May 09/14


Bible Quotation for today/The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor

Luke 4,14-2/Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
In our families we learn to love and to recognise the dignity of all, especially of the elderly.
Pape François
Dans la famille, on apprend à aimer et à reconnaître la dignité de chaque personne, spécialement de celle qui est plus faible.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 09/14

The End of Dialogue and the Start of the Unknown/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/May 09/14
Barak: US could destroy Iran's nuclear program in 'fraction of one night/By: MICHAEL WILNER/J.Post/
May 09/14
Netanyahu tells Rice: Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium. They remained poles apart/DEBKAfile/
May 09/14

Why should U.S. arm the Syrian opposition/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 09/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 09/14

Lebanese Related News

First MERS case detected in Lebanon: Health Ministry

Geagea ready to cede to consensus candidate

Gemayel, Jumblatt hold talks on presidential election

Suleiman Meets Al-Rahi, Geagea Ready to Discuss Pullout in Case of Deal on Another March 14 Candidate

Al-Rahi to Jerusalem End of May: March 8 Refuses to Comment, Alloush Wishes this 'Normalization' Would Not Happen

Salam Says Presidential Vote 'Not Impossible' but Warns of Vacuum's Effects
Gemayel Meets Franjieh, Jumblat, Possible Maronite Summit in Bkirki Next Week
Abou Faour: First MERS Infection Detected in Lebanon

Cabinet to Make Series of Appointments on Friday
SCC Says No Official Exams if Demands Not Met, Urges 'Peaceful Day of Rage'
9 Fugitives, Including Leaders of Armed Fighters in Tripoli, Turn themselves over to Authorities
Fugitive Wanted on 9 Arrest Warrants Arrested in Brital

Machnouk issues requirements for entry of Syrian Palestinian refugees

Legendary television producer Simon Asmar was released on bail

Miscellaneous Reports And News

US prepares for a deal with Iran — and for Israeli backlash
Hamas must recognize Israel, says ex-Arab League chief
Vatican Appeals for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls
U.S., Ukraine Dismiss Change of Tack by Putin

U.S. Steps Up Sanctions against Syrian Regime
UK Says Syria Still Has Chemicals for 'Many Nerve Gas Attacks'
Syria Rebels Poised for Final Retreat from Heart of Homs

Gemayel Meets Franjieh, Jumblat, Possible Maronite Summit in Bkirki Next Week

Naharnet/Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel met with Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh on Thursday as part of his initiative to resolve the presidential crisis amid a report that Maronite leaders would hold talks in Bkirki next week.
The two officials stressed the need to hold the presidential elections before the term of President Michel Suleiman ends on May 25. Gemayel added after the talks at Franjieh's Bnachii residence: “Lebanon's future depends on whether we are successful or not in staging the elections.”“The country will head towards the unknown should vacuum arise in the presidency,” he warned, while questioning how some officials' can make light of a vacancy in the country's top Christian post. For his part, Franjieh stressed the need to elect a strong president, who represents that majority of Christians. He noted however that the deep political divide between the various parties will make it difficult to elect a president before May 25. Later in the evening, Gemayel held talks with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat. The two men met over dinner at the former president's residence in al-Metn neighborhood of Bikfaya. Gemayel has so far met with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, the March 14 alliance's only candidate for the presidency, and his rival Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. The lawmakers of Aoun's Change and Reform bloc and MPs from other March 8 alliance blocs are boycotting the elections over lack of consensus on a candidate. But the lack of quorum they are causing is a message to March 14 that they reject the victory of the camp's candidate. An envoy sent by al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri, who heads March 14, visited Gemayel on Wednesday night. The former president also held talks with Metn MP Michel al-Murr.
An Nahar daily said Gemayel's initiative could lead to summit talks between the top Maronite leaders under Maronite patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki on May 16 or 17.The presidency is reserved for Maronites under the National Pact of 1943. Gemayel announced from Rabieh on Wednesday that he agreed with Aoun on the importance of holding the elections by May 25.

First MERS case detected in Lebanon: Health Ministry
May 08, 2014 /BEIRUT: The first case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was detected in Lebanon, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said Thursday. “For the sake of transparency toward the Lebanese public, and the responsibility and concern for the safety and health of the Lebanese, this afternoon one case of a patient was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and he is being treated at one of the hospitals,” Abu Faour said in a statement. He said that the Health Ministry monitored the safety measures being taken by the hospital and was following up on the treatment of the disease.
“This has led to a significant improvements in the patient’s health and he was allowed to leave the hospital,” Abu Faour said. He added that the Health Ministry was also following up on epidemiological investigations and surveillance to ensure the virus does not spread across Lebanon. Abu Faour called on health institutions and medical and nursing staff to take maximum preventative measures and inform the epidemiological surveillance unit of any suspected cases. The MERS virus, which causes coughing, fever and pneumonia, has killed some 117 people in Saudi Arabia since it was detected in September 2012. Cases have also been reported in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Oman, Tunisia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. Abu Faour stressed that there was no need to panic, and called on Lebanese citizens “to take the usual measures for the prevention of respiratory diseases" noting that the cases recorded in some countries, the source being Gulf countries, did not lead to an epidemic. Earlier, Abu Faour gave an order to activate scanners to detect cases of MERS among travelers arriving at Beirut airport. “All the suspected cases at the hospitals and after conducting the necessary tests show that so far there is no trace of the coronavirus in Lebanon,” Abu Faour told reporters after a tour of Rafik Hariri International Airport.
He said the scanning devices have been installed at the airport. Abu Faour has said that Lebanese hospitals are ready to handle patients who have the virus.

Gemayel, Jumblatt hold talks on presidential election

May 08, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel is currently holding talks with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, part of his initiative to resolve the presidential crisis.
Gemayel and Jumblatt held talks at the former’s residence in the Metn town of Bikfaya Thursday. Political sources had told The Daily Star earlier that Gemayel was seeking to rally Christian support for his presidency bid and replace Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea as the March 14-backed candidate. He also met with Marada leader MP Suleiman Frangieh earlier Thursday. Gemayel, who served as president of Lebanon from 1982-88, began consultations with Christian leaders on the presidential election, meeting so far with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and his rival Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. He also held talks with Metn MP Michel Murr, and will also approach the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition to gauge whether it can be a possible backer for his presidential bid, the sources said.

Machnouk issues requirements for entry of Syrian Palestinian refugees
May 08, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk stressed Thursday that Palestinian refugees from Syria were not barred from entering Lebanon, but that specific requirements for their entry had been issued. “There is no decision preventing Palestinian refugees in Syria from entering Lebanon and passing through the country,” Machnouk said according to a statement by the ministry.
He said some measures were taken last weekend against a number of Syrian citizens and Palestinian refugees from Syria who had tried to travel through Lebanon to unspecified Arab countries, and that “a decision was taken to deport them for committing the crime of possessing fake travel documents.” Some 49 Syrians and Palestinians previously living in Syria were arrested at Beirut airport last Saturday on suspicion of possessing forged documents. About 40 were deported back to Syria the next day, all of whom are believed to be Palestinian, according to Human Rights Watch. It is not know what happened to the other nine or so. As a result of the incident, Machnouk said new requirements had been put in place to better govern the entry process of Palestinian refugees from Syria coming into Lebanon.
Palestianian refugees from Syria must now possess an entry permit approved by the General Directorate of General Security, a residency of one to three years, or a Lebanese exit and return permit. Those who want to travel abroad through Beirut's airport may do so as long as they have the necessary travel documents or permits.
Palestinian refugees from Syria coming through the airport will be given a crossing permit valid for 24 hours, although Lebanese authorities will no longer automatically give permission for them to enter Lebanon, even if they have the right to return to Syria. Further, a new rule states that Palestinians who have bought a nine-month residency, which costs LL300,000, will be given a three-month extension to make it last for a year. Machnouk stressed that these requirements were subject to alteration according to the security situation in Syria, and that any decision to totally close the border to refugees would have to be issued by the Cabinet following deliberations with the involved ministerial committee.

Suleiman Meets Al-Rahi, Geagea Ready to Discuss Pullout in Case of Deal on Another March 14 Candidate
Naharnet/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said on Thursday that he was ready to mull his pullout from the presidential race if a deal was reached to back the candidacy of another March 14 alliance member. “I will discuss the withdrawal of my candidacy from the presidential elections if there was an agreement on another official from March 14,” Geagea said following talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki. He also expressed readiness to discuss any proposal that leads to the election of a “serious president” to avoid vacuum. “My only concern is to have a Republic,” he told reporters, a day after parliament failed in the third week in a row to elect a new head of state. “My candidacy is not a challenge to anyone. My program is clear,” he said after March 8 alliance members criticized the March 14 camp for obstructing the elections process by holding onto Geagea's candidacy. The LF chief criticized a “Christian party” of pushing the country’s top Maronite post towards vacuum. Geagea was referring to the Change Reform bloc of MP Michel Aoun, which has been boycotting the elections along with many lawmakers from the March 8 alliance. Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has repeatedly said that he would only announce his candidacy if there was consensus on him. Geagea hoped that the patriarch would be able to convince the parties that have been causing lack of quorum at parliament to attend the legislative sessions aimed at electing a head of state. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25. The LF leader also criticized the campaign launched against the patriarch over his planned visit to the Palestinian territories later this month. He hoped that the critics would “deal with their own concerns” rather than condemning al-Rahi's trip that is aimed at greeting Pope Francis in the Holy Land. And in the evening, al-Rahi met with President Michel Suleiman at Baabda Palace, and both men discussed the anticipated presidential elections.
The Patriarch has repeatedly said that it was his duty as the head of the Maronite Church to visit Jerusalem, stressing that he was not seeking to normalize ties with the Jewish state.

Al-Rahi to Jerusalem End of May: March 8 Refuses to Comment, Alloush Wishes this 'Normalization' Would Not Happen
Naharnet/On May 24, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi will travel to Jerusalem to welcome Pope Francis during his brief visit to the occupied Palestinian territories. He would be the first patriarch to visit the Holy Land since the creation of Israel in 1948, with which Lebanon is technically at war. The expected visit was met with huge controversy in the country, with some considering it a “historical mistake that opens the door for normalization with Israel” and Church authorities repeatedly assuring that it has a strictly religious character. Al-Rahi declared that it is "his duty" to welcome the pontiff in Jerusalem. "I am the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of regions expanding from Turkey to Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and to Iran,” he stated on Tuesday. "It is my duty to welcome the Pope in any country in these regions,” he explained. Kataeb Party MP Elie Marouni on Thursday praised in a telephone call with Naharnet the patriarch's step, pointing out that the visit is religious “par excellence.”
"Just as he said, al-Rahi is not required to ask for anyone's permission in this respect,” Marouni stated. "He is going to Bethlehem and Jerusalem is our city,” he stressed. Answering a question on what positive outcomes the visit might produce, Marouni acknowledged that it might not be beneficial for Lebanon. “But it will very beneficial for Christians in the occupied territories. It would reaffirm Palestinians' right of return,” the Christian MP explained. “Let them stop with this rhetoric and with trying to outbid (the patriarch),” he said, addressing those demanding al-Rahi to refrain from traveling to the Holy Land.
Meanwhile, al-Mustaqbal bloc will not announce an official stance on the controversial visit, former MP Mustafa Alloush told Naharnet. "This is a matter that concerns the patriarchate and the Vatican,” he said. However, Alloush expressed personal reservation over the visit, considering it normalization with Israel. "I prefer that he does not go to Israel, or that the visit gets postponed until some issues are resolved,” he said.“It is normalization, especially that the Israeli administration put some conditions on the visit,” he elaborated. Alloush assured Naharnet that he is not “bothered or irritated over the matter, to safeguard the patriarchate against any defamation.”
"Neither I nor anyone else are eligible to evaluate al-Rahi's choice. He is more knowledgeable about the decisions he makes,” he said.
Naharnet contacted Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish, a MP in Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc, but he refused to give any comments on the visit. As well, MP Michel Moussa of Speaker Nabih Berri's Liberation and Development bloc said: “I do not want to comment on this and the bloc will not announce an official stance in this regard.” Samah Idriss, who is a member of a campaign that calls for boycotting Israel, had described the patriarch's visit as a “historical mistake” on Saturday. But he assured Naharnet on Thursday evening that no steps have been planned to campaign against the visit. "We already announced our stance, and if any protests are to take place, we will announce them via media outlets and social media platforms,” he said. Asked about his opinion on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' support for al-Rahi's visit, Idriss commented: "We do not recognize Mahmoud Abbas as a the president of the Palestinian people, and we do not recognize (the legitimacy of) the Oslo Accord.” He also called for taking the opinion of “the other part of Palestinians.”
Abbas telephoned al-Rahi on Wednesday evening, expressing that his anticipated visit contributes to “strengthening Muslim-Christian coexistence as well as the Arabic identity” of the occupied Palestinian territories. "This is your city and that of besieged Palestinians. Our hearts and homes are open to welcome you, hoping that we pay the Lebanese back some of their favors in hosting hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, and in supporting the sacrifices of our people,” the Palestinian leader told the Patriarch. Al-Rahi is expected to travel to the Holy Land to welcome the pontiff during his brief May 24-26 visit. Lebanese citizens are banned from entering Israel, but Maronite clergy may to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the estimated 10,000 faithful there. Al-Rahi said on Tuesday that the Lebanese “do not have to accept his visit.”"To those bothered by it, I ask them not to come to Bkirki," he expressed.

Salam Says Presidential Vote 'Not Impossible' but Warns of Vacuum's Effects
Naharnet/Prime Minister Tammam Salam has stressed that the agreement reached among the rival parties ahead of the formation of his cabinet earlier this year is a sign that a deal on the presidential crisis is possible. In remarks to several local dailies published on Thursday, Salam said the deal struck between the March 8 and 14 alliances, which led to the formation of the government, “confirms that an understanding on the presidential elections is not impossible.” The PM said it was not yet too late to elect a new head of state by May 25, after the rival parliamentary blocs again failed for the third week in a row to vote in the polls due to the boycott of the March 8 camp. A new round of elections is set for next Thursday. Salam said that the lawmakers should have good intentions. He also urged them to reach a deal on a personality who receives the backing of the majority of MPs. He stressed that non-agreement on a certain candidate does not mean the elections would not be held. “Let the person who receives the majority's backing win,” Salam told the newspapers. He denied claims that a consensual president would be weak. “Is a president who backs a certain side against the other better?” he asked.
“That's not what Lebanon needs at these difficult circumstances,” Salam stated. Despite his optimism on the ability of MPs to elect a new head of state before the expiry of President Michel Suleiman's six-year term on May 25, Salam expressed fears that non-agreement would have negative repercussions on the rest of the state institutions. “I don't know in such a case for how long the agreement (among cabinet ministers) would stand,” he said. “I sense the seriousness of the situation,” Salam told the dailies about the possibility that his government would take over the authorities of the president in case of a vacuum at Baabda Palace.

Abou Faour: First MERS Infection Detected in Lebanon
Naharnet/Health Minister Wael Abou Faour announced on Thursday afternoon that the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus has been detected in Lebanon. "One person has been diagnosed with MERS, and he was being treated at a hospital in the country,” Future television quoted the minister as saying. But Abou Faour noted that the infected patient “has left the hospital after showing signs of recovery.” Ministry sources told An Nahar daily that the man, who is a Lebanese national, arrived in Lebanon coming from a Gulf country. Earlier in the day, the minister denied that any MERS cases were detected in Lebanon, stressing that all precautions have been taken at the Rafik Hariri International Airport. “We took some measures at the airport. Two thermal cameras were installed to detect individuals with high body temperatures, the first indicator for infections with the MERS virus,” the state-run National News Agency quoted him as saying. “Until the moment, all samples taken at the hospitals have tested negative. No cases of infection with the deadly virus have been recorded in Lebanon so far,” added the Minister in the morning. Abu Faour's comments came after touring the airport accompanied by head of the Public Health parliamentary committee Atef Majdalani where they inspected the measures taken at the airport to halt possible entry of infected individuals to Lebanon. On Wednesday, media reports raised fears that an infected Saudi national was transferred to the Hotel Dieu hospital on suspicion of MERS infection, but were renounced by the hospital afterwards.

Cabinet to Make Series of Appointments on Friday
Naharnet/The cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam is scheduled to make appointments of civil servants in state institutions on Friday as part of its 57-item agenda. Alia Abbas is expected to become the Economy Ministry's new director-general while another female candidate to lead the Justice Ministry's directorate-general is Judge Maysam Nwairi. The government will also appoint Youssef Naous as director-general of the Labor Ministry. Shafiq Merhi is expected to become the director-general of the customs while retired Brig. Gen. Nizar Khalil will likely head the Higher Customs Council.
Sources said Louay Shehade and Gaby Fares will be appointed members in the council. The third member's name is not known yet, the sources added.

SCC Says No Official Exams if Demands Not Met, Urges 'Peaceful Day of Rage'
Naharnet/The Syndicate Coordination Committee warned the authorities on Thursday that official exams will not be held as long as its demands on the pay raise are not met. During a press conference held near the Education Ministry in Beirut, the coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees vowed to obstruct the official exams. The SCC also urged its supporters to participate in a “peaceful day of rage” next Wednesday. The demonstrators will march from the area near the Association of Banks in Lebanon to parliament in Nejmeh Square. The SCC launched a week-long and nationwide strike on Thursday to protest the proposal of a ministerial-parliamentary committee to cut the raise by $700 million. While public schools and most state institutions went on strike, private schools remained open. The SCC stresses that it will only accept a 121 percent wage hike as initially approved by ex-Prime Minister Najib Miqati's government in 2012. The committee reduced the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion). It also proposed raising the Value Added Tax from 10 to 11 percent on certain services, and customs by five percent on some items. The parliament will convene next Wednesday to discuss the recommendations of the committee.

9 Fugitives, Including Leaders of Armed Fighters in Tripoli, Turn themselves over to Authorities

Naharnet/Leaders of armed fighters in the northern city of Tripoli turned themselves over to the military intelligence, the military institution announced in a communique. "Ziad Allouki, Saad al-Masri, Khaled Qawwas and Omar Mheish, who have several arrest warrants against them, have turned themselves in," the Army Command said in a communique. LBCI reported earlier in the day that the four fugitives have handed themselves over to the authorities. It did not provide further details. And in the evening, MTV reported that four other fugitives have turned themselves in to the army intelligence. The four men were identified as Ali Sharkasi, Hassan Srour, Abdullah al-Helweh and Ahmed al-Abboud. On Monday, Allouki's brother, Yehia, was arrested in Tripoli. The Army Intelligence arrested him on multiple counts of “shooting, hurling hand grenades and taking part in acts that undermine security.” Ziad Allouki was the so-called leader of the Souk al-Qameh fighting frontier in Tripoli's Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood. Up until turning himself in, he went into hiding following the army and security forces' implementation of a security plan in the city. In June 2013, the army raided an arms depot belonging to Ziad Allouki, which contained a quantity of explosives, local-made mortars, rifles, ammunition and other military equipment. The security plan has resulted in the arrest of dozens of gunmen and fugitives in Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa region, but several wanted men have managed to escape, while others remain at large.

Fugitive Wanted on 9 Arrest Warrants Arrested in Brital

Naharnet/Security forces arrested at dawn on Thursday a fugitive wanted on several arrest warrants in the Bekaa town of Brital. "The International Anti-Theft Bureau in the Judicial Police arrested at dawn on Thursday a fugitive in Brital after it was able to determine his location,” the Internal Security Forces announced in a released communique. The 31-year-old detainee was identified as Lebanese national D.M., and he is wanted on nine arrest and investigation warrants on charges of “forming a gang, being involved in fighting, kidnapping and car theft operations, thievery, and coercion.” The arrest comes as security forces and army troops have been implementing a security plan in the North and the Bekaa since April 10, to restore stability and end the state of chaos in both regions. The plan, which was adopted by the cabinet, has been successful in arresting dozens of fugitives and in seizing numerous stolen vehicles and illegal weapons.

Syria Rebels Poised for Final Retreat from Heart of Homs
Naharnet/The last rebels were poised to leave the center of the battleground Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, handing a symbolic victory to President Bashar Assad ahead of a controversial election.
Rebels hit back in the historic heart of Aleppo, blowing up a luxury hotel turned army position after tunneling under the front line that divides the main northern city. At least 80 percent of rebel fighters have already left the Old City of Homs under the unprecedented negotiated evacuation that began on Wednesday, provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP. The remaining 300-400 were due to leave on Thursday, Barazi said, although no evacuation buses had emerged by early afternoon. The pullout from the city center after a siege of nearly two years leaves the rebels confined to a single district in the outskirts of a city that what was for long an iconic bastion of the uprising. Barazi said negotiations were well advanced for the rebels to leave that neighborhood too in the coming weeks. "Eighty percent of the rebels have left the city. The remaining 20 percent will leave on Thursday," Barazi told AFP. "On Wednesday, 980 people left, the great majority rebels but some of them civilians, including women and children." He said just 300 to 400 people now remained in the Old City and they too would be bussed out on Thursday to the opposition-held town of Dar al-Kabira, 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Homs.
Barazi was able to visit his former office in the Old City on Thursday for the first time in three years. It is not the first deal between the government and the rebels -- a number of ceasefires have been agreed in the outskirts of Damascus. But it is the first time that rebel fighters have withdrawn from an area they controlled under an accord with the government. The government allowed the remaining rebels in Homs to pull out with some of their weapons in return for the release of dozens of prisoners and hostages held by opposition fighters and the delivery of relief supplies to two pro-government towns in the north which they have besieged. The negotiations were overseen by the ambassador of Syria's close ally Iran. Abu Wissam, one of the last rebel fighters awaiting evacuation from the city center, bemoaned the outside interests now at play in a conflict that had begun as an Arab Spring-inspired protest movement.
"I took part in the protests from very early on. During that time, there were no international agendas controlling the protests. Everyone acted freely and spontaneously," he told AFP via the Internet.
"But now, everyone is moved like pawns in a chess game. The evacuation is a big game that has been in the planning" for many months by regional and international powers, he said.
There have been many sieges imposed by both sides in the three-year-old conflict but that of the Old City of Homs has been by the far longest.
Some 2,200 people were killed as near daily bombardment reduced the area to ruins.
The rebel pullout comes less than a month before a controversial presidential election, described as farce by Western governments and the opposition, that is expected to return Assad to office.
On a visit to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, opposition chief Ahmad Jarba said the vote will give Assad "a license ... to kill his own people for many years to come."
In Aleppo, the rebel attack completely destroyed the Carlton Citadel Hotel, just across the road from the city's UNESCO-listed Citadel, which the army had been using as a frontline position.
At least 14 soldiers and pro-government militiamen were killed in the explosion and its aftermath, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Islamic Front, the largest rebel alliance in Aleppo, said it carried out the attack, which state television said also destroyed neighboring historic buildings. Meanwhile, a deal securing the rebel evacuation of Homs is in exchange for the release of 40 Alawite women and children, an Iranian woman and 30 Syrian soldiers, a rebel spokesman said Thursday. Under the agreement, "30 soldier prisoners and an officer held in Aleppo, as well as an Iranian woman" have been set free, said a spokesman for the Islamic Front, a massive rebel alliance. In addition, "40 Alawite civilians who were being held by the (extremist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and then left behind after they withdrew from Latakia province" earlier this year are being released, the Aleppo-based spokesman added.
A rights activist from Latakia confirmed that all 40 Alawite civilians -- who come from the same offshoot of Shiite Islam as Assad -- are women and children. Fifteen of them were released Wednesday, and the remainder due to be freed Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On Thursday, state television also reported their release, but made no mention of any soldiers or an Iranian woman being freed. The 40 Alawites were among more than 100 who had been kidnapped by jihadist ISIL during August 2013 fighting between it and other rebels against the army.
Their release is in exchange safe passage for hundreds of rebels trapped in the besieged Old City of Homs, who are being evacuated to the north of Homs province.
At least 60 other women and children from Latakia remain unaccounted for. The deal also involves the distribution of aid into Nubol and Zahraa, two Shiite, pro-regime towns in Aleppo province that are under siege by the rebels, said the spokesman. Rebels had initially reported the evacuation of Homs city's rebel bastion would be in exchange for Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese fighters.
The deal is unprecedented because it is the first deal signed between rebels, including the powerful Islamic Front, and the government's security agencies, after negotiations supervised by the ambassador of Damascus ally Iran. Source/Agence France Presse

Legendary television producer Simon Asmar was released on bail
May 08, 2014 /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Legendary television producer Simon Asmar was released on bail Wednesday after spending nearly one year in prison over murder charges, a judicial source told The Daily Star. The 71-year-old Asmar, who was released from the Batroun prison, was arrested in summer 2013 over the killing of a Syrian national. He was initially detained in the Kesrouan town of Ghazir over outstanding debts. But during the probe, police discovered that Asmar had links to Syrian national Mohammad Ragheb Darwish who reportedly worked in his restaurant. Darwish was found shot and stabbed to death on the outskirts of Shahtoul, another town in Kesrouan. Police also investigated witness testimonies alleging that Asmar and Darwish were engaged in a sexual relationship, claims categorically denied at the time by Bachir Asmar, Simon’s son. The Asmars could not be reached by The Daily Star for a comment on Wednesday. A prominent director and producer, Asmar, is best known as the creator of the Middle East’s earliest talent shows Studio al-Fan (Art Studio). Studio al-Fan launched the careers of countless Lebanese pop stars, including Majida al-Roumi, Ragheb Alama, Nawal Zoghby, Wael Kfoury and Assi al-Hellani, among others. Asmar worked at prominent Lebanese television stations. He kicked off his career at the state-run Tele Liban and in 1985 thanks to good ties with late President Bashir Gemayel, he moved to LBCI, Lebanon’s first private sector TV channel. At the time LBCI was owned by Gemayel’s Lebanese Forces. He left LBCI in the early 2000s and joined Murr TV after it re-launched in 2009. Asmar produced several widely popular game shows throughout his career including Bab al-Haz (Gate of Luck), Laylet Haz (A Lucky Night), Ahla bi Hal Tali (You’re welcome).
Asmar’s collaboration with late charismatic TV presenter Riad Sharara has marked the history of Lebanese TV.

U.S., Ukraine Dismiss Change of Tack by Putin
Naharnet/Russian President Vladimir Putin told rebels in Ukraine to halt plans for independence votes and said his troops have pulled back from the border, but his apparent change of heart received short shrift from Kiev and Washington. Putin on Wednesday also hailed a planned May 25 presidential election in Ukraine -- previously condemned by the Kremlin -- as a "move in the right direction".
The surprise comments suggested a potential resolution of the conflict in Ukraine which has snowballed into Europe's worst standoff since the Cold War, as government troops battle to wrest back control of more than a dozen towns seized by the pro-Russia rebels.  Putin's new stance helped power rallies on financial markets in Moscow and New York. The United States and Europe have been preparing sanctions to hammer whole swathes of the Russian economy, which is teetering on recession, if the Ukraine presidential poll is scuppered. But the White House and NATO said there was no sign of a Russian troop withdrawal, and Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Putin of "talking through his hat" about the independence referendums, because they were illegitimate to begin with. Putin ordered an estimated 40,000 troops to Ukraine's border two months ago, but said: "We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds."
Putin told the separatists in Ukraine "to postpone the referendums planned for May 11 in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue". One of the separatist leaders, Denis Pushilin, said shortly after Putin's comments that his proposal would be looked into on Thursday. Putin made his declarations after meeting Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, current chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Russian president's spokesman said afterwards that, if Ukraine now halted its military offensive and started dialogue, "then this can lead Ukraine out of a situation that at this stage is growing only worse". But speaking to reporters on Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said "to date" there has been "no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place".
Washington would "certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal", he added. "That's something that we have sought for quite some time."
Western governments have been increasingly warning of "war" over the worsening violence, and thrown their full weight behind the presidential election called by Kiev's interim leaders as a crucial step to political stability after a pro-Russian president fled. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Kiev after meeting Ukraine's new leaders that Russia had deployed covert fighters and "enormous propaganda" as part of "unacceptable pressure" to block the poll.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that if Moscow prevented the election, he would order stepped-up "sectoral" sanctions. His administration moved Wednesday to cut trade benefits to Russia.
Putin has admitted his forces were active in Crimea ahead of the territory's annexation in March but denied their use in east Ukraine.
"I would like to stress that the presidential election planned in Kiev, while it is a move in the right direction, will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held," he said.
Ethnic Russians who make up a large part of the population in the southeastern half of the ex-Soviet nation of 46 million had expressed fears about losing their language and other rights under a new pro-Western government that is likely to emerge after the vote. Those concerns have fanned the insurgency, which is battling to win back strategic positions lost in recent days to the Ukrainian military.
Officials said 14 troops have been killed, 66 wounded and three helicopter gunships lost in the operation against the rebels, who are estimated to have lost more than 30 fighters.
Clashes and a resulting inferno in the southern port city of Odessa last Friday claimed another 42 lives, most of them pro-Russian activists, pushing the death toll over the past week to nearly 90.
Russia's Interfax news agency said pro-Moscow gunmen were trying to recapture the TV tower in the rebel-held town of Slavyansk from soldiers who overran it at the start of the week.
Ukrainian officials say they are moving cautiously towards the centre of Slavyansk, which has a population of more than 110,000, to avoid civilian casualties. The interior ministry said it had information that the rebels had booby-trapped the buildings they occupied in the town with explosives. Putin's remarks came ahead of commemorations of the Soviet victory over German forces in World War II on Friday, when he will oversee a display of military might in Moscow's Red Square. Russian officials and state television have increasingly portrayed Kiev's actions as akin to Nazi-style fascism, while Ukraine sees a revival of Soviet aggression. Source/Agence France Presse

UK Says Syria Still Has Chemicals for 'Many Nerve Gas Attacks'

Naharnet/Syria still has chemicals to make enough nerve agent to replicate last August's deadly attack outside Damascus "many times over", Britain warned the world's chemical watchdog on Thursday.
Britain's deputy delegate to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is charged with destroying President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons, accused Syria of delaying the destruction of its chemical weapons. Damascus has so far handed over more than 92 percent of its arsenal. "Syria continues to possess approximately 100 metric tonnes of material" at one site, the delegate told a meeting of the OPCW's Executive Council, according to a copy of the briefing seen by Agence France Presse.
"The site contains all the precursors needed to produce nerve agent and sufficient material to replicate, many times over, the incident in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21 last year," the delegate said.
The sarin nerve gas attack in rebel-held Ghouta killed around 1,400 people. Damascus agreed to hand over its chemical arsenal after the U.S. threatened airstrikes against Assad in response.
Under the terms of the U.N.-backed and U.S.-Russia brokered deal, Syria's government has agreed to give up its entire stock of deadly chemicals by April 27, after missing several key deadlines.
Danish and Norwegian ships are to take the chemicals to a U.S. ship for destruction at sea, along with sites in Finland, the U.S. and Britain, by June 30. Britain on Thursday accused Syria of "holding up the next steps of transportation, transhipment, unloading and ultimately destruction." Syria told the OPCW that it has been unable to complete the handover of its chemicals because of ongoing fighting in the war-wracked country. The OPCW last week sent a team to Syria to investigate the recent alleged use of chlorine gas in the conflict. The new probe comes after France and the United States alleged that Assad's forces may have unleashed industrial chemicals on a rebel-held village in central Hama province this month. Syria did not have to declare its stockpile of chlorine -- a weak toxic agent -- as part of the disarmament deal as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.Source/Agence France Presse

U.S. Steps Up Sanctions against Syrian Regime

Naharnet/The United States stepped up pressure Thursday against Syria's government, slapping sanctions on senior Syrian officials, a Russian bank and state-owned oil refineries. The sanctions target six senior officials of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, including his strategic affairs adviser, Brigadier General Bassam al-Hassan, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. Moscow-based Tempbank and Mikhail Gagloev, a senior executive of the bank, were targeted for providing millions of dollars in cash and financial services to the Syrian government, including the central bank and SYTROL, Syria's state oil marketing firm. The Banias Refinery Company and the Homs Refinery Company were identified for sanctions as part of the Syrian government. "Today's designation builds on Treasury's ongoing efforts to apply economic pressure on the Syrian government by choking off access to the international financial system," said David Cohen, Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in the statement. "We are committed to deterring those who contribute to violence and instability in Syria, and will continue to aggressively target individuals and entities supporting the Assad regime." The sanctions forbid U.S. citizens or businesses from transactions with them and freezes any assets they may have in a U.S. jurisdiction. The United States now has imposed sanctions on nearly 200 individuals and entities since unrest began in Syria three years ago as rebels attempted to oust the Assad regime. Source/Agence France Presse

Vatican Appeals for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls
Naharnet/The Vatican on Thursday appealed for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, voicing its "compassion" and "horror for the physical and spiritual suffering". Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi condemned the "terrorists" and said it was "the latest of the horrible acts of violence that have characterized the activity of this group in Nigeria for a long time". "The total lack of respect for life and for human dignity, including for the most innocent, vulnerable and defenseless people demands an extremely firm condemnation," Lombardi said on Vatican radio. "This evokes compassion filled with sadness for the victims, horror for the spiritual and physical suffering and for the incredible humiliations that they are being subjected to," Lombardi said.
World powers, including the United States and China, have joined in the search for the kidnapped girls and Nigerian police have offered $300,000 (215,000 euros) for information leading to their rescue.
Boko Haram militants have killed thousands of people in the country's northeast in a five-year insurgency across Africa's most populous country and top economy.
Source/Agence France Presse

Hamas must recognize Israel, says ex-Arab League chief

AFP/05.08.14/ Ynetnews
Hamas must recognize the existence of Israel if the Palestinians are to move forward with their hopes of establishing their own state, former Arab League chief and Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa said Wednesday. “It is normal for the Palestinians to reconcile,” Moussa said of a recent unity deal struck between the Hamas militants who run the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
However, “I believe that Hamas should declare its acceptance of the Arab initiative of 2002, which is the map of normalization and recognition of the State of Israel, together with the establishing of the Palestinian state and the withdrawal of the occupied territory,” he insisted. “If Hamas does do this, it would be a major step in the direction of formulating a favorable all-Palestinian policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” Hamas and the Western-backed PLO, which is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah party, signed a surprise reconciliation agreement on April 23 in a bid to end years of bitter and sometime bloody rivalry. Under terms of the deal, the two sides would work together to form an “independent government” of technocrats, to be headed by Abbas, that would pave the way for long-delayed elections. The move angered Israel, which said it cannot be expected to negotiate with a government that includes members of a party sworn to its destruction.
Egypt, which was once close to Hamas, has outlawed the Islamist militant movement after the Egyptian army ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas stems. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was launched by Saudi Arabia and backed by the Arab League. Under the plan, Arab states would forge full diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from land it occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War or mutually-agreed upon land swaps. Moussa, who was Egypt’s top diplomat from 1991 to 2001 before becoming secretary general of the Arab League until 2011, is close to former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is tipped to win next month’s elections in Egypt. Abbas held “positive” talks with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Doha Monday in the first meeting since their surprise unity deal last month, Palestinian officials said. However, the deputy leader of Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzuq, insisted earlier this week that despite the unity deal his group would never recognize Israel. “We will not recognize the Zionist entity,” he told a press conference in Gaza City.

US prepares for a deal with Iran — and for Israeli backlash

By MICHAEL WILNER/05/07/2014/J.Post
Netanyahu fears Iran will be left with more of a nuclear capability than the world will want to admit, at the whims and under the watch of a UN agency he doesn't trust, no longer under sanctions designed to cripple the program.
WASHINGTON – American and Israeli officials have been off script all year on a wide range of issues, caught in public disputes over the wisdom of peace talks with the Palestinians, the fate of Syria and even support for a besieged Ukraine. But perhaps none is more pressing – no single slight or quip against the other more consequential – than recent alarm bells from Jerusalem over the prospect of a nuclear deal between Iran and the rest of the world. To the surprise of many, negotiations under way in Vienna are on pace: diplomats will begin drafting the final agreement next week, and all sides publicly express optimism that a deal can be forged by the self-imposed deadline of July 20. According to US officials, President Barack Obama will not tolerate a nuclear agreement that falls short of practical incapacitation; the White House is prepared to accept continued nuclear work in Iran, so long as the Iranians are not technically able to produce a nuclear weapon.
That standard requires constant checks on multiple fronts: research and development would have to be invasively monitored, centrifuges would have to be dismantled, and remaining enrichment sites would require constant oversight. And the international community would have to rely on the International Atomic Energy Agency to police the deal on a daily basis, possibly for decades. Israel’s fears are in these details. Iran’s retention of active research teams will be hard to police; they have finely honed the efficiency of their centrifuges, enabling the Islamic Republic to break out from low levels of uranium enrichment at a quicker pace. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fears Iran will be left with more of a nuclear capability than the world will want to admit, at the whim and under the watch of a United Nations agency he does not trust, no longer under the yoke of sanctions designed to cripple the program. The world seems to agree that if Iran is a rational actor, uninterested in the use of nuclear weapons, its mere acquisition would embolden the Islamic Republic to expand and facilitate its terrorist network. But that might happen anyway, Netanyahu fears, should a deal be reached; when sanctions are lifted, Iran will be open for business. The White House says that sanctions will remain on Iran even after a deal is enforced. The Treasury Department, in fact, categorizes sanctions as they are related to terrorism, human rights and nuclear proliferation. That is why, in the interim agreement reached in Geneva last fall temporarily freezing the crisis, “nuclear-related sanctions” were specifically demarcated.
Even still, the most fundamental concern is that of breakout time: that a comprehensive nuclear deal would merely lengthen Iran’s ability to enrich enough high-grade uranium for a nuclear warhead by a period of months. Netanyahu’s closest allies are beginning to express these concerns publicly. Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who has remained generally quiet since assuming the post last summer, made several remarks over the past two weeks warning against a “bad deal,” and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee released a memo on Tuesday warning of such a path.
“I don’t think that we did everything that we’ve done to only get a six- or a 12-months lead time,” AIPAC quoted Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as saying last month. “Because a deal that would ultimately unravel the entire sanctions regime for a six- to 12-month lead time is not far from where we are today.”
Upon their visit to Jerusalem this week, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Obama’s chief negotiator in the talks with Iran, will be tasked with convincing Netanyahu that the arrangement under construction in Vienna is practically enforceable – not just on July 20, but for years to come.

Barak: US could destroy Iran's nuclear program in 'fraction of one night'
By MICHAEL WILNER/05/08/2014/J.Post
Former PM says America "is perceived to have been weakened" over the last several years, but could still destroy Iran's nuclear arsenal in operation he said would be easier than planned campaign against Syrian chemical weapons
WASHINGTON -- An American military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities would take a "fraction of one night," should US President Barack Obama choose to order one, former prime minister Ehud Barak said in Washington on Thursday. Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Barak said that such an attack would be easier for the United States than a planned campaign against Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons infrastructure last year."Its a simpler operation to get rid of the [Iranian] arsenal," Barak said. Nevertheless, Barak issued a harsh condemnation of the White House, charging that Obama had changed the goal posts on what he would find acceptable from Tehran. "The American administration changed its objective from no nuclear military Iran to no nuclear military Iran during the term of this administration," Barak said, adding that the US "is perceived to have been weakened" over the last several years. Barak endorsed peace talks between Iran, the US and other world powers under way in Vienna, while expressing skepticism that Iran has a genuine interest in a good deal. Iran benefits, he said, from a continuation of a half-step deal, as was achieved in Geneva over the fall. Barak spoke in conversation with Dennis Ross, a former diplomat under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations now with the Washington Institute. In the wide-ranging discussion, Barak said that international crisis management had become a "gestalt, where everything depends on everything else."Conflict with China over the Senkaku Islands complicates participation on Iran, he said. "When the attention is drawn to Donetsk," he added, "there is no room for real cooperation on Syria." Barak conceded the difficulty facing the US on Syria, while commenting that Assad had "saved himself" by using chemical weapons on his own people.

Netanyahu tells Rice: Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium. They remained poles apart.

DEBKAfile Special Report May 8, 2014/The deep divide between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear issue resurfaced during this week’s two-day (May 7-8) Jerusalem talks held by the visiting US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who was joined by Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and head of the US delegation to the nuclear talks. Rice reiterated President Barack Obama’s contention that Iran and the P5+1 countries must reach a deal by the year’s end, before internal political conditions in Iran alter the landscape. The US urges Israel to recognize that Iran is already irreversibly a nuclear threshold state, and so it should be permitted to maintain a civilian nuclear program. This includes uranium enrichment and the construction of new nuclear reactors, with the proviso that Tehran commits not to turn its capabilities to military uses. The Obama administration is prepared to pledge that every intelligence-gathering method at its disposal will be used to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that the threshold is not crossed. It promises Israel, as Rice repeated in her Wednesday conversation with Netanyahu, that Obama will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. But DEBKAfile’s sources in Jerusalem report that Netanyahu rejected the American position, arguing that Israel cannot leave its security in the hands of intelligence agencies whose forecasts and evaluations of the past years have often proved inaccurate. Directly after Netanyahu and Rice met on Wednesday, a senior Israeli official said Israel continues to insist that Iran should not have the right to enrich uranium. The official, who spoke with unusual frankness, said that the Obama administration’s eagerness to seal the deal has more do with US domestic political concerns than Tehran. “We would be happy to see July 20 pass without a deal,” the official said, referencing the target date set for a comprehensive agreement. He added that there was worry in Israel that Obama might be tempted to accommodate Iran now, in order to head off potential gains by Republicans in the November mid-term elections.
The Israeli official was emphatic about his bottom line: “Are we going to agree to [let Iran go ahead with] enrichment? No!” On Thursday, May 8, Netanyahu echoed this outlook, saying: “Iran must not have centrifuges or enriched uranium.” Rice proposed a limit on the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to operate, as well as a cap on the amount of uranium it can enrich.
Our sources say Netanyahu flatly rejected Rice’s argument that the quantity and sophistication of the centrifuges are not of he highest importance, compared with the real question of how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under close international scrutiny. “The best defense against a nuclear Iran is to keep a nuclear weapon out of its hands. Tehran needs centrifuges and enriched uranium for the single purpose of building a nuclear weapon. Tehran must be deprived of this capability,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
According to DEBKAfile’s sources in Washington, ahead of the Rice visit to Israel, administration officials conferred with several former Israeli security figures who are regularly consulted by Netanyahu on the nuclear issue. They were asked for an opinion on whether the prime minister would buy a compromise that permitted Iran to keep several thousand centrifuges and enrich a specified amount of uranium up to a low five percent grade. Those advisers came back to Netanyahu with the impression that Obama was fixated on a fast deal regardless of Israel’s opposition. They also warned him that his rejection of the US compromise proposal would bring down on Israel’s head a propaganda campaign in both the local and international media that would impugn his credibility on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Jerusalem regards the Newsweek charge of Israeli spies crossing the red line in America as the opening shot of this campaign. Officials in Jerusalem are also rubbishing a report on the subject that the Yediot Aharonot Hebrew tabloid is running Friday, May 9. It quotes Uzi Ilam, a long-retired former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Committee, as arguing that Netanyahu is using the pressing Iran nuclear issue for political gain, when in fact, he says, Iran won’t be able to make a nuclear bomb for 10 years. Knowledgeable officials say his information is years out of date. Almost all leading US, European and Israeli nuclear experts agree that Iran has reached the point of being able to manufacture a nuclear bomb in two or three or months.

The End of Dialogue and the Start of the Unknown
By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Thursday, 8 May, 2014/Asharq Al Awsat
The last session of Lebanon’s national dialogue under the guidance of President Michel Suleiman came to a close on Monday. As was expected, the March 8 alliance boycotted the session, objecting to the outgoing president’s decision that Lebanon truly is a “state” and that he was entrusted with its welfare by the constitution. But this March 8 alliance wants to see Lebanon as a failed state under Tehran’s thumb. Incidentally, a relative of mine just returned from Lebanon. When I asked him about his impressions of the political situation there, he responded that politics is the last thing the Lebanese people care about these days and that political talk shows are among the least viewed and trusted programs on television. In fact, I have also heard similar remarks from a friend who arrived at a similar conclusion after living in Lebanon for a few months. My explanation of this phenomenon—and I hope I am correct in my assessment—is based on many pieces of evidence. First, the ordinary people’s trust in the political elite has collapsed. This does not necessarily mean that the Lebanese people have overcome their factional fanaticism, and neither does it mean that they have broken free of the incitement practiced by religious leaders who—forgetting their duties towards God—engage in the most sordid aspects of politics. In fact, anyone who had seriously examined the post-Taif Agreement political scene in Lebanon would surely have lost all confidence in the majority of politicians who have been dishonest about the lofty but false ideals of patriotism, nationalism, struggle and resistance.
Second, there is a general state of despair and frustration entrenched in large parts of the Mashreq as a natural consequence of the lack of real development, citizenship standards and good governance in the shadow of backward dictatorial regimes. What is most dangerous about these dictatorships is that they have been long emboldened by the use of sectarianism as a weapon without taking into consideration the ensuing potential sectarian reactions. Most dangerous of all, in certain cases Arab dictatorships have deliberately provoked extremist exclusionary reactions in a bid to justify their crimes. The three-year tragedy in Syria is a glaring example of a cunning extremist ideology polishing its image by deliberately inciting an ignorant counter-extremist ideology.
Third, the political reality in the region has acquired a veneer of defeatism and impotence in the face of clear plots being hatched in the region with the collusion of the international community. Whether we like or not, there have been three competing—but not necessarily contradictory—projects in the Mashreq spearheaded by Israel, Iran and Turkey.
The Israeli project is the most well known, and has been in existence since 1948. This project is based on destroying the Palestinian cause once and for all, ending all possibility of progress and transformation among Israel’s neighbors, blocking their transformation into civil and democratic societies and disrupting any chances for true peace based on justice and coexistence. Whether out of a deliberate and shrewd plan or merely due to arrogance or foolishness, Israel’s hardline policies over the past two decades have managed to bestow undeserved credibility to the Hamas movement in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Even today, Tel Aviv is pretty much ensuring Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in “occupied” Syria gets glowing praise from immature liberals, chauvinist pan-Arabist politicians and dogmatic Left-wingers across the Arab world. The Iranian project has also been exposed recently, after Tehran imposed its hegemony on the resources of three failed Arab states—Iraq, Lebanon and Syria—while aspiring to secure more. US President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East have not only helped to expose this project, but also to uncover Washington’s desire to coexist with Iran, requiring it to accommodate Tehran’s regional ambitions.
At this point, it must be said that George W. Bush’s White House also served the interests of this project in Iraq, if not anywhere else, by supporting the latter country’s sectarian opposition. The intersection of interests between Iran’s project, wearing the guise of political Shi’a Islam, and the Israeli–Western idea of the alliance of minorities was the driving force behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent toppling of Saddam Hussein. Against the background of Washington’s farcical verbal support for the Syrian revolution, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Yahya Rahim Safavi, recently announced that Iran’s western “defensive line” extends to the Mediterranean, encompassing all of Lebanon. His statement is clear enough, and so is his message: namely, that Iran today is occupying both Lebanon and Syria, and as a result shares a border with Israel. Thus, Tehran’s message to both Washington and Tel Aviv is that it is qualified to be treated as a partner and neighbor, and perhaps even as an ally in the face of the “takfirists.”Finally, as for the Turkish project, it is—according to its critics—attempting to resurrect Ankara’s hegemony over the region by relying on the the former legitimacy of the Ottoman Caliphate and a professed desire to “protect” Sunni communities. However, the weakness of this project lies in Turkey’s lack of patience and its inability to practice dissimulation.
Paradoxically, the Shi’ite regime in Iran was the regional player that benefitted most from the Muslim Brotherhood’s short spell in power in Egypt, strengthening its position in Syria and exploiting Islamist organizations in Palestine. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan awkwardly missed the opportunity to emerge as the “savior of the Sunnis” that followed the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in Egypt—the first real test of his leadership qualities in the region. Unless Turkey’s understanding of the nature of its role and what it can and is allowed to do in the Arab world matures, Ankara will find itself out of the game in the Mashreq.
In fact, the growth of “jihadism” and “takfirism” has been linked to Syria’s porous borders. Assad’s regime has laid responsibility on Lebanon and Turkey for facilitating the access of “takfirists” into the war-torn country. On the other hand, Tehran, his regime’s main backer, downplayed the “war of words” with Sunni Turkey, but wisely raised the stakes by taking action on the ground. As a result, Lebanese and Iraqi factions affiliated to Iran have been tasked with controlling the Syrian–Lebanese border, leaving its borders with Turkey to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other like-minded groups.
So what will happen now? Assad is running for a third term in office, and there is no doubt he will win his presidential bid amid the death and destruction in what remains of Syria.
In Iraq, where sectarian hegemony prevails, Nuri Al-Maliki is also seeking another term in office and he will no doubt secure it, unless something unexpected transpires.
This week, Lebanon will continue its search for a successor to outgoing President Michel Suleiman. In the background lingers one important question: Will the intersecting interests of Iran, Israel and the US bring a Lebanese version of Assad or Maliki—such as Michel Aoun, for example—to Baabda Palace?

Why should U.S. arm the Syrian opposition?

Thursday, 8 May 2014
By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
In his book "Duty," former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates narrates the controversy that preceded Israel's shelling of a nuclear reactor after the 2007 discovery that the Syrian regime had been secretly building it in cooperation with Iran and North Korea. Gates writes that there was disagreement among American administration officials on how to deal with this dangerous development. Gates' opinion was to resort to a diplomatic solution and pressure Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to have him halt the project and get rid of his nuclear program.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others disagreed with Gates as they thought there must be a military solution by destroying the reactor.
The moral of this story is that extreme caution when dealing with real imminent danger may not be the best of options. If Bush had listened to Gates' suggestion and prevented the destruction of Assad's reactor, the Syrians would be in a bigger dilemma today and the entire region would be hostage to the Syrian regime.
Ehud Olmret, the Israeli prime minister at the time, warned them that he would not sit idly by. Gates says that he favored a diplomatic solution because he feared Arab backlash, a worsening of the Iraq war and the potential of war to be sparked between Syria and Israel.
He also suggested that then President George Bush warned Israel against shelling the Syrian reactor! To make the long story short, the Israelis shelled the nuclear reactor and Assad didn't do anything. All Assad did was transfer the building's rubble at night and hide it.
No place for caution in Syria
The moral of this story is that extreme caution when dealing with real imminent danger may not be the best of options. If Bush had listened to Gates' suggestion and prevented the destruction of Assad's reactor, the Syrians would be in a bigger dilemma today and the entire region would be hostage to the Syrian regime.
The long history of caution and leniency with Iran has eventually led the U.S. to bow before Khamenei's regime by presenting it with gifts and making concessions just to convince it to negotiate.
The turtle-pace diplomacy with Iran and Syria has made things reach this complicated and dangerous phase. The dangerous negligence regarding al-Qaeda's expansion in numbers, recruitment and armament in Syria has increased threats in the region and perhaps in the world as well.
Al-Qaeda has currently become ten times stronger than it was previously. Mostly because it has adopted diplomatic actions such as sending flour, medicine, night light projectors and other toys to the Free Syrian Army. As a matter of fact, this is the biggest mistake the American government committed since the September 11, 2001 twin attacks.
Engagement through supporting opposition
In order to fight al-Qaeda in Syria, there is one practical solution that makes as much sense as direct engagement. American should strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition and build an international alliance that supports the Syrians against the Assad regime and al-Qaeda forces. The Americans, or others, are not requested to send troops. It's enough to support the Syrians on ground and enable them to fight the regime and al-Qaeda together so the regime feels it's losing the war. It's in this case that the regime will negotiate its exit. Slow progress has allowed an al-Qaeda tumor to grow and the final result will be worse than all what we've seen so far. Syria continues to drown in war, massacres have increased, and countries neighboring Syria continue to suffer due to millions of refugees crossing their borders. The Syrians have paid the price of reluctance and the world will later pay the price too.
*This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 8, 2014.