April 19/15

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

Bible Quotation For Today/ The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself."
Second Letter to Timothy 02/08-13: "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself." 

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 18-19/15
Al Qaeda on winning streaks in Yemen and Iraq, exploiting stalemate in proxy wars/DEBKAfile/April 18/15
Iran’s first acquisition after the deal/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/April 18/15
The erratic ISIS and Baath party connection/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya/April 18/15
Surviving Cancer/Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/Saturday, 18 April 2015
Behind the lines: Islamic State comes to Damascus/By JONATHAN SPYER/J.Post/April 18/15
Netanyahu must wake up to the new reality/Nahum Barnea/Ynetnews/April 18/15
The Other Face of Terrorism/Raheel Raza/Gatestone Institute/April 18/15

Abadi and Iran’s Agenda/Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat/April 18/15

Lebanese Related News published on April 18-19/15
Lebanon resumes contact with ISIS: hostage families
Kahwagi signs protocol agreement for French weapons 
Man arrested in Beirut for forgery scheme
Yasma Fuleihan struggles on without Basil 
Nasrallah: Don't bring Yemen conflict to Lebanon 

Nasrallah anti-Saudi tirade draws Hariri rebuke 
Nasrallah's Double standards
Hariri Accuses Nasrallah of 'Deception' over Yemen, Says Hizbullah Behavior 'Imported from Iran'
Airport passenger traffic rises by 10 percent 

Guards freed in Roumieh as fears of riots persist
Stranded Drivers Express 'Disgust' over Cabinet's Failure to Resolve of their Case
Amin Gemayel: Dialogue is Pointless if it Does Not Lead to Election of President
Mashnouq: Roumieh Prison Riot over, Hostages Released
Rouhani Accuses Riyadh of Providing Arms to 'Terrorists' in Lebanon
Anti-IS Former Syrian General Found Killed in Arsal

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 18-19/15
Russian Orthodox Patriarch/400 Syrian Churches Destroyed, Christianity Nearing ‘Extinction’ in Mideas
Pope Urges Global Response to Italy Boat People Crisis
Let’s talk freely about free speech in the Arab world
Iran submits Yemen peace plan to UN
ISIS claims deadly US consulate blast in Iraq
Saudi-led coalition launches 100 air sorties in 24 hours
Despite conflict, demand for Qat still strong in Yemen
Obama open to 'creative negotiations' with Iran
Yemen: Houthis in retreat, UN calls for ceasefire
Saudi King Salman orders $274 mln in Yemen aid

Top Saddam aide Izzat al-Douri reportedly killed

Afghanistan suicide blast kills 33, injures more than 100

Israel, Palestinians 'reach accord' on frozen taxes
Obama urges Gulf nations to help with chaos in Libya
Gunfire and explosions heard in Libyan capital
Let Muslim women wear full-face veil in court: top British judge
Syrian doctors ask Russia to help unblock aid 
Middle East a major challenge for Hillary Clinton

US military option 'old habit that dies hard': Iran FM
Canada Condemns Car Bomb Attack in Iraq
Australia FM Hails Iran Effort to Defeat IS

Jihad Watch Latest News
Slain Charlie Hebdo editor: “Suggestion that you can laugh at everything, except certain aspects of Islam…is…discrimination”
Iranian opposition activist: “Obama is the son of a Shiite father… Some people call him the Iranian lobby in America.”
Hamas-linked CAIR seethes as Pamela Geller Brooklyn College speech moved to larger venue
Islamic State murders 33 with jihad suicide bomb at bank in Afghanistan
Video: Robert Spencer on Hillary Clinton’s war against free speech
UK: Posters tell Muslims not to vote, “Democracy is a system whereby man violates the right of Allah”
Ohio: Muslims cry “racism and bigotry” over cancellation of public school hijab promotion
Muslim male model from Australia dies fighting for Islamic State; Australia PM says Islamic State “not about religion”
Australia: Muslims plotted Islamic State-inspired jihad attack; Victoria Premier says they’re “not people of faith”
Robert Spencer’s Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 3, ‘The Family of Imran’

Russian Orthodox Patriarch/400 Syrian Churches Destroyed, Christianity Nearing ‘Extinction’ in Mideas
By Raymond Ibrahim on April 17, 2015 in Muslim Persecution of Christians
Around mid-April, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia –who once wrote a letter to Barack Obama beseeching the president to reconsider his foreign policies which enable the persecution of Christians in Syria — spoke again of the threat of Christian extinction in the Mideast during a meeting with Greek Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos. In the Russian Patriarch’s own words: I regularly get reports of horrible crimes that are committed there against Christians, especially in northern Iraq. I have visited those places and I remember that there were many churches and monasteries there. The city of Mosul alone had 45 churches. Now there is not a single one. The buildings have been destroyed. Four hundred churches have been destroyed in Syria… The presence of the Christian minority was a factor that, in a good sense, brought tolerance and good relations between Christians and Muslims… Now Christianity is the most persecuted religion. The same is happening in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Northern Africa. In some countries of Europe, too, people are prohibited from wearing crosses at work, citing the need for tolerance, do not use the word ‘Christmas’, do not call Easter – Easter, saying just winter holiday or spring holiday instead.

Mashnouq: Roumieh Prison Riot over, Hostages Released
Naharnet/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced that the riot at Roumieh prison, staged by Islamist inmates on Friday, is over, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. He told the daily that the situation at the facility “was back to normal and that the officers who were taken hostage by the rioters have been released.” A count of the prisoners was made and they have since been returned to their cells, continued the minister. Security sources told As Safir meanwhile that the riot began when Islamist inmates, held in block D, managed to steal the keys of the prison from an officer. They then held him hostage along with 11 others, including two medical officers.They then opened all the doors of the prison and set mattresses and sheets on fire, continued the sources. Later on Friday, spokesman of the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Sheikh Sirajeddin Zureikat, hailed the Roumieh riot. He tweeted: “The riot is a blessed gift from the Sunni prisoners who are suffering from the oppression of the Lebanese system that takes its orders from Iran's party.”He made his remark in reference to the Iranian-backed Hizbullah. Zureikat condemned the alleged discrimination against Sunnis in Lebanon, saying: “The slighted suspicion against a Sunni youth is enough to land him in jail without trial.”Roumieh, the oldest and largest of Lebanon's overcrowded prisons, has witnessed sporadic prison breaks and escalating riots in recent years as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment. The Islamist prisoners were initially held at Roumieh's block B, but they were transferred to the new ward following increased lawlessness and worsening conditions. In January, security forces took full control of block B after storming the overcrowded facility and seizing illegal items from Islamist prisoners. Around 800 to 900 inmates, most of them Islamists, were transferred to the new block D.

Rouhani Accuses Riyadh of Providing Arms to 'Terrorists' in Lebanon
Naharnet/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia on Saturday of providing weapons and funding to terrorist groups in the Middle East, including Lebanon. "What does providing financial assistance and weapons to terrorists in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq mean?" Rouhani asked. Iran is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hizbullah and the Iraqi government in its fight against Sunni extremists, including the Islamic State group and al-Nusra Front. Tehran says Saudi Arabia and several other Middle East governments support the IS. Addressing an army parade in Tehran, in a speech broadcast live on state TV Rouhani also warned that the Saudi royal family in Riyadh will harvest the hatred it is sowing in Yemen through its airstrike campaign. Since March 26, the Saudi-led coalition has been attacking Shiite rebels known as Huthis and allied fighters loyal to Yemen's ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Iran supports the rebels but denies providing any military support.
Rouhani said killing civilians in Yemen will bring neither power nor pride for Saudi Arabia. Associated Press

Stranded Drivers Express 'Disgust' over Cabinet's Failure to Resolve of their Case
Naharnet/The Lebanese drivers who have been stranded in Saudi Arabia as a result of the closure of the Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria have expressed their disappointment at the cabinet's failure to properly resolve their case, reported As Safir newspaper on Saturday. They said that the recent cabinet decisions “did not meet their expectations in resolving their case.” They had hoped that it would approve the dispatch of a ship that would transport them back to Lebanon. They instead expressed their “disgust and anger against it” after it failed to meet their expectations. The families of the drivers vowed that they will not remain silent “over the crime committed by the Lebanese state” against its sons, whereby they have been left stranded at the mercy of nature. They added that some of the relatives are preparing to stage a sit-in to pressure the government to take greater action to end the case. They may also block the international highway stretching between al-Marj and al-Masnaa near the border with Syria, said As Safir. One of the drivers described as “more than tragic” the situation of his colleagues, saying that they are suffering from dusty conditions in Saudi Arabia. Some of them are suffering from medical conditions, while others are running low on funds. The drivers are hoping that a ship would be dispatched to Saudi Arabia's Daba port, but they have also complained that they are being “extorted” by merchants seeking to benefit from their plight. The cost of their transportation to Lebanon could reach 3,500 dollars. At least 30 Lebanese drivers had been stranded since early April on the Syrian-Jordanian border, in the free zone, after rebels, backed by al-Nusra Front, seized the Syrian side, prompting Amman to close the frontier crossing. Nine of the drivers had returned to Beirut on Monday.

Amin Gemayel: Dialogue is Pointless if it Does Not Lead to Election of President
Naharnet/Head of the Kataeb Party Amin Gemayel questioned the ongoing vacancy in the presidency and the “suicide of Christians” who are contributing to the vacuum, reported the daily An Nahar on Saturday. He told the daily in an interview: “Dialogue that does not lead to quorum at parliament and the election of a president is pointless.” He made his remark in reference to the dialogue between the rival Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement. “The obstruction of the role of the presidency is suicide for Christians and state institutions,” he declared. “The worst that we can do is grow accustomed to the vacuum,” noted Gemayel. Lebanon has been without a president since May when the term of Michel Suleiman ended without the election of a successor. Ongoing disputes between the rival March 8 and 14 camps over a compromise candidate have thwarted the polls. Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance and MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform blocs have been boycotting the electoral sessions at parliament. “Hizbullah and the Change and Reform bloc should stop obstructing quorum,” demanded Gemayel. “The constitution includes articles on how to protect the country. Manipulating these articles to obstruct the constitution is tantamount to a coup,” he remarked. “In some countries, lawmakers who fail to attend parliament sessions are punished. The current developments in Lebanon are a coup against the constitution and the Lebanese system,” said the Kataeb chief. He attributed the obstruction to some side's aspiration to be elected president “even though they are aware that the have no chances of victory.”Moreover, he stated that a single person cannot halt the polls and it is clear that Hizbullah is collaborating with Aoun. “Whatever his motives, he does not seem to be bothered by the vacuum,” added Gemayel. He expressed concern that the changes affecting Arab countries could spread to Lebanon, emphasizing that the Lebanese should assume the responsibility in deterring such change. “We should take into consideration all possibilities and ask where the vacuum is taking us,” he told An Nahar.

Lebanon resumes contact with ISIS: hostage families
The Daily Star/Apr. 18, 2015
BEIRUT: Negotiations between the Lebanese government and ISIS militants over the release of captive Lebanese servicemen have resumed after a prolonged stalemate, the families of the hostages said after meeting with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Health Minsiter Wael Abu Faour Saturday. “Abu Faour confirmed that communication with ISIS had resumed after the group appointed a new head in the Qalamoun [region],” Hussein Youssef, spokesman for the families of the captives told The Daily Star after the meeting.
Negotiations between the Lebanese government and ISIS, who is holding at least nine Lebanese servicemen hostage, have been suspended since February when the leader of an ISIS brigade in Qalamoun was shot dead by a senior official of his own group.
“But now that they appointed a new head for ISIS in the Qalamoun the Lebanese government has someone it can negotiate with,” Youssef said. During Saturday’s meeting, Abu Faour also said that negotiations with the Nusra Front have reached the best stage since the soldiers and policemen were captured, Youssef added. Abu Faour said that “positive developments are expected very soon,” in reference to negotiations with The Nusra Front. He also confirmed shy developments in talks with ISIS and said that talks with the militant group have not been suspended, despite media reports alleging so. The optimism over the release of the servicemen being held by the Nusra Front comes one day after General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim struck an upbeat note about negotiations with the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Ibrahim said that the negotiations for the release of the Lebanese hostages were on the right track. However, Ibrahim voiced his fears of “last-minute hitches aimed at improving the conditions of negotiations rather than returning to square one.” Ibrahim, tasked by the government to follow up negotiations for the release of the hostages, returned from talks with Turkish and Qatari mediators in Turkey this week amid signals suggesting that an agreement in the works for the hostage crisis could see the imminent release of all the 16 servicemen held by the Nusra Front. Ibrahim, who is leading the official Lebanese team that is carrying out the negotiations, expressed “appreciation” to both Turkey and Qatar for their roles in mediating a solution. The Nusra Front and ISIS have been holding 25 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal since last August. The servicemen were captured during the deadly clashes between the two militant groups and the Lebanese Army in the town near the border with Syria.

Guards freed in Roumieh as fears of riots persist
The Daily Star/Apr. 18, 2015/BEIRUT: Twenty prison guards were released overnight Friday, hours after they had been taken hostage by Islamist inmates in Roumieh Prison during a riot protesting strict detention regulations, security sources told The Daily Star. “The situation in [Roumieh] is back to normal and the officers who were taken hostage have been released,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in remarks published in the As-Safir newspaper Saturday. Despite the interior minister's assurances, security sources expressed concern over the fraught situation in Block D. A source said that the 20 guards taken hostage constituted the total number of personnel tasked with monitoring the facility, meaning that prisoners managed to take every single guard in Block D captive during the riots. "This is evidence of a gap in prison security," the source said. Another source inside the prison expressed his frustration with the situation since Fridays riots had severely damaged the newly rehabilitated Block D. Cell doors were broken down, surveillance cameras were destroyed while cell partitions were also removed by the prisoners, the source said, noting that current conditions would allow for very lax security in the facility. The devestation wrought in Block D is raising fears over the possibility of the resumption of riots, especially since the inmates are no longer confined in cells, the source added. The release of the captive guards was secured at 2 am Friday after hours of fraught negotiations between security forces and Islamist inmates, according to the security source. It remains unclear whether the guards were released by force or if an agreement was reached during negotiations. Riots began during Friday's evening meal, after which inmates are usually confined to their cells for the night.
A number of prisoners in the newly rehabilitated Block D set their mattresses ablaze, and a fire spread throughout the second floor, prompting Civil Defense teams to intervene. The inmates then escalated their riot by blocking all entrances and taking the guards hostage, the source said. Anti-riot police stormed Roumieh prison and surrounded all entrances to Block D, issuing a warning to the prisoners. After negotiations with the prisoners hit a dead end, police units stormed the prison as well. The riots come in response to the stricter regulations that the prison authorities have adopted to prevent the smuggling of drugs and weapons to inmates. The security source said the prisoners responsible for the riots were mostly Islamists who had been incarcerated in Roumieh’s notorious Block B building, which was emptied and shut down after a large-scale police operation in January. Inmates had enjoyed relative autonomy in Block B and prevented security forces from entering. After the clearing operation took place, television footage showed that prisoners had no cell doors and operated a barber shop and a coffee shop in Block B. Footage also showed inmates on Block B had a large amount of electronic equipment, including TV sets and mobile phones. Some of the prisoners are members of Islamist groups and had been imposing Shariah law inside Block B, reports said. Roumieh prison has been the scene of repetitive riots in past years, with inmates protesting crowded cells and slow trials. The largest riot occurred in April 2011, when inmates set their beds on fire and broke down cell doors, in protest over subpar living conditions.

(Nasrallah's) Double standards
The Daily Star/Apr. 18, 2015/Friday’s address by Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, focusing on developments in Yemen, was a model of consistency – as in consistent double standards. As expected, the Hezbollah leader railed against Saudi Arabia for its intervention in Yemen, and accused the kingdom of using its influence in a host of other countries. Naturally, Nasrallah didn’t mention that Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, that Riyadh has a national interest in what happens there, or even that the two countries have social and cultural ties. Nasrallah didn’t do so, because it would have resembled his own party’s repeated justifications for its intervention in the Syrian crisis. Instead, Nasrallah acted as if it were still March 8, 2005, and delivered a vigorous “thank you” to the Syrian regime, which has been busy killing its own people for four years.Hezbollah – a nonstate group that acts without consulting national authorities – has intervened across the region and has even sought to project its power on other continents. While Nasrallah also criticized how certain groups receive foreign funding, he conveniently forgot how his party, armed to the teeth, is guilty of the same. While Nasrallah is entitled to his views, to end the speech supporting dialogue and reconciliation in Lebanon, demanding that it remain aloof from the region’s crises, was the icing on the cake. If Hezbollah leaders truly want to live in peace with their fellow Lebanese, they should take a long, hard look at their own record before attacking unilateral intervention and demanding acceptance of their growing list of foreign meddling.

Canada Condemns Car Bomb Attack in Iraq
April 17, 2015 - Ottawa, Ontario - Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement:
“Canada condemns the attack today outside the U.S. consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, that killed and wounded several civilians.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims of this act of terrorism.
“Since early 2014, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has carried out a campaign of unspeakable atrocities against children, women and men, as well as religious and ethnic communities in Iraq.
“The international jihadist movement has declared war on Canada, and together with our coalition partners, we will continue to take action to degrade the ISIS threat.”

Iran’s first acquisition after the deal
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 18 Apr, 2015
Iran’s first acquisition after signing the draft nuclear deal, amid promises to lift sanctions, were not cars, airplanes, refrigerators, or women’s purses–but rather long-range missiles! Iran was overjoyed after acquiring S300 missiles that the Kremlin has agreed to send this summer. But the Russian statement angered countries in the region that had warned about the consequences of the nuclear deal struck in Lausanne earlier this month, which would see military and economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted. The deal, which at this time is nothing more than a framework agreement, has already led to further militarization of the region and increased tensions.
One wonders what is the reason behind Russia’s concern and rush to send missiles to Iran, especially given that deal between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran has not been finalized yet.
Does the Kremlin want to woo Iran and ensure Tehran doesn’t turn toward the United States after the expected reconciliation?
Do the missiles symbolize part of the conflict between Russia and the West in Ukraine, and thus, President Vladimir Putin is seeking to widen the circle of unrest for the West and its allies?
Or is this merely a business deal? The Middle East has become the largest market for the purchase of arms in the world, perhaps Russia just wants to expand its share in it?
By selling such missiles, Russia is urging the countries of the region to search for better and more advanced weapons. The Russian defense ministry stated that it will give the Iranians an upgraded version of the S300 missiles at a cost of no more than 1 billion US dollars to straighten ties with Iran after letting it down in the past. Russia had already collected the 1 billion US dollars from Iran, but had failed to ship the merchandise following the imposition of international sanctions.
Strategically, the missile deal may not change Iran’s regional power, but it will surely have a subsequent effect. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not stop at reading the morning papers, but he actually called the Russian president to complain about the deal. Many Arab groups consider the missile deal as evidence that the nuclear deal has only increased Iran’s aggressiveness and not brought the region closer to peace.
As for the Gulf states, they have different calculations than Israel. Israel has the nuclear and conventional power to destroy Iran in a day in the event of a war. Whereas the Gulf is growing weaker as Iran strengthens its defenses with Russian missiles. In their defensive strategy against Iran, Gulf countries primarily rely on aerial weapons and rockets in the event of any external threat. The S300 missiles may weaken the ability of the Gulf’s main force, as Gulf air power had significantly outstripped Iran’s in the past.
The deal between Russia and Iran is connected to the growing skepticism regarding the US pledge to defend the Gulf, increasing the tense situation in the region. Some may wonder: Why don’t we have a peaceful outlook and hope that Iran, after gaining military confidence with the nuclear and Russian missile deals, will be more relaxed and stop spreading turmoil across the region?
This has always been an aspiration among the Arabs. However, realities on the ground are different. We know that Iran won’t take part in dialogue-when possessing all these powers-just for peace. In fact, Tehran’s appetite for chaos will only increase after it realizes that it has neutralized Western countries from intervening in the region. At this point, it will have enhanced its defensive force, taking advantage of the international military and economic sanctions being lifted. Tehran’s leaders believe that the region has become an open map for the first time since the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and that borders can be adjusted to suit Iran’s own interests.

Al Qaeda on winning streaks in Yemen and Iraq, exploiting stalemate in proxy wars
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis April 17, 2015
Thursday and Friday, April 16-17, two branches of Al Qaeda took the lead in violent conflicts, catapulting key areas of the Middle East into greater peril than ever. In Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and in Iraq, the Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), launched new offensives 3.050 kilometer apart.
debkafile’s military sources report that both branches of the Islamist terror movement used the absence of professional adversarial troops on the ground – American and Saudi - to push forward in the two arenas. Washington and Riyadh alike had decided to trust local forces to carry the battle – Iran-backed Shiite militias alongside Iraqi troops against ISIS in Iraq, and the Yemeni army against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
This gave Al Qaeda a free passage to carry on, especially when offered the further benefit of contradictions in the Obama administration’s attitude toward its foe, Tehran: On the one hand, Iran was offered lead role in the region for the sake of a nuclear deal; on the other, it faced US opposition for its support of rebel forces in Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen is no longer a straight sectarian proxy war between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran (that also stretches to Iraq and Syria.), as a result of what happened Thursday, April 16.
AQAP embarked on a broad offensive in southern Yemen’s Hadhramaut region on the shore of the Gulf of Aden and captured the important seaport of Mukalla as well as the coatal towns of Shibam and Ash-Shirh. The group also overran Yemen’s Ryan air base in the absence of real resistance from the Yemen army’s 27th Brigade and 190th Air Defense Brigade – both of which are loyal to the escaped president Mansour Hadi.
This winning AQAP offensive was instructive in four ways:
1. For the first time in two decades, Al Qaeda in Arabia is operating on professional military lines. Its sweep across Yemen’s southern coastland showed the Islamists to be plentifully armed with antiair missiles and other air defense systems.
2. AQAP’s smuggling rings run a large fleet of vessels which collaborate with Somali pirates. This fleet is now preparing to seize control of the strategic Socotra archipelago of four islands opposite Hadhramaut and only 80 kilometers from the Horn of Africa. Socotra sits in the bottleneck for shipping from the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden and on to the Suez Canal.
On one of the Socotra islands, the US set up an air base and deployed special forces in 2011, in readiness for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. AQAP does not have enough strength to capture this island, but is capable of holding it siege and under barrage from sea and land.
3. The Arabian branch of Al Qaeda has for the first time gained control of a large sweep of territory in Yemen, a feat analogous to its fellow branch’s advances in Iraq since last June.
4. Hadramauth is bounded to the north and the east by the Saudi Arabian Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter, which is the world’s second largest desert region. AQAP has therefore gained proximity to the oil kingdom through its desolate back door.
Our military sources note that Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirate air forces have controlled Yemeni air space since March 26, supported by US intelligence assistance. They might have been expected to bomb AQAP units and stall their advance through Hadhramaut.
But they refrained from doing so for a simple reason: Both Riyadh and its Gulf ally are unwilling to throw their own ground forces into the war against the Shiite Houthi rebels. Still in proxy mode, they expect Al Qaeda’s Arabian jihadis to save them the trouble of putting their troops on the ground to vanquish the Shiite rebels.
The same principle guides Washington in Iraq - albeit with different players. There, the Americans rely increasingly on the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, rather than the Iraq army, to cleanse the ground of ISIS conquests.
Two weeks after Western publications trumpeted the militias’ success in liberating the Iraqi town of Tikrit from its ISIS conquerors, it turns out that the fighting is still ongoing and the jihadis are still in control of some of the town’s districts.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, while on a visit to Washington this week, told reporters that, after the Tikrit “victory,” his army was to launch an offensive to recapture the western province of Anbar on the Syrian border from the grip of ISIS.
The situation on the ground is a lot less promising. As Abadi and President Barack Obama discussed future plans for the war to rid Iraq of the Islamists, ISIS launched fresh offensives for its next goals, Ramadi, a town of half a million inhabitants 130 kilometers west of Baghdad, and the oil refinery town of Baiji
**The jihadis have already moved in on Ramadi’s outskirts after the Iraqi army defenders started falling back.

The erratic ISIS and Baath party connection
Dr. Theodore Karasik/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 18 April 2015
The reported death, yet to be confirmed, of the King of Clubs, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, in the notorious U.S. most-wanted Iraqi playing cards, is bringing in to sharp relief the issue of the Baathist factor in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or ISIS.
Baathism, of course, has its roots all the way back to 1943. Baathism, or “renaissance” or “resurrection” is an anti-colonial and pan-Arabist doctrine. At the time, being a Baathist, meant to claim a pure blood lineage to the origins of Islam and, at the same time, invoke the mid–twentieth century ideals of socialism. Baathism called for the rejection of the “Western civilization’s invasion of the Arab mind.” Sound familiar?
What followed, of course, was the fusion with socialist ideology compounded by nationalism. Later, Baathists seemed to be returning to their roots by attempting to restore their power through a number of different tracks over the past decade: secularism, insurgency, and terrorism.
That Baathists helped ISIS, before the declaration of the ‘Caliphate,’ to rush into Iraq last year, and assist in the battles for key nodes in Iraq, is indisputable. Even in the Second Battle of Tikrit, just fought in the past few weeks, Baathists were a prominent component of ISIS forces. The very fact that Saddam Hussein’s al-Tikriti tribe was tossed out of their tribal domain certainly bore the hallmarks of the ultimate revenge against the Baathist core.
Military maneuvers
Iraqi Baathists, who went underground following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, clearly never were put on the ash heap of history. These Baathists, engrained with an ideology with tribal and Sunni attributes, bided their time, seeing greater and more repugnant treatment by the Shiite government in Baghdad under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Baathist Factor in ISIS is not static: It is erratic, wavering, self-serving, and, most important, amorphous
The complex mosaic that is Iraq helped them create the insurgency, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia or al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which is now seen today as ISIS. Ramadi seems to be next on their list as thousands flee. It is notable that the Baathist factor is never ending, it seems, taking two steps forward, and two steps backwards, despite the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and the relentless fighting of the Iraqi security forces including the Al-Hashd al-Sha‘b, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units, the Shiite militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
It is reasonable to gather that Iraqi Baathists have been and are helping ISIS with military tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). These skills are being mixed with the Chechen military terrorist influence in ISIS and there is little doubt that the nexus between the two makes for robust battle TTPs. In addition, top Baathists, at the beginning of ISIS included former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Saddam Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who headed the group’s military council. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had allegedly sought to win the support and loyalty of both men, as well as other experienced former Iraqi army officers, from very early on.
Division line
But we should not put Iraqi Baathists and ISIS always in the same basket. The Baathist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshibandi (JRTN) or the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, actually predate ISIS as they were formed in 2007 by Baathists in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s execution during Eid Al-Adha, which was seen as the ultimate insult by the Shiite Baghdad government against the former Sunni regime. There are clashes between the two groups that have resulted in executions and infighting over the last year. The division line between the two groups becomes sharpest after the battlefield shifts and personal scores or religio-political and tribal disputes and retribution need to be settled. In other words, the Baathist Factor in ISIS is not static: It is erratic, wavering, self-serving, and, most important, amorphous.
Baathists are, by nature, anti-Kurd and anti-Persian, and anti-Shiite. Their thirty-five years in power in Iraq helped to create several generations of ideologically-driven, tribal and family networks that found themselves in bed with the violent extremists of ISIS. The Baathist cult of violence fits neatly into ISIS’s criminal violence augmented now by social media. Imagine for a moment if Iraqi Baathists had demonstrated heavy public use Twitter or other platforms. Perhaps the resulting shock and psychological productions would be the same.
But violence begets violence, and the Baathist factor in ISIS will erupt from time to time, in viciousness, but also in unity, when it is expedient. Losing top Baathists leaders do not kill a generational mindset. Thus, the idea that Iraq may not be unified any time soon is highly likely because until time passes, political reforms are introduced by Baghdad, and ISIS is pushed out of the fragmented country, the Baathist Factor will remain a menace.

Surviving Cancer
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
Saturday, 18 April 2015
The examination was quick but thorough. I was more curious than anxious to know after days of pain, useless anti-biotics and inconclusive local biopsies. I was spent. But I thought that a recent exacting trip in March to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with secretary of defense Robert Gates which left me at times fatigued and almost breathless may have contributed to my exhaustion.
And while Dr. Nabil Yacoub was checking my neck and chest he was asking questions like, how long have you had these lumps in your neck and underarms? Have you experienced waking up at night because you were drenching sweats? I would mumble something and like him alternate between English and Arabic, and give an incomplete or vague answer (I did not remember the drenching night sweats) only to be rescued, as usual, by my wife Rudaina whose voice was being engulfed with impalpable despair. Only then I began to vaguely sense that I am about to enter the capital of pain, where you roam alone and suffer alone. Isn’t April supposed to be ‘the cruelest month’? When Doctor Yacoub was finished he took one step back and said matter-of-factly ‘you have cancer.
It is called non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and it had spread in your neck, chest and abdomen’. As soon as he finished these words, my wife literally collapsed on the hospital bed, her hands covering her ashen face. I was in rage; not because I was diagnosed with cancer, it took that truth sometime to sink in, and besides the news was not a total surprise, but because my wife had to endure the cruelty of the cold ‘professional’ way my diagnosis was announced. I felt that my right to tell my wife, the woman I shared my life with since I was 22 years old, with my own words and my own cadence and my own touch and tone about my condition, was taken away from me. T.S. Eliot was right, April, the month in which I was born, is indeed ‘the cruelest month’. That day, five years ago I had a glimpse of my own funeral, when I woke up from a brief nap to the muffled weeping of my wife, my son Omar and my daughter Nadia over my hospital bed. Did I say already April is the cruelest month? I remember telling them that I was planning to stick around for a while after I beat cancer. I wanted so much to spare them the pain.
My brother’s keeper
In telling my siblings and close friends and some of my colleagues in the following days I found myself doing more consoling than informing or explaining. My youngest sister Helen, the only one of my four sisters who lives in the U.S. took it hard but tried to project a stoic demeanor. She helped me after I shocked my two younger sisters Claude and Wadad in Lebanon, and my older sister Mounira in Spain, by explaining the treatment and the relatively high ratio of surviving non-hodgkin lymphoma. I conspired with my sisters to hide the news temporarily from my older brother Mounir in Lebanon, because we were concerned that the shock would be too hard for him to handle given his frail health. The following week, burdened by guilt I called him. It was difficult to tell a loved one who – like many Lebanese of his generation- cannot force himself to say the word ‘cancer’, that you have been diagnosed with the damn disease. I think I inflicted undue pain on him by repeating the unspoken word many times to let the reality sink in once and for all.
But what was truly uncomfortable was losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. It took me a while to get along with my new face, and I must admit I was not enamored by it. A hairless face with a baseball cap can be deceptive
He gave me an earful of indignant complaints when he realized he was the last sibling to know. He forgot to mention that he was unable to tell me years ago about the passing away of our two brothers, Elie, the oldest and Michel who like my father Yousef died young of heart disease. Michel was barely two years older than me. When he died I felt that he took half of my life and my childhood with him. For my mother Mariana, ‘Michel and Richard’ were inseparable. From him I learned the love of words and books, and together we smoked the first illicit cigarette (I hated it, though he liked it) and together we had as teenagers our first baptism of fire, when our maternal grandfather Habib Nader, a truly tough mountain man and I am convinced, the handsomest older man I have seen in my life, gave us one of his double barrel shot guns to go hunting telling my brother to be careful and keep an eye on me. Rarely a day passes by without me thinking of my brother. I wanted Michel’s memories and his smile to be my constant companion, when cancer invaded and occupied my body.
‘Bad news; I have cancer, but don’t worry…’
I called my two childhood friends in Beirut Michel Daher and Samir Naimy to tell them the bad news. There were lots of emotions and memories, but only few words. I told them not to worry, that I will have excellent medical care and assured them that I will fight cancer with the same gusto we use to display in our teenage brawls in school. I wrote my editors at Al Arabiya in Dubai and some of my friends in Washington that I felt they should hear the news from me and not through a third person. I titled my email; bad news, then explained briefly the nature of cancer and the chemotherapy treatment I am about to start. I assured them, without a hint of irony or bravado that as a ‘mountain man’ in the mold of my grandfather Habib Nader, I will beat cancer. The outpouring of support was gratifying. It was then I realized that practically every family I know of has someone who was diagnosed with cancer.
I was very open about having cancer, and I continued my public appearances, but I resisted writing about it then. I thought I needed some time to lapse to gain a better perspective, but I think the main reason for my reluctance to write about my qfight with cancer was my aversion to the thought that I was seeking sympathy and or attention. I was very adamant not to allow anyone to show me even a hint of fake sympathy, and there were few occasions when I did not want some characters to know that I have cancer precisely because I did not want their phony support. As for my enemies, and I made some in more than 35 years of journalism and public commentary, I wanted to assure them by my attitude, behavior and spirit that I am still standing and ready for the next fight.
The cancer vocabulary
My initial diagnosis was followed early next morning by my first operation where a relatively large cancerous lump was removed from my underarm for biopsy. On that day I met for the first time my oncologist Doctor Alexander Spira, a meticulous and lively man, who explained to me that I have to go through six chemo sessions, once every three weeks, and that the day after each session I would have to take an injection to boost my bone marrow. He told me I could continue my work, but I have to take some precautions to protect myself from infections because chemo will weaken my immune system. When he found out that I ride horses regularly, he asked me to desist. I worked every day during my treatment with the exception of the days of my chemo sessions. The session would last more than six hours. Doctor Spira told me he would schedule the first session immediately before they insert a ‘port’ in my chest. By now I was beginning to acquire a new cancer vocabulary. During cancer treatment doctors need access to the patient’s veins to give him/her treatments such as chemotherapy, blood transfusions or intravenous (IV) fluids. To make these procedures easier and to avoid damaging the patient’s veins they recommend (strongly) inserting a special medical device under the skin in the chest called a catheter or a port.
You will not die of cancer
Before my first chemotherapy session, I had to attend a two hour ‘class’ with my wife, along with other patients about to start chemo treatment, to tell us essentially what will happen to our bodies and our minds when they start injecting in our veins what is for the lack of a better word poisonous drugs to kill the cancerous cells. The session was like a horror show, and the lady lecturer was expansive in her explanations particularly of the side effects of chemo. We all knew that we will suffer hair loss. But the list of side effects could include mouth sores, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (What?), low blood cell counts, and an array of other nasty things with difficult to pronounce names. I told my wife if I get only half of these side effects I will be a wreck. On that day I went to my barber to shave my head. He did not do a thorough job, so I had to do it myself. I could not force myself to shave my moustache.
He was dragging his feet so slowly that he seemed condemned not to reach the other side. That young man was ALONE. I could see that he was deep inside the capital of pain. I have never realized that 15 feet can be that long
Few weeks into the chemo treatment, I was pleasantly surprised that the side effects were barely felt (a metallic taste, and some fatigue) and did not affect my work schedule at all. Early in my treatment Doctor Spira looked me in the eye and said; I can assure almost one hundred percent that you will not die from this cancer. I believed him in the absolute, and never felt afterward that my life was in danger. By this time, my conversations with Doctor Spira would start with a brief discussion of the latest treatment, and then he would start asking me questions about the Middle East. I was ecstatic to find out early on that we shared a strong passion for anything that has to do with the American Civil War; the politics, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, the Generals, the battle fields and the myths.
A call from Kurdistan
After shaving my head I began to sport a baseball cap, but would wear a more formal hat during my television appearances on Al Arabiya. I did not mind a bald head, but losing my moustache, was unsettling; after all we have been together since my youth and went through different phases of size, thickness and color. My wife had to get used to my hairless face. But what was truly uncomfortable was losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. It took me a while to get along with my new face, and I must admit I was not enamored by it. A hairless face with a baseball cap can be deceptive.
One day I was asked to comment on a developing story during a news program hosted by my colleague Rima Maktabi from Dubai. The producer failed to warn Rima that she will be talking with a cancerous version of Hisham Melhem. I immediately saw the shock on her face; but Rima being the professional that she is, quickly managed to regain her composer. I had a number of awkward encounters with people I deal with professionally, who would not recognize me at first glance, and when they do, they don’t know how to deal with what they see.
One day, after I finished an interview on Al-Arabia about events in Iraq, I got a call from someone who spoke with a deep voice with accented Arabic asking for Ustaz Hisham. He told me that Ustaz Massoud would like to talk to me. Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader of the famed Kurdish family was watching Al-Arabiya and asked his aide to call me. I was touched by his concern and well wishes and almost had tears in my eyes when he kept repeating: we don’t forget our friends who stood by us when supporting the Kurds was costly. I have always supported the Kurdish struggle in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East for self-determination. In the days before the internet and satellite television I would interview Kurdish leaders like Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani when they visit Washington on Radio Monte Carlo, the Arabic service, as well as U.S. officials who were in charge of Kurdish affairs (some of them spoke Arabic) when the regime of Saddam Hussein was waging his brutal war against the Kurds. My wife’s reaction: isn’t it interesting that the first leader from the Middle East to call you and wish you well was a Kurd and not an Arab?
The cancer ward
The chemo sessions took place in a large room, with lots of windows, where we sat on large comfortable leather ‘lazy boy chairs’. I did not know if the room had a name, but I found myself referring to it as the ‘Cancer Ward’ and thanking Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for it. I would sit for hours hooked to my (IV) apparatus, watching the bag of drugs going through my veins one drop at a time, then alternate to reading, watching television or as I did on some occasion writing stories on my lap top, while chatting with my wife. Most of the patients were over the age of thirty. No one below the age of twenty was treated at our ‘mature’ cancer ward. Children and teenagers had their special wards. Not even a mountain man can deal with children suffering from cancer.
The nurses and the technicians were professional and friendly. But from the beginning, I was struck by the dignity and stoicism that the patients displayed. Maybe I was lucky, but I don’t remember any patient complaining; why me. Most patients were laconic, or spoke mainly with their family companions (we were encouraged to have with us a family member or a friend). I wish I could say that the ward was the scene of dramas. In fact there was a certain banality to the place. There were few memorable moments, sights and scenes.
A man my age, sitting on the other side of the ward facing me, was being treated with the same drugs that were given to me. He was the quiet type. All of a sudden his body was flailing violently and uncontrollably. His body was refusing the drugs. The usually dignified man was emitting strange otherworldly sounds. The other patients watched silently, helplessly and probably saying to themselves ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I’.
The youngest patient I saw was a man who did not even look twenty years old. He was emaciated, pale, with a piercing eye and the kind of pained face only generations can chisel. I still remember him shuffling slowly across the ward pushing his (IV) apparatus along his side. He was so thin and haggard that he reminded me of Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man sculpture. He was dragging his feet so slowly that he seemed condemned not to reach the other side. That young man was ALONE. I could see that he was deep inside the capital of pain. I have never realized that 15 feet can be that long.
It is what it is
A fifty two year old good looking man who was diagnosed, again, with lung cancer was sharing his life experience with me. I don’t recall how we ended up having a conversation and I don’t remember his name, though his face was etched in my memory. I usually forget names, but rarely faces, because I like to read faces, and I like to look at memorable faces. I cannot get enough of looking at some of Abraham Lincoln’s photos. In one particular photo you could read his family’s tragedy and all the horrors and sorrows of the Civil War. Silent faces say a lot.
The man said that at age fifty, after years of heavy smoking he was diagnosed with lung cancer, but he barely survived after treatment and the removal of one lung. Last year he met the love of his life and married for the first time. Two months ago cancer paid him a second visit to claim his second lung. He told me he was dying, but he wanted to spend as much time as he could with the woman he loves, and hoping that the doctors can prolong his life for few months or even few weeks. He spoke slowly and exuded stoicism. Our conversation had a certain rhythm and was punctuated by brief silences, where we would complete sentences or thoughts. I did not say much, I was listening and watching with resignation the face of a dying man.
Then came another moment of silence. Then we looked at each other, and as if on cue we said: it is what it is. I never saw the man again, but every time I hear someone say: it is what it is, I see his face.
When I remember these episodes I feel that they happened to someone else many years ago. I rarely talk about surviving cancer, and still think that the experience did not alter my life. My wife and my sister Helen always remind me that I never complaint or felt sorry for myself. Five years ago I got an early glimpse of my funeral. But that was not meant to be. I am still standing and going through another April. It is what it is.

Behind the lines: Islamic State comes to Damascus
By JONATHAN SPYER/J.Post/04/18/2015
The latest reports suggest that Islamic State fighters have largely withdrawn from the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk, on the outskirts of Damascus.
The jihadis have returned to the district of Hajar al-Aswad, from where they launched their assault into the camp on April 1; the strongest element in the camp now is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian franchise of al-Qaida.
Islamic State does not seem to have suffered a major defeat in Yarmuk.
Rather, their intention was to strike a blow against the Hamas-affiliated Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis – and this appears to have been achieved.
But the broader significance of the week’s events far transcend the boundaries of the Yarmuk refugee camp. Most important, the Yarmuk fighting marks the definitive arrival of Islamic State into the arena of the Damascus battlefield.
This battlefield is itself heating up amid growing difficulties for the Assad regime; Iranian, Hezbollah and regime forces have suffered setbacks in recent days to the combined forces of Nusra and the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army. The rebels are seeking to establish a secure line south of Damascus from where they can launch strikes directly into the city.
Islamic State has lost some of the areas of Iraq it conquered last summer.
The general direction of the fighting there points toward a slow retreat by the jihadis (though not exclusively – the town of Ramadi close to Baghdad is now threatened by the movement).
But while locked in a largely defensive posture in Iraq (and while continuing to lose ground in northern Syria to Kurdish forces backed by US air power), Islamic State is proving it is able to push forward in areas where it needn’t concern itself with attacks from Western planes.
The regime-controlled areas of the southwest are in this regard a natural choice for Islamic State. Yarmuk is the first evidence of this commitment.
The Yarmuk events also point to the ambiguous role being played by Jabhat al-Nusra regarding its relationship with Islamic State. Nusra has a longstanding rivalry with Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis in Yarmuk, relating to issues of turf and control as much as ideology. The Islamic State attack on Yarmuk began from areas close to those controlled by Nusra; other Palestinian factions accused Nusra of colluding with Islamic State.
Certainly, Nusra did not join in the fighting against Islamic State. Moreover, the movement’s withdrawal from Yarmuk leaves Nusra the strongest faction in the area. PLO envoy Anwar Abd-al Hadi told Reuters that “they [Islamic State and Nusra] are one. They are changing positions.”
Nusra, for its part, denies claims of collusion and says it remains committed to the defense of the people of the Palestinian refugee camps from “extremists.” Yet the facts of the situation suggest at least an agnostic attitude toward Islamic State from the powerful Nusra, and perhaps something more.
So what lies ahead? It is not clear whether the fighting in the camp has completely ceased. But even if it has, Islamic State has not been defeated, having merely withdrawn back to its stronghold in the Hajjar Aswad neighborhood adjoining the camp.
The emergence of Islamic State close to the Syrian capital may have become suddenly apparent with the attack on April 1. But in a way now familiar from the group’s practice, first in Raqqa and then in its assault on Iraq last June, the movement is adept at quietly building its presence through clandestine networks of supporters, before suddenly and abruptly announcing its arrival.
If this is taking place in the Yarmuk area, it may be assumed it is happening elsewhere, too – in a way that is likely to become apparent in the period ahead.
In parallel, the regime is getting weaker in southern Syria, and the relationship between the potent forces of Nusra and the other Western-backed rebel formations is declining.
Yarmuk is not the only evidence of this. Rebels affiliated with the Western-backed Southern Front this week released a statement condemning Nusra’s ideology and rejecting cooperation with it.
Bashar al-Zoubi, one of the leaders of the Southern Front, told Reuters that “neither Nusra nor anything else with this ideology represents us... We can’t go from the rule of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad to [al-Qaida chief Ayman al-] Zawahiri and Nusra.”
Tensions are growing between Nusra and the Southern Front elsewhere in the south. On April 1, the rebels took the Nasib border crossing from regime forces; it was the last regime-controlled crossing between Jordan and Syria. Nusra and Western-backed rebel elements have been competing over credit for the capture of this area.
This raises the possibility of further tactical cooperation between Islamic State and Nusra in the south, of the type seen in the Qalamoun area, and also apparently in Yarmuk.
And finally, last Saturday fighters declaring loyalty to Islamic State launched an unsuccessful assault on the Khalkhalah military airport in Sweida Province, south of Damascus. This is a further indication of the emergent Islamic State presence on the southern battlefield.
What all this means is that the period in which Islamic State could be assumed to be at a safe distance from the part of Syria closest to Israel appears to be drawing to a close.
And as the regime weakens, the prospect is opening up for a three-way fight between the Assad regime/Iran/Hezbollah, the jihadists of Nusra and Islamic State, and the weaker Western-backed rebels.
The strange events in the blighted Yarmuk refugee camp this week may well represent the opening salvo in a new phase of the Syrian war.

Netanyahu must wake up to the new reality
Nahum Barnea/Ynetnews
Published: 04.18.15, 16:04 / Israel Opinion
With an American president who is losing patience with the insults hurled at him, a failed Israeli attempt at reshaping the Iranian nuclear agreement and a looming UN resolution on the Palestinians, it's time for a reboot of international policy.
The US Senate reconvened on Monday following its Easter holiday recess, and members of the Foreign Relations Committee immediately began intense negotiations over the formulation of the bill that will accompany the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The Republicans wanted a law that would give the Senate the power to ratify or reject the deal. President Barack Obama threatened to exercise his veto right over any such bill. Emissaries of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the committee members to insist that the bill include two demands that were not included in the deal – recognition of Israel on the part of the Iranian government, and a promise from Tehran to end its support of terrorist organizations.
To the surprise of many, an agreement was reached within a day. Both sides contributed to the compromise: Obama lifted his veto threat and agreed to allow the Senate to oversee the process with Iran; and the Republican majority in the Senate retracted its demand that the framework deal be approved by the Senate and agreed to wait until the end of June, when the Iranians are due to sign the final agreement. The two Israeli demands vanished into thin air. I'll get back to them in a moment – and to the bitter smile they brought to Obama's face.
From a practical point of view, the compromise in the Senate gives US Secretary of State John Kerry and his team a first-class ticket to Lausanne: The Senate won't bother them again until the end of June, and it won't trouble the Iranians at all. If the negotiations end in failure, the Senate will no longer be relevant; if, on the other hand, an agreement is reached, it will be discussed in Washington once China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany put pen to paper and promise to lift the sanctions. The rest of the world will follow suit. With or without the US Senate, the horses will bolt the stables.
The fate of the Iranian nuclear program now rests with the ayatollahs – and them alone. Iran's status as a nuclear threshold nation has been recognized by the international community – including the United States.
Israel took a major blow, of historic proportions. Jerusalem's huge public relations drive came to naught. Governments weren't the only ones that brushed us aside; Israel's closest friends on Capitol Hill, those who represent constituencies with large Jewish populations and who enjoy the support of Jewish billionaires, are now doing the same. At this point in time, a responsible government would stop and rethink its course of action.
A new course of action must start with the Obama administration. Officials in Washington understand what the nuclear deal with Iran means to America's allies in the Middle East – and Israel first and foremost. They are looking for a way to balance it, to compensate America's allies and to limit the damage. Obama is willing to go far on this issue – much further than his predecessors ever did.
But Netanyahu has his own agenda: Judging by his speeches over the past few days, he appears to believe that everything is still open to change, that the members of Congress are still sitting in the auditorium and applauding him. He's like Emperor Nero, who played on his fiddle while Rome burned.
"Even if we are forced to stand alone, our hearts will not be fearful," Netanyahu declared in his Holocaust Remembrance Day address at Yad Vashem on Wednesday night. Netanyahu spoke as someone for whom the role of victim, all alone, against the entire world, is a source of great pleasure.
In his imagination, he doesn't live at the Prime Minister's Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, but in an underground bunker at Ulica Mila 18; he is not the leader of a country that, according to foreign news reports, is in possession of a nuclear arsenal of its own and is capable of razing Iran's major cities. Levy Eshkol once mockingly called Israel "the nerdy Samson." In Netanyahu's speeches, Israel is even weaker, even more pitiful than it actually is.
Barack Obama is getting increasingly angry with Netanyahu's Holocaust-infused statements. No American president would be willing to hear an Israeli prime minister compare him to Neville Chamberlain and hold him responsible for the next Jewish Holocaust. Ariel Sharon did so once, during a visit with former president Bush – but never repeated the mistake. Netanyahu makes the same mistake every day.
In private conversations, Obama expresses his longing for the old Israel, the Israel of 1967 – the fighting, pioneering and democratic Israel; the Israel that was admired by all the American Jews he knew. One can argue over whether that impression of Israel was real or a myth, reality or wishful thinking; but one cannot deny the strength of that image.
Israel today, Obama says, is not the Israel I fell in love with. Israel today is an arrogant country, which continues to build settlements and thumb its nose at the rest of the world, which denies the existence of the Palestinians, and which treats them like ghosts.
The opinions attributed here to Obama are based on comments I have heard from people who have met with him of late. The statements reflect the spirit of his comments and are not the actual words he used. That's why I refrained from placing them between quotation marks.
France and New Zealand, Obama says, are about to present the UN Security Council with a resolution on the Palestinian issue. It will contain all of the phrases that Israel finds so important but will, at the end, call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in keeping with the 1967 borders.
The government of Israel expects us, the United States, to impose a veto. I cannot say how we will respond; we haven't decided yet. But I have to ask myself: Why does Israel allows itself to do whatever it wants and still expect us to veto a resolution that accurately reflects our long-standing policy? Why should America impose a veto against itself?
The United States' blind support of Israel will not last forever, Obama has warned. There's been a shift in public opinion. Look what's happening on American campuses. Ask students what they think about Israel.

The Other Face of Terrorism
Raheel Raza/Gatestone Institute
April 18, 2015 at 5:00 am
We live in a country where we embrace liberal democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech and individual freedoms, so we naïvely think that everyone who comes here has the same values. Wrong. Those are the very values that the terrorists abhor.
We must be aware that there are organizations and individuals right here in the United States and Canada who have exactly the same ideology as Boko Haram, the Taliban and ISIS. The only difference is these North American organizations are required to follow the law of the land.
In many instances, these subversive organizations have succeeded in suppressing free speech by aggressively intimidating academic institutions.
This threatening, silencing and censoring is the other face of terrorism.
According to a UNICEF report published this week, an estimated 800,000 children in and around Nigeria were forced from their homes by Boko Haram extremists. This report was published almost a year after the mass kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok. There are reports that many of these kidnapped girls were terrorized, raped and later forced to marry their captors.
On the other side of the world, the Taliban have been consistently targeting women and girls. Human Rights Watch's World Report for 2015 says that there continue to be threats to women's rights and freedom of expression. The report notes that other setbacks for women's rights in 2014 included a continuing series of attacks on, threats toward, and assassinations of, high-profile women, including policewomen and activists, to whom the government failed to respond with any meaningful measures to protect them in the future. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for asking for education, is a sad testimony to the Taliban's hatred toward educated and empowered women and its terrorist attacks on unarmed schoolgirls.
In between these two worlds, there exists yet another terrorist threat to women. The Islamic State (ISIS) has consistently targeted women in their brutal battle for control of the Muslim world. In this process, members of ISIS have perpetrated barbaric and horrific attacks on minority Yazidi women. Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, explains how the extremist group attacks women when they seize an area. "They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try and sell them. The younger girls, basically they ... are raped or married off to fighters," Esfandiari said. "It's based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters."
What do these three groups, Boko Haram, the Taliban and ISIS, which are terrorizing our world today, have in common?
They are Islamists touting political Islam over the spiritual message and looking for political power and hegemony in the Muslim world
Their ideology is: We are the only ones who know the truth; we will lead and others should follow without questioning our tactics, and only then will they find salvation (perhaps a few virgins thrown in for fun); The West is evil and we will teach them a lesson; our ideology must engulf the Muslim world with the establishment of a Caliphate.
They work on creating terror among their victims by using tactics of intimidation and threats both physical and emotional.
As they operate in countries where there is little accountability or law enforcement, they are able to get away with acts of violence and terror, mostly against women and minorities.
Those of us living comfortable lives in North America, sometimes think that this is all happening "out there somewhere," and that we are safe from these terrorists. We live in a country where we embrace liberal democracy, gender equality, freedom of speech and individual freedoms, so we naïvely think that everyone who comes here has the same values. Wrong. Those are the very values that the terrorists abhor, as they tell us time and again.
We must be aware that there are organizations and individuals right here in the United States and Canada who have exactly the same ideology as Boko Haram, the Taliban and ISIS. The only difference is that these North American organizations are required to follow the law of the land. They therefore cannot use violent measures against women and minorities quite so overtly while living here; so they resort to subversive tactics.
They nevertheless follow similar ideologies as other terrorist groups:
Follow us -- we will represent you as we are the ones on the right path.
Others (especially women) who are speaking of reform and change within the Muslim world are heretics and not really good Muslims because many of them do not wear a hijab.
These "heretics" are friends with the "infidels" so how could they be true representatives of Islam or Muslims?
We will tell you what "authentic" Islam is, and anyone questioning the status quo is an Islamophobic racist bigot, so we will help you play the "victim card."
This is a message that resonates not only from some pulpits, but from some Muslim organizations based in U.S. and Canada, which like to say that they are the voice of the majority of Muslims living here. What is frightening is how many people fall into the trap of believing them, including some of the mainstream media.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a film such as Honor Diaries, which exposes injustices and violence against women in Muslim-majority societies, is a slap in the face of some of these North American Muslim organizations. They cannot handle the truth; they have been caught, cornered and trapped. The only way to deflect the issue is to intimidate and silence those who speak out. Like Boko Haram, the Taliban and ISIS, they specifically target women because they think they are the weaker gender.
Subversive North American Islamist organizations have succeeded in suppressing free speech, writes Raheel Raza, such as using intimidation in attempts to cancel screenings of the film Honor Diaries. The film exposes injustices and violence against women in Muslim-majority societies. Above, a screenshot from Honor Diaries, relating to child brides.
In many instances, these subversive organizations have succeeded in suppressing free speech by aggressively intimidating academic institutions. Recently Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, experienced Duke students trying to cancel her speech.
Recently, at The University of South Dakota, one screening of Honor Diaries was cancelled, and at another screening, there were threats and intimidation toward the faculty and the speaker.
This threatening, silencing and censoring is the other face of terrorism; it is no wonder that one such organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, famous for trying to silence free speech, finds its name on the terrorist list published even by the United Arab Emirates.

Abadi and Iran’s Agenda

Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat
Saturday, 18 Apr, 2015
US President Barack Obama’s administration was extremely polite and civil in its response to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, after he claimed that Washington was not in favor of Operation Decisive Storm and considered the Saudis to be uncooperative. This resulted in US National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey emerging to roundly deny Abadi’s characterization of the US position, confirming Washington’s support for Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis in Yemen. More than this, Baskey confirmed that the Obama administration is physically providing support for the operation, so how could Abadi’s comments be true?
This is how the US responded to the situation, without embarrassing its Iraqi ally or disrupting its prime minister’s visit to Washington. As for the practical translation of America’s response: Abadi’s claims were a complete lie and was nothing more than an attempt to promote a different position to Washington’s stated stance towards Operation Decisive Storm.
Did Mr. Abadi travel to Washington in order to further the interests of his own country or as an envoy from Iran with the objective of putting forward Tehran’s position on Yemen? What makes the prime minister of a country, which is thousands of kilometers from Yemen, come out to defend the position of the Houthi rebels and attack Saudi Arabia in this manner?
The Iraqi prime minister could have cooperated with Washington to put an end to the sectarian militias that are ravaging his country, fighting the terrorism of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on one hand but allowing the terrorism of the National Mobilization militia to spread on the other. He could have paid attention to the Syrian crisis and discussed its repercussions on neighboring Iraq, particularly as this is something that he is always complaining about, rather than searching for a lifeline for the Houthis in Yemen. He could have tried to convince Washington to provide Iraq with the fleet of F-16 fighter jets that it has already paid for, or meet Baghdad’s demand for Apache helicopters and unmanned drones. He could have done all this and more to ensure that his visit to Washington achieved its minimum objective, namely the prime minister seeking to secure the strategic interests of the Iraqi people. But the bitter truth, which was clear for all to see unfortunately, is that Mr. Abadi was more concerned with furthering the agenda of Iran and the Houthis in Washington, rather than looking out for the interests of his own people.
Last October, just weeks after taking office, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states sought to resolve their ties with Iraq, which had been distorted and corrupted by Abadi’s notorious predecessor ex-prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki. Indeed, it was Gulf political support that helped Abadi to take office in the first place. Following this, the Arab street was surprised by an attack from US Vice President Joe Biden who accused the UAE and Saudi Arabia of supporting ISIS, only to quickly apologize. At the time, Abadi lied in an interview with Iraq’s Alhurra TV commenting that “this is not a secret,” in comments about Biden’s spurious allegations. Despite Abadi’s comments and the threat this represented to Gulf-Iraqi relations, Gulf states did not stop short of friendly relations with Baghdad. Now, at a time when Riyadh is on track to return its ambassador to Baghdad and strength its relations with Iraq and open a new page in diplomatic relations, Mr. Abadi emerges with a new hostile position that does not demonstrate any real Iraqi desire to improve its relations with its Gulf neighbors. It is as if he is confirming, once again, that relations with Iran are holy to the point that Iraq is prepared to lose all its other relations to protect this.
If only Mr. Abadi focused on solving the never-ending problems in his country rather than putting on the Iranian turban. If only he focused on the sectarian unrest that is setting Iraq on fire, rather than completely ignoring this and not trying to quench this flame. If only he listened to the advice of the US to address the issue of tanks that are roaming free across Iraqi territory adorned with Iranian sectarian flags and banners with the consent of the Baghdad government. If only he was not so in tune with the voices from Tehran and promoting the same sectarian discourse. If only Mr. Abadi had kept the ball rolling with Iraq’s Gulf neighbors, rather than moving closer to severing these, just as Maliki did before him.