May 01/14


Bible Quotation for today/Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,

Matthew 28,16-20/"The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.".

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 01/14

Dehydration, Iran and liberalism: the biggest threats to the Gulf/By: Jamal Khashoggi/Al Arabiya/May 01/14

Israeli-Palestinian talks Peace Talks Dead For Now/FrontPage/by P. David Hornik/May 01/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 01/14

Lebanese Related News

Geagea: March 8 Camp Forcing us to Choose between its Presidential Candidate or Vacuum
Berri adjourns parliamentary session to elect president
Lebanon's presidential election postponed to May 7

Hariri, Bassil Agree on Importance to Avoid Presidential Vacuum
Mustaqbal Informs Berri: No Agreement Reached with FPM

Hariri Meets Rahi as Talks Continue in Paris, Beirut over Presidential Race
8 Troops Hurt in Clashes between Army, Gunmen in Arsal as Syrian Jets Shell Area
Qassem: No Point in Holding Presidential Election Sessions if Current Conditions Persist

Workers keep up pressure over wage hike

Pro Axis Of Iranian Syrian Lawmakers Express Solidarity with al-Jadeed, al-Akhbar

Henri Helou Says he Takes Candidacy 'Seriously'
Al-Rahi Supports Baroud's Candidacy for Presidency
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Sate for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson Says Lebanese Must Choose Own Leaders on Time

Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin Calls for Consensus on New Head of State without Foreign Interference

Miscellaneous Reports And News

US escalates enforcement of sanctions on Iran

Syria’s Homs attacks: Death toll reaches 100
IDF and Shin Bet thwart West Bank terror cell planning attacks against Israelis
Kerry hasn't given up on peace talks, to continue push in a few months

Israel, Palestinians at UN accuse each other of sabotaging peace

Senior Hamas official: Palestinian deal will not make Hamas change

Iraq violence mires key parliamentary election


Geagea: March 8 Camp Forcing us to Choose between its Presidential Candidate or Vacuum
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea accused on Wednesday the March 8 camp of seeking to impose vacuum in the position of the presidency following the failure of the second round of the presidential elections in light of a lack of quorum at parliament. He said during a press conference: “The camp is forcing us to choose between its presidential candidate or vacuum.”
He noted that for decades and despite the various political disputes, the presidential elections have never been obstructed over a lack of quorum.
“Quorum is needed in order to hold the polls and it should not be exploited to obstruct them,” he declared. Furthermore, Geagea accused the March 8 camp of “abusing and blackmailing the constitution.”
“Today's practices are unconstitutional, they are not a democratic right because they are serving dubious purposes,” said the LF chief, who is a candidate in the elections. “Lawmakers who did not attend today's session shamelessly hindered democracy,” he stressed. Indirectly referring to the Change and Reform bloc, he remarked: “We wonder how a major Christian camp that is keen on averting vacuum was the leading bloc in hindering quorum.”He referred to a March 28 meeting that was chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi and attended by the three main Maronite leaders in Lebanon, Kataeb Party chief Amin Gemayel, Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, and LF representatives, that demanded that the elections be held on time.
Geagea indirectly noted that the Change and Reform bloc and Marada Movement lawmakers did not commit to the pledges made at that meeting. He therefore urged al-Rahi to ensure the implementation of the agreement reached at the talks. The LF leader also reiterated his demand for the March 8 camp to present its candidate for the presidency, adding however that he has little faith that the alliance will commit to practicing democracy. The Bkirki meeting had stressed the need to hold the elections on time and according to the constitution. “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,” a Bkirki spokesman said at the time.
“They will oppose any concession or settlement that will undermine Lebanon's interests,” he added. Geagea did not attend the meeting at the time for security reasons, but approved of their decisions after contacting al-Rahi. Lawmakers once again failed on Wednesday to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Berri set May 7 for a third round of voting.

Berri adjourns parliamentary session to elect president
April 30, 2014 /By Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned Wednesday the second round of presidential election after several lawmakers boycotted the Parliamentary session, which failed to secure quorum. Only 76 MPs were present in the General Assembly hall by 12 p.m. prompting Berri to delay the start by half an hour in order to allow more time for lawmakers to arrive.MP Bahia Hariri was the first lawmaker to leave the hall minutes before the speaker adjourned the session and scheduled the third round of presidential election for May 7. A two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members is required for any electoral session. MP Walid Jumblatt was seen leaving parliament amid light security, driving his own SUV with his aide, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, in the passenger's seat.
Berri held separate meetings with Jumblatt as well as Future bloc head MP Fouad Siniora, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Education Minister Elias Abu Saab upon their arrival in Nejmeh Square earlier in the day. During talks with Berri, Abu Saab briefed the speaker on Tuesday’s meeting between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil, dispatched by MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement. FPM lawmakers told The Daily Star that Hariri will hold contacts with his allies in the March 14 coalition in hopes of reaching an agreement before the May 25 deadline to elect a new president. The MPs, however, did not sound optimistic that such an agreement would be reached within the constitutional time frame. Bassil and Hariri agreed during a meeting in Paris Tuesday to work on ensuring that the presidential election is held on time and to continue bilateral contacts
Ties between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement have thawed in recent months, with Aoun himself meeting Hariri in Paris in January. Reports that Aoun and Hariri were close to cutting a deal over the FPM leader’s candidacy for the presidency have been denied by Future bloc MPs. Minister of State Jean Ogassapian said the Future Movement would only make a decision regarding the presidential election after consulting its allies. “There is not yet an alternative candidate for Samir Geagea,” Ogassapian told reporters. Future MP Khaled Daher, who was absent from last week’s session, said he would attend Wednesday’s meeting in light of his commitment to the Future Movement. “But I will not vote for Bashar Assad or his allies, rather for someone who will preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity,” he said. He also praised Geagea as an honest ally and “a fierce rival,” without saying whether he would vote in favor of the LF head as his colleagues are expected to do.
MP Ziad Aswad, Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, said he would not attend the session.
“I’m not going in because this is not a serious session to elect a president,” Aswad told The Daily Star before the meeting. MPs in Aoun’s bloc, the second largest after Future bloc, boycotted the session in a bid to pressure the March 14 coalition to abandon their support of Geagea. “If I were to attend, I would vote for Army officer Khalil Kanaan,” Aswad said, referring to an officer Geagea is accused of having killed during the Civil War. Several lawmakers cast ballots with names of slain figures Geagea is accused of murdering during last week’s parliamentary election in which the LF head received 48 votes.
Geagea held a televised news conference from Maarab minutes after the session was adjourned, saying the March 8 group sought to impose their candidate on their rival.
“There is a scheme to have us agree to the candidate of the other group or they will force a presidential vacuum ... by boycotting the session,” Geagea said. He also slammed the Change and Reform bloc MPs for failing to attend the session, saying the lawmakers were not respecting the democratic process. “[Boycotting sessions] is not their democratic right ... it demonstrates the intention of the parliamentarians,” Geagea said. Barbed wires were used to seal off major entrances to Parliament headquarters in Downtown Beirut ahead of the session. A few meters away from Parliament, the General Labor Confederation held a sit-in to coincide with the meeting. The GLC said the strike was a show of support for the Union Coordination Committee which rallied Tuesday to protest the delay in approving a controversial new salary scale.

Lebanon election postponed to May 7
Lebanese members of parliament count the votes after casting their ballots to elect the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut April 23, 2014. (Reuters)
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Lebanon’s parliament failed Wednesday to elect a president, for a second time in a week and Parliament speaker Nabih Berri set the date of May 7 as a new date to hold a parliamentary session, the official National News Agency said. The parliament met on Wednesday in a second bid to elect a successor to President Michel Sleiman, whose term expires on May 25, after failing on a first ballot last week.
Last Wednesday, leading candidate Samir Geagea fell well short of the required two-thirds majority. Fifty-two blank and seven void ballets were cast. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the Western-backed March 14 candidate, won 48 votes, while MP Henri Helou, who belongs to Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, won 16 votes. Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel received one vote. One hundred and twenty eight MPs had made it to that session, meeting the minimum two-thirds attendance to proceed with the poll. According to Lebanon’s constitution, in the first round of voting, a candidate needs a minimum of 86 votes to be named the next president. Geagea's failure to win sufficient votes had been widely expected and is likely to open up the race to other candidates in a process which politicians have warned could drag on for months. Deep political divisions within the country and the war in neighboring Syria have hindered efforts to agree on a new president.
Second round
In the second round of the election, the voting requirements are lowered to an absolute majority, or at least 65 votes, in order for a candidate to be named the next president.
The house has a constitutional deadline of two months – from March 25 to May 25 - to elect the next head of state. If lawmakers fail to elect a new president within the constitutional deadline, the prerogatives of the president are temporarily taken over by the Cabinet until the election of a new head of state.

Hariri Meets Rahi as Talks Continue in Paris, Beirut over Presidential Race
Naharnet/For the second day in a row, the French capital continued to be the meeting place for talks on the presidential elections, as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri held talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Wednesday. A statement issued by Hariri's office said that the meeting started at 7:30 pm at the residence of al-Mustaqbal Movement's head in Paris, and that both men discussed the latest developments in the country, and on top of them the presidential race. "During the meeting, ex-PM Hariri stressed his total rejection of vacuum in the presidency, underlining the need to unite efforts among all Lebanese in order to hold the presidential vote within the constitutional timeframe," the office added. "If it is correct that all political forces are against vacuum and are keen on holding the election ..., that means Lebanon and the Lebanese have the ability to avoid vacuum," the office quoted Hariri as telling al-Rahi. According to an earlier statement, Maronite Bishop of Paris Maroun Nasser Gemayel, head of Hariri's office Nader Hariri and Bkirki spokesperson Walid Ghayad also attended the meeting. LBCI television reported that Hariri would inform the patriarch that he is willing to go forward with any agreement reached between Christian factions in the country to elect a new president. The ex-PM had met in Paris on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil in the presence of Education Minister Elias Bou Saab over the vote, without reaching any accord. MTV noted that Bou Saab has been tasked with the talks between Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri.
After meeting with Bassil, former premier Hariri telephoned Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel and updated him on the talks. Meanwhile in Beirut, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat received a telephone call from French President Francois Hollande who stressed the importance of holding the anticipated vote before the constitutional deadline. Hollande also hoped the presidential elections would be a gateway towards agreements between the Lebanese and securing stability in the country. Earlier in the day, lawmakers failed once again in electing a new head of state as differences between the March 8 and 14 foes led to a lack of quorum in the parliamentary session. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Berri set Wednesday, May 7 for a third round of voting. In last week's first round of election, Geagea garnered the votes of 48 MPs. Aley MP Henri Helou, who is a centrist from the Democratic Gathering bloc, received the votes of 16 lawmakers. One voted for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs from the March 8 alliance cast blank ballots and then walked out of the session.

8 Troops Hurt in Clashes between Army, Gunmen in Arsal as Syrian Jets Shell Area
Naharnet /Armed clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Lebanese army and gunmen in the eastern Bekaa region of Arsal, announced the military in a statement. It said that eight soldiers were wounded in an ambush in al-Rahwa region on the outskirts of Arsal. The army has since responded to the sources of fire while Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said that Syrian jets shelled the Ras Wadi Daher area where the gunmen were deployed. The Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigades claimed responsibility for the ambush. The National News Agency meanwhile had said that the gunmen were Syrian. LBCI television earlier reported that two of the gunmen were wounded, adding that they have since been arrested. It revealed that the ambush was set up when the army was raiding a warehouse in al-Rahwa. Later on Wednesday, NNA said an army patrol arrested four Syrians in al-Rahwa. Separately, three rockets fired from Arsal's outskirts landed on al-Nabi Othman's plain and al-Labweh in northern Bekaa in the evening, according to LBCI TV. The army on Monday arrested a Syrian rebel commander in the border town of Arsal, which is witnessing along with other Bekaa towns an unprecedented security plan. On the same day, three Syrians were arrested at a house in Arsal and one of them was carrying a suicide vest containing 3.5 kilos of explosives. Ever since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011, Arsal has served as a key conduit for refugees, rebels and wounded people fleeing strife-torn Syria.

Qassem: No Point in Holding Presidential Election Sessions if Current Conditions Persist
Naharnet/Hizbullah deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem noted on Wednesday that the current conditions in Lebanon are not appropriate to stage the presidential elections. He said: “There is therefore no point to hold presidential election sessions if these conditions persist.”“Whether a second, third, or fourth session is held and if the circumstances remain, the result will remain clear and that is that a president will not be elected,” he added. Moreover, Qassem said that the first presidential election session, held on April 17, demonstrated that one's nomination for the elections “does not clear one's history.”He made his remark in reference to Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea's nomination and his role in Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. “A person's history cannot be erased through putting on a show by running in the elections. On the contrary, his candidacy will only remind the people of his negative aspects,” said the Hizbullah official. Returning to the presidential elections, he said that the current sectarian reality and political divide in Lebanon do not allow a single party from electing its own president. “We are therefore better off electing a president through an agreement,” he stressed. “Such agreements are made through contacts outside of the parliamentary session in order for the foes to reach common ground,” Qassem explained. “The foes should agree on a president who is strong on popular, political, and moral levels, who does not provoke others, but instead seeks solutions to problems, who works for national partnership, and who defends Lebanon and its resistance,” he added. Lawmakers once again failed on Wednesday to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Berri set May 7 for a third round of voting.

Workers keep up pressure over wage hike
April 30, 2014/By Elise Knutsen/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Workers went on strike Wednesday in solidarity with the Union Coordination Committee's demand for a wage hike, warning the state against increasing taxes and also calling for improving their statuses as government workers. “We are striking because the state makes promises it does not commit to; the state has no prestige,” the head of the General Labor Confederation Ghassan Ghosn told The Daily Star. “Instead of finding solutions to the waste in the Treasury, the state wants to impose more taxes on citizens who already have enough financial burdens,” he said. Dozens of protesters gathered outside Parliament in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh square where they raised banners urging the government to meet their demands. Protesters of all ages chanted and held signs on the street facing the Grand Serail, hoping their message would carry over the barbed-wire blockades and reach the ears of the nation's lawmakers. Fouad Chehab, a worker with Electricite du Liban, said he attended the sit-in “in solidarity all the government employees of Lebanon.” Some workers from the Social Affairs Ministry also joined the protest and called for changing their status to full-time employees.
The National Social Security Fund, the Electricite Du Liban, Beirut’s port, and the state-owned telephone company Ogero all closed their offices. The strike also affected the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs, the company responsible for manufacturing, importing and exporting tobacco products, as well as the water authority. The Air Transport Association stopped working from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Ghosn said all offices were committed to the strike. Lawmakers have been unable to pass the pay hike draft bill due to severe disagreements over how it should be financed, with some suggesting that Value Added Tax be raised and others calling for taxes on coastal properties. Mohammad Saloum , an employee at Hopital Harawi in Zahle, said employees at the governmental hospital have not been paid their salaries for three months. “For three months we haven’t seen a cent ... We have a big problem," he said. "We vote for Parliament, but they steal our money." “Only the military are getting paid. They’re taking all the money," he added. Iman, a contract teacher from the Abbasiyeh Public School, said she joined the protest to make her voice heard. “We’re demanding to be paid each month. Now we’re paid once every six months. For six months we don't even see a cent! And we can't get an advance,” she said. “If the director is feeling sympathetic, he can pay us an advance from his own pocket, but that's all.”Iman regretted that hourly-paid teachers do not have social security. She said her pay per hour is less than 10 dollars. “Imagine a lawmaker, who has died 100 years ago, his great grand children still get a monthly sum," she said. "We’re teaching the next generation, and we’re giving all our hearts, but we earn just a pittance every six months.”Rola Shreiteh, a teacher at Mohammad Shaarmel school in the Tariq al-Jadideh Beirut neighborhood, said contract teachers are demanding a L.L.4000 raise to their hourly pay, adding that her salary is barely enough. “Since 2005, we’ve made L.L14,000 per hour, but now we’re demanding L.L.18,000. We don’t have insurance. They don’t pay our transportation,” she said. “It’s barely enough for me to pay for breakfast each morning!” she said of her pay.
Ghosn said that the GLC has other demands, including improving conditions for retired workers through a comprehensive plan by the NSSF. “However, the priority remains for now giving the public sector employees their rights,” he said. Rolls of barbed wire blocked off the Square from protesters, but rows and rows of empty tables at nearby cafes suggested that potential customers, too, were not welcome. An employee at a nearby pharmacy complained that the protest had scared away pedestrians in the area. "Of course it's not good for business," he grumbled. The civil servants held a massive protest Tuesday to pressure lawmakers to endorse the salary scale draft law, with most private schools committing to the strike.

Mustaqbal Informs Berri: No Agreement Reached with FPM
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal movement has reportedly informed Speaker Nabih Berri that any agreement with the Free Patriotic Movement is “not tangible.” According to al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Wednesday, Ahmed Hariri, the secretary-general of al-Mustaqbal movement, informed Berri's adviser MP Ali Hassan Khalil that FPM chief Michel Aoun “remains a distant option” for the presidency. However, Khalil described his meeting with Hariri as “a routine meeting,” denying the two officials tackled the presidential elections. Sources told the daily that Hariri informed Khalil that al-Mustaqbal movement will not adopt Aoun's candidacy without “tackling the matter with Berri in the first place.” Aoun had previously said that he will not announce his candidacy for the presidency if there was no political consensus on him. On Tuesday, a meeting was held between al-Mustaqbal leader Saad Hariri and Aoun's son-in-law and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil in the French capital Paris.
Lawmakers failed last week to elect a new president as no candidate was able to garner the needed two-thirds of votes of the 128-member parliament to become Lebanon's next head of state.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received the votes of only 48 MPs while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs from the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance cast blank ballots. The majority of March 8 alliance MPs withdrew from the session after the vote, resulting in lack of quorum.

Hariri, Bassil Agree on Importance to Avoid Presidential Vacuum
Naharnet/Al-Mustaqbal movement leader former PM Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil have agreed on the importance of holding the presidential elections on time to avoid vacuum, the FM and sources said. Hariri and Bassil, who is a Free Patriotic Movement official and MP Michel Aoun's son-in-law, held a meeting in Paris on Tuesday on the eve of the second round of the presidential elections.
The sources told several local dailies published on Wednesday that the two sides agreed to avoid vacuum and to hold more consultations so that the presidential polls are held on time.
President Michel Suleiman will leave Baabda Palace on May 25. Hariri and Bassil also agreed to keep contacts between al-Mustaqbal and the FPM to preserve the positive atmosphere that reigned after the formation of Premier Tammam Salam's cabinet, the sources said. But neither Hariri nor Bassil discussed the names of the candidates for the presidency, they added. Pan-Arab daily al-Hayat quoted the FM as saying that his meeting with Hariri was “positive.” “We reject vacuum and we want the election of a president,” he told the newspaper. In the first round of presidential elections last week, MPs failed to elect a head of state over lack of consensus on one person. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received the votes of only 48 MPs while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs from the March 8 alliance, which includes the FPM's membership, cast blank ballots. FPM chief Michel Aoun has repeatedly said that he would not run for president if there was no consensus on him. “Aoun's candidacy hinges on the understanding with Hariri,” Bassil told al-Hayat. Speaker Nabih Berri, who has called for a second round of presidential elections on Wednesday, was quoted as saying that “there was nothing tangible yet” from the Hariri-Bassil meeting. “Any progress or agreement between the two sides would take time to appear,” he said. The lack of agreement between them is expected to lead to another failure in the presidential elections. March 8 lawmakers, except for Berri's bloc, would boycott the parliamentary session on Wednesday.

Al-Rahi Supports Baroud's Candidacy for Presidency
Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi backs the candidacy of former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud for the presidency, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Wednesday. According to the daily, al-Rahi informed officials ahead of his trip to the Vatican last week that he adopts Baroud's candidacy based on surveys carried out by Bkirki. A second round will be held on Wednesday to elect a new head of state amid reports saying that the lawmakers from the March 8 alliance will fail to attend the session, leading to a lack quorum. Lawmakers failed last week to elect a new president as no candidate was able to garner the needed two-thirds of votes of the 128-member parliament to become Lebanon's next head of state. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received the votes of only 48 MPs while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs from the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance cast blank ballots. The majority of March 8 alliance MPs withdrew from the session after the vote, resulting in lack of quorum.

Henri Helou Says he Takes Candidacy 'Seriously'
Naharnet /Aley lawmaker Henri Helou has said that he was serious about his candidacy for the presidency, reiterating that Lebanon needs a centrist head of state. In remarks to al-Akhbar daily published on Wednesday, Helou, who received 16 votes in the first round of the polls, said: “I do take my candidacy seriously.”“There can't be a president who takes sides. There should be a centrist head of state,” he said. Helou stressed that the Democratic Gathering of Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblat is the only centrist bloc in parliament. Jumblat backed Helou's candidacy last week, describing him as a “voice of moderation.” The Aley MP garnered 16 votes during the first round, while 48 lawmakers voted for Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs cast blank ballots. Parliament failed to elect a president after no candidate was able to garner the needed two-thirds of votes of the 128-member parliament. But Speaker Nabih Berri called for a second round on Wednesday although MPs are not expected to elect a president over lack of quorum caused by differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Al-Akhbar said that the candidate was optimistic and denied criticism that Jumblat would be playing the role of the president if Helou was elected. “Jumblat won't be the president. I will,” the daily quoted him as saying. “I listen well … but I decide alone,” he said, stressing that he would not visit parliamentary blocs to ask for support. “My program is clear,” he said, adding “the country is heading towards vacuum and I am the solution.”President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends at midnight May 24. He leaves Baabda Palace the next day. Photo courtesy of al-Akhbar newspaper

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Sate for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson Says Lebanese Must Choose Own Leaders on Time
Naharnet/U.S. Assistant Secretary of Sate for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson has urged the Lebanese to choose their leaders on time and away from foreign interference. “The Lebanese can, should, and must choose their own leaders, and upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections are opportunities to do so,” Patterson said in a speech in Washington on Monday. “We urge that they go forward in accordance with the Lebanese constitution, on time, and free from foreign interference,” she said during a ceremony held on the occasion of the 9th anniversary of the Cedar Revolution. Patterson lauded “the spirit of national pride and independence that brought hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to the streets of Beirut” in the aftermath of the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri in Feb. 2005. “The justifiable Lebanese demand for an end to an era of Syrian military occupation and political violence in the country also foreshadowed demands for change and accountability that we see today elsewhere across the region,” she said. But Patterson lamented that “some of the shadows of 2005 have returned.” She said Hizbullah members have crossed from Lebanon to fight in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad despite the agreement of all the Lebanese parties in the Baabda Declaration to keep Lebanon at a distance from the region's crises. The diplomat called on all the Lebanese parties to respect the principles laid out in the Baabda Declaration, the Taef Accord, and U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701. “We are working with Lebanon’s international friends, particularly the International Support Group, to provide practical support that buttresses the Lebanese people’s own calls for an end to intervention in foreign conflicts, an end to the cycle of violence,” Patterson said.

Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin Calls for Consensus on New Head of State without Foreign Interference
Naharnet /Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin stressed on Wednesday the importance of consensus among the rival parties to elect a new head of state according to the constitution and within the deadline. “Foreign countries should encourage the Lebanese to carry out (the elections) without interfering in the details,” Zasypkin said in an interview published in As Safir newspaper.
He pointed out that “the new president should be capable of finding harmony between two main characteristics -being consensual and strong- in order to become successful.” The Russian diplomat said that he doesn't fear a “short” vacuum at the country's most important Christian post, saying “what really matters is the agreement that will be reached” between the political arch-foes. “Electing a new president soon is better but the characteristics matter... Talking about the possibility of a vacuum is not constructive,” Zasypkin noted. Lawmakers failed last week to elect a new president as no candidate was able to garner the needed two-thirds of votes of the 128-member parliament to become Lebanon's next head of state. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received the votes of only 48 MPs while 16 lawmakers voted for Aley lawmaker Henri Helou, one for Kataeb party chief ex-President Amin Gemayel and 52 MPs from the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance cast blank ballots. The majority of March 8 alliance MPs withdrew from the session after the vote, resulting in lack of quorum. Asked about the conditions of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the efforts carried out by Russia in this regard, Zasypkin reiterated to As Safir that his country will continue providing aid to the displaced. “We are seeking a permanent solution for the problem by reaching a settlement to return the refugees to their country … and a cooperation between Russia and Lebanon,” he added. The influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees, according to U.N. figures, has swollen Lebanon's population by 25 percent since the war broke out across the border in March 2011. The United Nations forecasts that registered refugees in Lebanon could reach 1.5 million by the end of the year. Last week, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil traveled to Moscow on a two-day official visit, where he held talks with prominent Russian officials. Concerning Lebanon's offshore oil and gas wealth, Zasypkin told As Safir that his country is following up the matter as several Russian companies are interested in exploring the country's oil resources. Bassil urged Russia during a joint press conference with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov to take part in oil and gas exploration. Zasypkin said that any “competition between U.S. and Russian companies to win oil tenders is strictly business and has nothing to do with politics.”The country's oil and gas wealth attracted around 46 Arab and international companies in the second pre-qualification round of the tenders process. However, acute discord among Lebanese officials is also delaying the awarding of 10 of the oil blocks.

Pro Axis Of Iranian Syrian Lawmakers Express Solidarity with al-Jadeed, al-Akhbar
LCCC/What a bizarre stance in supporting criminals against the STL. Below is a report posted on the Nahatnet site
Several lawmakers voiced their solidarity on Wednesday with journalists of al-Jadeed TV and al-Akhbar newspaper, who were summoned by the international court on charges of “contempt and obstruction of Justice.” Hizbullah's MP Hassan Fadlallah told reporters present at the parliament's press room that the move comes in light of the assault on the freedom of the Lebanese, slamming the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's action. He called on the Lebanese government to take swift actions to defend the country's sovereignty, constitution and institutions. The STL announced on Thursday that it has summoned Karma Mohammed Tahsin al-Khayat from al-Jadeed, as well as the station’s parent company New TV S.A.L., and Ibrahim Mohammed al-Amin from al-Akhbar, as well as the newspaper’s parent company Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. to appear before it on two counts of Contempt and Obstruction of Justice. “We should all take a stance to defend al-Jadeed, al-Akhbar and all media outlets,” Fadlallah added.
He pointed out that constitution guarantees the freedom of the media, considering the STL's summons an attack against it. Fadlallah called on all parliamentary blocs to put the stances from the STL aside and “voice solidarity with the Lebanese media.” “Any journalist unveiling the corruption of the tribunal will have the same fate as al-Khayat and al-Amin,” the MP added. For his part, Change and Reform bloc lawmaker Nabil Nicolas stressed the importance of “preserving the freedom of the media.”“Media is a red line as long as it is reporting the truth as it is,” he told reporters.
Lawmakers for the following parliamentary blocs were present at the press conference Ahmed Karami, Fadi al-Awar, Walid Sukkarieh, Nawwar al-Sahili, Hagop Pakradounian, Emile Rahme, Abbas Hashem, Qassem Hashem, Hani Qobeissi, Ziad Aswad and Michel Moussa. A meeting was held on Monday at noon in solidarity with the two journalists at the Press Syndicate to defend the “mere truth.”In April last year, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the former premier Rafik Hariri trial was published by a previously unknown group identified as "Journalists for the Truth".
The group said it wanted to "unveil the corruption" of the STL. Both al-Akhbar and al-Jadeed published the list. The STL, established at Lebanon's request, seeks to try five members of Hizbullah for the attack that killed former PM Hariri and 22 others on February 14, 2005, in Beirut. The accused, who remain at large, may choose whether to appear at the court in person or by video-link. The initial appearances of the accused are scheduled for May 13, 2014. Last week, several journalists rallied near the Ministry of Information in Beirut, to protest the STL's decision.

Syria’s Homs attacks: Death toll reaches 100
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Tuesday, 29 April 2014
At least 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in twin car bomb attacks claimed by jihadists in a pro-regime area of Syria's Homs, an NGO said Wednesday, updating an earlier toll.
The attack on Tuesday was the deadliest of its kind in Homs since the start of Syria's conflict three years ago, and comes as government forces launch fresh offensives in a bid to overrun a handful of besieged rebel quarters in the central city. Two car bombs exploded in a pro-government neighborhood in the central Syrian city of Homs Tuesday, The Associated Press quoted state media and activists as saying. The attack in the Abbasiyeh neighborhood of Homs came just hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of the capital, Damascus, killed more than a dozen people, the agency quoted officials and activists as saying. The official Syrian news agency had said on Tuesday at least 40 people were killed and another 116 wounded in the attack in Abbasiyeh - a predominantly Christian and Alawite area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the double car bombing at 37, including five children. It said more than 80 were wounded. Such discrepancies in casualty figures are common in Syria in the immediate aftermath of attacks. Homs has been an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashat Assad that erupted in March 2011.
The city, Syria's third largest, has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the civil war. A devastating government siege has squeezed rebels in the last outpost in the Old City, and the remaining fighters there have lashed back with suicide car bombings on pro-Assad areas. In Damascus, several mortar shells slammed into the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shaghour in the morning hours, killing 14 people and wounding 86, Syria's official SANA news agency and state TV reported. The Observatory said 17 people were killed. It was one of the deadliest mortar attacks in central Damascus since the conflict began in March 2011. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday. The attacks came a day after Assad declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, a race he is likely to win amid a raging civil war that initially started as an uprising against his rule. Such attacks are common in Homs and Damascus, and there was no immediate indication that Tuesday's violence was directly related to Assad's announcement. Also Tuesday, the global chemical weapons watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria's toxic stockpile said it would send a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate allegations by rebels and activists of chlorine gas attacks, Reuters news agency reported. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Assad's government had agreed to accept the mission and promised to provide security in areas under its control. "The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances," the OPCW said, referring to the three-year-old conflict between Assad's forces and rebels. It gave no exact date for the mission but said it would take place soon. Accusations by rebels and Syrian activist of at least three separate chlorine gas attacks by Assad's forces in the last month have exposed the limits of a deal which Assad agreed last year for the destruction of his chemical arsenal.
(AP, Reuters)

Israel, Palestinians at UN accuse each other of sabotaging peace

Ynetnews/04.30.14/Israeli envoy Prosor: 'Palestinians make commitments almost as quickly as they break them'; Palestinian observer Mansour: 'Israel has maintained its rejectionist stance.'
UNITED NATIONS - Israeli and Palestinian envoys on Tuesday took advantage of a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East to publicly blame each other for the latest breakdown in the fragile peace negotiations as the deadline for a deal expired. Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the 15-nation Security Council that Israeli and Palestinian leaders should "convince each other anew they are partners for peace."  Serry stressed the two sides must decide whether to entrench the current "one-state reality" or find a way to salvage the two-state solution.
Both Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor and Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour expressed a commitment to peace. But they also accused each other of undermining the most recent attempt to secure a deal in US-brokered talks. "Israel has maintained its rejectionist stance and persisted with its grave breaches, constantly reaffirming its role as occupier and oppressor, not as peacemaker," Mansour told the council. "Once again, Israel has thwarted peace efforts."  Israel's envoy pinned responsibility for the suspension of peace negotiations on the Palestinians.
"The Palestinians pledge dialogue while fermenting hatred," Prosor told the council. "They promise tolerance while celebrating terrorists. And they make commitments almost as quickly as they break them."
Prosor accused the Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of abandoning a chance to "tango with Israel" in favor of "waltzing off with Hamas."
Nine months ago the United States launched new negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to end the decades-long conflict and help create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The talks fell apart last week, with Washington blaming both sides for failing to compromise ahead of the April 29 deadline. US Ambassador Samantha Power told the council Washington will continue to support negotiations between the two sides. "We have clearly reached a difficult moment, but we continue to believe that there is only one real viable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two states living side by side in peace and security," she said. "If the parties are willing to go down the path - this path - we will be there to support them."Israel suspended the negotiations with the Palestinians in response to Abbas's unexpected unity pact with the rival Islamist Hamas group, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is angered by Israel's expansion of settlements on land they intend to include in a future Palestinian state and its decision to postpone the release of the last tranche of prisoners in Israeli jails.
"The convergence of Israel's bad faith in the negotiations, including its reneging on the prisoner release agreement, and its unlawful actions on the ground, particularly its intensification of settlement activities and incessant aggressions in Occupied East Jerusalem, seriously undermined the peace process," said Mansour. Prosor made clear that Israel would not budge in its refusal to talk with Hamas. "Anyone who wonders why Israel won't negotiate with Hamas may as well be wondering why nobody shows up to dinner parties thrown by Hannibal Lecter," Prosor said, referring to a serial killer and cannibal made popular in a series of Hollywood films. UN envoy Serry said both sides must compromise.  "If Israel is serious about the two-state solution, it must recognize the negative impact of continued illegal settlement activity," he said. "Palestinians in turn should be reflective of their actions in international fora." Earlier this month Abbas signed more than a dozen international conventions, citing anger at Israel's delay of a prisoner release in a decision that jeopardized US efforts to salvage fragile peace talks. The Palestinians were eligible to sign on to the treaties and conventions after the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinians' status at the United Nations in 2012 from "observer entity" to "non-member state," a move widely seen as de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

US escalates enforcement of sanctions on Iran
Published: 04.30.14, 09:54 /Reuters/ Ynetnews
State Department offers a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to arrest of Chinese businessman accused of supplying missile parts to Iran.
The United States offered a reward of up to $5 million on Tuesday for a Chinese businessman accused of supplying missile parts to Iran, and targeted companies from China and Dubai for allegedly helping Iran evade weapons and oil sanctions. In a signal Washington will keep pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, the US Treasury Department said it was sanctioning eight of Chinese businessman Li Fangwei's Chinese companies for allegedly procuring missile parts for Iran. The US State Department said it was offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Li, who is also known as Karl Lee. Li has been the target of US sanctions in the past for his alleged role as a principle supplier to Iran's ballistic missile program.
The State Department said the announcement of the bounty for Li was coordinated with Treasury and the Justice Department, which unsealed an indictment against him on charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering, bank fraud, and wire fraud. "According to the Indictment, he (Li) controls a large network of front companies and allegedly uses this network to move millions of dollars through US-based financial institutions to conduct business in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations, which prohibit such financial transactions," the State Department said in a statement.  Treasury also said it was targeting a firm based in Dubai and several associated individuals for helping Iran evade US sanctions against its oil industry. These sanctions "demonstrate the US Government’s commitment to vigorously enforce existing US sanctions even as we implement the sanctions relief contained in the Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran," the State Department's statement said. "These actions are intended to deter future sanctions evasion and prevent Iran from procuring sensitive technologies while we negotiate a comprehensive solution that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensures its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful." Iran and a group of world powers reached a temporary deal in November under which Tehran would get about $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for steps to restrain its nuclear activities. The deal called for negotiation of a full agreement within a year, and Treasury said on Tuesday it was still pressing for a more definitive resolution. A United Nations report said earlier this month that Iran has acted to cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile by nearly 75 percent, making clear Tehran is undertaking the agreed steps to curb its nuclear program. A US official, however, told Reuters last month Iran had pursued a longstanding effort to buy banned components for its nuclear and missile programs in recent months, even while it was striking an interim deal with major powers to limit its disputed atomic activity.  Vann Van Diepen, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, added that Li had continued to supply such items despite US pressure on China to tighten export controls. Contacted by Reuters on February 4, 2013, for an earlier story about his business, Li said he continued to get commercial inquiries from Iran but only for legitimate merchandise. Li said his metals company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning the firm several years ago. China has said that it is very clear in its stance on non-proliferation and that it has seriously fulfilled its obligations to UN resolutions about export controls.
Ynetnews contributed to this report.

Kerry hasn't given up on peace talks, to continue push in a few months
Reuters, Ynetnews/04.30.14/US secretary of state's aides say Kerry was showing 'strategic patience' and that the two sides will be soon forced back to the negotiating table by 'long-term need for a two-state solution.' US Secretary of State John Kerry has not given up on peace talks just yet and intends to continue his peace push after a pause of several months, his aides said.
On of the secretary of state's aides predicted that after an initial domestic political boost, the two sides would be forced back to the table by the long-term need for a two-state solution.
"It’s a matter of time before they all come back," the aide predicted, "and want to have negotiations." But unilateral steps taken by both sides may make it more difficult to return to the negotiating table.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu is reportedly postponing advancing plans for more settlement construction - as a strategic move to prevent international public opinion of skewing in the Palestinians' direction - the Israeli government has decided to impose a series of sanctions on the Palestinians. The Palestinians, meanwhile, have signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas that stipulates the formation of a unity government, and prepare their applications to additional international bodies, conventions and treaties. Netanyahu has made it clear Israel would never negotiate with a government that backs Hamas - a terrorist organization calling for the destruction of Israel. Kerry, for his part, left Washington on Tuesday night for a week-long trip to Africa. An aide said he was showing "strategic patience" when it comes to the Middle East and "very serene and sanguine about it all."

Senior Hamas official: Palestinian deal will not make Hamas change

Reuters/Ynetnews/Abbas' claim that unity government will recognize Israel is 'hollow gesture', says Mahmoud Al-Zahar, adding that unity deal won't change Gaza status quo. A Palestinian unity deal will not lead Islamist group Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist and will not result in any Gaza militants coming under President Mahmoud Abbas's control, a senior Hamas official said on Tuesday.
Veteran Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Reuters the group, which runs the Gaza Strip, was waiting for Abbas to form a unity government, but said the Palestinian leader was taking his time in an effort to overcome US and Israeli opposition. Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist group by many Western capitals, unexpectedly agreed with Abbas last week to lay aside old animosities and create a transitional cabinet paving the way to long-overdue elections across the Palestinian Territories. The reconciliation accord angered Israel, which promptly suspended floundering peace talks with the Western-backed Abbas, saying it would not negotiate with any administration backed by Hamas. Zahar, who is one of Hamas's most influential voices, said Abbas only decided to seek unity because the US-driven negotiations were leading nowhere, but predicted he would take his time trying to assemble a government of technocrats. "He is trying to overcome a great wave of pressure. We are waiting," said Zahar, adding that Hamas had already handed across lists of names of possible ministers. Hamas's elder statesman, who has had spiky relations with the group's leadership, said Abbas was using the unity deal to put heat on Israel, but that he was also worried by a US threat to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in vital aid. "He is seeking a guarantee that US financial support will continue," Zahar said, speaking from his well-guarded house. Looking to reassure Western allies, Abbas said the new government would recognize Israel and honor previous treaties. Zahar dismissed this as a hollow gesture, saying the ministers would be academics with no political authority. "Abbas is not telling them the truth. He says 'this is my government'. But it is not his government. It is a government of national unity. He is marketing it in this way to minimize the pressure," said Zahar, who took part in the unity negotiations.
Hamas leaders have said in the past that the movement could live peacefully alongside Israel if it wins a state on all Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967, although the Islamist group's 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and for recovering all mandate Palestine. But it continues to say it will not recognize Israel officially.
Armed wing
The unity pact follows a trail of previous, failed efforts to overcome the deep schism that has traumatized Palestinian politics. Agreed in just a few hours, it sidestepped one of the most sensitive issues – who would be in charge of security. Hamas's armed wing has some 20,000 men in its ranks. Abbas has his own, Western-trained forces, that often cooperate with Israeli troops and police in the nearby West Bank – a practice that Zahar called "shameful". Zahar said Hamas would remain in charge of its own troops regardless of the latest deal and irrespective of who won national elections, that are slated for later this year. "Nobody will touch the security sections in Gaza. No one will be able to touch one person from the military group. Nobody asked for that," he said, sitting next to a photograph of one of two sons who were killed in Israeli attacks. Hamas won the last legislative elections held in the Palestinian territories in 2006 and then seized control of Gaza after ousting forces loyal to Abbas a year later. It appeared to be on the ascendance when fellow-Islamists were elected to office in neighboring Egypt, but its fortunes crumpled following last year's military coup in Cairo, with the new army-backed rulers launching a fierce crackdown on Hamas.  Hundreds of smuggling tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt were destroyed, compounding an Israeli blockade on the Palestinian enclave, that restricts movement of goods and people. Zahar said divisions in Egypt were a "catastrophe" for the region. He also acknowledged that once deep ties with Iran had not fully recovered after Hamas had refused to back Syrian President Bashar Assad in his on-going civil war. "We have a good relation (with Iran), but you know the impact of the Syrian problem is still a factor. The communication is not as it was," he said, declining to give details of Iranian funding for Hamas. Some political analysts said Hamas's international problems had spurred it towards reviving the reconciliation pact. But Zahar said Abbas, whose mandate expired five years ago, had made the overture because peace talks with Israel were at a dead end.
"He is very weak," said Zahar.
Hamas has regularly clashed with Israel, fighting two major conflicts in 2008/09 and again in 2012. The last confrontation ended in a truce that resulted in months of relative quiet.
Sporadic rocket fire out of Gaza and into Israel picked up at the start of the year, amid mutual recriminations over who was to blame for the truce deal fraying.
However, Zahar said not all the missile attacks were sanctioned by Hamas, accusing some small groups of actively seeking to destabilize Gaza – including last week at the time the unity deal with Abbas was being concluded. "Why when we signed the agreement did 20 dancing rockets go to Israel? It was not Hamas... It was not done for Palestinian reasons. It was against Palestinian interests. Palestinian interests are to have this unity agreement," he said.

IDF and Shin Bet thwart West Bank terror cell planning attacks against Israelis

04/30/2014 13:22
The IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed Wednesday that they had arrested seven members of a Hamas-affiliated terror cell in the West Bank city of Kalkilya over the past several months.
The terror cell, which consisted of seven Palestinians, including 21-year-old Khaled Jamal Mahmoud Daud, who holds Israeli citizenship, were planning bombing and shooting attacks against Israelis, according to the IDF. During interrogation of the suspects, investigators discovered that the men had been producing and testing improvised explosive devices made from fertilizers and planned to purchase weapons from inside Israel as well. The Israeli citizen, Khaled Daud, planned to take advantage of his access to Israel to obtain materials needed for creating explosives and to buy weapons.
The cell also turned to a leading Hamas figure in Kalkilya to secure funding for their terror activities, the IDF said. The Hamas leader, Salah Daud, agreed to finance the cell's operations and even offered to provide them with new recruits.The IDF said some members of the cell had previously been arrested and released by Palestinian Authority security authorities and were found to possess a device used to remotely detonate bombs. The cell was thwarted during an early stage of the planning process. The members of the cell were set to be indicted in the coming days.

Iraq violence mires key parliamentary election
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Wednesday, 30 April 2014
A bomb near a polling station in north Iraq killed two women on Wednesday, officials said, as voters cast their ballots under tight security following a surge of pre-election violence. The blast occurred in the town of Dibs, near the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, according to a police official and a doctor at a nearby hospital. Elsewhere, militants seized another polling station in north Iraq, evacuated election staff and voters and set off explosives, destroying the building, according to a security official and an election commission employee. Polls in Iraq opened Wednesday for the first parliamentary election since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking a third term in power, as the country faces its worst violence levels in years. Voters started heading to the polls since 7:00 am (04:00am GMT), and polling is due to end at 6:00 pm (15:00 GMT), Iraq’s 22 million registered voters will elect 328 parliament members, from more than 9,000 candidates. Political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority at the parliament, adding that forming a new government may be a difficult task even if Maliki’s State of Law alliance, expected to win the election, gets the majority of seats. Iraqis will vote as they struggle with poor public services, a widely spread corruption, spiraling unemployment and a security situation which has dramatically worsened in recent months. Police and army checkpoints were placed roughly 500 meters apart, while pickup trucks with machine-guns perched on top roamed the streets. Sectarian bloodshed began to spiral out of control in Iraq by 2006, with Sunni militants and Shiite militias butchering each other. Later on, American-backed Sunni tribes rose up to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants. Maliki is greatly blamed for the situation, and is criticized for aggravating the sectarian split in the country. He has portrayed himself as the defender of his Shiite community against the sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Earlier this week, Maliki vowed to stop the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS from entering Baghdad. “Is ISIS and al-Qaeda capable of reaching the target for they were established ... bringing down Baghdad and the other provinces and destroying the holy shrines? ... I say no,” Maliki said. “ISIS is over, but its pockets still exist and we will keep chasing them and the few coming days will witness major developments,” he added. The group’s violence continued till a day before the vote, as they claimed responsibility for a Monday suicide bombing in northeast Baghdad, which killed at least 25 Kurds. (With AFP, AP and Reuters)

Dehydration, Iran and liberalism: the biggest threats to the Gulf
Wednesday, 30 April 2014/Jamal Khashoggi/Al Arabiya
“Which is a bigger threat confronting the Gulf? Thirst or Iranian domination?” No one likes this kind of hypothetical question, particularly elite officials, politicians and researchers with whom I spent two days discussing what threatens Gulf countries, national and regional questions. The meeting was convened under Bahrain’s Center for Strategic, International and Energy studies
Iran, its expansionist aspirations and its desire to interfere and dominate of course came first among the list of threats facing the Gulf. A new threat facing the Gulf is the “unprecedented rift” among Gulf countries - as Prince Turki al-Faisal put it. This rift is about to waste our greatest gains - that is the Gulf Cooperation Council itself. Despite its dereliction, it provided an infrastructure via political and military agreements in its endeavor towards “collective security.” Prince Nayef Bin Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz, a strategy and security researcher, addressed this issue in detail during the conference.
The third threat facing the Gulf is “American retreat” or lack of trust in the Americans who are supposed to be allies of the all Gulf states after they signed dozens of security and defense agreements with such states. The participants had a deep feeling that the Americans are one of these threats though an Omani researcher refuted these arguments and mentioned the number of times the U.S. committed to defending Gulf countries. What if a military confrontation breaks out and Iran, which desires to dominate the region (or another player), targets desalination plants at a time when we are squandering our subterranean water? Overlap in the concept of security beetween different facets of authority may have been a reason to expand the concept of “threats” which even targeted reforms and people’s aspirations of freedom and political participation. Chair of the political sciences department at UAE University Dr. Mohammad bin Huwaidin considered the latter as threats because “they threaten the nature of our conservative Gulf system.” This suggestion provoked researcher and political sciences lecturer Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdullah - also a UAE citizen like Huwaidin. Abdullah responded to Huwaidin, saying that reform cannot be threatening and that it actually confronts and ends security threats against the Gulf countries.
Amidst all these political and security threats, the Saudi minister of water and electricity Abdullah al-Hussayen said in his speech that “water security of Gulf countries is considered the biggest of threats and challenges because it represents a domestic challenge.” He then detailed the amount of waste of this scarcest and most precious resource in our desert-climate countries. The squander showed that Gulf citizens set high records as the biggest consumers of water - bigger consumers than the Germans or the Canadians who swim in sweet-water lakes.
‘Slow suicide’
Researcher Dr. Abdulaziz al-Turbak described the way we deal with the water issue as “slow suicide.” What’s good is that he’s director of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Unified Water Strategy. This means that Gulf countries are concerned with preventing this “slow suicide” on the official and institutional levels. However, it was clear that neither the water minister of the biggest Gulf country nor the strategy director have enough power to impose legislations that limit what was described as “waste that poses the threat of water poverty in GCC countries” - as the minister put it. This means there will come a day when we either die of thirst or leave, like Arab tribes did several times whenever the Arabian Peninsula suffered from drought. However, this is the 21st century and such migration is longer acceptable. It’s also illogical to leave our precious oil behind. It seems the age of our oil is longer than the age of our subterranean waters which reserves took thousands of years to form and which we foolishly consumed within two or three decades of the oil boom. The irony is that all efforts to raise awareness are directed towards the consumption of water in homes. Hussayen said the consumption of water will not be moderated until citizens pay the real price of water, and he’s right. However, in his speech, he also noted that agriculture is what consumes 80 percent of water.
Following his speech sounding the alarm bell, we returned to discussing the Iranian threat, political Islam and American retreat. The minister then headed east of the kingdom to inaugurate a desalination water plant in Ras al-Kheir. The plant is the biggest desalination facility in the world on the production level and the most costly. It joins 17 other plants on Gulf shores and on the coast of the Red Sea. This plant, along with other desalination plants in the Gulf, is described as a “duck on a lake” to signify their security exposure should a war break out in the region.
Perhaps the security dimension regarding the importance of preserving water in the desert can be further clarified if I rephrase the question I introduced the article with: “What if a military confrontation breaks out and Iran, which desires to dominate the region (or another player), targets desalination plants at a time when we are squandering our subterranean water?”
**This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 27, 2014.

Israeli-Palestinian talks Peace Talks Dead —- For Now
FrontPage/by P. David Hornik
Yesterday was April 29, the US deadline for the Israeli-Palestinian talks that began nine months ago. Instead of marking the achievement of a peace agreement as planned, the deadline passed with the talks dead—for now, at least. They were officially suspended by Israel last week after Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah signed a unity pact with Hamas, the explicitly jihadist-terrorist group now running Gaza. The Obama administration has given Israel’s response to that move lukewarm, tentative support. Where things will go from here is not certain; the present state of affairs raises some questions. First, is the Fatah-Hamas agreement authentic, and will it really lead to a Palestinian unity government? If one goes according to precedent—three previous Fatah-Hamas unity deals in 2007, 2011, and 2012, each of which collapsed quickly—then the chances are not high. Among Israeli Arab-affairs commentators, Khaled Abu Toameh sees the agreement as
a tactical move [by Abbas] aimed at putting pressure on Israel and the U.S. to accept his conditions for extending the peace talks after their April 29 deadline…. [There is no] sign that Hamas is willing to allow the Palestinian Authority security forces to return to the Gaza Strip, which fell into the hands of the Islamist movement in 2007…. Neither Hamas nor Fatah is interested in sharing power or sitting in the same government…. Abbas is now waiting to see what the U.S. Administration will offer him in return for rescinding his plan to join forces with Hamas….
Avi Issacharoff, however, suggests that Hamas—now in difficult shape with Iran having scaled back support, Egypt having closed its smuggling tunnels from Sinai, and Israel pressuring it to put a stop to rocket attacks by small, even more radical Salafist groups—has decided to gamble by hitching itself to Fatah and hoping to win the Palestinian elections envisaged by the unity agreement in about another six months, thereby regaining rule in both the West Bank and Gaza. That Hamas, a totalitarian movement, is really prepared to act with such self-abnegation and restraint, accepting a subordinate role in some “unity” framework, all in the hope of winning elections while risking a sharp decline in its fortunes if it loses them, does not seem likely. Issacharoff also does not explain what would be in it for Abbas. “Unity” with rambunctious Hamas has always failed him in the past, most dramatically in 2007 when it led to Fatah’s ouster from Gaza.
In other words, the two Palestinian groups distrust each other and for good reason.
If, then, the current ostensible Fatah-Hamas rapprochement is destined to unravel—which, in the erratic Middle East, is not certain but probable—where will that leave the “diplomatic process” and U.S. and Israeli policy? One possibility is that Abbas’s brinksmanship will succeed, with the U.S.—loath to see the “process” end—pushing for and eventually obtaining terms that Israel and the Palestinians—both of which want to stay in Washington’s good graces—will agree to as a basis for further talks.
If so, further rounds of pointless, sterile talks will be held, attended by the usual U.S.-Israeli frictions as Washington publicly berates and threatens Israel, until it turns out—once again—that even by agreeing to once-inconceivable concessions the Netanyahu government cannot get the Palestinian side to reciprocate in coins of peace, compromise, and acceptance of Jewish sovereignty that it simply does not possess. The other possibility is that, whether because the Obama administration is discouraged or because, even if it keeps trying, it can no longer bridge the gaps between the sides, the talks will not revive and all those—Washington officials, the Israeli left, and so on—for whom the “process” is an addictive lifeline will somehow have to survive without it.
Israel could then try emphasizing that the Palestinians in the West Bank already have autonomy, have rejected a state so many times that contemplating another massive effort to get them to accept one is madness, and that, given the condition of already-existing Arab states like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and others, to think that creating yet another such state, this one on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, would somehow be a boon to Israel, the U.S., or the West does not pass the reality test to put it mildly.