions there. It is not unlikely, therefore, that the initiative to lay the explosive device on the Israel border came from those fighting Assad and Hezbollah. It is important to bear in mind that should Israel choose to attack the Syrian army, it is indirectly helping the opposition, most of whom are Islamist extremists.
Even though Hezbollah is gaining much experience and training in Syria, after losing hundreds of its fighters the organization is in no rush to take on Israel. The organization and the Assad regime will both need a great deal of recovery time before setting their sights once again on Israel. Nonetheless, the Jihadist groups, with al-Qaeda at the forefront, see Israel as the next stage in their plan to take over the entire region and establish a huge Islamic state. There is no doubt that if the Islamists do seize control of the border with Israel, we will see a frontier not dissimilar to the one with Gaza.
The rebels' pattern of behavior in Syria is akin to that of the jihadist groups in Gaza, spearheaded by Islamic Jihad. These groups are fiercely critical of the "hudna" (ceasefire) maintained by Hamas along the border with Israel. It is fair to say that one of the purposes of the delivery intercepted by Israel on the Iran weapons ship was to put an end to this truce and strengthen Islamic Jihad, which is loyal to Iran, at the expense of the rebellious Hamas, which has proven its infidelity through its support for the Syrian rebels.
Islamic Jihad is making sporadic attempts to fire rockets at Israel in an effort to provoke an Israeli attack on Hamas and reignite the war in Gaza. The elimination of Hamas would mean the elevation of Islamic Jihad.
Israel cannot allow itself to suffer attacks on its territory, but must choose its targets carefully, and ensure that it is not inadvertently serving the purpose of Syria's jihadist rebels. Regretfully, the enemy of my enemy in Syria, like in Gaza, is an even more intractable foe.
TwitterBan Is Bad for Erdogan and Turkey
Soner Cagaptay/Washington Institute
Turkey's leaders should acknowledge that banning social media sites is neither feasible nor conducive to developing a more advanced economy.
On March 20, one day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened "to root out Twitter," Turkish users were inexplicably blocked from accessing the popular social media site. According to the New York Times, the prime minister's office issued a statement that the decision to ban Twitter was imposed due to the site's "lack of cooperation after four local courts ruled that certain content must be removed."
Turkey is one of the world's top-ten Twitter nations, with twelve million users across the country. The ban will be difficult to enforce, since citizens can still access any blocked website via Internet servers based outside the country or post tweets by sending text messages. Whether or not the ban is sustainable, it may be more symbolic than practical, highlighting the challenges that Erdogan faces as Turkey readies for nationwide local elections on March 30 and presidential elections over the summer.
TURKEY'S NEW MIDDLE CLASS HAS SOCIAL MEDIA SAVVY
Turkey's economic transformation in the past decade under Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has created a powerful middle class. Ironically, it is this section of the population that is increasingly challenging the government. Since last year, Turkey has been rocked by antigovernment rallies, most notably the ones that broke out in Gezi Park and Taksim Square, in which citizens have demanded broader rights, including respect for freedom of association, assembly, media, and expression. Twitter and other social media sites, which are mainly accessed on expensive smartphones, have been instrumental in helping this wealthy and literate middle class stage protests against the government. According to a 2013 study by New York University's Social Media and Political Participation laboratory, only 30 percent of the tweets about Egypt's 2011 protests originated in Egypt and were written in Arabic; in contrast, 90 percent of the tweets about the Gezi Park protests were sent from Turkey and written in Turkish.
More recently, social media sites have figured prominently in the battle between Erdogan and the Gulen Movement, an influential network of former Erdogan supporters who have broken rank with him since December. The leader of the movement, Fethullah Gulen, currently resides in the United States, and Erdogan has used this fact to criticize not only America, but also various international institutions and social media sites such as Twitter, alleging that they are complicit in a conspiracy against him and the Turkish government. Twitter and Facebook have also been used to air corruption allegations against the government, hurting Erdogan's credibility and sullying his political reputation. While polls suggest his party is still likely to win the March 30 elections, they also indicate that the AKP's popularity may be slipping as a result of ongoing and virtual antigovernment campaigns.
Erdogan's opponents -- whether liberal, secular, leftist, or Gulen supporters -- have been taking to social media networks to challenge him. His response, particularly the decision to block Twitter, is telling of Turkey's obstacles moving forward. Some ten million of the country's Twitter users have already found other ways to log on and ignore the ruling, suggesting that Erdogan's efforts to clamp down on freedom of expression and keep his opponents at bay may not work.
In response to the Twitter ban, the United States should consider communicating the following points to Ankara:
Erdogan has made Turkey a middle-income country in the past decade, and it now has a chance to become an advanced economy if it builds a values-based economy and information society. In other words, Erdogan's Turkey can continue to rise if it transforms from a country that exports cars to a country that is a hub for Google. Turkey's creative classes will flee if the government continues on it current path, and those outside the country will avoid it if Turkey's leaders cannot provide unfettered access to the Internet, ensure freedom of expression, media, assembly, and association, and respect individual, environmental, and urban spaces -- all of which were key demands of the Gezi Park protestors and Erdogan's critics on the political left and right.
If Turkey remains an open society, it will continue to rise. This upward trajectory is in everyone's interest, especially Erdogan's. Since 2002, his party has won three parliamentary elections and two nationwide local elections primarily by delivering phenomenal economic growth. And Turkey has grown because it has attracted international investment, which averages approximately $40 billion annually. The flow of foreign money will cease if Turkey fails to remain an open society; international investors will pull out if popular social media sites are banned. Erdogan's success in the forthcoming elections will depend on his ability to maintain Turkey's image as a country open for business and ideas.
Turkey's growth and Erdogan's political fortunes are closely linked. They are also connected to the global economy and the freedoms available to citizens of most developed countries.
Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. His latest book is The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty First-Century's First Muslim Power.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE /4
Killed in Attack on Kenyan Church
17 Being Treated in Hospital Near Mombasa
3/23/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - Sunday morning, multiple gunmen stormed the packed Joy Jesus church in Likoni, Kenya, located near the large tourist city of Mombasa. Two individuals were proclaimed dead at the scene, and another two were killed as a result of their injuries, Cyrus Ombati, of Standard Digital, reported from Mombasa. Police responded quickly to the attack, but the two gunmen were able to escape, according to the earliest reports from Reuters.
"Both carried big guns and began shooting all over the place. I fell to the ground and could hear screams," Lilian Omondi, who was leading a prayer at the time of the attack, told Reuters. Likoni police chief Robert Mureithi told reporters that the high number of bullet cartridges recovered for the Joy in Christ Church indicated the gunmen were armed with automatic weapons, according to Reuters. "This has all the indicators of a terrorist attack because the attackers did not steal anything and appeared focused on killing," Mureithi continued.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Kenya has faced numerous small-scale attacks on churches and other targets, many of them connected to the Somalia based terrorist group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab, an Islamic group that is seeking to establish an extreme interpretation of Islamic laaw, has repeatedly attacked Kenya because of the Kenyan military's role in anti-terrorism efforts in Somalia. The September attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi took 67 lives and alerted the world again about the security risks that Al Shabaab poses. Just one week ago, two-suspected terrorist were arrested with explosives that officials believe were to be used in an attack. Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku, speaking in Mombasa, said that security had been strengthened to prevent these kinds of attacks. "Our officers are out there, they are doing everything possible to fight crime and terrorism," Lenku said.
Despite these efforts, it was not enough to prevent the attack on the Joy Jesus church. Four have been killed, and 17 are still in the hospital being treated for their injuries, according to the Kenyan Red Cross Society. This latest attack has again sent shockwaves through the Kenyan Christian community, worried about the relative ease with which this attack seems to have been carried out.
Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "the ruthless attack on a church, as men, women, and children were gathered simply to worship God, reveals the hatefulness and emptiness of the ideology that motivates these terrorist groups. The Kenyan military and security forces must continue their efforts to root out terrorist groups and provide protection to their civilians. We offer our prayers and condolences to the people of Kenya and, specifically, the families of those injured or killed in this attack."
With Iraq on the Brink, a New Sunni
by Jonathan Spyer/PJ Media/March 20, 2014
Largely ignored by the global media, Iraq today stands on the brink of a renewed Sunni insurgency. The emergent insurgency in Iraq is following the same sectarian pattern as the civil war in Syria and the growing violence in Lebanon. It also involves many of the same local and regional players.
The rising violence in Iraq is not, however, simply the result of a spillover from the Syrian war. It derives also from internal Iraqi dynamics. But these are themselves in significant ways comparable to the Syrian and Lebanese situations. Over 9000 people were killed in fighting in Iraq in 2013. This is not yet up to the levels of violence just prior to the surge, in the very worst days of the insurgency against U.S. forces and the sectarian bloodletting that accompanied it. But it's the highest since 2007. This year, more than 2000 people have already lost their lives as a result of political violence in Iraq.
As of today, a coalition of Sunni insurgent groups control the city of Fallujah in Iraq's Anbar province west of Baghdad. The city of Ramadi remains partially in insurgent hands, though its southern districts have been re-conquered by government forces in recent days.
Nor is the violence confined to Anbar province. Rather, car bombings have become a near daily occurrence in Baghdad, and insurgent activity against Iraqi security forces and non-Sunni civilians is taking place in Nineveh, Mosul, Kirkuk and elsewhere in areas of high Sunni Arab population.
So who are these insurgents, and why have events in Iraq reached this crisis point?
As in Syria, a myriad of insurgent groups have emerged. But there are two main forces. These are ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and the Naqshbandi Army.
ISIS emerged in Iraq in 2004, and for a time constituted the official franchise of al-Qaeda in the country. Under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in 2005, it became renowned for its brutal methods. ISIS experienced a resurgence during the Syrian civil war, and today it controls much of Raqqa province in eastern Syria, including Raqqa city.
In February, 2014, ISIS was "expelled" from al-Qaeda because of its insanely brutal methods in northern Syria, which have included, for example, execution of civilians for smoking, and for swearing.
This movement is now an active force on the insurgent council that now governs Falluja. Its fighters also rove freely in the vast deserts of western Anbar, making the desert highways unsafe for travelers and government forces.
The Naqshbandi Army is a very different, and somewhat bizarre group. It is headed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, a former high official in Saddam Hussein's regime. Many of the Naqshbandi commanders and fighters are former officials or members of the Ba'ath party.
The Naqshbandis somewhat bizarrely combine their Ba'athist and pan-Arabist outlook with support for the Naqshabandi Sufi Muslim sect of Iraq, from which their name derives.
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a UK based Iraqi researcher who has emerged as a leading analyst on the emergent Iraqi insurgency, cautions against dismissing the Naqshbandi outlook as a "total farce."
Tamimi said in a recent interview that the Sufi orientation served to differentiate the Naqshbandi from the jihadi outlook of ISIS and other salafi groups. But he noted that the Ba'athist and Pan-Arab element is the dominant one, with the religious coloration perhaps an acknowledgement of the extent to which Iraqi society has become more religious in recent years. In addition to these two groups, a variety of smaller militias are operating, including, notably, tribal forces previously associated with the "Sahwa" (Awakening) movement. This was the anti al-Qaeda trend whose emergence was a key element in the relative success of the U.S.-led surge in reducing violence after 2007. So what lies behind the eruption of Sunni violence? The dawning insurgency is, on one level, the result of the increasingly sectarian policies pursued by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in recent years, which has gathered pace since the last withdrawal of U.S. forces in December of 2011.
Maliki has targeted senior Sunni politicians, forcing Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi into exile, and harassing Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi. The increasing marginalization felt by the Iraqi Sunni Arab minority birthed a large protest movement in mid-2013. Maliki's uncompromising tactics against the protest movement in turn paved the way for the re-igniting of insurgency in January and February of this year.
Elections are due to take place in Iraq in April. Some observers suspect that Maliki's hard line against the Sunnis is in part intended to solidify Shia support for his party. But the emergent violence in Iraq should also be seen in broader terms. For Iraq's Sunni Arabs, the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime and its replacement by a Shia-led government represented an existential disaster — the toppling of the Sunni domination which had pertained in the area since the birth of the modern Iraqi state, and for centuries preceding its emergence. Maliki's clumsy policies notwithstanding, a reaction against the new Shia dominance was probably inevitable.
The Sunni uprising against the Assad regime undoubtedly provided an impetus to Iraq's Sunni Arab population, showing that resistance was possible, even if in the Syrian context Sunni Arabs form a majority of the population, while in Iraq they constitute between 15-20% of the population.
In this regard, the Maliki government's active and vital support for the Assad regime should be factored into the equation as an additional factor fueling Sunni anger.
Maliki has made Iraqi airspace and highways available for the transport of vital Iranian weaponry to the Assads. He has also turned a blind eye to the flow of Iraqi Shia volunteers heading to Syria to engage on behalf of the regime. ISIS, the main component of the emergent Iraqi insurgency, operates in a contiguous area crossing the porous border between Iraq and Syria.
So in addition to its internal dynamics and origins, the Iraqi situation also constitutes a single front in a broader sectarian war. Iraq, a decade after the western invasion that toppled Saddam, stands on the brink of renewed sectarian conflict. The U.S. response so far has been to relate to Maliki as the legitimate government of Iraq, and to supply limited aid (including several hundred Hellfire missiles) to his "counter-insurgency."
This is a misreading of the picture. Maliki, though elected, is engaged in sectarian warfare no less than are his Sunni opponents.
The Iraqi situation is driven by sectarian realities, Iranian interference and the weakness of any unifying, state identity or structure. Thus the reality of Mid-Eastern dynamics, in 2014 and for the foreseeable future.
**Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.