February 12/15

Bible Quotation For Today/A Prophecy Against Babylon
Isaiah 13/01-22: "A prophecy against Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw: Raise a banner on a bare hilltop, shout to them; beckon to them to enter the gates of the nobles. I have commanded those I prepared for battle; I have summoned my warriors to carry out my wrath— those who rejoice in my triumph. Listen, a noise on the mountains, like that of a great multitude! Listen, an uproar among the kingdoms, like nations massing together! The Lord Almighty is mustering an army for war. They come from faraway lands, from the ends of the heavens— the Lord and the weapons of his wrath—to destroy the whole country. Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Because of this, all hands will go limp, every heart will melt with fear. Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make people scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. Like a hunted gazelle, like sheep without a shepherd, they will all return to their own people, they will flee to their native land. Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; there no nomads will pitch their tents, there no shepherds will rest their flocks. But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. Hyenas will inhabit her strongholds, jackals her luxurious palaces. Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 11-12/15
Raffic Al Hariri Assassination: The Hezbollah Connection/New Yok Times/By RONEN BERGMAN/February12/15

Syrian army tears through the south to sweep Iran and Hizballah up to Israel’s Golan doorstep/DEBKAfile/February 11/15
Christians Burned Alive for Refusing Islam/By Raymond Ibrahim/February 11/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 11-12/15
PM, Tammam Salam Boosts Rural Tourism Strategy, Says Nation Won't Heal without its Head
Hezbollah in Syria fighting close to Israeli lines

Israeli spy foiled Olmert assassination
MP KIhalid Daher suspends His Future bloc membership
Black flags go white in Tripoli’s main square
Jordan king to help Lebanon elect president: Machnouk
'Yohan' Another Powerful Storm Hits Lebanon
Ibrahim says region facing a segregation plan
Berri: Future-Hezbollah talks to tackle presidency
Rafik Hariri Hospital chair resigns as staff strikes
Lebanese Army earns best security app award
Tip of the iceberg
Qunaitra attack targeted STL suspect: report
Al-Mashnouq Calls for 'Huge Step' to Consolidate Dialogue
Report: Negotiations on Release of Hostages Crumble over Tough Conditions
Mustaqbal Hopes Dialogue with Hizbullah Will Curb Spread of 'Illegitimate Arms'
Asiri Says Measures Boosted near Embassy: We Trust Security Agencies Would Protect Us
Abou Faour Says Unified Prescription Form Cannot be Forged, NSSF Refuses to Compensate People
Berri, Salam to Meet over Cabinet Mechanism
Journalist Firas Hatoum Briefly Detained in Turkey

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 11-12/15
Full text of Obama's proposal against ISIS
Obama sends Congress draft war authorization that says ISIS 'poses grave threat'
Australia thwarts 'imminent' IS terror attack
Rouhani: Goal of negotiations is "win-win" outcome
Iran marks 36 years since Islamic Revolution
Netanyahu: Israel in 'Profound Disagreement' With Obama Admin
PLO official testifies at US trial
Israeli Minister: Hamas and ISIS Are the Same
Sudan army committed mass rape in Darfur: HRW
White House: Obama tells Putin in call to agree Ukraine peace deal
Ukraine, French, German meet for peace summit
Europe launches spaceplane
Opposition accuses 'dodgy' British PM over HSBC scandal
Nuclear deal for Cairo as Putin woos Sisi
Three Muslim Students Killed in U.S. Shooting
U.N. Envoy to Report to Security Council on Syria Mission
Houthis seize key province in central Yemen
Shiite Militia Disperses Protest against Yemen 'Coup'
King Salman meets Britain’s Prince Charles in Riyadh

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
AFDI Inaugural Muhammad Cartoon Exhibit and $10,000 Contest #JeSuisCharlie
Over 20,000 Muslims from outside Syria have joined the jihad there
Yemen: Iran-backed Shi’ite jihadis seize US Embassy vehicles, won’t let departing Marines take their weapons with them
Leftist SPLC fan and supporter of Ground Zero Mosque murders Muslims over parking dispute, Hamas-linked CAIR brands it a hate crime
Islamic jihadist plotted to murder Pope Francis during his trip to the Philippines
Sharia UK: Police in 3 counties sought names of Charlie Hebdo buyers
St. Louis KMOV: “Local Muslims face possible backlash after terror indictments”
Australia: Two Muslims arrested for “public beheading” plot

Obama proposes war authorization against ISIS
David Espo/Nedra Pickler/Associated Press/Feb. 11, 2015 /WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama is asking Congress to formally authorize war against ISIS militants, offering a draft resolution that says ISIS "poses a grave threat."The president is sending Congress a proposed three-page authorization for military force. A copy was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press from congressional officials. Obama would limit authorization to three years, with no restriction where U.S. forces could pursue the threat. Obama's proposal bans "enduring offensive combat operations," an ambiguous term intended as compromise between lawmakers who want authority for ground troops and those who don't. Obama is proposing to end a 2002 authorization for war in Iraq. But his draft remains silent on 2001 legislation against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Text of Obama's proposal to authorize military force against ISIS
Associated Press/Feb. 11, 2015
Full text of Obama's proposed resolution to formally authorize military force against ISIS:
To authorize the limited use of the United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Whereas the terrorist organization that has referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and various other names (in this resolution referred to as "ISIL") poses a grave threat to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, regional stability, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners;
Whereas ISIL holds significant territory in Iraq and Syria and has stated its intention to seize more territory and demonstrated the capability to do so;
Whereas ISIL leaders have stated that they intend to conduct terrorist attacks internationally, including against the United States, its citizens, and interests;
Whereas ISIL has committed despicable acts of violence and mass executions against Muslims, regardless of sect, who do not subscribe to ISIL's depraved, violent, and oppressive ideology;
Whereas ISIL has threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations;
Whereas ISIL has targeted innocent women and girls with horrific acts of violence, including abduction, enslavement, torture, rape, and forced marriage;
Whereas ISIL is responsible for the deaths of innocent United States citizens, including James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller;
Whereas the United States is working with regional and global allies and partners to degrade and defeat ISIL, to cut off its funding, to stop the flow of foreign fighters to its ranks, and to support local communities as they reject ISIL;
Whereas the announcement of the anti-ISIL Coalition on September 5, 2014, during the NATO Summit in Wales, stated that ISIL poses a serious threat and should be countered by a broad international coalition;
Whereas the United States calls on its allies and partners, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, that have not already done so to join and participate in the anti-ISIL Coalition;
Whereas the United States has taken military action against ISIL in accordance with its inherent right of individual and collective self-defense;
Whereas President Obama has repeatedly expressed his commitment to working with Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force for the anti-ISIL military campaign; and
Whereas President Obama has made clear that in this campaign it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That
This joint resolution may be cited as the "Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant."
(a) AUTHORIZATION._The President is authorized, subject to the limitations in subsection (c), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces as defined in section 5.
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION._Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1547(a)(1)), Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(b)).
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS._Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).
The authority granted in subsection (a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.
This authorization for the use of military force shall terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized.
The President shall report to Congress at least once every six months on specific actions taken pursuant to this authorization.
In this joint resolution, the term "associated persons or forces" means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243; 116 Stat. 1498; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) is hereby repealed.

Report: Israeli spy foiled Olmert assassination
Hezbollah planned to kill then-prime minister in response to death of senior operative in 2008, but was foiled by alleged spy, says newspaper.
Roi Kais/Published: 02.11.15/Israel News/Ynetnews
Shiite terror group Hezbollah planned to assassinate former prime minister Ehud Olmert, claimed a report in the London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed newspaper, which quoted political elements "in close contact with Hezbollah".
The plan was reportedly meant as a response to the targeted killing of senior operative Imad Mughniyeh, which the Washington Post recently alleged was a joint CIA-Mossad operation.
According to the report, which had yet to be substantiated by further sources at the time of publication, the planned assassination was foiled by Mohammed Shawraba, a member of the organization who Hezbollah recently claimed was a spy for Israel.
The Qatari-owned newspaper did not reveal information about the timing of the plot or how it was foiled, but said it would continue to publish details throughout the day Wednesday. Shawraba also helped foil an attack on the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan in 2009, according to the sources who spoke to the publication.
Reports in recent months said Shawraba served as the chief of Hezbollah's division in charge of attacks outside of Lebanon. According to al-Jazeera, the information he supplied led to the arrests of Hezbollah operatives in several countries, most recently in Peru.
Additional reports said Shawraba assisted in tracking the movements of one of the perpetrators of the terror attack in Burgas in 2012 that targeted Israeli tourists. He was also claimed to be responsible for the personal security of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah told the Al Mayadeen network several weeks ago that Hezbollah had indeed uncovered an agent "recruited by the United States and Israel". He said that during investigation, the agent revealed all the information he passed on to Israel as well as the nature of his relationship to Israeli intelligence.
At the same time, Nasrallah attempted to minimize the agent's status within the organization.
While admitting that Shawraba was a member of an important unit, he dismissed "exaggerated" reports in media outlets that claimed he was responsible for the organization's security system and rocket arsenal, or that he was involved in any way in the killings of senior operatives Mughniyeh and Hassan Lakkis.
Nasrallah said the alleged spy had no association with the organization's military infrastructure.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam Boosts Rural Tourism Strategy, Says Nation Won't Heal without its Head

Naharnet /Prime Minister Tammam Salam stressed on Wednesday that Lebanon is passing through a political crisis, pointing out that the nation will not heal without its head. “We are still amid a political crisis and the nation will not completely heal without its head,” Salam said during a conference on the Rural Tourism Strategy for Lebanon at the Grand Serail. “We will not have tourism without security and stability,” the PM said, pointing out that a security plan has been established 10 months ago and is still being implemented across the country. He considered that the rural areas represent Lebanon's history. Minister of Tourism Michel Pharaon remarked that the sector's growth reached 25 percent, with the rural tourism alone growing from five to ten percent. “We had to compensate for the paralysis crawling in our institutions and develop projects that could be followed up by active committees,” Pharaon said, expressing hope that the successor government and new president would continue the exerted efforts. The minister expressed full support to the army “which is defending our values.”For his part, Environment Minister Mohammed al-Mashnouq remarked that his ministry and the ministry of tourism complement each other. “The information ministry and all its units are fully ready to market rural tourism,” Information Minister Ramzi Greij stressed. The Rural Tourism Strategy for Lebanon, which was drafted by a non-profit organization Beyond Beirut, aims at improving rural tourism in various areas and creating new ones that will boost the state's treasury and employment opportunities. The plan targets both locals and foreigners.

'Yohan' Another Powerful Storm Hits Lebanon
Naharnet/Violent winds and what seemed to be a dust storm caused havoc in several Lebanese regions on Wednesday as storm Yohan battered the country with dust, rainy skies and thunderstorms. Yohan, coming from western Italy, hit Lebanon overnight on Tuesday dominated the weather with temperatures taking a drop and snowfall beginning at 1,400 meters above sea level. Heavy snowfall cut several roads in mountainous areas of Lebanon as the ferocity of the storm compelled the closure of some schools and the brief closing of ports. The strong winter storm halted maritime traffic in Beirut, Sidon and Tripoli's ports. Overnight, strong winds pushed a ship 30 meters away from the pier at the Beirut Port after the mooring ropes were severed, and efforts kicked off to return it to the port and prevent it from sinking. Another ship that was docked at Beirut Port, collided with a vessel in the sea after its mooring ropes were cut off due to strong winds. Strong waves broke fences and tiles along Beirut's famed corniche overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanese weather forecasters said the wind reached speeds of 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph). The storm damaged power lines in Tyre, plunging the southern city and the nearby areas into darkness. The Jounieh-Beirut seaside road partially collapsed and was blocked by police over the high waves caused by strong winds. Many public roads were cut off in different areas due to fallen trees that caused material damage. Citizens and Syrian refugees in Lebanon were advised to take precautionary measures. In January, a major storm “Zina” struck Lebanon, hitting refugees living in makeshift camps as many Syrians were trapped in their tents by snow, struggling to stay warm in temperatures hovering around zero degrees. More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled across the border into Lebanon since March 2011, when the conflict in their country began.

Syrian army tears through the south to sweep Iran and Hizballah up to Israel’s Golan doorstep
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 11, 2015
The large-scale offensive the Syrian army launched in southern Syria Sunday, Feb. 8 – the broadest in that region in the nearly-four year conflict – heralded Act III of the Iranian-Hizballah drive for a position on Israel’s Golan border, debkafile’s military sources report. Israel curtailed Act I on Jan 18 with an air strike which killed a dozen Iranian and Hizballah officers scooping out the Golan town of Quneitra for their new base. Among them were the commander of Iranian forces in Syria, Revolutionary Guards general Mohamad Ali Allah Dadi and a senior Hizballah officer Ali al-Tabtabani.
This cut short a move to seize a forward position in the northern Golan and adjacent Hermon.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon then reiterated that Israel would not permit Iran and Hizballah to create a military enclave there for their forces to jump-start terrorist strikes and rocket attacks against Israel.
Act II came ten days later with the Hizballah attack, aided by Iranian tactical intelligence, on an Israeli command patrol, in which killing Major Yochai Klingel and St. Sgt. Dror Nini were killed.
Although nothing happened for twelve days – some Hizballah sources even suggested the account was closed – all the parties were braced for the next round in the struggle playing out for the Golan.
On Jan. 30, Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah stood up in Beirut for a furious speech to dictate terms: If Israel persisted in its refusal to live with an Iranian-Hizballah presence on the Golan, there would be war,he shouted.
On Feb. 2, the influential Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the majlis foreign affairs and security committee, declared that the account with Israel over the Quneitra attack was still open and more “operations” were coming.
And they did on Feb. 8 from an unexpected direction – the south. Elements of the Syrian army’s Ninth Division and 121st Brigade armed with 50 T-72 tanks led a sweeping Iranian-Hizballah offensive dubbed “Operation Ali Allah Dadi for Quneitra Martyrs.”
With them were 4,000 Shiite fighters imported by Iran for the battle and several hundred Hizballah gunmen – all under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers.
The operation started out with an Iranian-led force advancing on the southern Syrian town of Deraa – part of which is held by Syrian rebels - and heading for the junction of the Syrian-Jordanian and Israeli borders.
Strong dust and sand storms over the region this week restricts visibility and kept Syrian fighter jets grounded. Nonetheless, the Syrian-Hizballah-Iranian force, by dint of its superior numbers and fire power, were able to drive Syrian rebels out of many of the sectors they held and push them back toward the Israeli border.
By Tuesday night, ground reconnaissance had sighted the advancing force reaching a line 5-6 km south and east of Quneitra and in position to capture the Syrian Golan town.
Monday, Feb. 9, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem emphasized that Israel’s efforts to create a buffer zone on the Golan, like the security enclave it maintained in South Lebanon, would not succeed.
The object of the Quneitra offensive is clearly to root out Syrian rebel forces, claimed to be backed by Israel, from the positions they hold facing the Israeli Golan.To replace them, a token Syrian contingent made up mostly of Shiite fighters trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and an armed Hizballah force will move in. Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah are intent on forcing Israel to swallow the presence of their forces on the threshold of central and southern Golan - after their bid to park opposite the northern sector and the adjacent Hermon mountains was pre-empted by the Israeli air strike on their advance guard. This last challenge has so far gone without an Israeli response. Heavy weather conditions over the region offer Netanyahu and Ya’alon a few days’ space for determining their next move. But doing nothing will let Tehran come out of Act III as the winner and clinch the finale of the struggle for a forward position on Israel’s Golan doorstep.

Hezbollah in Syria fighting close to Israeli lines
Associated Press/Feb. 11, 2015
BEIRUT: Syrian troops and fighters from Hezbollah seized several towns and villages south of Damascus Wednesday, state media and activists said, advancing in a region bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The government counteroffensive aims at recapturing areas seized by Syrian rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, whose recent advances had brought them closer to embattled President Bashar Assad's seat of power. The government late last year lost large parts of the Qunaitra region on the edge of the Golan. State television said troops gained control of the town of Deir al-Adass and the village of Deir Maker, as well as the nearby areas of Tal al-Arous and Tal al-Sarjeh. "The operations are being led by Hezbollah's special forces," said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Their aim appears to be to eventually reach areas bordering the occupied Golan and set up a border zone under Hezbollah's control."The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists around the country, said Iranian volunteers are also taking part in the fighting. It said 20 opposition fighters were killed there Tuesday alone. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside forces loyal to Assad, saying it is battling Sunni Islamic extremists who pose a threat to the whole region. Israeli officials accuse Iran, through Hezbollah, of working to establish a base in southern Syria to launch attacks against the Jewish state. Hezbollah denies seeking any military presence there. On Jan. 18, an Israeli airstrike near the Golan killed seven people, including an Iranian general, a top Hezbollah commander and the son of a slain top commander. Hezbollah said the fighters were inspecting positions in the Golan. Part of the strategic plateau was seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Although Syrian state television and Hezbollah's Al-Manar satellite channel purportedly reported live from Deir al-Adass, a rebel spokesman said they only captured the town briefly before being forced out. Gen. Ibrahim Jbawi, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's southern front, said the fighting killed or wounded 200 government forces and Hezbollah fighters. He said rebels also destroyed 13 tanks. His report could not be independently confirmed. "The [Syrian] regime is trying to regain some of its standing" in the area, Jbawi said. In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad met with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to discuss his proposal for reducing the violence, starting with a hostilities freeze in the northern city of Aleppo. De Mistura did not disclose details of the meeting, but state-run news agency SANA said the two discussed "new details" in the U.N. plan to freeze fighting in Aleppo "in a positive and constructive climate."

Berri: Future-Hezbollah talks to tackle presidency
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015
BEIRUT: The next round of talks between the Future Movement and Hezbollah will address the deadlock surrounding the presidential election, Speaker Nabih Berri told visitors Wednesday. “Dialogue sessions between Hezbollah and The Future Movement are ongoing,” MPs who visited Berri’s Beirut residence Wednesday, quoted the speaker as saying. Berri has repeatedly expressed hope that the launching of a dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement would help facilitate the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25. However, Berri said that the two parties will only discuss presidential elections if they finalize the primary agenda item- defusing sectarian tensions exacerbated by the conflict in Syria. Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda which, according to officials from both sides, also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions. The two sides also agreed to support the continued implementation of a government security plan in all Lebanese territories.
Berri said Wednesday that the two parties have agreed on implementing a security plan in the Bekaa Valley following the successful restoration of state authority in Tripoli.

Israel's Qunaitra attack targeted STL suspect: report
The Daily Star/Feb. 10, 2015/BEIRUT: One of the five Hezbollah members being tried in absentia over the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the target behind a Jan. 18 Israeli airstrike in Syria's Golan Heights, The New York Times said Tuesday.
According to a report authored by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, Hezbollah operative Mustafa Amine Badreddine was supposed to be in the convoy that was targeted in an Israeli airstrike that killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general. But Badreddine's life was spared because he “dropped out of the gathering at the last minute,” the report alleged.It did not cite sources. It also said that six out of the seven men in the convoy were killed. But Hezbollah buried its six members in the week after the Qunaitra attack, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard acknowledged that one of its commanders was killed. The faces of the seven were displayed on banners in a stadium during a Jan. 30 speech by Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah to commemorate their deaths. It was unclear if the report made a counting error, or if the author is suggesting that one of the men survived the attack. Among those killed were Jihad Mughniyeh, son of late-Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, and field commander Mohammad Issa. The older Mughniyeh was killed when Israeli agents detonated a bomb in his car in Syria in 2008. The report said that Badreddine took over many of Mughniyeh's duties after his 2008 assassination. It also cited an "intelligence operative in the region" as saying that Badreddine was involved in launching attacks against Israel from Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Badreddine is married to the sister of the older Mughniyeh. He was reportedly seen receiving condolences at the younger Mughniyeh’s funeral last month. Prosecutors in the Hariri trial accuse Badreddine of being the mastermind of a 5-man cell alleged to have been behind the Feb. 14, 2005 attack that killed Hariri and 21 others in Downtown Beirut

MP KIhalid Daher suspends His Future bloc membership
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015
BEIRUT: Salafist-inspired MP Khaled Daher has suspended his membership from The Future bloc Wednesday after spurring national outrage over remarks that were deemed offensive to Christians. Daher told The Daily Star that he “had suspended his membership from the Future Bloc,” denying media reports that claimed that he was booted.  Following his remarks to The Daily Star, Daher issued a statement saying that his decision served to curb any “embarrassment” his comments may have caused the Future Bloc.
Daher said that the decision to suspend his membership stemmed from his opposition to the removal of religious banners from Tripoli's main square after North Lebanon Governor Ramzi Nohra’s ordered the removal all political and religious insignia from the northern city.
Daher, who insisted that he meant no offense to Christians, said that he has been depicted as “someone who commits aggression against others.” “When in fact it is our [Islamist] religious symbols that were assaulted, and the apology was supposed to be [directed] at us.”
Daher's unanticipated move comes days after allies and foes alike called for his ousting from the March 14 bloc following his controversial remarks. At a demonstration protesting the removal of Islamist banners from Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square Sunday, Daher told his followers that Christians should be the first to remove their religious emblems from public spaces. “If they want to remove [religious banners] let them start with the Christ the King statue and posters of [Christian] saints,” Daher said from Tripoli’s main square.
In response, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat tried to distance his party from the Daher, saying that the lawmaker “is a member of the March 14 coalition, but not a member of the Future Movement.” “There is always a problem when Daher makes remarks,” Fatfat told a radio station Monday morning.  Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a Future Movement member, also slammed Daher’s remarks saying that, “such issues must not be addressed during this critical phase.” Deputy Kataeb Party leader and Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi and Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun also called on Daher to resign. Police last week began removing religious and political signage in Tripoli and across other parts of the country in line with an agreement reached during dialogue sessions between the Future Movement and Hezbollah to defuse sectarian tensions in the country. In the early hours of Sunday morning, police removed black banners and Islamist slogans from Tripoli’s Al-Nour Square, prompting a wave of protests by the city’s officials, residents and spiritual leaders.

Lebanese Army earns best security app award
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army was presented the award for the best mobile phone application relating to security and safety in Arab countries at the Third Arab Governmental Summit in Dubai, the state-run National News Agency said Wednesday. Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, who accepted the prize on behalf of the Lebanese government, said Lebanon was proud of the Army’s “multiple successes,” which were not limited to defending the country. “This award is evidence of the Army’s high competence at all levels and its ability to grab the highest positions at the international level,” Bou Saab told NNA. He called on all Lebanese factions to stand firm and united in support of the military in its battle against terrorist activities.

Black flags go white in Tripoli’s main square
Antoine Amrieh| The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A controversial black flag with an Islamic scripture was replaced with a white one in Tripoli’s main Al-Nour Square Wednesday, after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk ordered its removal. The move came one day after the minister vowed to not to allow a single black flag with Islamic scriptures to be raised in Lebanon. The white flag, installed by two members of the Islamic Tawhid Party, preserved the scripture, which read “There is no God but Allah, Mohammad is the Prophet of Allah."The black flag was originally removed on Sunday, prompting a wave of protests by the city’s residents and officials, who deemed the move an offense to Islamist symbols that have decorated the northern city since the eighties. Machnouk however, stood firm on his black flag policy. “I will make sure there isn’t a single black banner in all of Lebanon because Lebanese soldiers were killed under its name,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Al-Jadeed, referring to the servicemen taken captive in August by ISIS and Nusra militants, several who were executed.
Black flags are commonly used by the extremist groups ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the latter with which Nusra is linked. Tripoli’s Mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar said Tuesday that there was no disagreement between the interior minister’s decision and the will of the city’s residents. Shaar voiced his support for the policy since black flags were being used by ISIS. The mufti also said he supported replacing Quranic verses and slogans on flags with subtler, less provocative alternatives.

Berri: Future-Hezbollah talks to tackle presidency
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015/BEIRUT: The next round of talks between the Future Movement and Hezbollah will address the deadlock surrounding the presidential election, Speaker Nabih Berri told visitors Wednesday. “Dialogue sessions between Hezbollah and The Future Movement are ongoing,” MPs who visited Berri’s Beirut residence Wednesday, quoted the speaker as saying. Berri has repeatedly expressed hope that the launching of a dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement would help facilitate the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25. However, Berri said that the two parties will only discuss presidential elections if they finalize the primary agenda item- defusing sectarian tensions exacerbated by the conflict in Syria.
Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda which, according to officials from both sides, also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions.The two sides also agreed to support the continued implementation of a government security plan in all Lebanese territories. Berri said Wednesday that the two parties have agreed on implementing a security plan in the Bekaa Valley following the successful restoration of state authority in Tripoli.

Sudan army committed mass rape in Darfur: HRW

Agence France PresseFeb. 11, 2015/UNITED NATIONS: Sudanese army troops raped more than 200 women and girls in a Darfur town last year, in a brutal attack that should be investigated as a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
In a 48-page report, the U.S.-based rights organization cast doubt over Khartoum's repeated denials that a mass rape took place in October in the town of Tabit. At least 221 women and girls were raped when the Sudanese army launched three waves of attacks over 36 hours, beginning on October 30, according to the report, based on accounts from dozens of Tabit residents. Soldiers went from house to house, looting property, beating residents and arresting men who were taken to the outskirts of the town while women and girls were raped inside their homes, HRW said. During a two-month investigation, HRW documented 27 incidents of rape and obtained credible information on an additional 194 cases from the Tabit attacks. The army rampage on Tabit may have been in retaliation for the abduction of a soldier or to punish residents for their support of rebel armed groups in recent years, the report said. Two army defectors told HRW that they had been ordered by their superior officers to rape women because they were rebel supporters even though there were no fighters near Tabit at the time of the attacks. Khartoum has repeatedly denied the rape allegations but has refused to allow the United Nations-African Union force in Darfur, UNAMID, to carry out a full investigation. UNAMID was denied access to Tabit after the first reports surfaced of the attacks and when it entered the village on November 9 its team said it found no evidence to support the claim of mass rape. But an internal report from the mission obtained by AFP in November said the Sudanese military had tried to intimidate villagers to suppress the allegations. HRW urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation of the mass rape, which it said would amount to crimes against humanity if found to be part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population.
The ICC has indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, but he has evaded arrest since the indictment was issued in 2009.  The report quoted a woman in her 40s whose three daughters were raped in their house, two of whom were under the age of 11."They raped my three daughters and me. Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one," the woman said. Another woman recounted that she was severely beaten and dragged out of her house, while the soldiers raped three of her daughters, all under 15. "They put clothes in [my daughters's] mouths so that you could not hear the screaming," she said. Researchers spoke by phone to over 50 residents and former residents, local human rights monitors, government officials and UNAMID staff as part of their investigation of the mass rape. The attack on Tabit occurred a few weeks before the Sudanese army launched an operation to crush insurgents in Darfur who have been fighting Khartoum since 2003.
Concern has been growing over the brutality of a new government force, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), that has been carrying out attacks on villages in Darfur. A U.N. panel of experts report on Sudan reported last month that 3,000 villages were burned in Darfur in 2014, mostly during attacks by pro-government forces. Half a million people have been displaced by attacks in Darfur last year, and 70,000 during the first three weeks of 2015. HRW called on the United Nations and the African Union to press Sudan to allow peacekeepers to have access to Tabit to protect residents from further attacks. "The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town's women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur," said Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch Africa director.

Jordan king ready to help Lebanon elect president: Machnouk
The Daily Star/Feb. 11, 2015/BEIRUT: Jordan's King Abdullah is ready to assist Lebanon in finding a solution to the country's presidential vacuum, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Wednesday. “The Jordanian monarch has expressed his readiness to help in the matter of Lebanese presidential elections through his international calls and his anticipated European tour,” Machnouk said after meeting Abdullah in Amman. The minister also conveyed King Abdullah’s eagerness to protect Lebanon’s political stability and security. Lebanon has been without president since May 2014, when President Michel Sleiman left the office at the end of his term. Thus far, all attempts to mediate a deal for a new president have failed. March 8 bloc supports MP Michel Aoun for the post, while March 14’s official candidate is Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea. The two Christian leaders are expected to engage in a direct dialogue soon, and their representatives have been discussing what should be on the meeting’s agenda. Meanwhile, a dialogue is ongoing between the two major Muslim parties, the Future Movement and Hezbollah. The talks are also expected to discuss presidential elections.

Three Muslim Students Killed in U.S. Shooting
Naharnet/11.02.15/A North Carolina man espousing anti-religious views has been charged with the murders of three Muslim students, including a husband and wife, who were shot to death in the university town of Chapel Hill, police said Wednesday.
Police said they were looking into the possibility of a hate crime, but that the incident appeared to be triggered by a dispute between neighbors over parking. The shooter, identified as 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, was being held without bond in the Durham County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder, police said. The victims, who were pronounced dead on the scene, were identified as Chapel Hill residents Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, as well as her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Hicks turned himself in after the shooting Tuesday in Chapel Hill, just outside the campus of the University of North Carolina. "Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," Chapel Hill police said in a statement, adding that Hicks was cooperating with investigators. “Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act. We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case," Police Chief Chris Blue said. A Facebook page believed to belong to Hicks showed dozens of anti-religious posts, including one calling himself an "anti-theist," saying he has a "conscientious objection to religion," and other memes denouncing Christianity, Mormonism and Islam.
His page also showed a photo of a loaded revolver, alongside a video of a puppy and a promotional clip for Air New Zealand. One post read: "I'm not an atheist because I'm ignorant of the reality of religious scripture. I'm an atheist because religious scripture is ignorant of reality.""Given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it," he posted under the religious beliefs tab. Reaction to shooting lit up Twitter, with one of the top trending hashtags being #MuslimLivesMatter – a parallel to the "Black Lives Matter" movement sparked by police killings of African Americans in recent months. Photos of the three victims circulated on social media, including recent wedding pictures of Barakat and his wife.
Reports said Barakat was a second-year student in dentistry there, while Mohammad was planning to begin her dental studies in the fall. Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University, according to the UNC university newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel.
A Facebook community --– Our Three Winners –- has been set up for posts about the three students. "Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha have returned to their Lord," the site's creators state. "They have set an example in life and in death."
The site features a photo of the three smiling at what appears to be graduation ceremony. The women wear Muslim head scarfs, one of them also in a blue graduation cap. Barakat's brother Farris mourned the deaths, writing "it doesn't make sense" on his own Facebook page. "Please pray for them, their friends, and the family. I haven't even begun to fully comprehend what has happened. But I know for sure those three together have done so much we are all proud of," Farris Barakat wrote. Agence France Presse.

Christians Burned Alive for Refusing Islam
By Raymond Ibrahim/
February 11, 2015
As the world reacts with shock and horror at the recent immolation of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of the Islamic State, it is well to remember that this particular form of savagery has a long history in Islam and under the state.
The image to right is of Sidhom Bishay, a Coptic Christian who was immolated in 1844 by local authorities for reportedly “insulting Muhammad,” the prophet of Islam. Today deemed a saint for his martyrdom — he was tortured and eventually immolated with burning tar for refusing to renounce Christ and convert to Islam — his face and body appear frozen in the same position he died in (he turned his head away from the side first hit with tar, and his raised shoulders are from the shock of having tar poured on).
Sometime in March 1844, Bishay was on his way to church in the Damietta cemetery when a Muslim donkey-driver ran into him and started scolding the Copt, eventually escalating into an argument. As crowds gathered around, the Muslim driver falsely accused the Christian of insulting Muhammad in order to “get even” (see pgs. 135-145 of Crucified Again to see how this sort of “retribution” –falsely accusing Christians of “blasphemy” in order to get “even” with them — is still a common practice today, especially in Pakistan).
Further incited by a local imam, the enraged mob beat and kicked Bishay and dragged him along the street until his face was a bloody pulp.
A few days later, they brought him before Khalil Agha, the governor of the city. In the presence of the judge, Bishay was asked to abjure Christianity and embrace Islam under pain of death. He refused and was condemned to receive 500 lashes followed by execution. In front of the governor, Bishay was beaten with shoes and dragged across a staircase until his facial bones were crushed.
All the while the mob was shouting ” Kill him! Burn him!” According to a 19th century manuscript referring to the incident, that martyr for Christ went through many tribulations.
On the fourth day, his persecutors returned and stripped him naked, mocked him, and paraded him through the streets of town dressed in a sheepskin. They covered his body with mud and his head with a dirty cloth. Then they fastened meat cuts with iron clips around his hips and tied two hungry dogs and a cat to let them fight each other and bite at his flesh. After that, they made him ride a buffalo upside. The crowd cheered as he crossed town as when an animal is led to slaughter.
The man “never lost his patience but kept invoking the Virgin and Christ,” say the chroniclers. Finally, boiling tar was poured all over his head and face and he was left outside the door of his home. His family attempted to nurse him, but he died five days later on (March 25, 1844. During these five days, members of Damietta’s Christian community locked themselves in their homes for fear of attacks by the enraged mobs.
Sidhom Bishay was subsequently canonized by the Coptic Orthodox Church. His body rests today in a glass-fronted shrine in the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Damietta — a reminder that burning “infidels” alive is not something new in the Islamic world.

Netanyahu: Israel in 'Profound Disagreement' With Obama Admin
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Israel Today Staff
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday released a statement explaining that he intends to go ahead with a contentious address to the US Senate on March 3 in order to dissuade the Obama Administration from negotiating with Iran a nuclear agreement that would endanger the Jewish state. “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country,” said Netanyahu. The Obama Administration has been irate over Netanyahu’s scheduled speech, and a number of top Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, have announced they will not be present for the Israeli leader’s appearance. But many in Israel, Netanyahu among them, have suggested that it is Israelis who should be upset over the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear crisis, which first and foremost threatens the Jewish state. “…we do have today a profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5+1 over the offer that has been made to Iran,” Netanyahu noted. “This offer would enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival. …It would be able, under this deal, to break out to a nuclear weapon in a short time, and within a few years, to have the industrial capability to produce many nuclear bombs for the goal of our destruction.” Netanyahu further pointed out that it was not unusual for Israeli and American leaders to disagree, and took aim at those who warn the current disagreements could harm, rather than ultimately strengthen, bilateral relations. Some of those issuing such warnings are to be found within the Obama Administration itself. “Disagreements over Israel’s security have occurred between prime ministers in Israel from the left and from the right and American presidents from both parties,” the Israeli leader said. “None of these disagreements led to a rupture in the relationship between Israel and the United States. In fact, over time, our relationship grew stronger.”

Israeli Minister: Hamas and ISIS Are the Same
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Israel Today Staff
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, Yuval Steinitz (pictured), equated Gaza’s Hamas rulers with the jihadist horde known as the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) during a panel discussion this week.
Such groups, said Steinitz, “fight against all infidels,” which in their eyes include Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and moderate Muslims. Along with Hamas and ISIS, Steinitz listed Al Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front and Islamic Jihad in the same category.
These groups previously worked behind the scenes, but more recently have come to the forefront and are now bringing entire cities and territories under their direct control.
Hamas is an Arabic acronym meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement.” It was founded in 1987 with the express purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state. For this reason, Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, however, has once again accused Israel of being the obstacle to peace.
“We have been trying to reach a peace agreement for so many years. But Israeli intransigence has prevented this from happening,” he insisted, explaining that “the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory [sic] has prevented us from achieving this. Israel must admit that the Palestinians deserve to have their own independent state.”
The Middle East Quartet (comprised of the UN, United States, European Union and Russia) demanded at a recent security summit in Munich the immediate resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
But negotiations remain at an impasse.
The Palestinians decry fresh construction in Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, which they say includes the eastern side of Jerusalem. For its part, Israel is outraged that Hamas, which remains committed to the violent destruction of Israel, is part of a new Palestinian unity government under “moderate” President Mahmoud Abbas.

Raffic Al Hariri Assassination: The Hezbollah Connection
New Yok Times
1. Ahmad Abu Adass
In 2005, the last year of his life, Ahmad Abu Adass was 22 and still living with his parents in Beirut, Lebanon. He was kind and liked people, his friends later told investigators, but none of them thought he was very sophisticated. The best way to describe him was simple, one said. He was generous and a little naïve. He was very weak, physically. A Sunni Muslim of Palestinian descent, Adass had become interested in religion and now spent many hours at the Arab University Mosque near his home.
It was there, after a prayer session, that a man approached him. His name was Mohammed, he said. He was born a Muslim, but his parents died when he was young, and he grew up in a Christian orphanage. Now he wanted to return to Islam, learn how to pray, marry a Muslim woman. Could Adass help him? Adass said he could, and the two men became friends.
On Jan. 15, 2005, Mohammed called Adass. He said he had a surprise for him. Would he come see? The next morning, a car pulled up in front of Adass’s home, and he got in. He told his parents he’d return soon to help them clean the carpets, as he had promised. He took nothing with him. A day later, Mohammed called Adass’s family. He told them Adass was going to Iraq and hinted that the purpose of the journey was to join the Sunni fighters there. He said Adass would not see them again.
Five members of Hezbollah are being tried in absentia for the 2005 attack. The defendants, clockwise from top: Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hassan Habib Merhi and Mustafa Amine Badreddine. Credit Artwork by Michael Mapes. Photograph of artwork by Stephen Lewis for The New York Times. Source photographs from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Four weeks later, on Feb. 14, 2005, at 12:55 p.m., an explosion just in front of the St. Georges Hotel shook downtown Beirut. It destroyed a convoy of vehicles carrying Lebanon’s former and probably next prime minister, Rafik Hariri, killing him along with eight members of his entourage and 13 bystanders.
Soon after the blast, an anonymous caller claiming to represent “Nusra and Jihad Group in Greater Syria,” a previously unheard-of organization, told a reporter at the Al Jazeera affiliate in Beirut that a videotape from the suicide bomber was hanging from a tree in Riad al Solh Square, just a few blocks from the scene of the attack. If it was not picked up within 15 minutes, it would disappear. An Al Jazeera technician retrieved it, but Al Jazeera didn’t broadcast its contents immediately. At 5:04 p.m., the anonymous caller phoned again and told the reporter that he should broadcast the video right away or he “would regret it.” Shortly afterward, the tape was aired.
In the recording, a haggard Ahmad Abu Adass, dressed in black and sporting a beard and a white turban, read from a sheet of paper. In the name of Allah, he said, and to avenge the “innocent martyrs who were killed by the security forces of the infidel Saudi regime,” his group swore “to inflict just punishment upon the agent of that regime and its cheap tool in greater Syria, the sinner and holder of ill-gotten gains,” Rafik Hariri. A letter from the hitherto-unknown movement was attached to the tape. It clarified that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, had to die because he had betrayed his fellow Sunnis, and that Adass, also a Sunni Muslim, was the bomber who killed him. Adass’s family was horrified by the confession. They didn’t believe it.
The United Nations sent a team of experts to help with the investigation. Forensic analysts from the Netherlands began to reassemble what remained of the bomber’s flatbed truck, a Mitsubishi Canter. They were able to make out its block number, 4D33-J01926, and established that the truck had been stolen in Japan, shipped to the United Arab Emirates and finally purchased, just before the attack, from a used-car dealer in Tripoli, Lebanon, a stronghold of Sunni Muslim movements, some of them identified with Al Qaeda.
Interviewed by the United Nations investigators in Tripoli, the dealer explained that two men came to his shop and, after arguing the price down by $250, paid $11,250 in $100 and $50 bills. They provided false names and phone numbers for the paperwork; it was probably not a coincidence that they picked a dealership with no security cameras. It all seemed clear: yet another suicide bombing by Sunni jihadists.
But the investigators remained puzzled, and not just by the oddity of gentle Ahmad Abu Adass suddenly deciding to commit mass murder. Experts who examined his taped confession noted that the tone and production did not match those of other Sunni jihadist tapes. They found subtle discrepancies, too, between the tape and the letter, as if someone had feared that the tape, perhaps made long before the incident, was not totally convincing and wanted to flesh out the story. Then there was the question of means. The driver of the Mitsubishi truck was evidently skilled; he had reached the Hariri motorcade with incredible precision despite heavy traffic in downtown Beirut. Adass, his family and friends all agreed, had never driven a car. He couldn’t even ride a bicycle.
Finally, there was the problem of the DNA evidence. Forensic experts collected hundreds of body parts at the site, and most were identified as belonging to Hariri, members of his entourage and other known victims. Some 100 samples were genetically compatible with one another, but not with the identified victims. The scatter pattern of those parts showed that they belonged to the person closest to the explosion. This was the suicide bomber. Investigators compared this DNA to genetic material in scrapings from Adass’s toothbrush. The results were unambiguous: Adass was not the bomber.
The United Nations team called in more experts, genetic specialists who subjected the remains to isotope analysis — a process that can determine where a person has been living, what he has been eating, the air he has been breathing. They concluded that the bomber spent the last six months of his life in combat or active military training, where his body absorbed large quantities of lead. The largest body part to be found was his nose, the shape of which led some investigators to believe that he came from Ethiopia, Somalia or Yemen. A senior investigator, who asked to remain anonymous because of concerns about his own safety, said the investigation team preserved the nose in formalin.
“I sat and looked at that nose,” the investigator told me. “I said to myself: ‘Whose nose are you? Who sent you to kill Hariri? Why did he try so hard to make the world think the suicide bomber was someone else?’ ”
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2. The Tribunal
“Whose nose are you?” Answering this macabre question has since become the work of one of the most expensive, significant and controversial criminal investigations ever conducted. The United Nations established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague for pursuing the investigation, and prosecutors filed indictments in 2011 against four members of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful militant organization, and in 2013 against a fifth member. In one sense, the tribunal is necessary simply because of Hezbollah’s unique role in Lebanon and the world: Although the group is classified by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, it is also a popular political party in Lebanon, and therefore it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for Lebanon or any other single nation to provide an appropriate venue for its prosecution. But more is at stake. This is the first major international trial involving the Arab world, and one of the greatest challenges for the prosecutors and the defense lawyers alike is simply to show that justice is possible.
The tribunal’s five trial judges began hearing the case of The Prosecutor v. Ayyash, Badreddine, Merhi, Oneissi and Sabra on Jan. 16, 2014. After a full year of proceedings, they have heard and seen just a fraction of the hundreds of witnesses and thousands of exhibits the prosecutors intend to present. So far, 28 countries, including Lebanon, the United States and France, have contributed roughly half a billion dollars to fund an investigation and trial that will probably cost hundreds of millions more by the time the case is closed, most likely in two to three years. If convicted of all the charges — various acts of terror, 22 counts of murder, 231 counts of attempted murder — the defendants face life in prison in a nation to be determined by the presiding judge.
The tribunal has taken over the seven-story concrete building that once housed the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service and converted the basketball court into a courtroom. Nearby, in a large warehouse, are the exhibits, including the charred wreckage of Hariri’s car and the suicide bomber’s truck, now parked peacefully side by side. The entire compound is very large and rather drab. “It is reminiscent of courtrooms in East Germany,” Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, one of the defense attorneys, told me, only partly in jest.
Because missiles can fly through windows, the courtroom is windowless. Even the upper gallery, from which spectators once watched basketball games, is walled off by bulletproof glass, its lower half blacked out to obscure the witness stand below. Such measures are not a sign of paranoia: Several witnesses have been threatened, and one investigator was killed.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this high-end courtroom is what’s missing: a dock for the accused. The Lebanese authorities could not — or would not — arrest the five defendants, and Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed that the United Nations will never capture them, not in a month “or even 300 years.” For this reason, the tribunal decided to hold an international trial in absentia for the first time since the Allied tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946 sentenced Hitler’s aide Martin Bormann to death. Some argue that such a trial is an empty exercise. Under international law, defendants convicted in absentia have the right to a retrial, unless the prosecutors for the authorities who do finally capture them can show that the defendants knew they were under indictment. The counterargument, of course, is that the second trial would not be possible without the work this tribunal has already done.
The trial judges — an Australian, an Italian, a Jamaican and two Lebanese — are distinguished by the red vests they wear over their gowns, which themselves have red sleeves. The Australian, David Re, is the presiding judge and a veteran of the special international tribunals for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia. Like Re, many of the other judges and lawyers involved in the case have made a career of serving in such international tribunals.
The tribunal’s budget makes it possible for lawyers to present their graphic exhibits in the clearest possible manner. During some hearings, prosecutors place impressively accurate before-and-after models of the scene of the bombing on an enormous table at the center of the room. The model makers, who spent weeks constructing them, put special emphasis on precisely reproducing the destruction, even the damage to trees. The proceedings are conducted in Arabic, English or French, and transcriptions are produced in all three languages. I have read thousands of pages of these records and found only two typos.
The process in The Hague is also likely to establish new precedents in murder convictions on the basis of circumstantial evidence. For all the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the investigation, the prosecution has produced no direct evidence, let alone secured cooperation from any of the defendants or their potential accomplices. Its case is largely based on the records of dozens of cellphones that it claims were used by the assassins, among them the five defendants.
Many of the people wounded in the blast and family members of those killed were present when the trial opened. They regarded it as a day for rejoicing, when the truth would begin to be told. Nada Abdelsater-­Abusamra of Lebanon was one of the lawyers the tribunal hired to represent the interests of the victims. “For more than 40 years,” she said in court, “we have been told that we should forgive and forget and turn the page. Turn the page? Which page, Your Honors, if we haven’t read it yet? Forget? Forget what? How do you forget something that you don’t know? Forgive? Forgive who?”
3. Rafik Hariri
To understand the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you must begin decades earlier, in 1975, when a civil war originally between Maronite Christians and Palestinians threatened to tear Lebanon apart. The government asked neighboring Syria to send troops, and the Syrians, who have always seen Lebanon as part of greater Syria, were happy to oblige. The troops stayed, and soon Hafez al-Assad, the president of Syria, was installing his own puppet politicians in positions of power.
The struggle eventually swept up Christians, Druse, Palestinian refugees, Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims — a five-way war of constantly shifting allegiances — and left at least 120,000 people dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded or homeless. More than a million Lebanese fled the country, even as Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia and especially Syria made it hostage to their own regional agendas. As the war progressed, the Syrians switched their own allegiances however they saw fit, as long as they could continue running the country. Syrian businessmen took advantage of Lebanon’s more advanced financial infrastructure, entering under protection of their armed forces, and the Syrian Army became involved in the growing Lebanese drug trade.
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In 1982, Israel began an invasion across its northern border, seeking to root out elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Israeli military wreaked destruction all the way up to Beirut and forced the P.L.O. out of Lebanon. It also defeated the Syrian Army and particularly the Air Force wherever it engaged them. Realizing he couldn’t win a conventional war against the Israelis, Assad, an Alawite Muslim, took a different and somewhat surprising tack: He withdrew his opposition to a plan, proposed by clerics loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, to establish a Shiite political party in Lebanon. The new organization was supposed to provide Lebanon’s Shiite minority with an alternative to the Christian-Sunni governments that had discriminated against them, and also provide Lebanon with a well-funded educational, religious, social and (especially) military organization. The organization, which was a resounding success, called itself the Party of God — in Arabic, Hezbollah. Assad hoped that the Shiite guerrilla force would maul the Israeli Army, which still occupied a “security zone” in southern Lebanon. It did, and Israel’s response was to assassinate the secretary general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Abbas Musawi, in February 1992.
Musawi was succeeded by a capable young cleric, Hassan Nasrallah, and Nasrallah in turn appointed Imad Mughniyeh to run Hezbollah’s military wing. Mughniyeh was a kind of genius of terrorism. He made suicide bombing a strategic weapon, and he was a master of guerrilla tactics, blitz attacks and radio-controlled explosive devices. He also had a gift for propaganda: It was Hezbollah that first started recording its own attacks and broadcasting the results. Mughniyeh is widely believed to be the architect of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 American servicemen, 58 French servicemen and six civilians and led to the withdrawal of the United States Marines in 1984. In 2000, with just a small militia under his command, he succeeded in forcing the Israeli Army, the strongest military force in the Middle East, to withdraw from southern Lebanon.
Assad died that same year, and his son, Bashar al-Assad, took over as president of Syria. He noted well how the partnership of Nasrallah and Mughniyeh had succeeded where the entire Arab world, including his own father, had failed, and he made Syria’s link with Hezbollah — and its patrons in Tehran — the central component of his security doctrine. (Assad’s wager on Hezbollah paid off in 2013, when Nasrallah sent forces­ that bolstered the Syrian government against its own rebels.)
But inside Lebanon, Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 began to raise hopes that Syria, too, might soon depart. To the consternation of Hezbollah leaders and many Syria-backed politicians, an anti-Syria coalition began to form, drawing together Christian, Druse and Sunni Muslim figures. The most prominent politician in this group was Rafik Hariri.
Hariri was born to a poor Sunni family in southern Lebanon in 1944 and quickly rose to great wealth. After securing a degree in business administration from Arab University in Beirut in 1965, he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he demonstrated a virtuoso talent for completing huge projects — mosques, palaces, shopping malls — efficiently and on time. He became a favorite of the royal family and in the early 1980s moved back to Lebanon a well-­connected billionaire. In 1992, he ran for prime minister and won, on a platform of liberalizing the Lebanese economy; after serving until 1998, he ran again two years later and took office from 2000 to 2004.
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As prime minister, Hariri did not directly confront Hezbollah or the Syrians, but conflict simmered nonetheless. The Syrian Army continued to occupy Lebanon from the north, and Hezbollah’s battles with Israel to the south did little to help most of the Lebanese people. Hariri’s wealth and popularity — not to mention his influence as the owner of a growing portfolio of Lebanese and French newspapers and television and radio stations — gave him a reputation far beyond Lebanon. He wanted to make Beirut the financial capital of the Middle East, as it had once been, and Lebanon a liberal, Western-­oriented country. Assad sought to maintain the status quo, with Syria in control of Lebanon and Hezbollah its most powerful military force.
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In the end, Assad prevailed — if not on the larger question of Syria’s presence in Lebanon, then at least on whether it would be him or Hariri who would determine the outcome. The struggle for control found its object in a dispute about the fate of Emile Lahoud, the president of Lebanon since 1998, who was about to end his final term in office. The role of the president was largely ceremonial, but Lahoud, a Christian, had long backed Syrian involvement in Lebanon, and Assad decided it was important to keep him in place, a move that would require amending Lebanon’s constitution. Hariri was firmly opposed to the amendment, and the Syrians were also convinced that he and Walid Jumblatt, a Druse opposition leader, were acting behind the scenes to help the United Nations Security Council pass Resolution 1559, calling upon Hezbollah to disarm and Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.
On Aug. 26, 2004, Assad summoned Hariri to his presidential palace in Damascus to deliver an ultimatum. Lahoud must remain in office, Assad said, even if the United States and France didn’t like it. Hariri objected, but Assad cut him short. “It will be Lahoud,” he said. If Hariri or Jumblatt tried to stop him, another person present at the meeting told the tribunal, he would break Lebanon over their heads. Then he repeated the threat. “I will break Lebanon over your head and over Walid Jumblatt’s head,” he said. “So you had better return to Beirut and arrange the matter on that basis.” (Assad has since denied threatening Hariri’s safety in any way.)
Hariri returned to Beirut — one of his bodyguards would later tell the United Nations investigators that the prime minister was so shocked by the encounter that his nose began to bleed — and drove immediately to Jumblatt’s home. Assad’s father had almost certainly ordered the death of Jumblatt’s father, the Lebanese opposition leader Kamal Jumblatt, in 1977, and he was also most likely behind the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian president-elect of Lebanon, in 1982. Hariri and Jumblatt had little reason to doubt that Assad would do the same to them. The risk only increased on Sept. 2, when the Security Council passed Resolution 1559; the Syrians suspected, not without justification, that Hariri was involved.
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Hariri was losing the parliamentary vote on the Lahoud amendment in any case, and several Syria-backed ministers threatened to resign, taking the government down with them, unless Hariri himself stepped down. In early September, shortly before a ceremony in which he received a prize from the United Nations for rebuilding Lebanon, Hariri announced his resignation. He left office on Oct. 20, 2004, and immediately turned his attention to the regional elections scheduled to take place in six months. A new government, his advisers told him, would almost certainly put him back in the prime minister’s office.
4. The Assassination
Hariri lived and worked in a sprawling, nine-story compound, Quraitem Palace, and around 10 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2005, he alerted his bodyguards that he would soon be leaving for an appointment. He liked to drive himself, even when he was prime minister, but while in office he traveled with 50 guards from the Internal Security Forces. Now he had just four I.S.F. guards, supplemented by his own private security team, led by Yahya al Arab, known commonly as Abu Tareq, who had been at Hariri’s side since 1975, wearing dark sunglasses and a stern expression. The guards all carried handguns and wore radio earphones connected by a private network under Abu Tareq’s supervision. In their cars were automatic rifles, a radio-­signal jammer (to counter attacks by remote-­controlled devices) and, according to one source, rocket-propelled grenades and missile launchers.
At 10:41 a.m., Hariri’s motorcade set out for Nejmeh Palace, Lebanon’s Parliament building. It arrived about 13 minutes later, and Hariri spent the next hour talking with several members of Parliament, including his sister, Bahia Hariri. In news photographs taken at the time, he appears to be calm and happy. At 11:56 a.m., Hariri returned to his convoy, and his bodyguards began entering their vehicles, awaiting the order from Abu Tareq to return home.
At that same moment, several cellphone calls were made from the vicinity of the Parliament building to another group of phones about a mile northwest. Shortly after these calls, security cameras in the President Suleiman Franjieh Tunnel, in roughly the same area, recorded the Mitsubishi Canter flatbed truck moving north, toward the St. Georges Hotel. The truck was carrying two tons of a military explosive called RDX — enough to create the blast equivalent of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
As he moved to step into his car, though, Hariri paused. Abu Tareq had told him that Najib Friji, the United Nations spokesman in Beirut, was meeting some reporters at Place de l’Etoile, a cafe just across the street. Hariri decided not to drive away just yet. Instead, he walked briskly to the cafe. Abu Tareq notified the bodyguards by radio of the delay. Another series of mysterious cellphone calls took place, and the driver of the Mitsubishi truck made a right turn after leaving the tunnel and parked. Hariri spent 45 minutes in the cafe, chatting with Friji and the reporters, as well as a few passers-by. The cellphones remained silent, and the truck remained parked, waiting.
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Hariri had a guest with him, Basil Fuleihan, a Christian, who had served as Lebanon’s minister of economy and trade. At Hariri’s request, Fuleihan had cut short a ski vacation in Switzerland to consult on some economic matters. He had made two separate flight reservations for his return to Switzerland — one for Sunday, the day before the attack, and one for the day after it. He chose the second date because he wanted to take part in a parliamentary debate.
Finally, Hariri left the cafe and returned to his car. Fuleihan took the passenger seat. Hariri opened his door and waved and smiled to the small crowd that had gathered. In a photograph of this moment, the last ever taken of Hariri alive, a reflection of Parliament’s clock tower is visible in the bright, clean window of the Mercedes. Like sleuths in an implausible detective novel, the investigators turned the image around and saw the exact time of departure for Hariri’s last convoy: 10 minutes before 1 p.m.
Hariri’s motorcade was made up of six vehicles. The I.S.F. guards took the lead in a black Toyota Land Cruiser, followed immediately by private security guards in a black Mercedes-Benz S500. Then came Hariri, at the wheel of his own S600 (with Fuleihan), and then two more S500s with more private security guards. Bringing up the rear was a dark blue Chevrolet Suburban that had been refitted as an ambulance. Abu Tareq, in the fourth car, radioed ahead to the I.S.F. team the route he wanted to take. The other drivers knew to follow only their lead.
When the convoy set off, the cellphone chatter picked up again, and the Mitsubishi truck pulled back into traffic. The security camera at the exit to the President Suleiman Franjieh Tunnel captured the truck again as it drove toward the St. Georges Hotel. The time was 12:51 p.m. Another security camera, this one on the HSBC Bank building, also captured the Mitsubishi, now moving very slowly, much slower than the other traffic.
The truck approached the St. Georges Hotel, passing in front of yet another security camera. A second after the Mitsubishi left the area covered by the camera, Hariri’s motorcade came into view. The six vehicles were traveling fast, approaching 45 miles per hour, in accordance with security protocols. The cars flew by, each about 20 feet apart. Then the motorcade also exited the range of the cameras.