March 30/14

Bible Quotation for today/The Healing Miracle of the Paralyzed
Mark 2,1-12/"When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven", or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk"? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ he said to the paralytic ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home. ’And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’"

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 30/14

The ever changing Arab and American media.By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/March 30/14

A lethargic Arab League – what else is new/By: Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/March 30/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 30/14
Lebanese Related News

Daylight-Saving Time Begins at Midnight

3 Troops Martyred, 4 Wounded in Suicide Attack Targeting Arsal Army Checkpoint
Nasrallah Supports Dialogue after Presidential Vote, Says Equation Remains Golden 'Even if Someone Changes Their Opinion'
Maronite leaders reject compromise over presidential election
Lebanon sees international, regional support

Surge in Syrian Refugees from Qalamoun to Arsal as Syrian Jets Shell Town's Outskirts

Gemayel Meets Berri: Electing President Will Restore Lebanon's Role among Int'l Community

Bkirki: All Four Maronite Leaders are Candidates in Presidential Elections

Aoun, Gemayel, Franjieh Meet in Bkirki amid Geagea's Absence

Syria Army 'Gains Ground' along Lebanon Border

SCC Calls for Strike Wednesday after Failure to Refer Wage Scale to Parliament

Arrest Warrants Issued against 6 NSSF Employees for Fraud

Fletcher Voices Fears over Possible Normalization of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Three Arrested for Robbing Syrian Families in al-Koura

Gang Arrested in Bekaa for Smuggling Syrians into Lebanon

Tripoli Security Plan to Take Effect in Two Days

Miscellaneous Reports And News'

Obama to Saudi king: US will not agree to bad nuclear deal with Iran

Obama defends not using military force in Syria
Israel shoots ‘infiltrators’ on Golan Heights
Top US general to visit Israel, Ya'alon amid strategy spats

Angry Iranians urge their government: Be more like Israel

Russia Has 'Absolutely No Intention' of Crossing Ukraine border, Says Lavrov

MH370 stays missing for want of data-sharing among intelligence searchers


The Healing Miracle of the Paralyzed
By: Elias Bejjani
“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." Matthew 11/28-30) 
The habit of praying for others in any manner or pattern is a desirable religious practice, especially when the prayers are for the sake of those who are sick, persecuted, oppressed, poor, lonely and distressed, or have fallen prey to evil temptations. Praying for others whether they are parents, relatives, strangers, acquaintances, enemies, or friends, and for countries, is an act that exhibits the faith, caring, love, and hope of those who offer the prayers. Almighty God, Who is a loving, forgiving, passionate, and merciful Father listens to these prayers and always answers them in His own wisdom and mercy that mostly we are unable to grasp because of our limited human understanding. "All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21/22)
On the fifth Lenten Sunday the Catholic Maronites cite and recall with great reverence [ ] the Gospel of Saint Mark( 2/1-12):  "The Healing Miracle of the Paralytic": "When he entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was heard that he was in the house. Immediately many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even around the door; and he spoke the word to them. Four people came, carrying a paralytic to him. When they could not come near to him for the crowd, they removed the roof where he was. When they had broken it up, they let down the mat that the paralytic was lying on. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” But there were some of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak blasphemies like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to tell the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your bed, and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”— He said to the paralytic— “I tell you, arise, take up your mat, and go to your house.” He arose, and immediately took up the mat, and went out in front of them all; so that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
This great miracle in its theological essence and core demonstrates beyond doubt that intercessions, prayers and supplications for the benefit of others are acceptable faith rituals that Almighty God attentively hears and definitely answers. It is interesting to learn that the paralytic man as stated in the Gospel of St. Mark, didn't personally call on Jesus to cure him, nor he asked Him for forgiveness, mercy or help, although as many theologians believe Jesus used to visit Capernaum, where the man lives, and preach in its Synagogue frequently. Apparently this crippled man was lacking faith, hope, distancing himself from God and total ignoring the Gospel's teaching. He did not believe that the Lord can cure him.
What also makes this miracle remarkable and distinguishable lies in the fact that the paralytic's relatives and friends, or perhaps some of Jesus' disciples were adamant that the Lord is able to heal this sick man who has been totally crippled for 38 years if He just touches him. This strong faith and hope made four of them carry the paralytic on his mat and rush to the house where Jesus was preaching. When they could not break through the crowd to inter the house they climbed with the paralytic to the roof, made a hole in it and let down the mat that the paralytic was lying on in front of Jesus and begged for his cure. Jesus was taken by their strong faith and fulfilled their request.  Jesus forgave the paralytic his sins first (“Son, your sins are forgiven you) and after that cured his body: "Arise, and take up your bed, and walk". Like the scribes many nowadays still question the reason and rationale that made Jesus give priority to the man's sins. Jesus' wisdom illustrates that sin is the actual death and the cause for eternal anguish in Hell. He absolved his sins first because sin cripples those who fall in its traps, annihilates their hopes, faith, morals and values, kills their human feelings, inflicts numbness on their consciences and keeps them far away from Almighty God. Jesus wanted to save the man's soul before He cures his earthy body. "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?" (Mark 08:/36 & 37).
Our Gracious God does not disappoint any person when he seek His help with faith and confidence. With great interest and parental love, He listens to worshipers' prayers and requests and definitely respond to them in His own way, wisdom, time and manner. "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". (Matthew 07/07 &08)
In this loving and forgiving context, prayers for others, alive or dead, loved ones or enemies, relatives or strangers, are religiously desirable. God hears and responds because He never abandons His children no matter what they do or say, provided that they turn to Him with faith and repentance and ask for His mercy and forgiveness either for themselves or for others. "Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, 5:15 and the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up". (James 5:13)
There are numerous biblical parables and miracles in which Almighty God shows clearly that He accepts and responds to prayers for the sake of others, e.g.:
Jesus cured the centurion's servant on the request of the Centurion and not the servant himself. (Matthew 8/5-133:
Jesus revived and brought back to life Lazarus on the request of his sisters Mary and Martha. (John 11/1-44)
In conclusion: Almighty God is always waiting for us, we, His Children to come to Him and ask for His help and mercy either for ourselves or for others. He never leaves us alone. Meanwhile it is a Godly faith obligation to extend our hand and pull up those who are falling and unable to pray for themselves especially the mentally sick, the unconscious, and the paralyzed. In this realm of faith, love and care for others comes our prayers to Virgin Mary and to all Saints whom we do not worship, but ask for their intercessions and blessings.
O, Lord, endow us with graces of faith, hope, wisdom, and patience. Help us to be loving, caring, humble and meek. Show us the just paths. Help us to be on your right with the righteous on the Judgment Day.
God sees and hears us all the time, let us all fear Him in all what we think, do and say..


Daylight-Saving Time Begins at Midnight
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Daylight-saving time will begin in Lebanon at midnight where clocks should be set an hour ahead as per a decree issued by cabinet earlier this month. The move will put Beirut 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. Clocks will have to be turned back to wintertime at midnight on the last Saturday in October.


3 Troops Martyred, 4 Wounded in Suicide Attack Targeting Arsal Army Checkpoint
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/..Three troops were martyred and four others were wounded on Saturday evening in the border town of Arsal when a suicide bomber driving a booby-trapped car blew himself up at an army checkpoint in region. "A suicide bomber driving a booby-trapped car blew himself up at an army checkpoint in the Wati Ata region in Arsal,” the military institution said in a communique. "The explosion killed three army martyrs and wounded four others that were positioned at the targeted checkpoint,” the statement added. The car used in the explosion was a black Kia, according to the statement.
The state-run National News Agency identified the martyrs as soldier A. A., and conscripts M. H. and H. H. “And among the four wounded troops were T.M. and sergeant A. Sh.,” NNA added.
It was later revealed that soldier A. Y., who was gravely wounded in the explosion, is in a critical condition and he was transferred to a hospital in Baalbek for treatment. Military helicopter took off from the Riyaq Air Base in Beqaa and headed to Arsal to help rescue teams in reaching the site of the explosion and in transferring the wounded and the martyrs' bodies, according to the same source.
The NNA explained that the blast took place in the plains of Arsal, near the eastern mountain belt on the border with Syria.  MTV detailed on the incident: “A four-wheel drive rushed towards the army checkpoint, and blew up near the soldiers' position.”“Normally, seven to 12 troops are positioned at the targeted checkpoint,” it added. Al-Jadeed television assured moments after the blast that the contact was lost with the soldiers serving at the targeted checkpoint in Arsal. The "Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade” claimed later on Saturday the suicide explosion, considering it a retaliation to the killing of fugitive Sami al-Atrash.
“As long as Sunnis are targeted in Lebanon, be sure that we will respond to any attack,” the Brigade said on its account on the social media website Twitter. The name of Sami al-Atrash was mentioned for the first time in media reports claiming that he collaborated with Sameh Breidi in preparing the first car bomb that exploded in the Beirut southern suburb of Bir al-Abed, a Hizbullah stronghold.  Later in the evening, State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr tasked the army police to conduct all the initial investigation in Saturday's blast. He called for gathering all necessary proofs and information to reveal and identify the attackers, noting that the site of explosion will be inspected later. Prime Minister Tammam Salam said the explosion was a “hateful criminal act,” but assured that it will not affect the “decisive political decision to fight all forms of terrorism.”
"As the army and security forces were preparing to start implementing a security plan adopted by the cabinet, troops were attacked in a hateful and terrorist crime in the Arsal plains,” Salam said in a released statement.
"This is another episode in the cycle of violence targeting stability in Lebanon, the prestige of the state and its institutions,” he added. "The army will remain a symbol of sacrifice and it has the complete political support to do its job in protecting the security of the country and its citizens. This will only make us more insistent on fighting terrorism, resisting to any acts that threaten security, and implementing the law in all regions in Lebanon.”
Salam contacted army chief General Jean Qahwaji to be briefed on the latest developments following Saturday's explosion. Hizbullah also condemned the Arsal explosion, saying it is a crime targeting the country and all Lebanese people.

Nasrallah Supports Dialogue after Presidential Vote, Says Equation Remains Golden 'Even if Someone Changes Their Opinion'
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/..Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah hinted on Saturday that his party will boycott national dialogue, encouraging instead the election of a new president before resuming talks.
Nasrallah also lashed out at president Michel Suleiman's stance on the army-people-resistance equation. “What is golden remains golden, even if someone changes their opinion about it and said it became wooden,” the Hizbullah leader said in a televised speech he gave at an event celebrating the launch of the Jabal Amel Culture and Literature club in the southern town of Ainata. “Others' description of things does not change the reality of these things,” he stressed. Suleiman announced in February a “permanent equation” consisting of the land, people and common values, as a substitute to Hizbullah's army-people-resistance equation, which the party holds onto.
Nasrallah remarked that the president's comments on the equation will be reflected in Hizbullah's take on participating in the national dialogue sessions, preferring instead to launch talks after the presidential vote.
“We insist more than any other group on holding the presidential elections at the earliest possible time, we even call for an early vote, to establish a new phase, resume dialogue over a defense strategy, and get the country out of its problems,” he said. Nasrallah had started his speech on Saturday by talking about the literature and cultural achievements of Lebanon, and of southerners in particular, noting the important roles of literature, language and culture in the act of resisting. He considered that the resistance is not exclusively linked to a certain person, a group of people, or a region. “The resistance is a culture and a political ideology that embraces different groups,” he said. “Media outlets run by our political foes are still attacking the resistance, but the resistance is far more significant than a dispute with a party,” he added. Nasrallah assured that the resistance will “remain strong and defiant.”“Those who say that the fighting in Syria opens the doors in front of Israelis to wage a war against Lebanon, we tell them that they are mistaken,” he insisted. “Israelis know very well that the resistance is not only strong, but it is stronger today, and more capable on the human, financial, and military levels. It is more ready for victory.”Nasrallah said that the resistance succeeded in liberating the land “when the entire world failed in this regard.”“It succeeded in freeing prisoners from Israeli jails, and it cemented Lebanon as a strong nation in the regional equation.”On the party's involvement in the Syrian was, Nasrallah said Hizbullah fighters first entered the neighboring country to defend the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine. “We did not violate Syria's sovereignty. We went in after receiving the Syrian cabinet's approval,” he revealed. “But today, there is a nation preparing to enter the country and violate its sovereignty to defend a shrine that is not even famous,” he added, referring to Turkey. He continued: “From the beginning we said we are with dialogue and reform and we are not with implementing strategic choices in Syria. Why did Arabs wait for three years of suffering, killing, and hardship before becoming convinced of a political solution? You rejected to take part in dialogue and you held onto overthrowing the regime.”
Again, Nasrallah reiterated his warning against the “Takfiri danger.” “We said since the beginning that what is happening in Syria subjects the entire region to the danger of Takfiris. You said it was about human rights and revolutions.”“Some Lebanese have not realized yet that what is happening in Syria is a threat to the country,” he stressed. “I call on you to reconsider your stances and reevaluate what's happening. The problem in Lebanon is that Hizbullah was late to join the Syrian war, and your problem is that you are still in your place and did not go fight in the country.”

Lebanon sees international, regional support
March 29, 2014/By Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
Lebanon saw strong support at the Arab summit in Kuwait, senior political sources told The Daily Star. Regional interest in the country’s well-being was, according to the sources, evident in the details of the statement issued after the summit and during bilateral meetings that President Michel Sleiman held with several Arab leaders.
During these meetings, Arab leaders expressed unlimited support for Lebanon to ensure that the country’s new Cabinet was capable of tackling the refugee crisis and the repercussions of the Syria war.
Top Arab officials, along with their Western counterparts, also voiced an interest in keeping Lebanon at a distance from regional conflicts.
Sources stressed that the formation of Tammam Salam’s government greatly encouraged international and Arab support, as a legitimate executive authority now exists in Lebanon to receive aid pledges during international and Arab donor conferences, specifically the upcoming Rome conference to support the Lebanese Army.
The Arab summit has worked to affirm international political cover for Lebanon, the sources added, with numerous Arab presidents and monarchs, or those representing them at the summit, declaring it necessary to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts and from making alliances with rival regional players, while ensuring consensus among Lebanese politicians. The latter was observable during the first Cabinet meeting in which discussions took place and consensus was reached irrespective of differences in points of view.
The sources expressed hope that government consensus would prevail at Monday’s National Dialogue Session in Baabda Palace, which is expected to set the first step of the National Defense Strategy, allowing the military establishment and Security Forces to begin implementing security missions across the country, as the forces have so far proven successful in carrying out operations and security plans created by the Higher Defense Council.
The sources noted that though these plans did not put an end to the security incidents sweeping the country, they indicated a level of consensus among relevant parties that certain centers of crime and tense areas in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli needed to be contained.
Sources told The Daily Star that Lebanese officials approached foreign ambassadors during meetings to facilitate the provision of military assistance, particularly assistance paid for by the Saudi grant to purchase advanced French arms, as the upcoming presidential election would require a relatively stable atmosphere in the country.
The international arena remains determined in its assertion that stability in Lebanon ought to be maintained, despite rising tensions between the United States and Russia. International players have emphasized that the country’s next president should be “made in Lebanon” and should also be elected within the constitutional deadlines.
The sources added that the status quo hinges on regional developments, especially in Syria.
A ministerial source, however, said priority should be given to the Syrian refugee issue. The source suggested the formation of refugee camps in the border areas adjacent to Syria, as former Prime Minister Najib Mikati had previously recommended. This issue was also tackled behind closed doors during the Arab Summit, since Syria was an Arab country after all and Lebanon should not bear the consequences of its war alone, the source said.
Separately, former Minister Wadih al-Khazen told The Daily Star after a visit to the Holy See that the latter “supports holding the presidential election apart from any external influence.”
Separately, a senior delegation from the Vatican arrived to Beirut Thursday night, sources told The Daily Star. The visit aims to check in on the Maronite Church, but sources well acquainted with the issue said the delegation also sought to discuss the upcoming presidential election.


Maronite leaders reject compromise over presidential election
March 29, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Maronite political leaders and the head of the Maronite Church in Lebanon reject any compromise over the presidential election and call on Speaker Nabih Berri to press ahead with a legislative session to elect Lebanon’s next head of state, a Bkirki spokesperson said Saturday. “They agreed [on the need to] swiftly hold the first round of the election in Parliament as soon as possible and make way for a democratic electoral process without risking the possibility of failure in electing a new president within the deadline,” Walid Ghayyad said, reading a statement. Ghayyad was referring to a meeting Friday at Bkirki chaired by Patriarch Beshara Rai that brought together MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Kataeb Party head Amine Gemayel, and Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who has taken part in similar meetings in the past, did not attend for security reasons but was briefed and approved the statement issued by Bkirki, Ghayyad said. He said the participants agreed on the need for the election to be held on time. “[They agreed on] the importance of holding the presidential election on time as part of Parliament's national duty in accordance with constitutional principles,” the statement said. “They insisted on electing a new president who has the support of his own community first and represents the outlook of Lebanese Christians and Muslims alike and [abides by the] national pact,” it added. The Maronite figures also agreed to continue consultations with the patriarch over the election. “They also agreed to have a mechanism that ensures the election be held on time in accordance with [constitutional] principles and prevent the imposition of compromises that contradicts the principle of true national participation,” the statement added. During a brief chat with reporters, Ghayyad said that Geagea, Aoun, Gemayel and Franjieh were candidates for the top Christian political post. “This is the case until the largest political camps, the March 8 and the March 14 coalitions, put forward two names for the presidency,” he said. In remarks published Saturday, Ghayyad said the Bkirki meeting aimed at exerting pressure on Berri to convene legislative sessions to elect a new president as soon as possible. “[Friday’s] meeting aimed to form a Maronite pressure group for Speaker Nabih Berri to convene Parliament and call for a legislative session to elect a new president as soon as possible,” Ghayyad told Al-Joumhouria newspaper. He said the meeting also aimed at pressuring lawmakers to attend Parliament and place their votes. “The simple act of meeting in Bkirki is pressure enough to push in that direction,” Ghayyad added. On March 25, Lebanon entered a two-month constitutional deadline to elect a new president in which the speaker is expected to convene legislative sessions for that purpose. According to the Constitution, Parliament is considered in session 10 days before the deadline expires on May 25. In the previous presidential election, rival political groups had initially failed to agree on a candidate to replace former President Emile Lahoud whose term expired on Nov. 24, 2007. A year later Army commander Gen. Michel Sleiman emerged as a consensus candidate. He was elected on May 25, 2008. Rai has urged Berri to convene legislative sessions as soon as possible to allow MPs to vote on their preferred candidates. The patriarch’s spokesperson said Friday’s meeting did not discuss names of nominees but each leader had voiced their own opinion on the election.

Surge in Syrian Refugees from Qalamoun to Arsal as Syrian Jets Shell Town's Outskirts
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/The Bekaa town of Arsal witnessed on Saturday a surge in Syrian refugees fleeing the region of al-Qalamoun following the fall of the Syrian villages of Flita and Ras al-Maarra in the hands of regime forces, reported the National News Agency. Around 700 refugees arrived in the town up until noon on Saturday amid the heavy deployment of the Lebanese army in the area. The numbers of refugees seeking safety is expected to rise during the day, added NNA. The army sought to inspect the identifications cards of the refugees and prevent the infiltration of gunmen into Lebanon from Syria through the outskirts of Arsal. The flood of refugees was accompanied by Syrian fighter jets' shelling of the outskirts of the town in the al-Ajram region. Syrian troops made fresh gains in the strategic Qalamun region near the Lebanese border on Saturday, seizing the Ras al-Maarra and Flita from rebels, a military source told AFP. The military source said the latest advance "is a new step towards closing off the border with Lebanon.”The mountainous Arsal border area has long been a smuggling haven, with multiple routes into Syria that have been used since the conflict began in March 2011 to transport weapons and fighters.

Bkirki: All Four Maronite Leaders are Candidates in Presidential Elections
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/A meeting of Maronite leaders held at Bkirki on Friday stressed the need to hold the presidential elections on time and according to the constitution, it said in a statement on Saturday. A Bkirki media spokesman told reporters that all four of the Maronite leaders, Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel, and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh are candidates in the elections. “The gatherers urged the need to elect a president who holds Lebanon's interests at heart and who can effectively carry out his national duties,” he said in a statement.
“They will oppose any concession or settlement that will undermine Lebanon's interests,” he added. The Christian leaders will continue to follow up on developments linked to the polls with Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. The seat of the Maronite church in Bkirki witnessed Friday evening a meeting between top Maronite leaders, amid the absence of Geagea for “security reasons.” Bkirki's spokesman said on Saturday that the LF chief informed al-Rahi that he will consent to what the gatherers agree on. Al-Rahi on Tuesday announced that he will not nominate a certain candidate for the presidency, calling for the election of a president who is able to “heal the rifts” among the Lebanese. “We're working with everyone to secure holding the presidential vote on time. MPs have a two-month deadline to elect a president and nothing prevents holding the first session to elect the president on Monday,” al-Rahi said. President Michel Suleiman's tenure ends in May 2014 but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25. Geagea announced Friday that Speaker Nabih Berri will call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president once a delegation he has tasked to communicate with all parties finishes its mission. Al-Rahi had urged Berri to convene a legislative session as soon as possible to elect a new head of state.
The patriarch will be the only religious leader with whom Berri's envoys would meet given that the 1943 power-sharing agreement states the president should be a Maronite.

Aoun, Gemayel, Franjieh Meet in Bkirki amid Geagea's Absence
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The seat of the Maronite church in Bkirki witnessed Friday evening a meeting between top Maronite leaders, amid the absence of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea for “security reasons.” “Bishop Samir Mazloum presided over a meeting attended by Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel, head of Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh,” state-run National News Agency reported. Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi joined the meeting shortly after the end of a mass he had presided over in Jbeil. After media reports initially said that Geagea was present at the meeting, LBCI TV said the LF leader did not attend for “security reasons.” MTV said the meeting was planned in advance and that Bkirki witnessed “strict security measures.” NNA said the meeting ended at 10:00 PM.
"The meeting of the three Maronite leaders with Patriarch al-Rahi has ended and a statement about the talks will be issued on Saturday morning," MTV said. Al-Rahi on Tuesday announced that he will not nominate a certain candidate for the presidency, calling for the election of a president who is able to “heal the rifts” among the Lebanese. “We're working with everyone to secure holding the presidential vote on time. MPs have a two-month deadline to elect a president and nothing prevents holding the first session to elect the president on Monday,” al-Rahi said. President Michel Suleiman's tenure ends in May 2014 but the constitutional period to elect a new head of state begins on March 25. Geagea announced Friday that Speaker Nabih Berri will call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president once a delegation he has tasked to communicate with all parties finishes its mission.
“Speaker Berri will call for an electoral session when the committee finishes its tour,” Geagea said after meeting with the three-member panel in Maarab. “There are strenuous efforts to hold the vote within the constitutional timeframe,” Geagea told reporters. Al-Rahi has urged Berri to convene a legislative session as soon as possible to elect a new head of state. The patriarch will be the only religious leader with whom Berri's envoys would meet given that the 1943 power-sharing agreement states the president should be a Maronite.

Geagea Meets Berri's Panel, Says Speaker to Call for Electing President Once Envoys Finish Their Tour
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced Friday that Speaker Nabih Berri will call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president once a delegation he has tasked to communicate with all parties finishes its mission. “Speaker Berri will call for an electoral session when the committee finishes its tour,” Geagea said after meeting with the three-member panel in Maarab.
“There are strenuous efforts to hold the vote within the constitutional timeframe,” Geagea told reporters. In response to a question, the LF leader said “the presidential election must be a Lebanese-Lebanese election, not a Lebanese-Lebanese consensus, because that would be a return to the consensual president trend.” Geagea also revealed that the LF will announce Saturday whether or not it will take part in the March 31 national dialogue session. Berri's committee -- which comprises Development and Liberation bloc MPs Yassine Jaber, Ali Osseiran and Michel Moussa – did not make a statement after the meeting, but Geagea's press office noted that the talks were positive and friendly. “The issue of the presidential vote was the focus of discussions and all of its aspects were tackled, starting with securing quorum and ending with holding the electoral session,” the press office added. Meanwhile, the three-member delegation also held talks with Arab Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan. Earlier on Friday, MP Jaber told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that the committee's mission will likely end in 4-5 days. The committee's main task is to discuss the presidential polls with party leaders and heads of parliamentary blocs to guarantee a quorum and the appropriate atmosphere for a parliamentary session.
The decision to name a candidate is up to the parliamentary blocs and lawmakers and is not part of the job of the three-member body, Berri told al-Akhbar on Thursday.
The committee met on Thursday with Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel and MP Michel Murr. On Monday, the three Development and Liberation bloc lawmakers will hold talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, Marada movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh, Tashnag party representatives and former Prime Minister Najib Miqati, who is also an MP. Al-Rahi has urged Berri to convene a legislative session as soon as possible to elect a new head of state. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25. But the Constitutional deadline for parliament to start convening to elect a new head of state started on March 25. The patriarch will be the only religious leader with whom the lawmakers would meet given that the 1943 power-sharing agreement states the president should be a Maronite. Under the agreement along confessional lines the prime minister should be a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite. Parliament's bureau agreed on Thursday to have a two-thirds quorum in the session on the presidential polls.
Berri has said that a candidate should receive a two-thirds of votes to win in the first round and half-plus-one or 65 votes of the 128-member parliament to win in the second round, he said.

Gemayel Meets Berri: Electing President Will Restore Lebanon's Role among Int'l Community
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel warned on Saturday that Lebanon is passing through a very difficulty stage, highlighting the need to stage the presidential elections on time. He said after holding talks on the elections with Speaker Nabih Berri: “The election of a new president will help restore Lebanon's role among the international community.”He lamented that Lebanon has “been forgotten” by the community, questioning the role of some politicians in contributing to this situation. “It is unfortunate that Lebanon's absence on the international scene is affecting the outside's trust in it,” Gemayel told reporters at Ain el-Tineh.
Gemayel is reportedly a candidate in the presidential elections that are scheduled for May. A meeting of Maronite leaders held at Bkirki on Friday stressed the need to hold the presidential elections on time and according to the constitution. It included Gemayel, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea did not attend the talks for “security reasons,” but he said that he will consent to what the gatherers agree upon. The Bkirki meeting urged the need to elect a president who holds Lebanon's interests at heart and who can effectively carry out his national duties. They will oppose any concession or settlement that will undermine Lebanon's interests, it added.

Syria Army 'Gains Ground' along Lebanon Border
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Syrian troops made fresh gains in the strategic Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border on Saturday, seizing two villages from rebels, a military source told AFP. "The army took control this morning of the villages of Ras al-Maarra and Flita, after bombing the last groups of armed terrorists there," the source said. President Bashar Assad's troops, backed by fighters of Lebanon's Hizbullah, have been waging a ferocious assault against rebel positions in Qalamoun, north of Damascus, since November. They seized the rebels' last major stronghold in the region, the town of Yabrud, in mid-March and have since moved on rebel-held villages closer to the border in a bid to stop the flow of weapons and fighters from Lebanon. The military source said the latest advance "is a new step towards closing off the border with Lebanon." Though the capture of Flita and Ras al-Maarra has not completely sealed the border, "any success... helps seal the border more tightly, at least at the main crossing points that (the rebels use) to transport vehicles," he added. Rebel fighters in the two villages were overwhelmed by the army's superior firepower, an activist in the region, Jawad al-Sayed, said. "The fighters are very visible from the sky, and they are being hit from afar, whether by planes or tanks." Local rebel commander Ahmed Nawaf Durra was killed in the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that despite the army's recapture of the two villages, "it will be very difficult to control the whole border. "The army and Hizbullah would need to deploy fighters all along the border, which is impossible," he told AFP. Source/Agence France Presse.

Fletcher Voices Fears over Possible Normalization of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher voiced fears over the possible normalization of Syrian refugees in Lebanon should the conflict in their country take a long time to be resolved, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. He told the daily that the danger of their normalization exists, urging the Lebanese government to take the necessary plans to contain the impact of the Syrian conflict.
He added however that the Syrians themselves do not want to stay in Lebanon, but they aspire to return to their homeland as soon as possible. A political solution is necessary for Syria, stressed the ambassador.
Fletcher noted that the international community had encouraged Lebanon to harbor the refugees, adding that this burden should not remain on its shoulders alone. To this day, Britain has presented a billion dollars in aid to Syrian refugees in the region and Lebanon has been one of the main beneficiaries of this aid, continued the ambassador. The needs of the refugees are growing and the meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in April should present an opportunity to meet the refugees' educational needs, he explained. The influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees, according to United Nations figures, has swollen Lebanon's population by 25 percent since the war broke out across the border in March 2011. The U.N. forecasts that registered refugees in Lebanon could reach 1.5 million by the end of the year.

Three Arrested for Robbing Syrian Families in al-Koura
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Army Intelligence arrested on Saturday three people for robbing Syrian families in the town of Kaftoun in the northern district of al-Koura, reported the National News Agency.
It said that two Lebanese and a Syrian were arrested for the armed robbery of a farm inhabited by Syrian families in Kaftoun. They made away with around 1,500 dollars from the theft they committed late Friday night.
The suspects, who also assaulted the families during the robbery, were residing in the town of Darbechtar in al-Koura.

Tripoli Security Plan to Take Effect in Two Days
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/The technical and logistic preparations of the security plan for the northern city of Tripoli are underway ahead of its imminent implementation. An Nahar daily reported that the plan will take effect in two days. Military sources described the plan as having more of a military nature than a security one as it will include raids against weapons caches and arrests against wanted suspects. The Army Command had received the security plan from cabinet, which approved it on Thursday, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. It will also call on all the suspects wanted from the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen and the rest of the city to turn themselves into the security forces. The daily added that the security forces will not be lenient in implementing the plan, which will kick off in Jabal Mohsen and later Bab al-Tabbaneh.
It will include the heavy deployment of army units throughout the area and the removal of all armed presence. Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, who hails from Tripoli, described the plan as “possibly the final chance to save the city.” “Tripoli needs the security plan, now more than ever,” he told As Safir. “We will follow up on the plan in order to ensure its success,” he added. Tripoli witnesses frequent gunbattles between two of the impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and Jabal Mohsen, which is dominated by Alawites, who share the same sect as Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Clashes in Tripoli have left scores of casualties over the past days alone.

Gang Arrested in Bekaa for Smuggling Syrians into Lebanon
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/State security forces in the Bekaa arrested on Saturday a gang for smuggling Syrians into Lebanon, reported the National News Agency. It said that the three-member gang was smuggling Syrians into Lebanon through the Rashaya region. The state security forces also arrested six Syrians for not having any legal papers as the gang was trying to illegally enter them into Lebanon. The smuggling of people and weapons has grown in the Bekaa since the eruption of the conflict in Syria in March 2011.

Arrest Warrants Issued against 6 NSSF Employees for Fraud
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Arrest warrants were issued on Saturday against six National Social Security Fund (NSSF) employees, reported the National News Agency. It said that they have been charged with embezzlement of public funds, counterfeiting documents and incitement to commit arson inside an NSSF branch. Beirut's First Investigative Judge Ghassan Owaidat issued the warrants a day after beginning the interrogations of seven NSSF employees. The seventh suspect will be questioned on Tuesday, said NNA. On Wednesday, seven employees tasked with operations at the NSSF and others from its inspection bureau were charged by Financial General Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim. Internal Security Forces raided at the weekend a branch for the NSSF in the Beirut neighborhood of Wata el-Msaytbeh as part of investigations of a violation at the branch. General Director of the NSSF Mohammed Karaki revealed that an employee was detained several days ago while trying to set ablaze some documents.

SCC Calls for Strike Wednesday after Failure to Refer Wage Scale to Parliament
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/The Syndicate Coordination Committee announced on Saturday that it will stage a strike on Wednesday over the officials' failure to refer the new wage scale to parliament for approval. The SCC will hold the strike and stage a sit-in at Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square, it announced in light of the joint parliamentary committees' failure on Friday to finalize the discussion of the new wage scale. It accused officials of yielding to pressure from the Economic Committees when it failed to refer the wage scale to parliament. The strike will include all public institutions and public and private schools. The SCC warned that it may hold an open-ended strike starting April 7 should the joint parliamentary committees fail to approve the wage scale. The escalation may reach the point of suspending official school exams. Head of the Parliamentary Finance Committee MP Ibrahim Kanaan said after Friday's meeting: “The atmosphere was positive and we finalized the report and started discussions over the legal clauses in the new wage scale.” “Discussions over laws consisting of 200 articles cannot end in two hours,” he said, explaining the delay in referring the draft laws to parliament. “We reached consensus over the principles of the new wage scale and some things are still pending such as the issue of administration, the six extraordinary levels and the issue of the military and the teachers,” he noted. He revealed that the committees “improved the draft law that was referred by the previous cabinet because it does not secure fairness and equality among all sectors.” Former Prime Minister Najib Miqati's cabinet endorsed in 2012 a new salary scale for public employees ending a long dispute that had prompted the SCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, to hold several sit-ins and strikes. President Michel Suleiman signed the decree mid-June 2013 and it was referred to the joint parliamentary committees for further scrutiny. The wage increase will be retroactive from July 1, 2012. The state treasury will have more than $1.2 billion to cover as there are over 180,000 public sector employees including military personnel.

Russia Has 'Absolutely No Intention' of Crossing Ukraine border, Says Lavrov
Naharnet Newsdesk 29 March 2014/Russia has absolutely no intention of ordering its armed forces to cross over the Ukrainian border and the divisions between Moscow and the West on the crisis are narrowing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday. "We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border," Lavrov told Russian state television in an interview, appearing to firmly rule out an invasion of mainland Ukraine after Moscow's seizure of Crimea. "We (Russia and the West) are getting closer in our positions," he added, saying recent contacts had shown the outlines of a "possible joint initiative which could be presented to our Ukrainian colleagues," he added. Lavrov said Moscow's priority was to see Ukraine implement reform that would create a federalized structure for the country with every region having a degree of autonomy. "To be honest, we do not see any other path forwards for the Ukrainian state other than federalization," he said. "Maybe someone knows better and can find a magical solution within a unitary state," he added with characteristic sarcasm. He said that the West was showing openness to the idea of a federalized Ukraine. "They are listening. I can say that a federation (for Ukraine) is far from being a forbidden word in our talks," Lavrov said. He said he expected the West to make this point clear to the strongly pro-EU new Ukrainian government. "It is hard to suspect the current Ukrainian government of independence," he sniped. Lavrov said that the new Ukrainian constitution should also explicitly make clear that the country is a neutral state -- ruling out any future membership of NATO. "There should be no ambiguity here. There is too much 'not for the time being' and 'we don't intend' (to join NATO). Intentions change, but facts on the ground remain," he said. He added it was high time that protesters left occupied Ukrainian streets, squares and buildings including the Maidan Independence Square which has been the focus of the protest movement since November. "It is just shameful for a European country, for one of the most beautiful cities in Europe that this Maidan has been preserved for half a year. "It is shameful for all those who tolerate it," he added. But Lavrov applauded the Ukrainian government and the West for starting to put pressure on the right wing group Right Sector who is still a visible presence on Kiev's streets.
"Better late than never," he said. Source/Agence France Presse.

MH370 stays missing for want of data-sharing among intelligence searchers
DEBKAfile Special Report March 28, 2014/All of a sudden Friday, March 28, the search for the Malaysian airliner still missing after three weeks, switched to a new site, 1,120 kilometers north of a part of the Indian Ocean where the day before 300 objects were hailed as “the most credible items yet.” The explanation for this sudden shift to a new area was that the Boeing 777 was traveling faster than previously estimated, had used up more fuel and had therefore flown a shorter distance into the Indian Ocean. The new information based on the analysis of radar data placed the new “credible search area” between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.
So what about the “credible items” found earlier? All the various experts including radar specialists would say was that the new area was more convenient for the search. They regretted the waste of time and resources expended in shifts every few days from place to place. After the plane went missing on March 8, satellites, planes and ships focused first on the Bay of Thailand, and then the Andaman Sea near India, before looping round to Central Asia and settling briefly on Kazakhstan. They then hared off to a broad patch of Indian Ocean between Australia and Antarctica.
Now they have moved north to a new search area of approximately 319,000 sq. km. which Australia’s investigation agency determines is “the most credible lead to where debris may be located.”
What keeps on driving the search in so many directions? 1. The searchers are groping in the dark. They have still not turned up a single piece of information or material evidence as leads to the location of the Malaysian flight or the cause of its disappearance. Their only guides are speculation about which way the currents in any presumed crash site may have caused the wreckage to drift.
2. Last week, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in an attempt to bring this tragic episode to some conclusion, cited data provided by the British Inmarsat’s new technology as evidence that the plane had ended its flight in the Indian Ocean and all 239 aboard were lost. Radar experts explained that Immarsat picked up “pings” from debris sighted up to 2,000 miles in the sea distant from Perth after 17 days in the water.
Five days after this dramatic discovery, the searchers and the Malaysian authorities appear to have forgotten all about it and are chasing a new theory, that the plane traveled faster and its route was shorter than first estimated.
3. The governments involved in the search, the US, China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are using their resources not just to locate the missing Boeing, but for purposes of their own: a) Trials of their innovative intelligence and military technology; b) Checking out the satellite and electronic cyber resources of fellow-agencies engaged in the hunt and c) Discovering the outer limits of their colleagues’ intelligence capabilities and range in one of the most forbidding places on earth. The lessons these powers are drawing from their own and their rivals’ performance are providing them with a study text on their comparative strengths and weaknesses in the event of potential sea, air or cyber conflicts.  It is worth noting in this regard that neither Russia nor France has volunteered to help Malaysia in the search. France’s contribution would be especially valuable in the light of its experience in the search for the Air France flight which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Neither was prepared to expose its satellite and intelligence resources to the competition. The fourth week is likely to focus on scouring the sea bed for the black box of MH370. But if nothing substantial crops up yet again, the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner will have to go down as one of the unsolved mysteries of modern aviation. The only chance of cracking it lies in all the governments taking part in the search setting aside their rivalries, pushing their experts and agents into one room and ordering them to come clean and piece together all the data they have collected. Perhaps then a true picture will finally emerge. But that is not about to happen.

Top US general to visit Israel, Ya'alon amid strategy spats

By REUTERS/03/29/2014/ JERUSALEM - The United States' top military officer will visit Israel next week where he will meet the Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon who has angered Washington by criticizing its strategies in the Middle East and Ukraine. The US State Department has stated its disappointed that Ya'alon, in its opinion, has not apologized for remarks he made at a closed-door meeting and a speech at the Tel Aviv University this month, criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry's stand on the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and saying that Washington's handling of the Ukraine crisis projected weakness. In further remarks that were leaked to the media, Ya'alon suggested that Israel, should it lose faith in Washington, might have to make good on a long-standing threat to attack Iran's nuclear program unilaterally. Ya'alon, for his part claims to have apologized for his remarks. In a phone conversation with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel earlier this month, Ya'alon said that his comments "were not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to the United States," adding that maintaining strong ties with the United States is Israel's utmost priority. Neither the US embassy nor the Israeli military, who will host Dempsey, have published a full itinerary for the visit as of Saturday morning. One Israeli official briefed on the trip said it was likely to last until Tuesday and that Dempsey may not make any public appearances. **Herb Keinon and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

Angry Iranians urge their government: Be more like Israel

By JPOST.COM STAFF/03/29/2014/Times of London: Iranians take to social media to denounce government's handling of hostage crisis in which Pakistani militants killed a border guard. Gilad Schalit
Freed IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, his father Noam, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Photo: REUTERS Iranians angered by what they perceive as their government’s indifference to the fate of a border guard kidnapped and killed by Pakistani militants this week took to social media over the weekend to urge the administration of President Hassan Rouhani to take a page out of Israel’s playbook. According to The Times of London, Iranian nationals posted messages on Facebook and Twitter seemingly envious of the country which their government derisively calls “the Zionist entity” and “a cancer,” particularly over the manner in which the Israeli government secured the release of one of its captured soldiers, Gilad Schalit, after he fell into Hamas captivity in 2006. “Keep saying ‘Death to Israel’ but they freed 1,027 Palestinians in return for the release of one of their own,” an Iranian is quoted by the Times as writing on his Facebook account. Earlier this week, Iran confirmed that one of five border patrolmen seized by a radical Pakistani outfit, the Jaish al-Adl, was killed after Tehran refused the group’s demand that it release hundreds of Sunni prisoners incarcerated in Iran and Syria. According to the Times, this led to a backlash against the Iranian regime from nationals who live abroad, since Twitter and Facebook are not available to the population in the Islamic Republic. Schalit’s captivity prompted his family and supporters to urge the government to negotiate a swap with Hamas, which agreed to free the corporal in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel. “Yes, I admire Israel,” an Iranian wrote on his Facebook account, as quoted by the Times. “The same Israel [the government has] been wanting to wipe off the map. The same Israel who for five years tirelessly did everything to save one of its soldiers.” The Pakistani organization is threatening to kill another Iranian soldier next week if its demands are not met by the government.


Obama to Saudi king: US will not agree to bad nuclear deal with Iran

By REUTERS/03/28/2014/RIYADH - US President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah discussed "tactical differences" in their approach to some issues during a meeting in Riyadh on Friday, but agreed both sides remain strategically aligned, a senior US official said. Obama also assured Abdullah that the United States would not accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran, the official said, adding that Washington remained concerned about providing some shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons to Syrian rebels. In the run-up to his visit to the kingdom, officials had said Obama would aim to persuade the monarch that Saudi concerns that Washington was slowly disengaging from the Middle East and no longer listening to its old ally were unfounded. Last year senior Saudi officials warned of a "major shift" away from Washington after bitter disagreements about its response to the "Arab Spring" uprisings, and policy towards Iran and Syria, where Riyadh wants more American support for rebels. The official said the two leaders had spoken frankly about a number of issues and "what might be or might have been tactical differences or differences in approaching some of these issues, but President Obama made very clear he believes our strategic interests remain very much aligned," the official said.
The official added that Obama had assured the king that "we won't accept a bad deal" on Iran and that the king "listened very carefully" to what Obama said. The official said it was important for Obama to come and explain the US position face-to-face with the king. Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia were not raised in talks between Obama Abdullah on Friday, a US official said.
"Today, given the extent of time they spent on Iran and Syria, they didn't get to a number of issues, and it wasn't just human rights," the official said. The official added that Obama on Saturday would present a State Department Woman of Courage Award to a Saudi woman fighting domestic violence.

Obama defends not using military force in Syria
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
Saturday, 29 March 2014/In defense of his administration’s decision not to use military force in Syria as the civil war heated up last year, President Barack Obama on Friday said the United States has its limits. The comments came in an interview taped ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, according to Agence France Presse. The Gulf kingdom had been angered by Obama’s last-minute decision last year to pull back from strikes against the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. “It is, I think, a false notion that somehow we were in a position to, through a few selective strikes, prevent the kind of hardship we’ve seen in Syria,” Obama told broadcaster CBS in Rome. “It’s not that it’s not worth it,” he added. “It’s that after a decade of war, the United States has limits.”
Obama went on to suggest that the US military would not have been able to have much impact without committing itself long-term. “Our troops who have been on these rotations and their families and the costs, and the capacity to actually shape in a sustained way an outcome that was viable without us having a further commitment of perhaps another decade, those are things that the United States would have a hard time executing,” he said.
“And it’s not clear whether the outcome, in fact, would have turned out significantly better.” Now in its fourth year, the bloody civil war has claimed more than 140,000 lives and displaced many others, causing a refugee crisis in the region. “To look at a country like Syria and see how it’s been torn apart, to see the humanitarian crisis that’s taking place, surely, that is not consistent with any reasonable interpretation of what Islam is all about, to see children starving or murdered, to see families having to abandon their homes,” Obama said.
Obama seeks to reassure Riyadh
Obama sought to allay Riyadh’s criticism of his Syria policy in his visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Saudi Arabia is a major backer of the Syrian rebellion, and has been pushing for a stronger international stance against President Bashar al-Assad. While the two leaders discussed “tactical differences”, they both agreed their strategic interests were aligned, a U.S. official told reporters after the meeting. “I think it was important to have the chance to come look him (King Abdullah) in the eye and explain how determined the president is to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” the official said. The meeting was a chance to assure the king that “we won’t accept a bad deal and that the focus on the nuclear issue doesn’t mean we are not concerned about, or very much focused on, Iran’s other destabilizing activities in the region.”(With AFP and Reuters)


Israel shoots ‘infiltrators’ on Golan Heights
March 19, 2014. (Reuters)/By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Israeli troops on Friday shot what the military said were two armed suspects, described as ‘infiltrators,’ trying to breach a security fence from the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights. “Soldiers detected two armed suspects infiltrating into Israel and tampering with the infrastructure of the Israeli-Syrian border of the Golan Heights,” a military statement said, according to Agence France-Presse. “The Israeli army opened fire, hits were confirmed,” it added but gave no information on the identity of the suspects or the severity of their injuries. The Israeli news web site Ynet said two men had been killed, but a military spokeswoman would not confirm their condition. The shootings were the latest of a series of escalating violence along the testy frontier, coming 10 days after Israel attacked Syrian targets in retaliation for a roadside bombing that wounded four Israeli soldiers, in the worst Israeli casualty toll of Syria’s more than three year insurgency. Since the Syrian civil conflict erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of stray projectiles hitting the Israeli side, prompting an occasional armed response. Israel, which is technically at war with Syria, seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights plateau during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move never recognized abroad. (With AFP and Reuters)


The ever changing Arab and American media
Saturday, 29 March 2014
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya

Recently, I was invited by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the independent federal agency that supervises all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media such as Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa, to discuss along with my colleague Abderrahim Foukara of Al-Jazeera TV, “The U.S. through Arab eyes.”Former ambassador Ryan Crocker, a member of the BBG, led us through a freewheeling 90-minute intense exchange where we critically examined the role and perception of U.S. policies in the Middle East, how the media in the Arabic speaking world perceive or imagine the U.S. and how the U.S. media‘s coverage of things Arab or Muslim has evolved over the years.
Anti-Americanism in Arab World
I began by quoting a memo from the State Department to U.S. embassies in the region dealing with “Anti-Americanism in Arab World,” in which the Secretary of State bemoans “resurging” anti-Americanism where U.S. diplomatic posts in Arab capitals were being bombed against the background of “vitriolic public statements” by local senior officials and “diatribes and fantastic rumors” in the Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi press.
The memo adds that whether prompted by “Muslim Extremists, whether encouraged by irresponsible journalists, or by weak government officials who seek to divert attention from their own inadequacies…The current emotionalism bodes no good for the interests of the United States, nor for that matter for the best interests of the Arab states themselves.”
Many in the audience sighed or laughed when I said that the date of the memo was two weeks after my birthday, May 1, 1950 and was signed by then Secretary Dean Acheson. Given the bleak conditions in the Arab states today, and the precipitous decline in the stature of the United States in the region, where the cheap demonization of America has become a national sport in some “friendly” Arab States such as Egypt, one is forgiven if one yearns back to those days of “light” anti-Americanism described by Acheson’s memo.
Washington discovers the “New Arab Media”
In recent years and after long neglect, the U.S. has discovered and even courted the “New Arab Media,” best represented by the proliferation of influential satellite television stations in order to reach out to millions of admittedly critical, angry, not to mention hostile Arab public opinion, particularly in the East.
At the same time, the American coverage of the Arab world has become more nuanced, and the Arab coverage of the United State has become more sophisticated, although both could and should do better. At the time I began my career as a print journalist for Arab media in Washington more than 30 years ago, American officials treated most Arab newspapers understandably as mouthpieces for their autocratic governments to serve as mobilization tools in their hands. The handful of Arab correspondents in the U.S., mostly in Washington, were seen, with few exceptions as extensions of their embassies, or self-appointed advocates of Arab causes, with very little knowledge of America’s political culture and society, and lacking the intellectual curiosity to cover a very complex continent beyond the Washington Beltway. In those ancient days Arab public opinion- as a force capable of influencing governments- did not exist in the minds of American policy makers. Today, the situation is fundamentally different. In the post 9/11 world and in the aftermath of the calamity in Iraq, the despair in Palestine, the rise of the influence of extremists Islamists along with their sophisticated mobilization tactics and appeal, and in this long tumultuous season of uprisings and fragmentation, American officials cannot ignore Arab public opinion. Even in a largely autocratic and politically adrift Arab world, public opinion does matter and it can be measured. That is why both President Bush and Obama and their secretaries of state and defense have been interviewed by pan-Arab satellite television stations such as Al-Arabiya, Aljazeera, and other networks watched by tens of millions of Arabs.
America in the mind of Arabs
While the coverage of the Arab media in America remains focused on the politics of the Middle East and on Washington, and less so on society and culture, it is more informative and complex than it used to be, with occasional lapses into the old stereotypes, generalizations and conspiracy theories about the real forces that control Washington and how decisions are made and opinions are shaped.
Today, Arab journalists discuss and debate U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East routinely with their American counterparts in conferences, on campuses, and on Arab and American television stations.
Yet covering America, even for a seasoned Arab journalist, is no easy feat. While journalists from other parts of the world covering the U.S. would have to contend with its overwhelming political, economic and cultural influence in their countries, Arab journalists on the other hand are addressing societies that see or perceive America as a hegemonic colossus, involved directly, and in some cases militarily in transforming their political cultures, and in shaping their present and their future. For some Arab journalists, covering the United States ‘objectively’ or 'dispassionately’ is almost mission impossible.
While journalists from other parts of the world covering the U.S. would have to contend with its overwhelming political, economic and cultural influence in their countries, Arab journalists on the other hand are addressing societies that see or perceive America as a hegemonic colossus, involved directly, and in some cases militarily in transforming their political cultures, and in shaping their present and their future.
Here, the legacy of America is that of the country that identified itself, particularly since 1967, with Israel and its brutal policies in the occupied territories, the supporter of Arab autocracy, and for eight years, the occupier of Iraq. The old reality of America -- the educator that built the American University of Beirut (1866), the American University in Cairo (1919), the country that welcomed immigrants from Lebanon and Syria since the middle of the 19th century and allowed them to excel in every field – and the only enlightened, progressive, democratic western power with no colonial legacy in the Arab world; that reality is ancient history now.
The new public space
The public space created by more than 700 free-to-air satellite television stations and scores of privately owned radio stations has had a profound impact on the Arab media and on how it sees itself and how others see it. However, “private” should not be confused with “independent “or fully free. In terms of ownership, most of the new media is either financed by governments directly, or owned by wealthy individuals some of whom are close to the powers that be, (still some are owned by political or militant parties, such as Hezbollah) while others are more willing to push the boundaries of expression.
Nonetheless, this new media (including the fantastically growing influence of the bloggers, who are being harassed with vengeance in some societies) has allowed Arabs to breakdown artificial barriers, giving them a chance to see the world and themselves through “Arab eyes” and to have virtual as well as real conversations across political boundaries.
During the early heydays of the peaceful demonstrations that launched the Arab uprisings in the public squares in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria were transformed into virtual town hall meetings where issues of good governance, freedom, empowerment, and accountability were discussed openly.
Millions of Arabs with access to satellite television, from Morocco in the west to Yemen in the east, watched with awe these scenes on their television screens. As media critic Jon B. Alterman convincingly showed, “It was not Twitter and Facebook, but television that was absolutely fundamental to the unfolding of events, playing a decisive role in expanding protests of thousands into protests of millions.”
A strange conflicting creature
The Arab media has improved markedly in the last 20 years, although the road to free media is still very long, arduous, and full of deadly mines. The media scene in the Arab World today, even after the uprisings, is a strange conflicting creature, where crude, sensationalist mobilization media live side by side with more responsible, professional, even self-critical media .
The journalist as a hired gun to mislead and to demonize versus the journalist who seeks to inform and enlighten; this is a media in transition and flux. Rarely a week passes by without an Arab journalist being harassed, banned, tortured or killed. The bureaus of satellite television stations such as Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera are threatened and even attacked or banned in some capitals.
In the Arab world they still shoot journalists in cold blood. Bahjat Atwar of Al-Arabiya fell to the assassin’s bullets while she was trying to make sense of life in the shadows of hell in Iraq. My friends and colleagues, columnists Samir kassir and Gibran Tueini of Annahar newspaper in Beirut, whose columns galvanized the movement that forced Syria to end its suffocating military grip on Lebanon, were assassinated in car bombings. Scores of local and foreign journalists were killed, wounded or abducted in Syria in the last three years.
Reporters, citizen journalists and bloggers are routinely jailed, harassed or banned in many Arab states, including those that went through the uprisings such as Egypt -- where media intimidation during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and the interim regime that followed has been particularly egregious -- Yemen, Bahrain as well as those countries that escaped the uprisings from Saudi Arabia to Morocco.
We tolerate your opinions but spare us the facts
There are more debates to be sure. Yet, much of it is grandstanding and absolutist in nature. And while some social and political taboos have been broken, the circle of freedom has not been enlarged sufficiently. This is a media world full of contradictions: there is a wider margin of freedom of expression with much less freedom of serious reporting.
You are free to criticize and condemn corruption and graft in the abstract, but beware of reporting specific cases of abuse of power, torture, and embezzlement, especially if your targets are the ruling political class, the military or the security apparatus. Even in the unlikely event your information has been published or aired, you are essentially on your own.
That is why investigative journalism cannot flourish in the Arab World in the absence of political reform, democratic institutions, and independent judiciary.
Only the rule of law makes it possible for the “whistle blower” and the intrepid journalist to cooperate without the fear of retribution from those engaged in corruption or abuse of power. The above begs the question, an old fundamental question indeed: is it possible to have a free media in only partially free societies?
Nuance and lapses
America’s media coverage of complex Arab and Muslim issues has improved radically in the last three decades. Offensive references to the “Dark Side of Islam” the “Islamic threat” or the “green menace” are the exceptions now and are challenged immediately. The mainstream media today tries to avoid treating Muslims who live in most countries of the world as an undifferentiated group of people, focusing instead on the diversity of Muslim societies and historical experiences. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the first Palestinian Intifada in the late 1980's, revealed the imperial face of Israel and its odious policies of discrimination not only against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, but towards its Palestinian citizens, reminded American journalists of the old American South. Yet sometimes the coverage of the Palestine-Israel conflict is marred by thin knowledge of cultural-religious nuances and influenced by the way Israelis frame and conceptualize the issues, including the use by American journalists of Israeli terms and paradigms. In this Orwellian world, assassinations become “targeted killings” and ethnic cleansing becomes “transfer” and building Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is described as housing projects.
Mea Culpa
The invasion of Iraq, occurring in an environment shaped by the shock of the 9/11 attacks, and the fear of the long arm of terrorism in a globalized world, has weakened and muted the skepticism and the need for critical enquiries regarding the assumptions and intentions of the Bush administration in the days leading to the attack. The initial coverage of the war, particularly by the television networks had a triumphalist, even a jingoistic tinge to it.
When no weapons of mass destruction were to be found, and the mismanagement of the occupation became glaring, the American media became more critical of the administration in Washington and in Baghdad. Some media, albeit reluctantly, engaged in a brief chest beating-mea culpa ritual. It is also true, that in times of wars and crisis, old stereotypes and entrenched negative images and biases are resurrected, dusted off and put to use as we have seen on occasions since 2001. The U.S. media’s coverage of Arab uprisings, particularly the early phase was on the whole comprehensive and even sympathetic. This was true both in the dispatches from the field and in the columns of commentators. The reporters covering the Arab world for major American media outlets have done a commendable job going all the way to their coverage of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982, and the first Intifada. After the initial stumbling in Iraq, publications such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, the New Yorker magazine, and the three major television networks and others have uncovered, the abomination called Abu Ghraib, the premeditated killings of civilian Iraqis at the hands of American soldiers, the secret prison network in the world managed by the CIA, the National Security Agency's monitoring of some American citizens international calls, just to name a few. That is why my old observation of the American media, that it invariably gets the story right, even when not getting it right at the right time, still holds true.

A lethargic Arab League – what else is new?
Saturday, 29 March 2014
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya
This past week the Arab League met with Kuwait at Bayan palace. Thirteen heads of Arab states attended the summit, including the Kuwait Amir, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani. Other states whose heads were absent sent their high-ranking delegations to the summit.
That fact in itself is notable due to the rift in the GCC. Out of the GCC, the attending state representatives, besides the Qatari Emir, the rest of the delegations consisted of the following. The UAE was represented by His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will be represented by Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz. Oman, whose leader Sultan Qaboos normally stays away from summits, dispatched his special envoy, while Bahrain sent the crown prince, Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
Kuwait Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah inaugurated the opening ceremony by urging for closer ties between Arab states. He stated that “This summit was held in difficult circumstances regionally and internationally. So it's very important to stand united and coordinate our policy for the sake of regional prosperity and security.”
Consequently, the theme of the summit, “Unity for a Better Future” is meant to target the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian cause. The Amir also argued that in regard to the stalled Palestinian issue, listed as the second session of the summit, “it's been the major challenge in Arab region, we'll continue to support the Palestinians.”
Both issues are continuing to flounder. Unfortunately, the Syrian seat at the summit was vacant since its membership has been suspended since 2011. And, as usual, the Arab League, while pronouncing support for the Palestinian causes, remains stalled in action.
Rift over the Muslim Brotherhood
Of interest, of course, too many observers, was whether the inter-GCC rift over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood would burst into the open. Obviously, the presence of only Qatar’s Amir Tamim and no other GCC leader illustrated the seriousness of the divide. Two weeks before in a meeting in another Middle East country, Saudi Arabia had asked other Arab states to outlaw the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan).
Syria’s problems and individual pleas from the Syrian opposition and the Saudis for help went unheeded, illustrating that the Arab League, when it comes to tough issues, is a debate club as well as a house divided.
The Ikwan is at the center of the current deep division growing in the GCC and spreading into MENA. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood issue was kept off the agenda but the effects of the tensions could be seen in attendance of other Gulf members. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabeel Fahmi said, it would not be possible to forge a compromise with Qatar during the Arab League summit because “the wound is too deep.”
To drive the point home further, Kuwait’s foreign ministry undersecretary Khalid Al Jarallah also said the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors would “be resolved within the Gulf house,” not at the Arab summit.
Syria’s problems and individual pleas from the Syrian opposition and the Saudis for help went unheeded, illustrating that the Arab League, when it comes to tough issues, is a debate club as well as a house divided. Syrian National Coalition president Ahmed Jarba urged the Arabs to supply rebels with “sophisticated weapons.”
Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz, whose country has financed and armed rebels, accused the world of “betraying” them by denying them weaponry to change the balance of forces on the ground. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, however, pressed for an end to the flow of arms to Syria, while Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the organization has “nothing to do with providing the Syrian opposition with weapons.”
Inaction on Palestinian issue
On the Palestinian issue, there still existed the same old tired language from previous Arab League meetings. The Arab League gave full support for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in U.S-brokered talks with Israel, backed the creation of a Palestinian state within the ceasefire lines of 1967 and expressed “total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state.”
Overall, the Kuwait Summit focused on major issues but with little more than just words, not actions. The final communiqué stated “We condemn in the strongest terms the massacres and the mass killing committed by the Syrian regime's forces against the unarmed people.” The Arab League cited the 2012 Geneva declaration that called for a ceasefire, release of political prisoners, and a peaceful transfer of power.
The echoes of this failed process for the Arab League to be a mediator in the Syrian mess is simply not an option. So what else is new? Where are the actions necessary to clean-up the geopolitical mess in the Arab League states? The Arab League seems to be more of a cadaver requiring a serious and extensive post-mortem.