May 10/14


Bible Quotation for today/‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

John 6,60-71/When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Holiness means giving ourselves in sacrifice every day. And so married life is a tremendous path to sanctity!
Pape François
La sainteté demande le don de soi avec un sacrifice chaque jour ; pour cela, le mariage est une voie magistrale pour devenir saints.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 10/14

D.C.'s Strategic Mistake in Iraq: Abandoning Iran's Opposition/By Walid Phares/May 10/14

How to Read Russia under Putin/ By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat/May 10/14

The U.S. faces tough choices in the future/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/May 10/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 10/14

Lebanese Related News

Lebanon Faces Water Crisis after Record Winter Drought
Report: Riyadh, Hizbullah Exchange Messages on Presidential Elections
Report: Asiri's Visit Not to Mediate on Presidential Elections, Pakistan Next Destination
Lebanon All but Bars Palestinians Fleeing Syria
Israeli Unit Fails to Abduct Four Shepherds in South, Seizes their Cattle
Suleiman Reportedly Urges Rahi Not to Visit Jerusalem, Patriarch 'Doesn't Mind' Christian Pilgrimage
Army Says Number of Surrendered Tripoli Militants Rose to 11

Financial Dispute Leaves One Dead in Hay al-Sellom
Old Rent Law Tenants to Continue Contacts with Officials to Halt Adoption of New Law
Berri Refutes Claims Parliament Can't Legislate in Case of Vacuum

Security forces deploy ahead of Georges Abdallah protest
Harb calls for committee over IMEI registration
Pro-Hezbollah sheikh defends Rai's trip to Jerusalem

Minister asks Druze to leave Christian homes

Geagea offers to quit presidential race

Fatah al-Islam official shot in Ain al-Hilweh

Civil servants, teachers call weeklong strike

FIBA welcomes Lebanon back to Asian fold

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Spate of Hate Attacks as Israel Ups Security for Pope

Syria Army Enters Homs, Last Rebels Pull Out as U.S. Refuses to Arm Opposition

U.N. Says Syria Medical Convoy Seizures an 'Abomination'

Saudis Call for Arab League Syria Talks to be Put Off

Putin Inspects Naval Ships in Sevastopol, Says Crimea's Return to Russia Confirms 'Historic Truth'

Canada Condemns Latest Boko Haram Attack in Nigeria
Borders, Security 'Essential' to Any Mideast Peace Deal, Says Kerry


Lebanon Faces Water Crisis after Record Winter Drought
Naharnet/Lebanon is bracing for a summer drought, after a record dry winter exacerbated by a massive influx of Syrian refugees and longstanding water management problems. In Ammiq, in the east of the country, the effects of the dry winter are already visible. Farmer Khaled al-Kaabi has begun watering his fields a month earlier than usual because the rains that ordinarily feed his lands never came.
"Usually we do this at the end of May, but this year the lack of rain has forced us to do it now," he said as he irrigating rows of wheat for animal feed.
Lebanon's meteorological service says the country has had just 431 mm (17 inches) of precipitation since September, less than half last year's 905.8 mm and far below the yearly average of 812 mm.
The country hasn't seen such low levels since 1932, when just 335 mm was recorded, according to Hadi Jaafar, assistant professor of irrigation engineering and water management at the American University in Beirut. But the increase in the country's population since then makes this year's drought far more serious, he said. "This year, and although we received a little bit above 400 mm, it is far worse," he said. "Back then, the population was less than half of today's, and so were the agricultural areas," he added.
"Relatively speaking, it is the driest year on record for the inhabitants in this country." Ordinarily, Lebanese farmers irrigate their fields by digging channels that divert water from local rivers or wells that fill with rainwater. But the rain and snow that usually feed the rivers and wells never arrived.
"This year, we will have to pump up water from below ground, but if this drought continues next year, there'll only be five percent of that groundwater left," Kaabi said. Lebanon has the highest proportion of arable land to residents in the Arab world, but just 12 percent of the land is cultivated, and agriculture contributes only 11.7 percent to GDP, behind services and industry.
Still, farmers can ill afford to leave their lands unwatered, despite warnings from Jaafar and others about tapping the country's groundwater reserves. "The water demand for Lebanon is projected at about 1.8 billion cubic meters per year," he said. "Most of this water needs to come from groundwater pumping this year... Renewable groundwater resources will all be depleted and we will be tapping from our strategic reserves." Lebanon's parliamentary committee for public works and energy called in April for the creation of a crisis group to deal with the expected summer shortages.
Fadi Comair, director general of hydraulic and electric resources at the energy ministry, described a "truly dramatic situation," exacerbated by waste and an influx of Syrian refugees. He said Lebanon could ordinarily expect to have water resources of around 2.7 billion cubic meters in a given year. Those resources would be sufficient to meet projected annual needs at least until 2020.
"But the influx of Syrian refugees means this balance will tip into the negative by the end of this year," he said. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR warned in February that the presence of more than a million Syrian refugees alongside four million Lebanese would seriously deplete the country's renewable water resources.
Comair says that scenario was only made worse by a winter so dry and unseasonably warm that the country's ski resorts were able to open for just two days. But even under the best of circumstances, Lebanon fails to manage the water resources it has, according to Comair. The country has just two dams and some 70 percent of the water that flows through its 16 rivers ends up in the Mediterranean.
Comair says 48 percent of the water that is collected is then lost because of poor infrastructure and leakage. Things are expected to get worse, but farmers are already complaining about crop losses, and in Beirut, residents with the means to do so have been forced to buy water from private suppliers to supplement the flow from the state. The energy and water ministry has publicly called for citizens to reduce their usage, urging them to avoid washing cars and even to "minimize personal water usage, including showers." In March, a group of activists and businessmen launched Blue Gold, an initiative to limit water loss and better manage Lebanon's resources. Its proposals include better storage facilities and monitoring, wastewater treatment and more water efficient households and crops.
But corruption, bureaucracy and the country's perennial political paralysis make the prospects for such changes uncertain. Comair describes a plan from 2000 to build 27 dams and artificial lakes that has languished unimplemented. "We haven't been able to carry out more than one percent of those objectives because there is no political will," he said.
Source/Agence France Presse

Report: Riyadh, Hizbullah Exchange Messages on Presidential Elections

Naharnet /Hizbullah has informed Saudi Arabia that its candidate for the presidency is Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Friday. The daily said that Riyadh has sent several messages to the party asking it whether it wanted the elections to be held anytime soon or whether it preferred vacuum. It also asked Hizbullah about the name of a consensus candidate whom it sees as most suitable to reach Baabda Palace, al-Akhbar said. The party replied to the messages that it was keen that the elections take place “as soon as possible” and that its candidate is Aoun, it added. According to the report, Hizbullah stressed that Aoun is capable of being a consensus candidate. It also asked the envoys who delivered the messages whether Riyadh was preparing to carry out an initiative to resolve the deadlock. But the Saudi officials denied making such a move.

Report: Asiri's Visit Not to Mediate on Presidential Elections, Pakistan Next Destination
Naharnet /The primary objective for the visit of Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri to Beirut last week is a farewell to Lebanese officials away from any mediations on the presidential elections and to pave the way for the appointment of his successor, official sources told al-Akhbar daily on Friday. Last week, Asiri arrived in Lebanon with his family where he stressed that “Saudi Arabia did not and will not meddle in Lebanese affairs,” in reference to the stalled presidential elections. Lawmakers on Wednesday failed to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the third parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. Asiri told several officials that an order was issued transferring him to Pakistan where he will be an ambassador with broad powers to represent King of Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the sources told the daily on condition of anonymity. Sources close to Asiri said his mission in Islamabad will focus on holding mediation between the different forces in Pakistan. Others said his new post is closely linked to the Syrian crisis specifically in training Syrian fighters in Pakistan and recruiting foreign rebels to be sent later to Syria, al-Akhbar said. It also added that Asiri's new mission would be to restore his country's role in the eighties of the last century when it recruited Salafists around the world and equipped them to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet army.

Pro-Hezbollah sheikh defends Rai's trip to Jerusalem

May 09, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: A pro-Hezbollah Sunni sheikh Friday defended Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s upcoming visit to occupied Jerusalem, saying the head of the Maronite Church did not aim at normalizing ties with Israel. “Rai’s visit to Jerusalem with Pope Francis will never be seen as an attempt to normalize [ties with Israel] based on our knowledge of the priest, the bishop and now the patriarch,” Sheikh Maher Hammoud, who is close to Hezbollah, said Friday. Hezbollah has so far remained tight-lipped on Rai’s planned visit to the Holy Land.
Delivering Friday’s sermon at Al-Quds Mosque in Sidon, the preacher added that Rai’s personality and culture indicated that he would "never have the intention of normalizing ties" with the Jewish state.
Hammoud said that the Vatican had always supported the causes of Arabs. “The Vatican stood against the U.S. strike [which was expected to happen last year] on Syria and supported the rights of Arabs with regards to Palestine,” Hammoud said. Rai said he would head to Jerusalem to welcome Pope Francis in the Holy Land later this month, in a first visit by a Maronite patriarch to Israel since it was founded in 1948. Many in Lebanon have criticized Rai’s trip, arguing that such a move meant the patriarch sought to establish ties with Israel, which remains in a state of war with Lebanon. But Rai has defended his trip, saying it was pastoral rather than political and aimed at encouraging Palestinian Christians to remain in their land. Hammoud said his stance on Rai’s visit was consistent with earlier remarks the sheikh had made on similar trips. “We did not consider the visit of Egypt’s former Mufti Ali Joumaa to Jerusalem [in 2012] normalization as considered by many,” Hammoud said.

Suleiman Reportedly Urges Rahi Not to Visit Jerusalem, Patriarch 'Doesn't Mind' Christian Pilgrimage

Naharnet/President Michel Suleiman has told Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi that it was preferable for him not to visit the Holy Land later this month over local controversy on the planned trip, As Safir daily reported on Friday. The newspaper said that Suleiman preferred during the talks held on Thursday at Baabda Palace that “such a visit not take place amid the division over it.”
The president also “expressed readiness to provide the political cover to any stance made by the Maronite patriarchate to go back on the decision to hold the controversial visit,” it said.
But al-Rahi reportedly defended his decision to accompany Pope Francis to Jerusalem and hinted that he would not change his mind. According to the report, he also said he did not mind for Lebanese pilgrims to visit the Holy Land in the future. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Thursday al-Rahi was not part of the official delegation heading to the Holy Land and was going on his own initiative.
Al-Rahi would be the first patriarch to enter Israel since the Jewish state was created in 1948. Reports said Friday that the patriarch also told Suleiman that it was unacceptable not to have a president at Baabda Palace after the end of his tenure on May 25. Al-Rahi also met on Thursday with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea in Bkirki. Informed officials told An Nahar newspaper that the patriarch expressed frustration at the lawmakers who are boycotting the parliamentary sessions on the election of a president. “They are pushing the country towards vacuum,” the officials, who were not identified, quoted him as saying. The lawmakers that al-Rahi was allegedly referring to are members of the March 8 alliance, including MPs from Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc. Geagea is the March 14 alliance's only candidate. But March 8, which has not officially backed any candidate, has been boycotting the parliamentary sessions on the election of a president.

Berri Refutes Claims Parliament Can't Legislate in Case of Vacuum
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri has stressed that the authorities exercised by the parliament are legislative and are not linked to the sessions on the election of a president. In remarks to several local dailies published on Friday, Berri said he can call for parliamentary sessions to approve draft-laws and for sessions to elect a new head of state. His comment was aimed at refuting claims that parliament cannot legislate if there was a vacuum after March 25, when President Michel Suleiman's six-year term expires. Berri accused some parties of paralyzing the role of the parliament and reviving the scenario that the legislature witnessed after the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Miqati in March 2013 when the March 14 alliance's lawmakers boycotted the sessions. “But I continued to carry out my role,” the speaker said. The parliament is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the public sector pay hike draft-law that was amended by a ministerial-legislative committee. On Thursday, lawmakers are invited to a new round of presidential elections. They have been unable to elect a head of state over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. March 14 is holding onto Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, its only candidate for the country's top Christian post, while March 8 is asking for a consensual candidate.

Army Says Number of Surrendered Tripoli Militants Rose to 11
Naharnet/The army said on Friday that the number of fugitives linked to the deadly gunbattles in the northern city of Tripoli, who have handed themselves over to the military, has risen to 11.
An army communique released on Friday identified seven of the suspects as Abdullah Abdul Qader Mansour, Abdullah Mohammed al-Hilweh, Hassan Mohammed Srour, Ali Ali Jarkas, Ahmed Khaled al-Abboud, Khaled Fadi Shalabi and Syrian Khaled Mahmoud Mustafa. The other four were identified in a communique released on Thursday as Ziad Allouki, Saad al-Masri, Khaled Qawwas and Omar Mheish. In Friday's statement, the army said it arrested Mustafa Ramadan Mustafa and Syrians Hilal Ali al-Sheikh and Ali Riyad Maarouf during raids it carried out in Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen neighborhood.
Arrest warrants have been issued against them for taking part in the various rounds of fighting in Tripoli, the military said. It added that it arrested Taleb Mohammed Mashlab Matar and his brother Bilal during a raid it carried out at dawn Friday in Beirut's Jnah neighborhood. The two are wanted for their suspected involvement in shootings.

Lebanon All but Bars Palestinians Fleeing Syria
Naharnet/s on the entry of Palestinians fleeing Syria, making it almost impossible for them to take refuge in the small Mediterranean country. New measures mean Palestinians fleeing Syria will not be given visas at the border, while those who are already in the country will not have their visas renewed. In a statement posted on his Facebook page Thursday, Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq said no visas will be issued at the main Masnaa border crossing. Palestinians living in Syria who wish to enter Lebanon must first request a visa at the Lebanese embassy in Damascus. The request will be processed by the Lebanese General Security agency. Only those with a residence permit in Lebanon will be admitted, the minister said. Mashnouq also announced that the two-week visas previously granted to Palestinians fleeing Syria would no longer be renewable. Mashnouq said Palestinians from Syria have the right to a 24-hour transit visa, allowing people to travel to or from Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, if they have a valid ticket and visa or residence permit in another country. Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, but had generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx. Lebanon hosts more refugees from Syria than any other country, with 52,000 Palestinians among a total of more than a million. It now has the highest refugee population per capita in the world. Human rights activists say Palestinians in Syria, who once numbered 500,000, have been targeted by both sides in the conflict, making them one of the country's most vulnerable groups. Syria's most populous Palestinian district, Yarmuk in south Damascus, has been under blockade by the army since last year and trapped civilians have received only very limited supplies of food and medicines. Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said Thursday that, "since 9 am no Palestine refugees from Syria have been allowed to cross into Lebanon". Agency spokesman Chris Gunness appealed to Lebanese authorities not to block those in need of sanctuary. "It is essential that civilians fleeing Syria and seeking safety and protection are granted access and not returned in circumstances where their lives would be at risk." Source/Agence France Presse

Israeli Unit Fails to Abduct Four Shepherds in South, Seizes their Cattle
Naharnet/An Israeli unit failed on Friday in abducting shepherds in the southern town of Shebaa, opting instead to seize their cattle, reported the National News Agency. It said that the unit crossed 400 meters into the Jabal al-Shahel region west of Shebaa where it tried to kidnap four shepherds. The shepherds managed to escape however to a nearby post of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon as the Israeli troops seized about a hundred of their goats. They were identified as Mohammed Hussein Zahra and his brother Ismail, Ismail Qassem Zahra, and Mohammed Zahra.
UNIFIL is working on returning the cattle back to the shepherds. Development and Liberation bloc MP Qassem Hashem soon inspected the area where the attempt took place and met with the shepherds.
“The recent violation of Lebanon's border is a provocation against the country and its sovereignty,” he said. Hashem added that the Blue Line has not been demarcated where the kidnapping attempt took place, stressing that it is a liberated area. “For how long will these provocations continue? Why does the government delay in presenting this issue before the international community?” wondered the MP. “Where are the officials who constantly defend Lebanon's sovereignty, dignity, and independence? Why do they remain silent over the Israeli provocations in the South?” he asked.
The government should directly follow up on the violations to reveal Israel's hostile nature before the world, he declared. “We should no longer remain silent over the Israeli violations of our land,” stated Hashem. On April 7, an Israeli patrol abducted two shepherds and three women near the Blue Line at the Bastra Farm near Shebaa. They were soon released however. Israeli troops frequently kidnap shepherds near border areas. They are usually interrogated before their eventual release.

Financial Dispute Leaves One Dead in Hay al-Sellom
Naharnet/One person was killed Friday in a personal dispute in the Beirut southern suburb of Hay al-Sellom, which prompted the army's intervention. “A man from the Ajami family was killed in a personal dispute between him and a man from the Zgheib family over the payment of a sum of money,” MTV reported. It said the clash broke out near the Sleih gas station in Hay al-Sellom. Later on Friday, state-run National News Agency identified the young man who was killed as Mohammed Ajami. “A dispute erupted between a man from the Zgheib family and another from the Sawwan family. The latter then returned with a number of young men in a bid to storm Mohammed Zgheib's shop,” NNA said. Zgheib “opened fire in self-defense and a gunshot hit Mohammed Ajami in the chest, killing him on the spot,” the agency added. It said the army and security forces staged patrols to bring the situation under control and pursue the shooter, who had fled the scene. Armed clashes between families are common in Beirut's southern suburbs, which have recently witnessed clashes between the Meqdad and Nasseredine clans that left three people dead.

Old Rent Law Tenants to Continue Contacts with Officials to Halt Adoption of New Law
Naharnet /The tenants of old rent law buildings hailed on Friday President Michel Suleiman's expected appeal against the new rent law, which he deemed as hindering social justice. They said in a statement: “We will continue our contacts with parliamentary blocs to persuade them to alter their position on the oppressive new rent law.”“Suleiman's national and responsible stance is based on the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” they noted. “The appeal he will present to the constitutional council is an affirmation of his commitment to his constitutional oath and principles of social justice and equality,” stressed the tenants. “Refusal to sign the draft-law represents a rejection of parliament's actions and of violations against old rent law tenants,” they remarked. “The approval of the law will eliminate the acquired rights and pave the way towards the eviction of tenants, who have respected the law at a time when housing projects were simply pledges that were never materialized,” they concluded. During a cabinet session that was held later on Friday in Baabda, Suleiman noted that the new rent law “requires legal and constitutional scrutiny,” confirming that he will file an appeal before the Constitutional Council. But the president pointed out that the appeal might only tackle “some clauses that do not respect equality among citizens.” Suleiman had rejected signing the new rent law on Wednesday, saying: “Any law that does not grant social justice will be unfair against a certain segment of the people.”Tenants of old rent law buildings have slammed the draft-law, saying that it will force many of them to leave their houses because they would not be able to afford the new rent. The owners of the buildings on the other hand say that the law paves the way for better ties with tenants.

Syria Army Enters Homs, Last Rebels Pull Out as U.S. Refuses to Arm Opposition
Naharnet/The last Syrian rebels left Homs' Old City Friday under an evacuation deal that hands the government a symbolic victory, as civilians began trickling back in to find neighborhoods in rubble.
The pullout leaves the rebels confined to a single district on the outskirts of the central city, once "the capital of the revolution" against President Bashar Assad. As troops moved in to clear out explosives, hundreds of civilians began returning to see what remained of their homes in Hamidiyeh, a Christian district in the Old Town, which has been under nearly daily bombardment during a two-year siege.
Many were shocked, with tears in their eyes, as they climbed over debris to inspect the ruins, said an Agence France Presse journalist at the scene. "My whole house is destroyed. I went to my in-laws' home, and that's destroyed too. Nothing, except a few objects, remains," said Wafa. The final convoy of rebels withdrew after a day-long delay blamed on fighters in northern Syria blocking an aid convoy destined for two pro-regime towns besieged by opposition fighters in Aleppo province. The aid delivery had been pledged as part of an exchange that eventually saw some 2,000 people, mainly rebels, leave the Old City with a guarantee of safe passage.
Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi said "we have completed the evacuation of armed men from the Old City of Homs," referring to the withdrawal, which began Wednesday. Most left Wednesday and Thursday, but buses carrying the last 250 rebels were delayed till Friday because fighters not involved in the deal blocked the pledged flow of food supplies into the Shiite towns of Nubol and Zahraa, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As the aid convoys entered Zahraa Friday, the last rebels in Homs were finally allowed to leave. Barazi said negotiations were also well advanced for rebels to leave the Wael neighborhood, their only remaining holdout in Homs, in the coming weeks. The governor said the fighters and some of the civilians evacuated with them had been bussed out to the opposition-held town of Dar al-Kabira, 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Homs. State news agency SANA quoted Barazi as saying government troops had entered the Old City on Friday and began clearing it of explosives planted by the rebels.
Jaqueline Fawwaz, aged 30, was also returning to her old neighborhood of Hamidiyeh. "I had seen on Facebook that my home had been destroyed, but I couldn't believe it. I wanted to see it with my own eyes," she said. A 45-year-old who returned with her husband and did not identify herself said: "I came to check on my house, but I couldn't find it. I didn't find a roof, I didn't find walls. I only found this coffee cup, which I will take with me as a souvenir."
The neighborhood was devastated. Shop windows were cracked, and the few walls remaining upright were riddled with bullets. This is not the first deal between the government and the rebels, but is the first time rebel fighters have withdrawn from an area they controlled after an accord. It is also the first time Syria's rebels and security agencies sign a deal after negotiations, supervised by the ambassador of key Damascus ally Iran. U.N. Resident Coordinator Yaacub El Hillo, who was present in Homs, welcomed the deal. "If the Homs operation... is the implementation of a political solution through understanding, this is encouraging," he told AFP, adding that the U.N.'s role had been restricted to help build "trust" between the two sides. The government allowed the rebels to pull out with their personal weapons in return for the release of 40 Alawite women and children, an Iranian woman and 30 soldiers held hostage by rebels elsewhere in Syria.
The army has imposed many sieges 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, and people were reduced to surviving on little more than herbs. A military source in Damascus told AFP that "the big event of today is that Homs is now a city empty of armed men and this is a victory for the people and the army." The pullout comes less than a month before a controversial presidential election, described as a farce by Western governments and the opposition, that is expected to return Assad to office. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stood side-by-side with Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba in a public show of support on Thursday, but made no mention of the rebels' plea for heavy weapons to help end the war.
Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, has said he would ask the U.S. administration for anti-aircraft weapons to battle daily barrel bombings unleashed by Assad's forces and help change the balance militarily on the ground. U.S. officials privately acknowledged he made the request in talks with Kerry at the State Department, but they refused to be drawn on the response.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki meanwhile pointed to a series of new U.S. measures including an extra $27 million in non-lethal aid for the rebels on the ground, as well as Treasury sanctions against Syrian officials. "I have nothing to announce in terms of any change in our position," said State Department Jen Psaki, referring to the long-standing policy of the U.S. administration to provide only non-lethal military support such as communications equipment, body armor and night-vision goggles. "We're continuing to build the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate, armed opposition," she said. "I'm not going to outline that or detail that from here, but we continue to consider a range of options." It is understood that Jarba will also meet with U.S. President Barack Obama during his eight-day trip to the US which ends on May 14. Jarba "understands better than anybody, the stakes and the struggle and the fight against extremism," Kerry said as he welcomed him to the State Department. "We are committed to do our part to support the moderate opposition in its efforts to provide a legitimate voice to the aspirations and hopes of the Syrian people," he added. And he praised Jarba and the SNC for building "an inclusive and moderate institution" committed "to the protection of all people, all minorities, all rights within Syria."
Speaking in Arabic through a translator, Jarba thanked Kerry for Washington's support "for the struggle of the Syrian people, for freedom and democracy, and also to lift the injustice and fight oppression and dictatorship that Bashar Assad is engaging in. "But he stressed the Syrian people were looking "to the superpower and country that plays a leading role in the world."
The United States Thursday also slapped more sanctions on six senior Syrian officials, including his strategic affairs adviser, Brigadier General Bassam al-Hassan, as well as on a Russian bank and state-owned oil refineries. Source/Agence France Presse

Putin Inspects Naval Ships in Sevastopol, Says Crimea's Return to Russia Confirms 'Historic Truth'

Naharnet/President Vladimir Putin reviewed Russian ships in the port of Sevastopol on Friday as he visited Russia's naval base in the Crimean port for the first time since Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. Russian television showed live footage of Putin standing on a white vessel passing at least 10 navy ships in the port, stopping at each to congratulate the sailors for Victory Day, Russia's celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The president hailed Crimea's return to Russia as a "historic truth." "2014 will go down in history... as the year when people living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, thus confirming their loyalty to historic truth," he told a cheering crowd in Sevastopol. "Much work remains ahead, but we will overcome all difficulties... because we are together. And that means we are even stronger."NATO's head condemned Putin's visit to Crimea and said the military alliance has seen no evidence Moscow has pulled its troops back from Ukraine's border.
"We still consider Crimea as Ukrainian territory and from my knowledge the Ukrainian authorities haven't invited Putin to visit Crimea, so from that point of view his visit to Crimea is inappropriate," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "We consider the Russian annexation of Crimea to be illegal, illegitimate, and we don't recognize it," he said in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
NATO's Rasmussen also confirmed the Western defense alliance still saw nothing to indicate that Putin was withdrawing Russian troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border.
Rasmussen arrived in the ex-Soviet Baltic state of Estonia from Poland on Thursday to lead a two-day meeting delegation of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's main political decision-making body.
The 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have responded to Russia's intervention in Ukraine by stepping up defenses in Eastern Europe, sending warships, fighter jets and troops to the region. The build up is scheduled to end on December 31, but the alliance has said it could become permanent. Meanwhile, Kiev protested Putin's visit to Crimea as a "flagrant violation" of Ukraine's sovereignty. The foreign ministry said in a statement that "Ukraine expresses its strong protest over the unapproved May 9 visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and to Sevastopol city, which are temporarily occupied by Russia." The foreign ministry said the visit "blatantly ignored Ukrainian legislation and international law." "This provocation once again confirms that Russia deliberately seeks further escalation of tensions in Russian-Ukrainian relations and does not want to resolve problematic issues... through diplomatic channels," the statement said. Later on Friday, the White House warned that Putin's visit to Crimea will only exacerbate tensions. "We do not accept Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. Such a visit will only serve to fuel tensions," National Security Council spokesman Laura Magnuson said.Source/Agence France Presse

Canada Condemns Latest Boko Haram Attack in Nigeria
May 8, 2014 - Following reports of the killing of more than 300 civilians in northeastern Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement:
“Canada condemns the massacre in Gamboru Ngala and offers its condolences to the families and friends of the victims. We wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
“This attack follows on the heels of the abhorrent kidnapping of schoolgirls by Boko Haram. The kidnapping of schoolgirls to force them into marriage and slavery is immoral and an outrage. The young girls are in our hearts and in our prayers. “Canada continues to demand their immediate release and has offered to provide the Nigerian authorities with assistance. Our government is deeply committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls worldwide. “On December 30, 2013, Canada listed Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. Canada’s Criminal Code criminalizes membership in Boko Haram, as well as the transfer of money to support it.”

D.C.'s Strategic Mistake in Iraq: Abandoning Iran's Opposition
Thursday, 08 May 2014
By Walid Phares

It has already been established, including in my recently published book, "The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid," that Washington has undertaken a global mistake with the deal struck between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime based on the idea that engagement would moderate the Ayatollahs’ grand designs.
But as one can clearly see, all Khomeinist promises have been evaporating as their military and militant machines grow by the day — despite the so-called “interim nuclear deal.” In short, Tehran has been outmaneuvering the West, particularly the United States. Iran has been practicing this astute deception for years, particularly since 9/11. As we look back at the major triumphs for the Khomeinist regime over the past decade, it is clear that the single most dangerous move by Tehran’s services has been implemented inside Iraq and, unfortunately, right in front of the Americans’ eyes.
As is true for all totalitarians in history, the Iranian regime’s greatest fear comes from any potential opposition that is able to mobilize the masses and organize them, demonstrating a capability to shake the very foundation of the regime. For decades, the Khomeinists have clearly exhibited a zero-tolerance for any form of meaningful opposition and have successfully rebuffed any serious challenges to their regime. Since the implementation of the Islamic Republic, thousands of citizens have been executed and tortured.
The arm of the regime went so far as to assassinate political opponents in foreign countries. In 1999, the regime clamped down on a widespread student revolt on campuses. Such suppression of demonstrations continued over two more decades, culminating in the crushing of the June 2009 popular revolt.
The most dangerous of all known oppositions to the regime, however, has undoubtedly been the exiled Iranian community and its organized forces in Iraq. Since year one of the Khomeinist takeover thousands of citizens — mostly members of the revolutionary group “Mujahidin Khalq” (known also as the MEK) — flocked to neighboring Iraq fleeing the bloody repression in Iran.
Naturally, the Saddam regime—at war with Khomeini—gave them safe haven. The notion of “Saddam protection” was used by the Iranian propaganda machine to tarnish the group’s legitimacy. The latter, stuck in Iraq, had two options: leave Iraqi exile and lose the only strategic territory contiguous to Iran from where they could reach out to their people, or run the risk of being painted as Saddam’s protégés.
Their choice was to weather Iraq’s regime and create a base from which to launch their return. That base was called Camp Ashraf.
Iran’s regime used all possible tactics to harm the exiles, but the fall of Saddam finally gave them an opportunity to move directly into Iraq. Under the Bush administration, U.S. protection of the Iranian exiles was fair, generating years of MEK assistance in intelligence.
The exiles, considering themselves as allies of the Americans facing Tehran’s militias, advised U.S. forces on an array of defense related issues. Washington’s partnership with the Ashraf community, however, made one mistake between 2003 and 2009: It did not build a serious strategic alliance that could have enabled the Iraq-based Iranian opposition to grow to a point where it could have mobilized the masses inside Iran with full backing of the U.S. and the coalition.
Seven years of properly engineered Western support to the exiles could have generated a massive geopolitical challenge to Iran’s regime and, by ripple effect, to its nuclear menace.
In 2009, the Obama administration changed course with Iran. In June of that year, President Obama sent a letter of engagement to Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. That same month, the U.S. president signaled his administration would not side with the demonstrators in Tehran.
U.S. policy regarding the Iranian opposition has also changed since. Funds which had been authorized to Iranian dissidents by the previous administration were cut off. Ashraf was abandoned, leaving it vulnerable to attack by pro-Iranian security elements, as of 2009, even under the watchful eyes of the U.S. military. All signs indicated that the Obama administration had agreed to abandon the exiles in return for Tehran’s willingness to engage politically.
The opposition group, attacked again in 2011, was relocated from Ashraf to another site farther from the borders, known as Camp Liberty in 2012. But the harassment by the Baghdad-led pro-Iranian authorities escalated as Tehran refused to tolerate any presence of freedom activists in the country just over their border.
Though MEK was removed from old U.S. and European terror lists, which had handicapped the resistance group, Iran’s offensive against them proves that Washington’s abandonment of this organized force in Iraq is turning into a victory for the Ayatollahs. Free from an active challenge to their power, whether it be inside or outside the borders, the Iranian regime is now concentrating on consolidating its domination in Iraq — and from that country, its influence in Syria and Lebanon.
Washington’s strategic error is enormous. It would be the equivalent of the British removing General De Gaulle and his Free French Forces from England while Hitler was preparing for his onslaught.
***Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution," which in 2010 predicted the Arab Spring revolution, and the forthcoming "The Lost Spring" (March 2014). He advises members of the US Congress on the Middle East.

How to Read Russia under Putin

 By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Alawsat
Is the unfurling drama in Ukraine hiding a potentially bigger crisis in Russia? The question is not fanciful. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has entered uncharted waters as potentially deadly storms gather on the horizon. Putin’s stewardship of Russian affairs can be studied in three phases. In the first, he tried, and partly succeeded, in preventing the systemic collapse that had started under Boris Yeltsin’s erratic leadership. The state bureaucracy was revived and the armed forces and security services re-tooled and re-tasked. Post-Soviet Russia was given the minimum of administrative and law-enforcement powers needed to remain afloat.
In the second phase, Putin curbed the system of capitalism ruled by a law of the jungle that had produced a nouveau-riche elite often operating as a state within the state. He jailed some oligarchs and forced a few others into exile. However, his core strategy was to link the oligarchs to the Kremlin, thus putting himself in the driving seat of that crony capitalism. On the positive side, he succeeded in imposing some limits to the plunder of resources for illicit profit.
In the third phase, Putin concentrated as much power as he could in his hands. He believed Russia needed an autocrat and that he should assume that task. Having cast himself in the role of savior-autocrat, Putin needed to promote a cult of personality unknown to Russians since Joseph Stalin. To be sure, Putin is no Stalin and could never be, if only because the world has changed. However, his personality cult, projected in a thousand different ways, has downgraded the existing institutions of the state and the development of new institutions needed to modernize Russia.
When lucky, the autocrat could do more and faster, if not better, than a leader in a system based on the interaction of institutions. Putin could simply tear off the accord that the then-secretary of the Security Council, Gen. Alexander Lebed, concluded with the Chechens and switch to a strategy of total war without consulting anyone. In a more mundane mode, he could order the arrest of multi-billionaire oligarchs on real or imagined charges unencumbered by the intricacies of a legal system. In 2008, he could order the invasion of Georgia and the annexation of 25 percent of its territory without even a debate in the Cabinet.
In the same vein, Putin has produced and assumed charge of the crisis in Ukraine without revealing his hand even to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
It is harder to read Russia today than during the Tsarist or Soviet empires. The Tsar’s title was “Autocrat of All Russias.” However, in practice, he could project power within a system of formal and informal institutions representing diverse interests. Related to other European dynasties, the Tsar had to take into account the prevalent mood of the monarchic elite. He also had to listen to a vast, rich and locally powerful aristocracy that provided the backbone of support for monarchy. Starting from the late 18th century, the Tsar also had to take into account a relatively well-educated, experienced and powerful administrative and bureaucratic elite. Under the Tsars, even a non-entity such as Chichikov, the hero of Nikolai Gogol’s comic novel Dead Souls, was somebody simply because he had secured a side chair at the bureaucratic table. After Peter the Great, the absolutism of Russian Tsars was rather relative.
For its part, the Soviet Union, its totalitarian ideology notwithstanding, was not a monolith. Nikita Khrushchev was right to denounce Stalin’s “personality cult” and its horrible crimes at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956. However, the period of Stalinist one-man rule from 1932 to the dictator’s death in 1953 was an exception. Under Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924, the Communist Party played a real role in shaping policy in the context of collective leadership. It took Stalin a decade to sideline collective leadership and impose autocratic rule.
After Stalin, the rapid downfall of Georgy Malenkov, the autocrat’s hand-picked heir, signaled a return to collective leadership. Over the years, Khrushchev and then Leonid Brezhnev acted as “the boss.” But neither could play the lone ranger as Putin does today. They had to take into account the views of the Politburo, where different factions representing different interests and sensibilities sought a role in decision-making. There was also the broader Central Committee which, far from being a rubber-stamp crew, provided an arena for intra-party power struggles. The views of the party at large, as well as those of “fraternal” Communist parties, especially big ones such as those of France, Italy and China, were also taken into account.
Needless to say, the security apparatus led by the KGB and the military elite also brought their wheat to the decision-making mill. Even some non-Communist personalities, especially from the West, were listened to, along with many fellow travelers and useful idiots who helped propagate sympathy for the Soviet regime.
Covering Soviet politics closely for years, one realized that the USSR acted as a conservative, status quo-oriented power rather than a disruptive bull in a china shop motivated by opportunism. With the exception of its invasion of Afghanistan, later acknowledged by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko as a “bad mistake,” the USSR did not take military action outside the sphere of influence that the US had accorded it in the Yalta and Potsdam deals. In that spirit, under pressure from the administration of Harry S. Truman in Washington in 1946, Moscow abandoned its ambition to annex Iran’s northwestern provinces. For the same reason, Moscow also dropped plans to extend Soviet influence to Greece.
During the Soviet era, Moscow was almost always predictable. At least, it never pulled a surprise rabbit out of the hat. There were hawks and doves in the Kremlin, and their interaction shaped Soviet policies. Russia is unpredictable under Putin, its decision-making process covered by a thick fog. Putin could do anything as long as he does not hit something hard on his way. But he could also apply the brakes or even reverse course, making it impossible for friend and foe to be sure of what he might do next. Today, that is the problem.

The U.S. faces tough choices in the future
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Friday, 9 May 2014
By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
The use of force is certainly one of the worst options a nation can resort to, but one thing even worse than that is not using force when needed. The threat of impending force is a deterring factor for regimes and groups that do not respect international law – a perception that is more important than the reality itself.
Both the Iranian and Syrian regimes have perceived the recent policy stance of the U.S. towards the Middle East as weakness – believe that the policy of President Barack Obama entails regression. This is why the Iranian and Syrian regimes have dared to ignite regional conflicts, and also explains why al-Qaeda has started establishing cells from the reach of borders of Afghanistan to as far as sub-Saharan Africa. Iran has always been a problematic regime. The only American president who understood the nature of the Islamic Republic was Ronald Reagan. He would always resort to intimidating Tehran, in response to the Islamic Republic’s threatening behavior. He did not hesitate to send his troops to the Gulf, and as a result, Iranian forces no longer dared to abandon their navy bases. Moreover, when Reagan tried to establish secret communication channels, now known as the Iran–Contra affair, he did not withdraw his warships from the Iranian coast.
Following the path
His successor, President George H.W. Bush, followed Reagan’s path and was burdened with confronting the sudden danger of Saddam Hussein’s forces occupying Kuwait. President Bill Clinton resorted to finding the middle ground; he always threatened those that stepped out of line but rarely opened fire, except for his courageous stance in the Bosnian Civil War. After eight years of Clinton’s rule, al-Qaeda was able grow and spread, along with the rise of Iran and Hezbollah’s terrorist activities. His reaction was more like a propaganda campaign: strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan, which had no effect on al-Qaeda. Obama should know that the U.S. is not Sweden; it is a superpower with major interests, and it is fighting to defend its own security as well
As for President George W. Bush, al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11 triggered his anger and he did not calculate the consequences. He was keen on showing his opponents that he was a fierce fighter. He deliberately revealed his threats to the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who came to the White House to mediate for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, saying that the latter was like a cat trapped in a corner. Bush replied that Saddam was merely a rabid dog, adding “and we will kill rabid dogs.” He asked Saleh to hand over the wanted members of al-Qaeda, threatening that the U.S. troops will take them by force if they do not hand them over. And as a result, Saleh handed them over immediately.
Bush’s mistake was that he went too far in opening fire in all directions, until various forces united against him in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The olive branch of peace
As soon as President Obama took office, he entered the Middle East forest waving an olive branch and preaching of peace and love. Consequently, the powers in the Middle East turned the region into the most unprecedented mess since the end of World War II!
U.S. policy toward Iran has always been a mystery, to the extent that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disagreed with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when they visited Saudi Arabia with a large delegation. The Saudis were surprised to see that Gates and Rice had different points of view regarding the policy of their government against Iran. Rice said that they can bomb Iran’s reactors, while Gates responded: “This is a lie, we would never do that.” The meeting ended, and each one of them rushed to call the White House to complain about the other!
Between the intervention and invasion policy during Bush’s tenure, and the peace and surrender policy in Obama’s term, we can clearly see how the U.S. presidential choices affect the regimes’ behavior in the region and the world. When Obama took office, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir - who is wanted internationally for crimes against humanity - no longer cared. He traveled wherever he wanted to, not taking into account the possibility of his prosecution for the atrocities in Darfur.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah dared to appear in public for the first time in 20 years. Al-Qaeda has been openly active again in Iraq. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has not hesitated to use heavy weapons in the bombing of his own people. Assad has also used chemical weapons for the first time since Saddam’s 1988 mass murder of Kurds in Halabja in Iraq. The cancer of al-Qaeda has now rapidly spread past the Red Sea, reaching the borders of Mali!
No sacrifice
We can understand the position of President Obama. He refuses to sacrifice his citizens to fight on behalf of others in the region. But Obama should know that the U.S. is not Sweden; it is a superpower with major interests, and it is fighting to defend its own security as well. If the U.S. lost control of the Middle East, it will lose its impact on the global market for gas and oil, and terrorism could reach the United States. The U.S. choices regarding the region have always been tough. America adopted the policy of alliances during the Cold War. They then resorted to the weapon of deterrence to intimidate opponents from crossing red lines. These were the cheapest and most successful ways, if compared to full intervention or retreat approaches. What is even more bizarre is that the U.S. has huge military bases in the Middle East, with most of them being paid for unlike their bases in the rest of the world. Despite this dominant presence, they refuse to hang onto the policy of deterrence when dealing with rebellious states.
*This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 9, 2014.