May 04/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Lord has risen indeed

Luke 24,13-35/Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Do not be afraid! Open the doors to Christ!
Pape François
N’ayez pas peur, ouvrez les portes au Christ !

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 04/14

Question: Why pray? What is the point of prayer/

Rafsanjani and his views on cooperation with Saudi Arabia/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 04/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 04/14

Lebanese Related News

Syrian militants, Hezbollah clash near border
Rai will not meet Israeli officials: catholic center

U.S. ambassador heads to Riyadh for talks with Hariri, Saudi officials

Government capable of running the country: Mashnouk
Merchants slam decision to freeze IMEI registration

MP Suleiman Franjieh to Patriarch Rahi: I Told You I Will Not Provide Quorum and You Accepted My Stance
Report: March 14 Leaning towards Harb's Nomination for President instead of Geagea
Report: Aoun's Visitors Warn of Dangerous Consequences on Lebanon if He is Not Elected President

U.S. presses leaders to avert power vacuum

House Speaker Berri Fears Presidential Vacuum, Says Some Sides Seeking Foreign Meddling in Polls

MP Geagea Meets Hariri to Discuss Presidential Elections

49 Syrians, Palestinians Arrested for Trying to Travel with False Legal Papers

Seven Arrested in Dahieh for Possession of Weapons

7 Syrians Arrested in Arsal over 'Suspicious' IDs

Minister: Lebanon reached refugee limit

Baalbek residents protest Army measures

Qaloush resignation reignites sexual assault case

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Despite EU support for Palestinian deal, Netanyahu rules out talks with Hamas

Lapid: Peace with Hamas-Fatah unity a possibility

US condemns Odessa violence, calls for de-escalation after dozens killed
Dozens Die in Odessa Blaze as Ukraine Violence Spreads
Egypt Court Jails 102 Morsi Supporters for 10 Years
More than 2,100 confirmed dead in Afghanistan landslide


MP Suleiman Franjieh to Patriarch Rahi: I Told You I Will Not Provide Quorum and You Accepted My Stance
Naharnet/Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh stated on Friday that he had promised Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi that he will not provide the necessary quorum at the parliament to prevent his political foe's election, adding also that he disagrees with the head of the Maronite Church over the fear of vacuum in the presidency. "The constitution discussed the needed quorum in parliamentary sessions (dedicated to elect a new president) but it did not say anything about requiring MPs to be present,” Franjieh said in an interview on al-Manar television. "Lawmakers have the right to miss the sessions,” he remarked. Al-Rahi told LBCI television on Thursday that being present at parliamentary sessions to elect a new head of state is a “national duty because the MPs were elected by the people and their presence is a constitutional duty.” But Franjieh insisted that no agreement was reached during the Maronite leaders' meeting in Bkirki over being present at parliament and providing the necessary quorum for electing a president. He elaborated: “I have told the patriarch that if my political foe received 85 votes and needed one more to win the presidential race, I will not vote in his favor. But if he took office, I will respect him and cooperate with him. (Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel) Aoun told al-Rahi he supported my decision and (Kataeb Party leader) Amin Gemayel also agreed with me.”Franjieh was referring to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a presidential candidate who was able to gather 48 votes in his favor in the first round of votes at the parliament. Meanwhile, 52 MPs cast a blank vote, centrist nominee Henri Helou won the support of 16 lawmakers and Gemayel got one vote in his favor. Franjieh stated: “I will be Geagea's biggest opponents if he takes office, but this does not mean that he is not a strong candidate.”The Marada Movement head remarked that Aoun “will always be in harmony with Hizbullah” and that if he becomes president, he will not demand the party to withdraw from Syria.
The northern leader also voiced support for electing a president by the people. Franjieh noted that he does not agree with the patriarch on his “fear of vacuum” in the presidency. "I am not worried about vacuum. I have told you I will not be present to provide quorum and you accepted my statement," he said addressing al-Rahi. Meanwhile, he considered that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri does not support neither Aoun nor Geagea for office. "He wants a weak president. He is wasting time to assure al-Rahi, but he wants to reach a settlement later.” In the second round of votes on Wednesday, lawmakers once again failed to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum. 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 Wednesday, May 7 for a third round of voting.

Syrian militants, Hezbollah clash near border
May 03, 2014/By Rakan al-Fakih/The Daily Star/HERMEL, Lebanon: Syrian militants clashed with Hezbollah fighters on the border with Lebanon Saturday, a security source told The Daily Star. The clashes erupted on the outskirts of Brital, east Lebanon, in the Ain al-Bnayyeh village along the porous border. Hezbollah and Syrian fighters have clashed in the area on several occasions, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. The National News Agency said the fighters were trying to sneak into Lebanon. The shadowy group Liwaa Ahrar al-Sunna said on its Twitter feed that members of the radical group engaged in clashes with Hezbollah on the outskirts of Brital. The group has also claimed Friday it had "captured" three Hezbollah members near Baalbek, and has claimed an ambush against Army soldiers as well as several rockets on Shiite areas associated with Hezbollah.

Rai will not meet Israeli officials: catholic center
May 03, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai will not meet Israeli officials when he travels to Jerusalem next month with Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Media Center said Saturday, urging the media to refrain from speculation. "The visit is in the framework of welcoming Pope Francis to the patriarchal territory, and not accompanying him on a trip,” Father Abdo Abu Kasm said in a statement.  “The patriarch will not meet any Israeli official and rumors about attempts to normalize relations [with Israel] are merely part of media analyses and are inaccurate,” he added. Rai’s visit to Jerusalem has stirred controversy in local media, particularly leading newspaper Assafir, which described the trip as a “historic mistake,” and questioned whether the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church would meet or shake hands with Israeli officials. Rai is the first head of the Maronite Church to visit occupied Jerusalem. Rai’s predecessor, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, had apologized to Pope Paul II, refusing to go along on his visit to Israel and instead joining him only on his trip to Jordan. Rai has also made trips to Syria, unlike Sfeir, who refused to embark on such trips given Damascus’ role in Lebanon at the time. Abu Kasm also said that the patriarch would also visit Maronite parishes in the Holy Land and most likely agree to an invitation from President Mahmoud Abbas for an official visit. “We hope that the media deals with such a matter in an objective way and refrain from speculation that would only skew the aim of the visit,” he said.

U.S. ambassador heads to Riyadh for talks with Hariri, Saudi officials
May 03, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: United States Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale left for Riyadh for meetings with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Saudi official to discuss international support for Lebanon, a statement by the U.S. embassy said on Saturday. A security source told The Daily Star that Hale left for Riyadh at 7 p.m. Beirut time. A senior political source had told The Daily Star Friday that the U.S. was urging rival Lebanese parties to elect a new president before the constitutional deadline of May 25 in order to avoid a vacuum in the presidency. Before he left for Riyadh, Hale held talks on Friday with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam. Hale highlighted to reporters that that the presidential election was the responsibility of the Lebanese, saying that there was no role for Washington and other external powers in the vote.

Government capable of running the country: Mashnouk
May 03, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Saturday the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam was fully capable of managing the country in the event a new president is not elected after the constitutional deadline of May 25. Machnouk told a local TV station that the harmony among ministers that governs the work of the current government will last until a new president is elected. “If a new president is not elected, this government is fully capable of managing the country and solving problems that might occur,” he said. Mashnouk also praised a government decision to appoint new governors after a delay of several years. “Making those appointments was a necessary step [especially regarding the newly established governorates of Akkar and Baalbek-Hermel],” the minister added. In a Cabinet session at the Baabda Palace, ministers agreed to appoint Ziad Shbib as Beirut governor, Bashir Khodr as governor of Baalbek-Hermel, Fouad Fleifel as governor of Mount Lebanon, Ramzi Nohra as governor of north Lebanon, and Imad Labaki as governor of Akkar. The five freshly-appointed governors paid a visit to Mashnouk at the interior ministry Saturday morning. He urged them to double efforts to efficiently serve the Lebanese. “Your appointment denotes that the Lebanese administration is on the right track, it is also clear evident that this government has made key accomplishments in record time,” he added.

Merchants slam decision to freeze IMEI registration
May 03, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: A gathering of importers and traders of mobile phones slammed Saturday a decision by the Telecommunications Ministry to cancel starting May 5 a requirement to register the IMEI code of the device to allow it to access the Lebanese network. The gathering argued in a statement that the action will increase smuggling of mobile phone devices and facilitate terrorism. Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb said during a news conference last month that IMEI registration has so far yielded negative results and cost the Lebanese treasury.  The International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, commonly referred to as IMEI, used by a GSM network to identify valid devices and therefore can be used for stopping a stolen phone from accessing that network. The statement of the importers and traders explained that IMEI registration was not time consuming and did not affect the sales of mobile phones during 2013 , but added that they remained open to discussing future steps with the minister.

Report: March 14 Leaning towards Harb's Nomination for President instead of Geagea
Naharnet /The March 14 alliance is studying the possibility of the nomination of Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb as president instead of its current nominee Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, reported al-Akhbar newspaper on Saturday. March 14 sources cited the various closed-door meetings among members of the camp and Harb's recent meeting with Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblat as signs that the minister may be named as a candidate. They revealed that officials within the camp are justifying the nomination by noting that Harb will likely garner more votes than Geagea in the elections. The minister is being touted as a consensual president instead of Geagea, who is viewed by the March 8 camp as provocative figure, added the sources.
The March 8 camp has been demanding that a consensual president be elected as president. The proposal of Harb as a nominee has not been met with approval by all members of the March 14 alliance, revealed the sources. Harb stated after his talks with Jumblat on Friday; “The meeting was an occasion to exchange ideas on the means to confront the coming period, after the (parliament's) failure to hold the presidential vote” on Wednesday.”He said he agreed with the MP on the need to find “new ideas” that might lead to “a certain agreement on holding the presidential vote within the constitutional timeframe.” The LF bloc meanwhile said that it is still committed to Geagea as the March 14 camp's official nominee. Sources from the bloc told al-Akhbar: “This is not Geagea's battle, but that of the March 14 camp, especially since he cannot garner any more votes at the elections than he already did in the first round.” Geagea received 48 votes during the first round of the presidential elections that was held on April 23. “Geagea will remain the March 14 alliance's only nominee,” stressed the LF sources. His chances of winning the elections are greater before May 25 than after that date because Lebanon's efforts to hold the elections would return to square one after the country enters presidential vacuum, they warned. The deadline to elect a new president ends on May 25 amid fears of vacuum in the country's top post over the rival March 8 and 14 camp's failures to agree on a presidential candidate. The second round was set for Wednesday, but it failed to be staged due to a lack of quorum after the majority of March 8 alliance MPs, except those of Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the elections. Geagea slammed the move as undemocratic, accusing the alliance of abusing the constitution and forcing officials to choose between the March 8 candidate or presidential vacuum. The alliance has yet to announce its candidate for the polls.

Report: Aoun's Visitors Warn of Dangerous Consequences on Lebanon if He is Not Elected President
Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun will “not wait forever” for the Mustaqbal Movement to agree to his nomination for the presidential elections, warned his visitors according to al-Liwaa newspaper on Saturday. They cautioned: “Lebanon will enter a dangerous phase should the MP not be elected president.” “Such as phase will eliminate all the accomplishments that have been achieved in the country and may be even bring about its ruin,” they added. This warning came in light of a meeting on Tuesday between Mustaqbal Movement leader MP Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister and FPM official Jebran Bassil. Bassil had stated that there can be “great salvation for Lebanon” should an agreement be reached with the movement. “We will however remain in this poor state should we fail,” he remarked. “No one knows what the future will hold in case we fail,” warned the minister. Talks with Hariri covered other issued besides the presidential elections, he revealed. Hariri and Bassil met in Paris on Tuesday. They stressed the importance of avoiding vacuum in the presidency and holding the elections on time. The constitutional deadline to elect a president started on March 25 and ends on May 25.
The first round of the elections was held on May 23, but neither of the two candidates, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou, received the votes of 86 lawmakers that are necessary to emerge victorious. The second round was set for Wednesday, but it failed to be staged due to a lack of quorum after the majority of March 8 alliance MPs, including those of the Change and Reform bloc and except those of Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the elections.

MP Geagea Meets Hariri to Discuss Presidential Elections
Naharnet/Head of the Mustaqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri continued his talks with various officials on the presidential elections by meeting with Lebanese Forces MP Sethrida Geagea at his Paris residence, reported al-Joumhouria newspaper on Friday. It said that the former PM and Geagea tackled the latest developments related to the polls. He also informed her of the details of his recent meeting with Foreign Minister and Free Patriotic Movement official Jebran Bassil. Mustaqbal Movement sources later denied to LBCI al-Joumhouria's report that Hariri and MP Geagea had met. Geagea had recently held talks with various Lebanese officials to present them with LF chief Samir Geagea's presidential program. Geagea and Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou are so far the only presidential candidates. Neither of them was successful in garnering the votes of 86 lawmakers in order to emerge victorious in the first round of the elections that was held on April 23.
The second round was set for Wednesday, but it failed to be staged due to a lack of quorum after the majority of March 8 alliance MPs, except those of Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the elections. Geagea slammed the move as undemocratic, accusing the alliance of abusing the constitution and forcing officials to choose between the March 8 candidate or presidential vacuum. The alliance has yet to announce its candidate for the polls.

Berri Fears Presidential Vacuum, Says Some Sides Seeking Foreign Meddling in Polls

Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri expressed his fears over vacuum in the presidency amid the ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps over a candidate, reported al-Akhbar newspaper on Saturday. He told the daily: “Vacuum will facilitate foreign meddling in the elections.” “Some sides are possibly seeking this intervention,” he remarked. Moreover, he warned that the possibility of vacuum is real should the upcoming presidential elections session fail. A third round of the elections is scheduled for Wednesday. The second round failed to be held on April 30 after the necessary quorum at parliament was not reached. The March 8 camp, except Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the session. “I will weigh my options should the third presidential session fail,” stressed the speaker to al-Akhbar. “So far, there are no encouraging signs that quorum will be met given the ongoing political divisions,” noted Berri. He had warned on Monday that he would change his “classical” approach to the presidential polls if lawmakers failed again to elect a new head of state. “I am so far dealing with the presidential elections in a classical way,” he explained. He stressed that the Lebanese should take advantage of non-interference of foreign countries in the presidential polls, to elect a “made in Lebanon president.”

49 Syrians, Palestinians Arrested for Trying to Travel with False Legal Papers
Naharnet/A number of Syrians and Palestinians were arrested on Saturday as they attempted to travel from Lebanon using false legal papers, reported the National News Agency. It said that 49 Syrians and Palestinians, who sought refuge from Syria, were arrested by security forces at the Rafik Hariri International Airport. They were seeking to travel to an Arab country. They have since been referred to the concerned authorities for investigation. The Internal Security Forces General Directorate warned Arabs and foreigners, especially Syrian and Palestinian refugees, against violating residency laws and attempting to travel through illegal papers and means. It stressed that it will carry out investigations with the detainees to uncover the members of the counterfeit gang.

Seven Arrested in Dahieh for Possession of Weapons
by Naharnet/The army announced on Saturday the arrest of a number of suspects in Beirut's southern suburbs of Dahieh. It arrested seven suspects on charges of the possession of weapons and military equipment. They were detained during raids on Friday in the areas of the western neighborhood-Sabra, al-Ruwais, and Bourj al-Barajneh. The suspects have since been referred to the concerned authorities.
On Thursday, the army announced the arrest of five wanted suspects in Dahieh for the possession of military equipment.

Baalbek residents protest Army measures
May 03, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Several residents of of Baalbek, east Lebanon, blocked a vital road in the area Saturday in protest of the Army’s security measures including recent arrests. Using burning tires, residents of the Sharawneh neighborhood, where the Army conducted several raids a day earlier, blocked the road leading to downtown Baalek, crippling traffic in the city.
Gunmen also fired shots into the air. The Army, which has launched a security plan to restore law and order in the country, deployed additional military units to Sharawneh and reopened the street.

7 Syrians Arrested in Arsal over 'Suspicious' IDs
Naharnet/Seven Syrians were arrested on Friday in the border town of Arsal for possessing “suspicious” identification documents. "The army arrested seven Syrians in Arsal for illegally entering Lebanon," the military institution said in a communique. The state-run National News Agency reported earlier that eight Syrians were detained at a checkpoint in the Arsal plains for possessing "suspicious identification documents."The detainees were referred to the Arsal police department for further investigation, added the NNA. On Wednesday, eight soldiers were wounded in an ambush in al-Rahwa region on the outskirts of Arsal when armed clashes broke out between the Lebanese army and gunmen. And last week, troops held 10 Syrian nationals also in Arsal for possessing illegal documents and arrested three others in one of the town's houses where they seized an explosive belt. On March 19, 15 Syrians, including members of the extremist al-Nusra Front, were arrested in Arsal for entering Lebanon with “fake identification papers.” 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.

Egypt Court Jails 102 Morsi Supporters for 10 Years
Naharnet/An Egyptian court sentenced 102 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to 10 years in prison Saturday over protest violence, state television reported. The army-installed government has rounded up thousands of Morsi supporters and put them on mass trials since overthrowing him in July. The Cairo court sentenced two others to seven years in prison. Last week a court in the southern city of Minya sentenced 683 people, including the leader of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, to death in an initial ruling. Source/Agence France Presse

Dozens Die in Odessa Blaze as Ukraine Violence Spreads

Naharnet /More than 30 people were killed in a "criminal" blaze in Ukraine's southern city of Odessa, as violence spread across the country during the bloodiest day since Kiev's Western-backed government took power. Ukraine's interior ministry said at least 31 people had died in the fire Friday, with local media reporting that pro-Russian militants were believed to have been in the burning building at the time.
Most of those who were killed died from smoke inhalation, while others perished trying to escape by jumping out of windows. Russia said it was "outraged" as the scenic port city became a new front in an escalating months-long crisis that has sparked fears of a Russian invasion. The foreign ministry in Moscow called on Ukraine and its "Western backers to end the anarchy and take responsibility before the Ukrainian people", blaming Kiev's "criminal irresponsibility" for the sinister turn of events. It capped a day of violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian militants, with reports of renewed fighting in Slavyansk leading to the deaths of two more Ukrainian soldiers, meaning at least nine people had been killed in violence in the flashpoint eastern town throughout the day.
Already the most serious rupture in West-Moscow relations since the Cold War, the diplomatic war of words intensified as the United States threatened to hit Russia with new sanctions within three weeks over what Washington called its continued "destabilization" of Ukraine.
President Barack Obama threatened to expand punitive sanctions to broad sections of the Russian economy if Moscow continued to foment chaos in the former Soviet republic ahead of planned May 25 presidential elections. "If in fact we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional... severe sanctions," Obama said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "If Russia continues on its current course, we have a range of tools at our disposal, including sanctions that would target certain sectors of the Russian economy." Previously, the administration had said such measures would only come into force if Russia sent its estimated 40,000 troops over the border.
"Today, the international community must stand together in support of the Ukrainian people as they cope with this tragedy," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement mourning the "heartbreaking" loss of life in Odessa.
"The violence and mayhem that led to so many senseless deaths and injuries is unacceptable." Harf also renewed U.S. calls for "immediate implementation" of a peace deal clinched in Geneva last month.
The unrest in Ukraine started with peaceful demonstrations in Kiev in November against then president Viktor Yanukovych but has rapidly degenerated into a full-blown global crisis.
After a deadly crackdown on protesters, Yanukovych was forced out in February and replaced with the Western-backed administration. That sparked fury in Moscow, which responded with a blitz annexation of Crimea. In a sign of worsening relations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced he was postponing a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
And while Obama was speaking at the White House, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council took place at Russia's request to complain about the Ukrainian army's assault on Slavyansk -- an attempt by Kiev's interim rulers to grab back the initiative from pro-Moscow rebels.
The Kremlin -- which has denied links to rebels who have taken over buildings in dozens of towns and cities in Ukraine's east -- said the raid was "leading Ukraine towards catastrophe" and pronounced dead the peace deal struck in Geneva last month. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged Kiev to "stop killing their citizens", branding the Slavyansk raid "a sign of criminal helplessness".
Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said "many rebels" had been killed in the military's pre-dawn raid and confirmed the loss of two servicemen after insurgents shot down two helicopter gunships. Rebels later said three of their number and two citizens were killed in a "full-scale attack" that seemed to dash hopes of a quick release of seven European monitors being held in the town.
Rebels parked two previously captured armored vehicles in front of the town hall where they are holding the seven OSCE observers they seized on April 25. Before the blaze, three people were killed in Odessa, where pro-Russian militants clashed with 1,500 people holding a rally for Ukrainian unity.  Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said rebels used shoulder-launched missiles to down the helicopters. "It's a real battle we are waging against professional mercenaries," he wrote on his Facebook page. "Our demands for the terrorists are simple: release their hostages, lay down their arms, leave administrative buildings and restore the normal functioning of the urban infrastructure." The self-proclaimed pro-Russian mayor of the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, urged "women, children and pensioners to stay in their homes" and "all armed men to help" combat the assault. "We will defend the town and we will win," Ponomaryov, dressed in camouflage uniform and wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, said in a video posted on a local website. There was further fighting in Slavyansk, with two more Ukrainian soldiers killed in what the Ukrainian defense ministry termed "intense combat". Russian news agencies quoted President Vladimir Putin's spokesman as saying the offensive on Slavyansk was "essentially finishing off the last hope for the feasibility of the Geneva accord". And Russia's envoy to the OSCE, Andrei Kelin, said Moscow had urged the pan-European body to "take steps to stop this reprisal raid", according to the ITAR-TASS news agency. In Warsaw, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters that state-run gas firm Gazprom could restrict supplies to Ukraine -- and by extension several European countries -- if Kiev did not pre-pay its bill for June by the end of this month. Kiev is expected to use part of a $17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to settle the bill. Source/Agence France Presse

Rafsanjani and his views on cooperation with Saudi Arabia
Saturday, 3 May 2014/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Hashemi Rafsanjani is the most prominent veteran politician in Iran. But being experienced has not made him the most influential, as he was humiliated and harassed during the Ahmadinejad’s presidential term, when both his daughter and eldest son were imprisoned. Despite all that, Rafsanjani remains the voice of wisdom and consciousness in Iran. Although he is not in a powerful and effective position, his opinion remains important in Iran, where major changes went underway after moderate President Mohammad Khatami’s terms ended. Iran is being ruled today by the Revolutionary Guard that has converted from being a force serving men of religion, to a dominant army served by men of religion. Benefiting from Ahmadinejad’s era, the Revolutionary Guard expanded its authority and took over investment centers, oil companies and other security and militant bodies. With Hassan Rowhani’s election as president, Rafsanjani has become more comfortable in propagating his moderate views, the last of which was last week, when he called for close cooperation with Saudi Arabia to end regional tensions.
Rafsanjani’s rhetoric
In light of the region’s current soaring situation, Rafsanjani’s reconciliation advice should be taken into consideration. His advice is important for anyone living in a region with more than 300 million inhabitants, who are continuously suffering or threatened by permanent fears of wars and political violence. When taking a close look at the situation inside Iran, one will certainly not believe that Rafsanjani can influence a rabid leadership that is only interested in managing wars in the region. Iran today is at the peak of its intervention in the region’s battles, ever since the Iranian revolution.
Indeed, there are positive politicians like Rafsanjani, Khatami and now Rowhani reaching the throne but they remain without a scepter. The key decision-making positions, which can control the country’s decisions, are in the hands of extremist elements. If Tehran decides to shift its political views toward more openness and offers to reconcile with the region’s countries, we will see a greater state, enjoying more respect and influence in the region and the world.
Don Quixote-like confrontations
Nevertheless, Rafsanjani’s call for reconciliation is not useless as it might help pessimists inside Iran to understand the nature of their problems. As a country rich in natural resources and wonderful citizens, Iran suffers from one thing: its leadership’s continuous policy of Don Quixote-like confrontations since the eruption of the revolution. Iran is one of the few countries that are still closed up at a time when tens of extremist powers in the world abandoned their policies and adopted a reconciliatory approach, including countries that inspired the Iranian revolution like China and the Soviet Union and countries like Vietnam that have suffered way more than Iran. The Iranians have been besieged and living in poor conditions for 35 years. If Tehran decides to shift its political views toward more openness and offers to reconcile with the region’s countries, we will see a greater state, enjoying more respect and influence in the region and the world. Turkey is one model to consider as it has far less resources than Iran, and yet enjoys special state and citizenship status, without being forced to send soldiers or spend financial resources on any regional wars, except when protecting its own borders.
Follow the leader
Unlike Turks, Iranians have been suffering for more than three decades, because of their leaders’ policies who dream of regional dominance and support regimes and groups that do not mean anything to the Iranian people, like the Assad regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sudan’s dictator, Yemen’s Houthis and some rebels in the Gulf areas. Does any Iranian see a benefit from supporting such regimes? Of course not. Rafsanjani’s recommendation to reconcile with Saudi Arabia is a wise decision that will benefit all parties and end the misery of millions of Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Afghans and others. As to why we believe that Iran and not Saudi Arabia, is responsible for this initiative, the reason is obvious; because the fire torch is in the Iranian leadership’s hands and I am confident that Saudi Arabia is ready to be a friendly country and not just a neutral neighbor to Iran. Rafsanjani has once visited the kingdom and spent two weeks as a guest of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. He moved around there without any restrictions and met whomever he wished to meet. Nevertheless, despite this warm relationship, the problem continued because the leadership in Tehran was not really interested in the reconciliation and misused the agreements signed during Rafsanjani’s term. It has even used an airline bureau as an office for its activities. The Iranian leadership can ignore Rafsanjani’s calls and thus, miss out on the opportunity, but a day will come when the people will be fed up with the life of misery and wasting their money on foreign regimes and parties, especially that the only output of these games is to build personal wins for the Iranian leaders. It is the same dream that the Shah had hoped for, but became later on, the dream that costed him his throne.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 3, 2014.


Question: "Why pray? What is the point of prayer
when God knows the future and is already in control of everything. If we cannot change God's mind, why should we pray?"
Answer: For the Christian, praying is like breathing. It is easier to do it than to not do it. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31; 6:4; 13:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray?
Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19). We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God's promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6; Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God's will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.
For situations in which we do not know God's will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray. A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others' lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God's power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer.