May 22/14


Bible Quotation for today/Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
Matthew 16,11-20./How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 22/14

Lebanon's Presidential election Crisis: Time for plan B/The Daily Star/May 22/14

Opinion: Egypt’s Winds of Change/By: Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat/ May 22/14

Civil society always a target in Syria’s proxy and civil wars/By: Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya/May 22/14

Who failed Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi or the entire world/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/May 22/14

Iraq's Election Results: Avoiding a Kurdish Split/By: Michael Knights/Washington Institute/May 22/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 22/14

Lebanese Related News

Grand bargaining package sought for Lebanon

Top U.N. Official Calls for Avoiding Vacuum to Preserve Stability

Lebanon to Witness Two-Month Presidential Vacuum

No quorum, No vote ... No president
Salam: Cabinet will work with Hezbollah for disassociation
Election session can be held at any moment: Berri

Berri Says Fifth Round of Elections Open-Ended until May 25
Youths arrested for denouncing Rai's visit to Jerusalem

I came to a brotherly country: Iranian New Ambassador, Fathali

Iran’s new envoy to Lebanon told to uphold independence

Maronites warn MPs over failure to elect president
Lebanon asks refugees to settle residency status
Jumblatt hails Sleiman as ‘courageous’
Lavrov, Hariri meeting cancelled
Consumer prices holding steady in Lebanon

Militia leaders involved in attack on Army in Tripoli surrender

Lebanese Army Arrests 18 Syrians in Arsal for Illegally Entering Lebanon

2 Cabinet Sessions before Suleiman Leaves Baabda
Israel Kick Starts Road Rehabilitation along Border with Lebanon

Tripoli chaos as air chief backs rogue general

Machnouk finishes UAE stop on Gulf tourism drive

Zeaiter defends airport safety measures

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Pope says Middle East trip will be ‘purely religious’

Israel restricts right-wing Jewish activists for Pope's visit

US assigns 13,000 servicemen to first ever combined US-Jordan-Israeli exercise. Hizballah heads for Golan

Canada Deeply Concerned by Growing Acts of Terrorism in Nigeria

Jordan Hopes Papal Visit Would Push for Regional Peace

Syria Capacity to Produce Sarin Destroyed

Syria begins to move ‘remaining’ chemical arms
Wealth hoarding caused conflict: Syrian candidate

China and Russia sign huge gas deal: CNPC
Egypt's Mubarak gets three-year sentence

Libyan rebels slam rogue General Haftar as a ‘loser’

Pope says Middle East trip will be ‘purely religious’
AFP, Vatican City /Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Pope Francis on Wednesday said his upcoming trip to the Middle East would be “purely religious” and aimed mainly at improving relations with other branches of Christianity and praying for peace in the region.“It will be a purely religious trip,” the Argentine pope told some 50,000 pilgrims at a general audience in St Peter's Square ahead of three-day trip to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories starting on Saturday. Francis said the main reasons for the trip -- billed a “pilgrimage of prayer” by the Vatican -- were to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and “to pray for peace in that land which has suffered so much”. The visit kicks off on Saturday when Francis flies to Amman and meets Syrian refugees. He will then travel on to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, wrapping up the visit on Monday with a mass in the place where Christians believe Jesus had the last supper with his disciples. Francis will meet with all the main Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders but only briefly and there has been opposition from ultra-orthodox Jews over perceived Vatican designs on holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israel restricts right-wing Jewish activists for Pope's visit,7340,L-4522346,00.html
Restraining orders issued against several Jewish extremists, barring them from Jerusalem's Old City where Francis will visit.
AP, Ynet Published: 05.21.14, 22:06 / Israel News/Israel issued restraining orders against several Jewish right-wing activists on Wednesday, restricting their movements over concern that they could try to disrupt a May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a "number of right-wing activists" have been restrained for their intention to carry out "provocative and illegal acts" during the three-day visit to the Holy Land. The order restricts them from Jerusalem's Old City, where Francis will visit, and orders them to stay away from the pope, Rosenfeld said.
Honenu, a Zionist organization which offers legal assistance to right-wing activists, said that at present they are aware of restraining orders issued against two minors who study near King David's Tomb.
The order against one of them, a Natanya resident, bars him from Jerusalem, and orders him to stay in Natanya, and spend the night at his parents' house. The other boy, from Kiryat Arba, received two orders putting him on a full house arrest from Saturday evening to Sunday at midnight. Honenu attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir claimed that "this is part of the hysteria the Israeli police and the Shin Bet are in. They're trying to put a gag over the mouths of young people seeking to protest the visit. Israel has turned into an undemocratic state." The restraining orders have likely been issued in response to a campaign by right-wing activists to stop the regulation of Christian prayer at the Mount Zion compound. It is believed King David is buried on the first floor of the Mount Zion compound, and that a room on the second floor is the Cenacle, where Jesus and his followers had the Last Supper. King David's Tomb is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Holy Sites in Israel, while the Cenacle is under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry. At present Christians are allowed to visit the Cenacle, but not to pray in it (with an exception of two days out of the year).Right-wing activists claim the pope's visit will lead to the regulation of Christian prayer at the site.The pope is set to visit Jordan, the West Bank and Israel during a three-day visit beginning Saturday.
*Noam (Dabul) Dvir and Yoav Zitun and Reuters have contributed to this report.

Canada Deeply Concerned by Growing Acts of Terrorism in Nigeria

May 21, 2014 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today released the following statement:
“Canada is deeply concerned by the alarming spate of terrorist incidents that has been unleashed in various parts of Nigeria. “Brutal acts of violence, such as today’s deadly attacks on two villages in northeast Nigeria and yesterday’s double bombing in the central city of Jos cannot go unpunished. Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions. “On behalf of all Canadians, I offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured. “Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms all forms of terrorism, and we stand firmly with the Nigerian people in the face of such threats.”

Lebanon to Witness Two-Month Presidential Vacuum
Naharnet/The country has entered the stage of vacuum at the helm of the country's top Christian post after the political arch-foes failed so far to agree on a consensual candidate as reports said that the post is expected to remain vacant for several months. Sources told An Nahar newspaper published on Wednesday that vacuum will not “last long” due to the international pressure exerted on the political parties. “The rival parties will reach consensus in mid-July or August,” the sources expected. The international community continuously stressed the importance to reach agreement over the presidential elections on time ahead of the end of President Michel Suleiman's tenure on May 25. There are fears that the vacuum in the country's top Christian post would affect Lebanon's power-sharing agreement under which the president should be a Maronite, the premier a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite. Sources close to the March 14 coalition rejected statements that undermine vacuum. Parliament has so far failed to elect a new president over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Most of the March 8 camp's MPs have boycotted four rounds of elections over their call for an agreement on a consensual president. A fifth round of polls is scheduled to be held Thursday before the expiry of Suleiman's six-year tenure. Meanwhile, As Safir newspaper reported that Bkirki and the Christian leaders are preparing to confront the first day after Suleiman's term expires.“Vacuum seems to be inevitable,” sources close to Bkirki said.

Top U.N. Official Calls for Avoiding Vacuum to Preserve Stability

Naharnet/A top United Nations political official has reiterated the need for timely presidential elections in Lebanon given that the term of President Michel Suleiman expires on May 25.
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the 15-member U.N. Security Council that four rounds of parliamentary sessions have so far failed to elect a new president.
Avoiding a vacuum in the country's top Christian post is important for the country's stability, he said on Tuesday. Fernandez-Taranco referred to the latest statement issued by the International Support Group for Lebanon, which includes the five permanent members of the Security Council. U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said last week that Lebanon’s friends in the international community have a keen interest in the successful completion of the elections, on time and in accordance with the Constitution. He said he discussed the matter with the International Support Group for Lebanon, which agreed that a “vacancy in the presidency should be avoided.” The group also called for the polls to be free from foreign intervention.

Lebanese Army Arrests 18 Syrians in Arsal for Illegally Entering Lebanon
Naharnet/The army announced on Wednesday that it arrested over the past three days a number of Syrians in the eastern Bekaa region of Arsal for illegally entering Lebanon. It said that 18 Syrians were arrested at Arsal checkpoints for entering the country with fake Lebanese General Security documents. The General Security confirmed, after investigations with some of the detainees, that they had entered Lebanon through forged documents. The Syrians confessed that they had each paid USD 250 for the documents. On May 2, the army said that it had arrested seven Syrians for also illegally entering the country. A number of Syrians have in recent months been arrested for attempting to infiltrate Lebanon through illegitimate means. Ever since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011, Arsal has served as a key conduit for refugees, rebels and wounded people fleeing strife-torn Syria.

2 Cabinet Sessions before Suleiman Leaves Baabda

Naharnet/A cabinet session scheduled for Thursday will be held at the Grand Serail instead of Baabda Palace to discuss 100 items placed on the agenda, An Nahar newspaper reported. The daily quoted a cabinet minister as saying on Wednesday “it seems the president wants PM (Tammam) Salam to practice the management of the sessions.” An Nahar said President Michel Suleiman will not chair the session at 4:00 pm Thursday for not having crucial issues on its agenda such as the appointment of top civil servants. The cabinet ministers will discuss among other things the renewal of the contract of Casino du Liban, issuing special passports at the cost of LL400 million, the formation of the drugs and fertilizers committee and a plan to protect Lebanon's mountain tops and coast. But al-Joumhouria newspaper said the session will be held at Baabda Palace and that the cabinet will also meet the next day under Suleiman to make appointments of officials in some ministries and state institutions. Following Friday's session, Suleiman will throw a banquet in honor of Salam and the ministers on the eve of his farewell speech, it said. The president will leave on Sunday Baabda Palace, which will likely remain vacant over the failure of the parliament to elect a new head of state.

Israel Kick Starts Road Rehabilitation along Border with Lebanon
Naharnet /The Israeli army kicked off a project to rehabilitate roads near the barbed wire along the border with southern Lebanon.
According to the state-run National News Agency, rail road excavators and bulldozers accompanied by 3 armored vehicles and around 20 soldiers began at 9:00 am paving roads adjacent to the southern towns of Adaisseh and Kfarkila. Israeli helicopters also flew over the occupied Shebaa Farms and the Golan heights and nearby areas. As drone surveyed Shebaa and the adjacent Arqoub villages.
On Saturday, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil instructed the permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations in New York to file an urgent complaint to the U.N. Security Council on Israel's “blatant” security breaches against Lebanon's sovereignty as per outgoing President Michel Suleiman's request.
Israeli forces crossed on May 11 the Blue Line in the al-Labbouneh border area, uprooted trees and lifted cement blocks that belong to the Lebanese army. The Israeli navy later violated Lebanese territorial waters off Ras al-Naqoura, pushing a line of buoys 20 meters into Lebanese territorial waters. Bassil had also instructed the Permanent Representative in New York, Ambassador Nawaf Salam, to file two other complaints on Israeli breaches. Lebanon's southern border has continuously witnessed violations carried out by Israel. Israel routinely sends F-16 fighter planes over Lebanon, in violation of Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war.

Lebanon's Presidential election Crisis: Time for plan B

May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/The constitutional deadline for electing a president in Lebanon is fast approaching, with little sign of a smooth resolution of the standoff. Anyone with large amounts of free time could spend each day listening, reading and watching the latest “news” about the election. In the end, little of what is being said really matters though, despite the waves of information, analysis, speculation, innuendo, speeches and rhetoric being generated. It comes down to a simple formula: Four leading Maronite politicians – Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, Sleiman Frangieh and Amine Gemayel – are considered too partisan to be elected, since they represent either the March 14 or March 8 camp. If one peels away the public rhetoric and gets down to the stances of local, regional or international players in the presidential race, there is absolutely no serious indication that one of these four is a viable candidate. They, and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, need to face this fact and come up with a feasible candidate who can be elected. Christian politicians and spiritual figures are fond of complaining that other leading sects are able to elect or select their own top figures, as if the Christians are being prevented from doing so. If the Maronite and wider Christian political community are unable this time to agree on a single candidate, they have only themselves to blame. They must realize that none of the above amounts to a viable choice, and that it is time for plan B: It must be a serious plan B and not one that involves anointing one of the four as a “consensus” candidate and hoping no one notices.

Grand bargaining package sought for Lebanon
May 21, 2014/By Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
Political and diplomatic circles have expressed worries that Lebanon could reach the May 25 deadline for the presidential election without political factions identifying a consensus candidate for the top post. The concerns come as Lebanon’s political blocs dig in their heels and refuse the compromises that could prevent the country from falling into the presidential vacuum. But the sources say talks will continue internally through political, religious and diplomatic initiatives as well as externally, as states with influence in Lebanon realize the dangers of a presidential vacuum or the possibility that the Cabinet could fall if a third of its members resign, amid a failure by Lebanese officials to heed the advice of diplomats in the country. As the countdown to May 25 continues, there is increasing talk of adding the presidential election to a grand bargain of compromises that includes the shape of the next Cabinet, the parliamentary election law, and a number of sensitive administrative, security and economic appointments, particularly amid talk of a possible Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.
However, observers say it will take time before the impact is felt from such a reconciliation, which is expected to begin with the visit of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Saudi Arabia, which might be preceded by a visit of his deputy Hossein Amir-Abdolahian, and could be followed by a visit from President Hassan Rouhani to the kingdom during the annual Muslim pilgrimage.
The Daily Star has learned that most ambassadors who have been in contact with the presidency and senior politicians in Lebanon have expressed a readiness to host in their countries any conferences or meetings to help Lebanon reach a solution to could prevent a repeat of the experience of 2008, when a failure to agree on a president contributed to tensions that sparked deadly clashes in Beirut.
In a recent meeting, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated that the parliamentary elections would occur on time and that the current assembly would not be extended, saying that he wished to pass a modern election law but would proceed with elections under the current rules if no solution is reached. The only constant principle for Western states remains maintaining political, security and economic stability in Lebanon. Diplomatic sources told The Daily Star that the international community had set four conditions for the next president, the first of which is his adherence to international resolutions, including U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1701 and 1680. The next president must also introduce reforms to combat corruption in Lebanese institutions, as well as maintaining “positive neutrality” toward regional conflicts, particularly in Syria. The final condition is strengthening security and military institutions in order to maintain stability in Lebanon, the diplomatic sources said.

Salam: Cabinet will work with Hezbollah for disassociation
May 21, 2014 /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Tuesday said his government would continue trying to convince Hezbollah to adhere to the country’s disassociation policy, at a news conference concluding his Saudi Arabia visit. Taking a question about Hezbollah’s role in Syria and the party’s fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces at a news conference in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah, the prime minister said the party, which he described as being “a partner in the government of national interest,” had endorsed the Cabinet’s policy statement that called for a disassociation policy.
“It is true that between announcement and implementation is a gap or an incomplete space, and it requires attention, and we are working on this with Hezbollah and others so that disassociation will be complete from all levels. This will require more effort, but we will not stop,” he said. Salam also downplayed a possible presidential vacuum, saying that his government would take charge in the event a president is not elected on time. “If there is a presidential vacuum, there is no need to fear that power will fall into the wrong hands, for it is at the heart of the Cabinet’s executive authority,” Salam said.
The prime minister voiced hope that a vacancy in the presidency would be avoided and a president elected in line with constitutional deadlines. He said the election was a “domestic issue par excellence,” adding that the matter was at the forefront of the government’s agenda.
He also said that Saudi Arabia was clear in stressing the need for the election to be independent of foreign interference. Parliament has so far failed to elect a president with the May 25 deadline fast approaching.  Salam held talks earlier Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz. He described the visit to the kingdom as being both a “necessity” and “successful,” adding it was primarily aimed at giving thanks to the kingdom for supporting Lebanon, especially its Army. Saudi Arabia recently granted the Lebanese Army $3 billion for military equipment. Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi traveled to Riyadh over the weekend to finalize the grant. Monday evening, Salam met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in Jeddah. Commenting on the visit at the news conference, Hariri said it was “a natural meeting,” with both officials stressing the need for the presidential election to take place. Salam also emphasized the need for international aid to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees, who have exceeded 1 million. “This is a big burden for us all in Lebanon, and it will remain so if we do not receive aid,” he said.
He discussed the possible return of Saudi tourists to Lebanon after their numbers significantly dwindled due to security reasons, saying that their return “began immediately after the return of Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri to Lebanon,” after a monthslong absence. He also said that, according to the Lebanese Consulate in Jeddah, a large amount of visa requests had already begun pouring in.
Salam addressed the issue of extremists in Lebanon, primarily from Syria, saying the country “does not tolerate” extremism or any group forcefully imposing power. “We in Lebanon do not allow for extremism to be present among us, and we will make sure to put an end to it,” he said. The prime minister said Lebanon was trying to mitigate the repercussions of the Syrian conflict, voicing hope that foreign intervention in Lebanon would be “constructive and positive.”

Maronites warn MPs over failure to elect president
May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: A gathering of Maronite organizations Wednesday warned lawmakers against disrupting the vote and failing to elect a new president on time, saying such moves only jeopardized the top Christian seat. The remarks came after a number of Maronite organizations held a meeting in Bkirki chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who briefed the attendees on developments and his discussions with political leaders about the coming presidential election. “The attendees warn parliamentarians, regardless of their sect, against disrupting the presidential election from being held on time, which in turn violates the Constitution, the National Covenant and risks the survival of the entity,” the gathering said in a statement. “They also warn parliamentarians against failing to elect a president within the Constitutional deadline, which serves a blow to head of the authorities pyramid and would lead to a paralysis of constitutional institutions,” it added. The attendees said they backed Rai’s position which emphasized the “inevitability” of holding the presidential election on time “in order to preserve the National Covenant, avoid a vacuum in the presidential seat and preserve the essential Christian component.” They also said they would keep their meetings open to determine future steps to help secure the presidential election. Lawmakers have been unable to elect a new head of state with none of the possible candidates capable of securing the needed majority to win. The gathering also took a swipe at Christian lawmakers within the Change and Reform bloc, headed by MP Michel Aoun, who have boycotted three Parliamentary rounds of voting.

Election session can be held at any moment: Berri

May 21, 2014/By Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday said he was ready to call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president just as soon as quorum was met. The speaker’s remarks came during a legislative session to discuss a letter President Michel Sleiman sent to the legislative branch, in which he urged lawmakers to avoid a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post by electing a new president on time. "An election session can take place at any moment and I or the deputy speaker or the eldest MP can preside over it as soon as the required quorum is fulfilled, even if we have to hold the election session at midnight," Berri told lawmakers. "Parliament sessions, starting tomorrow, will remain open until then end of the president's term,” Berri said, referring to the May 25 deadline. "I sensed that everyone is keen on electing a president which is the purpose of [Sleiman's letter]," he added. Berri, who chaired Wednesday’s session, said the Constitution gave Sleiman the right to send the plea to Parliament, which should convene to discuss its content. Although Hezbollah lawmakers boycotted Wednesday’s session, MPs from Aoun’s bloc attended, with some criticizing Sleiman because they believed the letter targeted them.
Youth and Sports Minister Abdel-Mutaleb al-Hinawi, who is close with Sleiman, left the session in protest against Zahle MP Nicholas Fattoush’s remarks in which he criticized the president’s move saying the letter, “was not an appropriate means to deal with Parliament.”Hours after the session ended, Sleiman saluted Parliament and the speaker for carrying out their Constitutional role by discussing the letter he had sent, stressing on the importance of lawmakers attending the election sessions. In a statement, Sleiman’s office released the content of the letter.
“The start of the election process on April 23 is in itself a commitment according to the Constitution, but refraining from participating in parliamentary sessions called for by the speaker has struck fears in the hearts of the people and increased their worries regarding the future,” the letter said.
Addressing MPs, Sleiman wrote: “The situation in Lebanon at this historic phase requires us all, particularly you, to adopt an exceptional level of unity and synergy, and imposes on every official the need to think of the national interest rather than personal interest.” “Electing a new president is a high national issue, and vacancy in that post, even though the Constitution regulates it, will affect the National Covenant which Lebanese agreed to and the distribution of power in the state, making the election a matter of the National Covenant,” he added. He also slammed some lawmakers’ decision to boycott election sessions, saying such a move reflected negatively on Parliament’s role and was seen as an “intended act to force a vacancy in the first seat and harm national interest and partnership.” “We ask of your dignified Parliament to work according to what the Constitution imposes, to continue the presidential election process to avoid the risks. The nation deserves we be objective and responsible, the Lebanese deserve to have a president before May 25 and the people will hold you accountable,” he concluded. Hezbollah and Aoun’s lawmakers have boycotted the last four rounds of voting, arguing that the sessions were futile until rival groups come to an agreement on a consensus candidate. Berri has called for Parliament to meet once again Thursday to vote for a new president, after lawmakers botched four attempts in less than a month due to a lack of quorum to elect Sleiman's successor. In the absence of an agreement between the Future Movement-led March 14 and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalitions over a consensus candidate to break the impasse, Thursday’s session is likely to fail. Meanwhile, Hezbollah Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan denied he had said that lawmakers in the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc would boycott Thursday’s session. Speaking to El-Nashra news website, Hajj Hasan said he did not make any remarks about Hezbollah's stance with regards to the scheduled session.

Youths arrested for denouncing Rai's visit to Jerusalem
May 21, 2014/By Mohammed Zaatari/The Daily Star
SIDON, Lebanon: Three men from the Lebanese Communist Party’s youth section were arrested in Sidon for hanging leaflets denouncing Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s trip to occupied Jerusalem, a security source told The Daily Star Wednesday. The Internal Security Forces in Sidon arrested Ahmad Abdallah, Ashraf Yazbek and Hussein Baghdadi from the Union of the Lebanese Democratic Youth who plastered the southern coastal city’s walls with leaflets on the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation Day on May 25 denouncing the normalization of ties with Israel and Rai’s upcoming trip there.
"The resistant Lebanese reject Rai's visit to Israel," "Boycotting Israel and its supporters is a weapon we will not let go of" and "Religious tourism enhances the image of the criminal state" were among the slogans the three youth printed on the leaflets. In a statement the ULDY in Sidon condemned the arrests describing them as breach against freedom of speech and vowing to pursue their campaign against Zionism and its supporters. The ULDY also urged security forces to immediately release the three young men. On Monday Rai stood firm on his decision to go to occupied Jerusalem, a visit that has stirred controversy in Lebanon. Rai announced that he would join Pope Francis during a tour of the Holy Land on May 24-26, a visit that would make him the first Maronite patriarch to travel to Israel since it was founded in 1948. Many have criticized Rai’s visit, saying such a trip could be seen as a bid to normalize ties with Israel, with whom Lebanon is technically in a state of war.

Iran’s new envoy to Lebanon told to uphold independence

May 21, 2014/By Kristin Dailey/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has tasked newly appointed envoys including Tehran’s incoming Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Fathali with cultivating mutually beneficial relations that uphold each nation’s independence, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Fathali will replace Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, who will leave his post this summer, a source at the Iranian Embassy told The Daily Star. Rouhani met Monday with Fathali along with five other newly appointed ambassadors to Kuwait, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Lithuania, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Iran’s Foreign Ministry website said. Rouhani encouraged the newly appointed envoys to cultivate mutually beneficial relations with each of the countries to which they have been assigned. “We want our relations with all countries, especially our neighbors, to expand. Many international issues now have no solution in the absence of cooperation and unity among countries,” Rouhani told the envoys, according to the ministry’s website. “This cooperation will not conflict with the independence of these countries,” he added.
“Good Iranian relationships with all countries can be very helpful for this region’s development.” Wishing the new envoys success in their upcoming missions, Rouhani asked the new ambassadors to use all of their capabilities to encourage investment projects in Iran, especially in the south of the Islamic Republic. Fathali previously served as a Foreign Ministry economic adviser and Iran’s ambassador to Uzbekistan. Lebanon’s Central News Agency said Fathali, a Middle East expert, would take over the post in July. Local media said Roknabadi made farewell visits Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, where the diplomat indirectly indicated his mission was over. “I thanked the speaker for the efforts he put over the past four years during my mission in Lebanon in order to strengthen parliamentary cooperation between Lebanon and Iran,” Roknabadi said after the talks with Berri. He also thanked the speaker for his support for the resistance. On the presidential election, Roknabadi said Tehran supported the election of a president “in the best way possible.” Iran, he stressed, would back any widely agreed-upon president. “The atmosphere is promising, and the Lebanese are the decision-makers,” Roknabadi said, adding that he hoped a new head of state would be elected soon. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Ali Reza Enayati would become the new ambassador to Kuwait, while Reza Zabib would be appointed to Cyprus, Mohammad Ebrahim Taheriyan to Croatia, Ramin Mehmanparast to Poland and Lithuania, and Mehdi Hamzei to the OIC in Jeddah.

I came to a brotherly country: Iraniaqn New Ambassador, Fathali

May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Mohammad Fathali, the new Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, said upon arrival in Beirut Wednesday that he considered Lebanon a friendly country. He arrived to a warm welcome from political, religious and party officials, as well as Lebanon-based representatives from the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad. “I believe I came to a brotherly country,” Fathali told reporters at Beirut's airport. “I carry a strong and kind message from Iranian officials.”“ Lebanon is playing an outstanding role at the regional level and a huge role in general,” he said. Fathali also hailed Lebanon for standing “rock hard against Zionists’ greed.”“I’m looking forward for greater cooperation between Lebanon and Iran and, God willing, I will seek to build bridges of cooperation among the various Lebanese political parties,” he stressed. Fathali will replace Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi. Fathali, a Middle East expert, had served as a Foreign Ministry economic adviser and Iran’s ambassador to Uzbekistan.He met with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to present his credentials. Roknabadi made farewell visits Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Bassil, where he indirectly indicated his mission was over.

Militia leaders involved in attack on Army in Tripoli surrender
May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: Three militia commanders wanted for Tuesday’s assault that left eight Lebanese soldiers wounded in the northern city of Tripoli have turned themselves in, the military said Wednesday. Talal Issa, Mahmoud al-Hallak and Khaled al-Rai – all wanted for involvement in the attack on an Army patrol in the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh – surrendered to Lebanese Army Intelligence. The statement said that the three men have several warrants out for their arrest. The militia commanders are also accused of leading armed clashes in Tripoli before the security plan for the restive northern city went into effect in April. Security sources told The Daily Star earlier that the three commanders, who are pro-Salafist, hail from the predominately Sunni neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh. They are wanted by authorities in connection with gunbattles between Bab al-Tabbaneh and the mostly Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen. The Army, as well as the Internal Security Forces, has arrested a number of militia commanders and gunmen after the military prosecutor issued over 200 warrants as part of the security crackdown. There have been feuds between the two districts since the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, but traditional rivalry between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh has been aggravated by the three-year-old crisis in neighboring Syria.

Consumer prices holding steady in Lebanon
May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Consumer Price Index was little changed in April, with the latest figures from the Central Administration of Statistics showing a modest 0.1 percent decline compared with the previous month. The figures, published Wednesday, show an overall increase of 1.6 percent since the beginning of the year. Because statistics were not collected from January to May 2013, it will not be not possible to calculate the year-on-year increase in Lebanon’s cost of living until the June figures are published. Lebanon launched a new, expanded CPI in March, after consulting with the International Monetary Fund to produce a more accurate picture of the average Lebanese household’s expenses. As a part of the new CPI, the CAS compiles regional subindexes. In April, the subindexes largely followed the national trend, with the Nabatieh subindex recording the biggest decline at 0.9 percent and the Bekaa Valley the only region to see an increase in consumer prices, of 0.2 percent. By component, the clothing and footwear category saw the biggest swing, increasing 6.7 percent nationally compared with March. This increase follows a staggering 32.4 percent jump in the same component between February and March. But the April increase in clothing prices was offset by drops in food (1.4 percent), utilities (0.3 percent), furnishings (0.1 percent), heath care (2.1 percent), communications (0.1 percent) and the restaurant/hotel category (0.1 percent). Looking forward, the CPI could see some movement in the communications category, with Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb slashing the price of several services in the sector. The price of local and international calls has already been reduced, while Harb is to unveil new prices for Internet data services Friday.
The pending new rent control law could also have a noticeable impact on the CPI. While President Michel Sleiman has referred the bill to the Constitutional Court for review, if it does go into effect, thousands of tenants who signed lease contracts before 1993 will see their first increase in rent costs in over 20 years.

Lebanon asks refugees to settle residency status

May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: General Security announced Wednesday that Palestinian and Syrian refugees have a one-month grace period to settle their residency status within the country.
In a statement, the security agency asked refugees “and those who are in violation of residency regulations, to go to General Security offices to settle their status during a period of one month, starting May 22.” The statement came days after authorities enforced new regulations to organize the overwhelming presence of refugees in the country. Among the measures, Palestinian 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 provided they have the necessary travel documents or permits. 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. Lebanese officials have also said that new regulations, which remain under study by the Cabinet, would also restrict the entry of Syrians to those who are in genuine need of refuge, arguing that many enter under a refugee status in order to benefit from international aid.

Jumblatt hails Sleiman as ‘courageous’
May 21, 2014/ament Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir
BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt Wednesday praised the bravery of President Michel Sleiman, as the former Army Commander readies to leave the top post May 25.
“Sleiman is a brave president, while we have had bitter experiences with others,” Jumblatt said from Parliament, in a clear reference to former President Emile Lahoud. Jumblatt had a tense relationship with Lahoud, also a former Army Commander, who took office as president in Nov. 1998. Sleiman succeeded Lahoud and was sworn into office on May 25, 2008. In earlier remarks, Jumblatt said that Lebanon has now entered a power vacuum, thanks to the announcement by MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc. “The statement by the Change and Reform bloc ... is discouraging,” Jumblatt told An-Nahar in comments published Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we have entered a [power] vacuum starting from now,” he said. Aoun’s bloc said it would not attend a voting session scheduled for Thursday, provided there had been no agreement on a consensus candidate. “If circumstances remain the same by Thursday, then MPs from our bloc will not attend,” a statement by Aoun’s coalition said after its weekly meeting. “If circumstances changed toward an agreement which we are seeking, we will attend Thursday’s election session,” the statement added. MPs have botched four attempts in less than a month to elect a new head of state, due to a lack of quorum to choose a successor to President Michel Sleiman. And in the absence of agreement on a consensus candidate between the Future Movement-led March 14 and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalitions to break the impasse, Thursday’s session is likely to fail. Lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, MPs from Hezbollah’s bloc and their March 8 allies have boycotted the four previous sessions, thwarting the required two-thirds quorum.

Lavrov, Hariri meeting cancelled
May 21, 2014/The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that a scheduled meeting between Sergey Lavrov and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was cancelled.
The meeting had been set for Thursday. Hariri and Lavrov last met in Paris, January, where the Russian official reportedly stressed the need to respect constitutional deadlines, including the presidential election. Lebanon's Parliament has struggled to elect a new successor to President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ends on May 25.

Syria Capacity to Produce Sarin Destroyed

Naharnet/Syria's stocks of a key chemical used to produce the deadly nerve agent sarin have been destroyed, the mission overseeing the destruction of its chemical arsenal said. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-U.N. "joint mission confirms the destruction of the entire declared Syrian stockpile of isopropanol", a statement said late on Tuesday. "Now 7.2 percent of Syria's chemical weapons material remains in country and awaits swift removal for onward destruction. The joint mission urges the Syrian authorities to undertake this task as soon as possible," the statement added. Under a U.S.-Russian deal negotiated last year, Syria signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to hand over its entire chemical weapons arsenal by June 30 of this year. The deal came after a sarin attack in August killed some 1,400 people in an opposition-held area near Damascus. While the opposition and its Western backers blamed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, his government and its Russian ally blamed the rebels. The agreement headed off a U.S. threat of military action. Assad's regime now faces new Western allegations that it unleashed the industrial chemical chlorine on a rebel-held village in central Hama province last month. Syria was not required to declare its stockpile of chlorine -- a toxic but weak agent -- as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes. But its use for military purposes would be a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW announced a fact-finding mission last month. Source/Agence France Presse

Wealth hoarding caused conflict: Syrian candidate
May 21, 2014/By Rim Haddad
Agence France Presse
DAMASCUS: A candidate standing against Bashar al-Assad in next month's Syria's presidential election says the country's conflict began because of the regime's poor economic management and a minority elite monopolising wealth. "Today there is a nationwide war and a foreign plot, but in the beginning, people took to the streets to demand rights. We mustn't forget that," Hassan al-Nuri told AFP in an interview on Tuesday. He said the authorities mismanaged the crisis from the start. "A lot of things could have been avoided," Nuri said. "I wish the current president had visited Daraa" in southern Syria, he said of the cradle of the revolution, where Assad could have "organised meetings, not at the presidential palace, but in Daraa itself".
"But now... we need to take into consideration that there is a global conspiracy" over Syria, said Nuri, echoing the regime's description of the revolt and ensuing civil war. "What happened at the start of 2012 (the armed rebellion) made me feel like they (unnamed foreign countries) had been waiting to pounce on Syria." Nuri is one of three candidates, including Assad and Maher al-Hajjar, standing for the presidency in a June 3 election that the incumbent is expected to win. Denounced by the exiled opposition as a "farce" and by the United States as a "parody of democracy", the election will be held only in regime-controlled areas. Assad's government has systematically refused to recognise the existence of a peaceful revolt demanding political change.
The regime brands its opponents -- armed and non-violent -- as foreign-backed "terrorists".
Initial peaceful demonstrations that began in March 2011 later morphed into an armed rebellion after the regime unleashed a brutal and massive crackdown against dissent. Nuri, who has a PhD from a US university in management, said his election platform focuses on economic reform and battling corruption. The former minister of administrative development from 2000 to 2002 criticised the authorities for their economic policies. "The country's wealth has been monopolised by 100 families," he charged. These families "are not necessarily close to the political leadership, but the way the social market economy was developed was according to whim and personal favours".  Protesters at the start of the uprising frequently demonstrated near economic enterprises, especially offices of the telecommunications company that belongs to Assad's magnate cousin Rami Makhluf. In some cases, protesters set fire to properties, seeing the country's economic elite as working hand in hand with the regime. Nuri said "slacking" in Syria's sprawling bureaucratic institutions had been another reason for anti-Assad protests. "Assad succeeded on the political side of things, but I cannot agree with his economic, social and administrative performance," he added. Nuri also said economic factors had contributed "indirectly" to the Syrian crisis. He criticised "the poor choices made by administrative chiefs who did not understand the people's needs", and called for the creation of a "free and intelligent economy". Syria's war has killed more than 162,000 people, a watchdog estimates, and caused a terrible economic crisis suffered worst by millions of people trapped in sieges across the country. "The country needs a real revolution, through the transformation of the economic system," said Nuri, adding that a political solution to the war would not be enough to end the violence. In his electoral programme, Nuri denounces corruption "which is just as dangerous as terrorism". Assad has been president since 2000 when he inherited power from his father Hafez, who had ruled for 30 years. Nuri sees the election is "a test for real change". "Whoever wins will no longer be able to rule Syria in an exclusive way. To find a solution to the crisis, we will need a genuine multi-party system, not just the facade of one," he said. "People are afraid to vote for anyone other than Assad. "I'm a genuine candidate, my candidacy is genuine, and I may win or lose. Other opponents did not have the courage to present their candidacy, but I did."

Egypt's Mubarak gets three-year sentence

By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/An Egyptian court has sentenced ousted President Hosni Mubarak to three years for corruption. His sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, were sentenced to four years in jail on charges of stealing public funds. They were accused of embezzling more than one hundred million Egyptian pounds (about $14 million, 10 million euros) earmarked for the maintenance of presidential palaces. Mubarak, 86, wearing a grey suit, sat on a wheelchair in the caged dock for the verdict. His sons, in white prison issue clothing, stood beside him. Mubarak had technically been a free man after a court ordered his release last year following the end of the permitted detention period, but has since remained out of sight in a military hospital. He is now likely to be returned to prison.
"The owners of public property are the people," said judge Osama Shaheen before reading out the verdict. "He should have treated people close and far from him equally," said Shaheen, as quoted by Reuters. "Instead of abiding by the constitution and laws, he gave himself and his sons the freedom to take from public funds whatever they wanted to without oversight and without regard."
Mostafa Ali As, one of Mubarak's lawyers, told Agence France-Presse after that they will appeal the ruling. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 over the killings of protesters during the 18-day uprising that ended his three-decade rule. A court overturned that verdict on technical grounds, and he is now being retried along with seven police commanders. He also faces corruption charges in that trial, along with his sons and a businessman who fled the country. Mubarak's trial was a key demand of protesters in the months after his overthrow, prompting the then ruling military to arrest him in a resort villa and move him to a Cairo prison.(with AFP and Reuters)

Opinion: Egypt’s Winds of Change

By: Ali Ibrahim/Asharq Alawsat
An old proverb urges us to remember that it is the winds and not the sails that move the ship. The winds that have moved Egypt after January 25, 2011, have not blown in the direction expected by Western analysts. Rather the opposite happened: most developments came by surprise, which created a state of confusion and bewilderment that caused misunderstandings and tensions. This was reflected on the street, and at times it provoked conspiracy theories. But the confusion didn’t begin with the June 30 protests and the subsequent end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule: It began earlier, on January 25, 2011.
As the number of protesters increased, it grew more and more apparent that people were confused. It was especially clear in the American stances, which changed daily. At first they offered advice to former president Hosni Mubarak, until eventually the regime appeared unable to survive, and they switched to calling for his departure. It is best left to historians to evaluate this period, and it is difficult to say for certain that anybody truly predicted what was going to happen. True, there had been some calls for reform and greater political openness, and maybe some protests and low-level political unrest. None of that was new to Egypt, which has witnessed major protests every few years since the 1970s. But nobody anticipated events of the scale of January 25.
Next, the wind blew favorably for the Brotherhood, and they took control of the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council. They saw the first president from their movement take power, after 80 years operating both underground and in the open. Nobody predicted the Brotherhood’s rule would end in less than a year, especially as all indications showed they were the most powerful political organization on the ground in Egypt. Of all the political forces, they had the greatest capacity to mobilize the people, and the greatest capacity to use violence.
This, in turn, brought massive crowds out to the streets on June 30 to protest their rule. These protests, and the actions of the army’s then-commander, the current presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, surprised and confused officials and analysts in the West. It is natural that the events of last summer caused such confusion. The prevailing political discourse held that this was the era of political Islam, and people were devising strategies to approach it as though it would be around for decades, not months or weeks. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that the confusion surrounding the Brotherhood’s rise and fall was not confined to foreign capitals and international analysts. Egyptians also succumbed to that confusion, and this brought the Brotherhood to power in the absence of other well-organized political movements. The greatest degree of confusion in the West came after the toppling of the Brotherhood’s rule and the formation of the interim government led by interim president Adly Mansour, and the drafting of a new political road map. Among the reasons for this confusion were the Western dislike of military interventions in politics, which have a poor reputation because of the activities of Latin American juntas. But this does not take into account the specifics of the situation in Egypt, where military intervention had popular backing. The army was also viewed differently by the people, and its intervention was not seen as meaning direct military rule. Despite its confusion, the West began to understand the phenomenon of Sisi’s growing popularity as it gathered momentum until he eventually became a presidential candidate. It has become clearer with time that he is genuinely popular on the street as a result of a number of factors, the most important of which was his decisive action after June 30, and the desire for a strong president after a number of stormy years. With the approach of the election, we can expect the understanding of Egypt’s situation abroad to grow clearer.

Civil society always a target in Syria’s proxy and civil wars
Wednesday, 21 May 2014/Chris Doyle/Al Arabiya
The by-line for the latest Friends of Syria summit in London last week might as well have been: Desperately seeking Syria strategy. None was found; politically they can conjure up no solution; militarily there is no agreed upon option and on aid, they cannot deliver. In a vain attempt to avoid complete embarrassment, Ministers spewed out their usual anti-regime platitudes, promised to "redouble efforts" and offered tokenistic crumbs of support to the Syrian National Coalition. There were some further aid pledges that sadly barely cover the weekly costs of providing Syrian refugees basic assistance. United States Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed with a straight face: “today in one unified voice we made it clear that we remain committed, even more so, to taking steps that could in fact make a difference.” The most devastating man-made disaster in the 21st century has stomped the world’s major powers. The international system has no answers to such a complex conflict straightjacketed by looking through the prism of 20th century inter-state conflicts and a limited understanding of both Syria and the region.
Myths and lazy assumptions

More than three years into the uprising, the media and political discourse in both the West and even in the Arab world is replete with myths and lazy assumptions.
Syria is a multi-conflict zone. It is an uprising against a repressive regime, but also a civil war and a proxy war
Assad was meant to get with the times and just topple over like Ben Ali and Mubarak, head off to exile in Saudi Arabia or Siberia. Leaders queued up to assert confidently that Assad’s days were numbered, although none dared to name a date. Few would now bet against Bashar not outlasting those who forecast his demise. On top of that is the myopic view that Assad’s departure would automatically solve all Syria’s issues, as welcome as it might be. Endless debates occur on Syria’s future, distilled into this single question ignoring the future nature of the state, reconciliation and reconstruction.
Events in Syria are seen as a single conflict, portrayed crudely between two sides, pro or anti regime, or increasingly, the regime versus hard-line Islamists.
Multi-conflict zone
Syria is a multi-conflict zone. It is an uprising against a repressive regime, but also a civil war and a proxy war. Syria is the red-hot nuclear core of two cold wars, the U.S.-Russian and the Saudi-Iranian that contaminates itself and all its neighbors. One of the conflicts -the conflict of 2011- may have already been lost. This mass uprising of hundreds of thousands of Syrians from all walks of life demanding freedom, rights and dignity. It was a collective cri de coeur of a population who had had enough. It was largely non-violent, peaceful, non-sectarian and driven by Syrians for Syria. It was the single biggest threat the Assad regime had ever faced in 40 years. Its forces, its thugs had never had to handle five protesters let alone hundreds of thousands. The regime was losing at home and abroad. It was one of the most impressive civic actions to take place that defined itself not just in opposition to the Assad regime but also in terms of the free Syria they aspired to. The beating heart of this movement has gone into hibernation, most unwilling to take up arms, in exile or diverted into keeping their communities alive.
Civil society was a threat that had to be crushed. Civilians became the target. The protesters were seen as far more dangerous than armed fighters. Consequently, civilians have been collectively punished for their temerity. Human rights activists were detained, tortured, even killed. Many remain in detention.
This was the ambition of not just the Assad regime but every other counter-revolutionary force in the region. All the regional wannabee hegemons involved in Syria’s proxy wars, as well as Russia and China, had no desire to see popular civilian protests prevail in Syria as well as elsewhere. The "Arab Spring" had to be not just stopped but crushed with the blood of Syrians. The arming of the uprising and the militarization of the conflict fitted neatly with the regime’s plans but also many of these external players. The extreme Islamist groups were supported not just because the secular armed groups were seen as weak but because they were the antidote to the democratic pluralist forces the external players feared most. This mafia regime needed, and so cultivated, an armed opposition in its own image. It needed an exclusivist, radicalized, sectarian, rejectionist, power-seeking collection of fighting groups.
Evolving conduct
The conduct of the war evolved to suit these ambitions. In common with the Balkans and other conflicts, there have been few direct battles. The regime and some other armed actors have attempted to control territory using methods of mass fear to cleanse cities and towns of civilians who would not support them or did not belong to their identity groups. The regime did this by collective repression, rape, mass bombing of urban areas and through siege and starvation. Lacking enough boots on the ground to fight street to street, it held entire communities collectively responsible. Hardline Islamist groups particularly ISIS did so through the harshest intolerant form of pseudo-sharia law, even involving crucifixion of their opponents.
Regime and hardline Islamist groups barely clash directly but focus their energies on terrorizing civilian populations in strategic urban areas. Aleppo and has endured the worst of this. Barrel bombing opposition areas of Aleppo are in the words of the Times journalist Anthony Loyd “pancaking houses into flatpacked mounds of rubble.” Supposedly in response, Jabhat al-Nusra at the beginning of May cut the water supply to the city, punishing hundreds of thousands.
Terrorizing civilians
Civilians are further terrorized by the war economy driven by mafia gangs, kidnappers and smugglers. Soldiers’ salaries have dropped in exchange for the right to pillage, loot and rape together with the various Shabiha gangs. The displacement of nearly half of Syria’s population was not a consequence of the conflict or some unfortunate side effect. It became a war aim, a core part of the strategy. It is estimated that around 70 percent of Aleppo’s population has fled. The regime is content to see such depopulation and the flight of its opponents, even more so as they become a burden on the donor community. What is so startling is that the so-called democratic powers who, one hopes have the most interest in backing civil society and are supporters of a pluralist inclusive Syria, have done so little to help them. They were excluded from the Geneva II talks this year. Whatever happens militarily, the solution has to be based on rekindling those forces of 2011 and helping them retake center stage. It is time for Syrian civilians to have a say in the future of their country.

Who failed Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi or the entire world?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya
Lakhdar Brahimi's resignation was no surprise. The U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria was preparing himself for such a measure for a long time - ever since he realized that the Syrian regime does not want a political solution and that no political solution is possible considering the Iranian and Russian intransigence and American passiveness. The international community's unwillingness to confront the Syrian crisis is what paved the way towards Brahimi's request to be excused from the task of confronting the biggest and most dangerous tragedy in the entire region since the beginning of the 21st century.
Brahimi knew in advance that the Syrian regime cannot accept a political solution for at least two reasons. Despite that, he tried to reach a solution out of his concern for the Syrian people and Syria. There's a humane and Arab side to Brahimi's character. Having to deal with political problems and crises sometimes forces him to hide this side since he's a mediator who must take into consideration the status quo and not personal, national or human emotions.
Obstructing a political solution
The two reasons that obstruct a political solution - of which Brahimi has always known - are due to the Syrian regime's structure and nature as it cannot take any positive measure if there's not enough pressure on it to do so. As long as there's no pressure, Bashar al-Assad will choose to remain in Damascus even if not a single Syrian remains alive and not a single building stands in a city or a town.
The second reason, which is mainly linked to the first one, is the absence of an international desire to take serious measures that alter the balance of power on the ground in Syria. Amending this will is the only means to convince the Syrian regime that it has no other choice but to accept a political solution that begins with a transitional phase.
Assad's character
Those who know the secrets of the Syrian situation and regime attribute Brahimi's failure to achieve any progress to Bashar al-Assad's character. Assad lives in his own world that has nothing to do with what's happening in Syria, the region and the world. This is what pushed him to nominate himself again for the presidential elections - the biggest of all farces. The Syrian president has practically rejected the transitional phase recommendations as mentioned in the Geneva I statement. He also rejected transitional phase discussions carried out during the Geneva II conference which was attended by opposition and regime representatives.
The basis of a transitional phase is that a government or a committee with "complete jurisdictions" and which does not include Assad is established to manage the country until a new regime is established to restore the country and wrest control from a family that controls everything.
The family that controls everything
During the days of Hafez al-Assad, Syria was property of one sect and some countryside-based Sunnis allied with it. During Bashar al-Assad's era, only the family and some of those revolving around its orbit control everything, including the airport's free zone!
The Geneva II conference revealed that such a transformation - which can only be achieved through a transitional phase headed by a committee that has the required jurisdiction - is not possible. There's an Iranian regime which believes that "Syria is either ours or no one else's." And then there's Russia which is willing to send weapons to Assad as long as there's someone in Tehran willing to pay for them. And then there's an American administration incapable of comprehending what's at stake in Syria. This administration's only goal is to reach an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program. And finally, there's Israel which the status quo suits best as the war of attrition between the Syrian regime and people means the country will never be strong.
Amidst this formula - the major characteristic of which is the establishment of a new Middle East with no borders among countries after sectarian affiliation came above all other affiliations - it's not possible for any mediation or mediator to succeed although Brahimi did his best to reach a middle ground with the Iranians. He visited Tehran several times for this purpose and he was also in permanent contact with Moscow.
He had to work in an environment where no one any longer asks why Hezbollah, the Lebanese sectarian militia affiliated with Iran, is participating in massacring the Syrian people upon a pure sectarian basis. Even in the U.S., no one objects to Iraqi intervention in Syria anymore!
Has the U.S. liberated Iraq of a Baathist family regime in order to establish a regime which supports Iran and protects sectarian militias?
Failing Syria
Lakhdar Brahimi, and before him Kofi Annan, resigned. However it's not them who failed in Syria. It's the entire world which has failed and surrendered as it seems that it wants to finish up with Syria instead of restoring it. Dividing Syria will have very negative repercussions, particularly on Lebanon which is swamped by refugees. These repercussions will also affect Jordan.
There's more to Brahimi's resignation than someone who clearly wants to finish up with Syria. Someone wants the Syrian crisis, which began with the country's independence, to reach its end. Someone wants Bashar al-Assad to attain a third presidential term so Syria can have "a president" who was mysteriously elected - a president who enjoys the destruction around him as he watches from the hilltop of Syrian remains.
*This article was first published in al-Arab newspaper on May 19.
*Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer who has previously worked at Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper, he then moved to London and began writing political columns in Arabic language newspapers, including Al-Mustaqbal and Rosa El-Youssef.

Iraq's Election Results: Avoiding a Kurdish Split
Michael Knights/Washington Institute
May 21, 2014
The votes are in, but Baghdad will need to resuscitate the revenue-sharing deal with the Kurds in order to steady the already-troubled government formation process.
On May 19, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) released the results of Iraq's April 30 national elections, and Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki scored strongly on two fronts. First, his State of Law Alliance held its ground, winning 92 seats in the new 328-seat parliament compared to 89 in the previous 325-seat assembly. Second, he surpassed his personal vote count of 622,000 in 2010 by collecting 727,000 votes this time. Although rival Shiite parties and Kurdish and Sunni Arab oppositionists collectively won around 160 seats -- just shy of the 165 required to ratify a prime minister -- opponents of a third Maliki term would have to set aside their differences and demonstrate near-perfect cohesion to unseat him. Maliki is therefore the front runner for now, though his victory is not a foregone conclusion by any means.
If events favor Maliki, accepting his potential reappointment would be especially difficult for the Iraqi Kurds, who command 62 seats in the new parliament. On May 14, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) president Masoud Barzani underlined his opposition in personal terms, stating, "The Maliki that we knew before he was in power was different from the Maliki who has been in power," adding that the longtime prime minister bore chief responsibility for "totalitarianism" in Iraq. According to Rebwar Sayid Gul -- a senior official with the Kurdistan Islamic Union who attended a May 18 gathering with other Kurdish leaders in Erbil -- the Kurdish blocs "have decided that if Maliki is nominated for a third term, [they] will hold a referendum on independence and separation from Iraq." Such a referendum is akin to a doomsday machine that once initiated may not be stoppable; the Kurds are making the threat because they are increasingly desperate, fearing that Maliki's reappointment will be fatal to their ambitions. Yet such a threat may inadvertently reduce their ability to cut deals with Arab blocs in Iraq.
Erbil's opposition has intensified sharply ever since Maliki interrupted Kurdish revenue-sharing transfers from the federal government this year. That move was a response to the Kurds' refusal to market their oil to international buyers using the federal State Oil Marketing Organization and Iraq's New York and Baghdad bank accounts. Whereas the KRG previously received over a billion dollars in monthly transfers, Baghdad has only sent partial payments for two of the five months of 2014. In mid-March, Maliki approved the back-payment of January and February KRG salaries, and the Kurds responded by offering to provide 100,000 barrels per day of oil to Baghdad from April 2014 onward. Yet with both sides playing games to stymie the oil flows, Maliki suspended the payments for March, April, and May, meaning that the KRG has received only $1.3 billion of the $4.25 billion needed to pay its salaries this year. Desperate KRG fundraising activities have gathered a reported $429 million of additional funds, but pay protests are escalating across the Kurdish region.
Indeed, the budget cut has incensed the Kurds more than anything Maliki has previously done. President Barzani has frequently referred to such a cut as "an act of war," and on May 14 he warned that "those who cut the budget of Kurdistan are going to pay the price of that decision."
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the federal and KRG positions, these are among the worst possible circumstances under which to form a multiethnic, cross-sectarian government. Before the elections, U.S. diplomats foresaw the outcome of the budget clash and energetically sought to prevent it, helping Baghdad and Erbil craft a revenue-sharing and joint oil marketing system that would satisfy their near-term needs. If this agreement is fully set in motion, it could represent one of Iraq's most positive forward steps in half a decade. Currently, the deal is functionally complete, including export infrastructure, marketing arrangements, and near-automatic revenue management that would allow the KRG to pay entitlements to its oil contractors. All the machine needs is a modicum of goodwill on both sides to bring it to life. Iraq's other problems may be equally pressing -- notably the government's increasing use of Shiite militiamen to fight its counterinsurgency -- but the Baghdad-Kurdish issue is an area where the U.S. government can help provide a solution right now.
Resuscitating this deal is more important than ever, and U.S. diplomats should make it an early priority as they seek to build on the elections and foster a stable government that could improve the prospects for stabilizing Iraq. The oil export and revenue-sharing agreement clears the way for Kurdish involvement in the next Iraqi government and is needed whether the next premier is Maliki or somebody else. Political compromises combined with the right oil deal could keep Erbil from toying with independence and allow Iraq's factions to focus on rebuilding the relative unity and tranquility seen before the 2010 elections and the terrorist surge in the west.
**Michael Knights is a Boston-based Lafer fellow with The Washington Institute.

US assigns 13,000 servicemen to first ever combined US-Jordan-Israeli exercise. Hizballah heads for Golan
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 21, 2014/Under cover of conjoined military exercises with Israel (Juniper Cobra) and Jordan (Eager Lion), the US has moved more than 6,000 Marines to Jordan and several thousand servicemen to Israel.. The Jordanian drill starts Sunday, May 25 and will last until June 8. The US-Israeli exercise began this week with the participation of another 6,000 combat personnel from the US European Command and 1,000 airmen to operate missile defense systems.
Sailing opposite Israel’s Mediterranean shore are two US warships carrying Aegis Combat Systems. Due to arrive in the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba over the coming weekend are large US landing craft, that will drop marines on land. Gulf units are also taking part in the combined exercise.
This is the first time that the US has unified two large military exercises. The Jordanian and Israeli drills will be coordinated by US command centers.
The two war games were planned as military maneuvers plain an simple until Wednesday, May 21, when news came in of large Hizballah military forces heading toward southern Syria to help the Syrian army overcome the rebel forces fighting for more than a week to capture the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra opposite the Israeli and Jordanian borders.
In the last few days, both Israel and Jordan have beefed up their Syrian border deployments and placed them in battle stations. Hizballah’s intervention in the Golan battle may well result in the war game being switched to combat operations for real.
debkafile’s first report on the escalating Golan situation appeared on May 20.
The Syrian army offensive, launched Tuesday, May 20 to break the stalemate developing with rebel forces in the tussle for the Syrian Golan town of Quneitra, has raised forebodings in Israel and Jordan lest Assad’s troops bring the fighting up to their borders. So far, the rebel offensive has failed to break through to Quneitra - or even lay it to siege. The Syrian army command, although seriously short of fighting men man, has seized the moment for a counter-offensive.
The Jordanian army has accordingly deployed its 2nd mechanized division along the entire 380 km of the kingdom’s porous border with its Syrian neighbor in battle formation, along with its 60th armored battalion. All leaves have been suspended for officers and men serving in the border sector.
Earlier, the IDF augmented its border troops opposite the Golan and the Hermon range, according debkafile’s military sources.
In its counter-offensive, the Syrian army’s managed Tuesday to capture the village of Um Aswaj near the southern Syrian town of Deraa and is continuing to advance on further rebel positions in the south. It went into action after the rebels Monday captured sections of the main highway from Quneitra to Damascus. This step was supposed to have led to the encirclement of the Golan town. But this did not happen. The intense fire from Syrian 9th Division tanks forced the rebels to abandon the strategic highway.
To make up for its shortage of ground troops for the Golan, the Syrian army has brought in Grad and Scud ground-to ground missiles and conducting air strikes on the rebels with warplanes and and assault helicopters.
The deep concern over the serious security situation evolving on Israel’s northern frontier was strongly reflected in IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz’s explanation to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Monday for the urgent need to reverse defense budget cutbacks.
“The national order of priorities is changing,” he said, “and with it, unfortunately, national decisions relating to defense. “We are in the throes of a complex challenge to our resources not encountered in the past, with dramatic repercussions for the IDF. I come to you after a difficult week,” said the chief of staff in reference to the situation on the Israeli- Syrian border.
“We are obliged at this time to make painful decisions which affect all systems and all spheres of action for the reserves and the regular army – when it comes to training, the situation in the field and the home front.“The country has clear orders of priority and on security we have already taken as many risks as are permissible."
debkafile’s military sources report that, for now, the IDF has manned all the Syrian border positions with conscripts. No reserve units have been deployed.