February 27/15

Bible Quotation For Today/God Grants Mercy For those Grant Others Mercy
Matthew 18/23-35/"‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe." Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you."
But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?"And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’"

Bible Quotation For Today/Wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness
Letter to the Romans 01/18-25/"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 26-27/15
Erdoğan’s Dangerous Power Game/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/February 27/15
Analysis: Netanyahu climbs a tree, Obama happy to see him fall/HERB KEINON/J.Post/February 26/15

Syria's Civil War Could Stabilize Its Region/Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times/February 26/15
Don’t blame Snowden for the ISIS fiasco/Michael Young/The Daily Star/February 26/15

With Netanyahu, the perfect is the enemy of the good/David Ignatius/The Daily Star/February 26/15
Fighting ISIS is the duty of all Arabs/Mshari Al-Zaydi/Asharq Al Awsat/February 26/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 26-27/15
Splits emerging within ISIS in Iraq: sources.
274 Assyrian Christian captives awaiting ISIS trial.

Jaafar Clan Member Involved in Couple's Murder Killed by Army

Report: 'Secret' Mediator in Case of Arsal Captive Dies in Detention
Report: Jack Joins ISIL as Extremists Continue to Recruit Tripoli's Youth
Lebanese Army Advances along Eastern Border, Controls New Positions
STL defense, prosecution spar over testimony.
Hariri Leaves Beirut after 12 Days of Political Activity
Jamaa open to thawing Hezbollah ties.
Leaders at forum look to harmonize food safety.
The Lebanese Silicon Valley.
Arms shipments to begin in April: France.
Jumblatt plays down ISIS presence in Lebanon.
Activists Slam French Judiciary as 'Farce' as Abdallah Denied Parole Anew.
Mobile Phone Covers Containing Radioactive Material Seized at Beirut Airport.
Israeli Troops Advance Towards Wazzani.
Man Released after Several-Hour Abduction Ordeal in Bekaa.
Differences on Mechanism Linger as Fate of Cabinet Session Unknown
Several Canadians Headed to Syria to Join IS
Jerusalem Church Building Torched in Apparent Hate Crime

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 26-27/15
274 Assyrian Christian captives awaiting ISIS trial

Iranian military chief threatens to 'wipe Tel Aviv off the map'

FPI Bulletin: U.S. Should Seek Deal That Dismantles Iran’s Nuclear Program
Assyrian Christians Describe Harrowing Flight from IS.
U.S. Christians Back Emerging Private War on Iraq Jihadists.
U.S.-Led Strikes on IS after Group Seizes 220 Christians.
Unmasked: Islamic State's 'Jihadi John' named by BBC .
Syrian Kurds cut ISIS supply line near Iraq; fears for Christians mount.
Assyrians Captured By ISIS Now At 150, Negotiations for Their Release in Progress.
World response to ISIS 'shameful': Amnesty.
Assyrian American Bishops Letter Text that they sent to United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, Regarding ISIS Attacks on Assyrians
Christians flee jihadis after Syria abductions
Iran forever forbidden from having nuclear arms: Kerry.
In holy city, Iran's Rouhani seeks clergy's backing for nuclear talks.
Fatah: 90% of Gaza’s residents want to leave because of Hamas.
Suicide Attack on Turkish Diplomatic Vehicle Kills Two in Kabul

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Islamic State preparing to declare Islamic emirate in Lebanon

Australia: Muslims outraged at PM’s “aggressive rhetoric against Muslims”
Jihadi John” is UK university graduate who flew to Syria while on watch list.
Islamic State jihadis destroy 3,000-year-old artworks in Mosul museum.
The Best Revenge.
UK: Islamic jihadist took sightseeing photos of alleged targets, including shopping center
UK: Muslim found with bomb-making equipment in his apartment.
Pakistani Interior Minister says “Islamophobia” biggest hurdle in fighting against terrorism.
Malta: “Death to Christians,” “Allah” painted on walls.
Bangladesh: Atheist writer hacked to death after threats from Muslims
Forbes: Five reasons the fight against the Islamic State isn’t about Islam

Analysis: Netanyahu climbs a tree, Obama happy to see him fall
By HERB KEINON/02/27/2015/J.Post
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards his plane on Sunday and heads to Washington to address a joint session of Congress for a third time, he could be forgiven for turning to Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who will be flying with him, and whispering, “Well this sure didn’t go as planned.”
No, it didn’t.
It was never really clear what Netanyahu’s plan was in accepting an invitation to address Congress that House Speaker John Boehner – embroiled in a nasty partisan spat with President Barack Obama – issued the day after the US president addressed the nation and said he would veto a bill for additional Iran sanctions.
The immediate reflex in much of the media after news of the congressional invite broke on January 21 was that this was another example of that wily Netanyahu manipulating Congress for his election purposes. He wanted nothing less – the initial conventional wisdom held – than the august halls of the US House of Representatives as his campaign prop.
But then, when the dust settled, it increasingly appeared that it was not Netanyahu who was using Boehner for his partisan election purposes, but rather Boehner using Netanyahu as a battering ram against Obama.
In other words, Netanyahu was being played.
But Netanyahu is no one’s sucker.
So the question must be asked how he allowed himself to get into a situation like this in the first place, where his very presence is forcing Democrats to chose between him and their president? How did he allow himself to be used as a political football? To understand that, it is instructive to go back nine years to a speech Netanyahu gave to the United Jewish Federations General Assembly in Los Angeles when he was head of the opposition.
“It’s 1938,” he asserted. “Iran is Germany, and it is racing to acquire nuclear weapons.”
And that, for Netanyahu, is the whole story in a nutshell. Nine years later, it is still 1938, the Iranians are still racing to acquire nuclear weapons, and the world is about to let them do it.
That is the prime minister’s perception of reality. And if, indeed, it is 1938, and Iran is Nazi Germany racing to develop the means to destroy the state of the Jews, then everything is permissible to stop that march – including poking one’s fingers into the eyes of the US president.
When Netanyahu’s office first announced the invitation from Boehner, an invitation that said it was extended “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate,” the office underlined that only one other leader – Winston Churchill – had ever addressed Congress three times.
Ironically, when Churchill went to address Congress for the last time in 1952, ties between London and Washington were also strained, and one of the reasons was Iran.
Iran had just nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, as Politico pointed out last month in a piece on the anniversary of that speech, and the British wanted it to be coerced into paying full compensation. Washington, however, was worried about how too much pressure on Iran would impact the Cold War.
Despite differences of opinion in policy toward the Middle East, at the end of Churchill’s visit, which included meetings with president Harry Truman, a statement was issued that – according to the BBC – spoke of a “complete identity of aims” in the Middle East.
Netanyahu can now only dream of a meeting with Obama, let alone such a statement.
Rather than trying to paper over the very real differences that exist between Israel and the US regarding Iran, the administration is going all out to amplify them.
If previous administrations thought it wise to minimize in public any daylight between Israel and the US, the comments emanating from the very top of the administration in recent days shows that their theme song is “Let the Sunshine In.”
Netanyahu, by accepting the invitation the way he did, opened the door, but the result of all that daylight flooding in is not beneficial to the health of either party.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said this week that Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation to address Congress was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the two countries.
Maybe, but her comments, and those by Secretary of State John Kerry, are only making matters worse.
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Kerry reached back to 2002 and slammed Netanyahu for, as a private citizen at the time, supporting the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under [president] George W. Bush,” Kerry said. “We all know what happened with that decision.”
This was Kerry’s way of impugning Netanyahu’s credibility on Iran.
Netanyahu did indeed give testimony to Congress in support of invading Iraq, and wrote editorials in US newspapers along the same lines. But Kerry did even more than that, he voted in the Senate for a resolution to authorize use of force against Iraq.
The ham-handed manner in which Netanyahu handled the Boehner invitation, however, has given the administration a perfect opening for these types of attacks, and their purposes seems two-fold.
Perhaps concerned about the impact of Netanyahu’s words to Congress, Kerry seems to be preempting by calling into question the “expert witness.”
But there is something more at work here as well, and it has to do with more than mere pique at being slighted or a breach of protocol.
It is no secret to anyone whom the White House would like to see win the upcoming election, and the speech saga has allowed the administration to enter the fray and let the Israeli public know on the record – and not through salty insults made by anonymous senior officials – the disdain with which they hold its leader.
The White House could have found a way over the last few weeks to extend a ladder to Netanyahu, allowing him to climb down the tree he so clumsily and ill-advisedly ascended. But the administration didn’t extend that ladder, because the White House wants the prime minister to fall off that tree – a tree Netanyahu and Dermer can now blame themselves for scrambling up in the first place.

FPI Bulletin: U.S. Should Seek Deal That Dismantles Iran’s Nuclear Program
By Tzvi Kahn | February 26, 2015 /The Foreign Policy Initiative
The nuclear agreement that the P5+1 and Iran are reportedly developing would fail to achieve the objective that the United States articulated at the outset of the talks: preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
According to the Associated Press and The New York Times, the prospective deal would allow Tehran to possess 6,500 centrifuges for the first 10 years of the agreement, upon which a “phased” sunset clause would permit the regime to gradually ramp up its nuclear activities in the agreement’s final years. These terms would effectively certify Iran as a nuclear threshold state.
With 6,500 centrifuges, Iran would retain a less than six month “breakout” period, or the time required to enrich the requisite amount of uranium for a nuclear bomb — an insufficient interval to enable rapid detection and response by the international community.
Previous agreements with other proliferators did not come with calendar-driven sunset clauses. Concerns about the South African nuclear program, for example, faded only after the end of apartheid. But in the case of Iran, negotiators are content to offer it a time-limited deal regardless of the character of the regime.
Not surprisingly, Iran has offered no indication that it seeks to terminate its campaign of international terrorism and its broader efforts to dominate the Middle East. Likewise, the Islamist dictatorship continues to commit atrocities against its own people, and there is no immediate reason to assume that a new, more moderate Iranian government will emerge during the next decade. The Islamic Republic would not have to “dash” or “sneak out” to get a bomb — although Tehran still may do so — but can simply wait out the clock.
A 10-year time frame also has dire regional implications. The United States has long feared the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran due to the likelihood that it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The proposed nuclear deal would effectively put the region on notice that it is only a matter of time before Iran has the bomb.
The risk that America’s traditional allies in the Middle East will also want the bomb has been exacerbated by the chaos in the region and the world. Washington has watched idly as Iran expands its power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Meanwhile, President Obama has refused to provide Ukraine with defensive arms as Vladimir Putin redraws the map of Europe with military force. The message to our allies could not be clearer: the Americans will not save you. Should we be surprised when they act to save themselves?
Reports about the prospective deal are likewise notable for their omissions, which may indicate further concessions. The Obama administration has not confirmed whether the agreement will address the threats posed by Tehran’s Arak heavy water reactor or the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Tehran continues to stonewall efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate its PMD, including its activities at the Parchin military complex.
The omissions are all the more troubling in light of National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s claim on February 24 that Iran is in “full compliance” with the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) it signed in November 2013. According to Rice, “that model will need to be sustained in any comprehensive agreement.” In reality, however, the model is a failure. Iran has developed and tested advanced centrifuges since signing the JPOA, continued illicit procurement for the Arak reactor, and advanced its ballistic missile program. This is a case of defining compliance down. The United States should insist upon a high standard for a final agreement — including zero enrichment capabilities, dismantlement of Arak, and an intrusive inspections regime — rather than accept a deal for its own sake that fails to advance President Obama’s stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, the reported deal fails to meet this standard.

Iranian military chief threatens to 'wipe Tel Aviv off the map'
General Mustafa Yazdi, the assistant chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, warned that “Iran will flatten Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel perpetrates an attack on our country.” Iranian clerics watch the firing of a Shahab-3 missile during a war game in a desert near Qom
A senior Iranian official on Thursday threatened to “wipe Tel Aviv and Haifa off the map” in the event of an Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear installations. General Mustafa Yazdi, the assistant chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, warned that “Iran will flatten Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel perpetrates an attack on our country.”The Lebanese television station Al Mayadeen, which is affiliated with the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, aired footage of the general’s remarks, which came on the heels of “the threats made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.”This is not the first time that senior Iranian officials have threatened to “erase Tel Aviv.” Earlier this week, Mujtaba A-Nur, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said that Iran “will erase Tel Aviv in 10 minutes if Israel dares attack Iran.”
“If the Zionist regime attacks us, our missiles will reach Tel Aviv within six, seven minutes, and they will destroy it before the dust and the smoke of their missiles reach us,” he said.

Several Canadians Headed to Syria to Join IS
agencies/At least six young Canadian men and women from Montreal and its suburbs traveled overseas last month to join the Islamic State group, local media reported Thursday. Some of them, including two young women, were students at Montreal CEGEP College de Maisonneuve. They flew to Turkey on January 16 with the aim of crossing its border into Syria, the Montreal daily La Presse said. It is unclear if they reached their final destination. The father of one of the young men, fearing his son's downward spiral since taking up religious and Arabic studies, seized his passport. But his son reported it lost and obtained a replacement from authorities. The six are aged 18 to 19 and of Mideast and North African descent. A spokeswoman for Montreal CEGEP College de Maisonneuve confirmed that three of them had attended the high school last semester, but did not know if they knew each other. Their departure follows the alleged radicalization of a 23-year-old Alberta woman who left her family mid-2014 to join the Islamic State group in Syria. Western governments are increasingly concerned about a rising number of foreign fighters traveling to Syria through Turkey to join extremist groups. U.S. intelligence officials warned earlier this month that more than 20,000 volunteers from around the world had gone to Syria to link up with extremists. Agence France Presse

U.S. Christians Back Emerging Private War on Iraq Jihadists
Naharnet/After fighting with rebels in Libya and Syria, Matthew VanDyke has rolled up in northern Iraq, but the celebrity American revolutionary-cum-filmmaker has traded his fatigues for a three-piece suit. VanDyke, who rose to fame as a foreign fighter backing Libyan rebels against Moamer Kadhafi, has just finished leading his new military contracting firm through its first assignment -- training Christian volunteers to take on jihadists. Funded by Christian groups from abroad, mainly from the United States, the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU) aims to bring a local Christian militia to bear against the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria. VanDyke is one of the best-known -- and least camera-shy -- figures in an expanding and complex constellation of foreign fighters, organisations and donors getting involved in a private war against the jihadists. "This is an extension of my work as a revolutionary," he says as he takes a sip from his cappuccino in a cafe in the Kurdish capital of Arbil. "What gives somebody else the right to sit home and do nothing?"
The 35-year-old came to prominence in 2011 when he joined Libyan rebels in the fight to overthrow Kadhafi. He was held by regime forces in solitary confinement for more than five months. The film "Point and Shoot" directed by Marshall Curry, which won the best documentary award at the Tribeca Festival last year, recounts the 35,000-mile motorcycle odyssey that led VanDyke to Libya and which he describes as "a crash course in manhood". Not one to shy away from self-aggrandizement, VanDyke's official website claims that his own documentary on the Syrian conflict, in which he volunteered in 2012, won no fewer than 82 prizes. A few months ago, VanDyke changed tack and decided to form his military contracting firm, the Sons of Liberty International (SOLI), with the training of a few hundred NPU volunteers as a first assignment.
- 'Indigenous population' -
The Nineveh in the NPU's name refers to a northern region which Iraq's Assyrian Christians and other religious minorities consider their ancestral home. IS last year declared a "caliphate" over parts of Iraq and Syria it had seized, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, including many Iraqi Christians. The mostly Sunni Arab group has been accused of persecuting other communities and this week was reported to have taken several hundred Assyrian Christians hostage in northeastern Syria. A U.S.-led international coalition launched an air war on the jihadists in August and dispatched forces to train Kurdish and Iraqi federal troops who hope to eventually retake lost ground. In the meantime other -- less official -- parties have been drawn into the conflict from abroad.
The NPU, for example, is being funded by the American Mesopotamian Organization (AMO), a California-based group founded by Assyrian-Americans. It claims to have raised more than $250,000 for the NPU -- which has not yet seen combat -- since December through an initiative dubbed "Restore Nineveh Now". More than 80 percent of the donations come from the United States, the group's chairman, David Lazar, told Agence France Presse by telephone from the United States. He says telethons on the Assyrian National Broadcasting satellite channel generated donations "as high as $50,000 from one person." As well as financing food, clothing and protection gear, the AMO has hired a "top five" private contracting firm to provide risk assessments and possibly advanced training to NPU recruits, he says.
Many of the donations are coming from members of the Assyrian-American community, like Joseph Baba, a car salesman from Tehran who has lived in the US since 2000 who donated a little less than $10,000 to the group. "I'm a firm believer that the Middle East has to have this indigenous population," he says of Iraq's Christians, speaking to AFP by telephone from his home in California.
- 'In a grey area' -
Baba said he had concerns over the legality of funding a militia -- though the NPU and its supporters balk at the term -- but was reassured by the AMO that it posed no problem. Still, the issue of training a private force on foreign soil is highly sensitive and the NPU has sent out conflicting messages. Lazar initially told AFP that Walid Phares, a Fox News terrorism analyst and formerly a prominent leader of the Lebanese Forces Christian militia during the 1975-1990 civil war, was a key supporter. "He's an adviser to us to this whole project, not only the NPU, but he's an adviser to the Restore Nineveh Now initiative and the American Mesopotamian Organization," Lazar said. But he later denied making the remark and Restore Nineveh Now's spokesman Jeff Gardner said Phares had no involvement.
In an email to AFP, Phares denied any role with the NPU, though he said he advises "a large coalition of U.S.-based Middle East minorities NGOs, known as MECHRIC", of which AMO is a member. VanDyke's role also seems to have stirred controversy.
Restore Nineveh Now issued a statement on Wednesday acknowledging VanDyke's involvement in the training programme but also stating his contract had been terminated and accusing him of attempting to use the NPU to promote his business.
VanDyke also admits his firm is operating "perhaps in a grey area" in northern Iraq. "We're legally registered as a company. We're not registered as anything else right now." A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed to AFP that a license is needed when defence services, including military training, are provided.
VanDyke throws legal concerns to the wind.
"Generally the attitude of the United States seems to be as long as you shoot in the right direction they don't care," he says.  "You know, I go and risk my life in other countries, why would I be all that concerned about that?"Agence France Presse

Assyrian Christians Describe Harrowing Flight from IS
Naharnet/Danny Jano, an Assyrian Christian, fled with his family in their pyjamas when they heard that Islamic State group jihadists were approaching their home in northeast Syria. "It was the longest and most difficult five hours of my life," he said by telephone from the provincial capital Hasakeh where they took refuge. "We faced sniper fire, shelling, and one of the cars was hit with mortar fire." Jano, his wife and two children fled on Monday, as IS jihadists approached during an offensive in which they have kidnapped at least 220 Assyrians in Hasakeh province. "We heard gunfire and shelling for seven hours before we decided to leave our house," Jano told AFP. "After that, we heard that Daesh is close to our village," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Jano, who works as a tailor in his village of Tal Misas, said villagers left in tractors and cars. The journey took him five terrifying hours. "We felt fear like nothing before, but we didn't think twice," he said. "We drove in our pyjamas, we didn't look back, and we didn't stop until we got here."IS militants have seized at least 10 villages in the majority Assyrian Khabur area of Hasakeh since they began the offensive on Monday.
Women, children, and the elderly are reported to be among the members of the Christian minority they have kidnapped. Activists and local officials said the offensive prompted some 5,000 people to flee the area, most of them heading to the cities of Qamishli and Hasakeh.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 35 IS jihadists, as well as 25 Kurdish and Assyrian militia fighters, had been killed since the offensive began on Monday. Yukhana Harun, the head of local Assyrian Democratic Party, told AFP that the community had helped 1,100 families flee to Qamishli and Hasakeh city. Speaking to AFP by phone from a welcome station for the arrivals in the provincial capital, he said "people had arrived with nothing" and were exhausted.
"This is a crime against the peaceful Assyrian people. They (IS) destroy coexistence, civilization, and history, and they're dragging us centuries backwards, while the international community watches in silence. It's a massacre."In Qamishli in northwest Hasakeh, 200 refugee families fleeing IS's advance were being hosted by local families, according to Jean Tolo of the Assyrian Association for Relief and Development.  "They arrived here in a terrible mental state," Tolo told AFP by telephone.
"The families have been arriving here non-stop for three days." Assyrians number about 30,000 among Syria's 1.2 million Christians and mostly live along the Khabur river in Hasakeh. Control of the province is largely divided between IS and Kurdish militia fighters, although regime forces are present in some provincial cities.  IS is known for its brutal treatment of minority groups in Syria and Iraq, where it has burned churches and attacked Christian neighborhoods.
Jano's voice was quiet and heavy with grief as he described the IS attack. "It's a crime whose ugliness cannot be described. They burned our houses, they blew up our churches, they kidnapped our families, and all this for what? This is the question we don't have an answer to," he said. "But inevitably we will return. Tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the day after." Agence France Presse

Jaafar Clan Member Involved in Couple's Murder Killed by Army
Naharnet /A man from the Jaafar clan wanted in the murder of a couple in the eastern Baalbek district died on Thursday after he was shot by the Lebanese army during his arrest, the military command and the state-run National News Agency said. Ahmed Mohammed Salim Jaafar was injured on Wednesday night after the military ambushed him in an area between al-Yammouneh and Dar al-Wasaa. He was driving a Grand Cherokee without license plates, said the army in a communique. But Jaafar, who is wanted on several warrants including an attack on a military patrol in 2012, succumbed to his injuries hours later, it added. A Syrian man, who was accompanying him at the time of his arrest, was also killed, NNA said. According to the agency, Jaafar is also wanted in the November 15 murder of Sobhi and Nadimeh Fakhri in the town of Btedei. The couple were killed by fugitives from the Jaafar clan who were fleeing army troops. The gunmen entered the family's house with the intent of taking their vehicle but the tenants showed resistance, which prompted the armed men to shoot the couple and their son, who survived the attack.

Report: Jack Joins ISIL as Extremists Continue to Recruit Tripoli's Youth
Naharnet /Security forces are pursuing a Lebanese Christian who is allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), fearing that he might be used to carry out a dangerous terrorist act in Lebanon.
According to As Safir newspaper published on Thursday, security forces called the 28-year-old outlaw “Jack”. Jack hails from an Orthodox family that resides in al-Zahiriya in the northern city of Tripoli and had recently traveled to Turkey from where he headed to Syria and pledged allegiance to ISIL, the newspaper quoted his brother as saying in his testimony to the army. A security source voiced fear that Jack could be “tasked with carrying out a terrorist act in Lebanon by using his Christian ID,” similarly to Elie Warraq, also known as Abu Ali, who has converted to Islam and was plotting to enter the Casino with his ID and carry out a suicide bombing. Warraq was arrested in January. Investigations, according to the report, are focusing on the relation between Warraq and Jack, who disappeared after the army intelligence arrested Abu Ali. Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) later on Thursday reported that Jack was killed in Syria's Raqqa. He was committed to his religion, sources told the newspaper. However, he began meeting with Islamist extremists in Tripoli's notorious inner markets before he disappeared. He reportedly visited Turkey twice, where he met with ISIL officials and underwent military training. He then returned to Lebanon to inform his parents that he converted to Islam and headed to Syria via Turkey again.
Turkey has been previously accused by its Western allies of failing to do enough to stop jihadists crossing into Syria from its territory. Jack's family tried to convince him to return to Lebanon after he resided in Syria, but he refused, stressing that he chose Islam as his religion.
The daily obtained information that another Christian, who also hails from Tripoli, could have pledged allegiance to ISIL. But he remains under surveillance as his whereabouts are known. The newspaper continued that the extremist organizations are taking advantage of their poor financial conditions to recruit them.  “Around 400 youths have been recruited in the north to join extremists,” sources said, pointing out that they are leaving their homes in complete secrecy. In the past two weeks, several young men headed to Iraq to join ISIL, including Aa.Aa., who hails from the northern district of Dinniyeh

Lebanese Army Advances along Eastern Border, Controls New Positions
Naharnet/The Lebanese army advanced on Thursday on the outskirts of the northeastern villages of Ras Baalbek and Arsal, establishing new checkpoints and surveillance posts. The military said in a communique that “army units deployed at dawn (on Thursday) on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and fully controlled the heights of Sadr al-Jarash and Harf al-Jarash.” The statement said that soldiers inflicted heavy losses among the ranks of the militants, seizing a quantity of heavy and light arms, bombs, ammunition and military equipment.
Three soldiers were slightly wounded when battles renewed with militants on the outskirts of the area, it added. Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) reported that the army's Airborne Regiment deployed in the area as the military controlled strategic positions.
The state-run National News Agency said that clashes intensified at 5:00 am on the Eastern Mountain Range (on the Lebanese-Syrian border) between the army and Islamist gunmen. NNA said that the military targeted the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Arsal, in particular Tallat al-Hamra and Om Khaled, with heavy and medium artillery. The military's helicopters and drones accompanied the field operation. The NNA later reported that a soldier was slightly injured when the clashes renewed at noon. He was transferred to a nearby hospital for treatment. The jihadists remain entrenched on the outskirts of Arsal on the porous Syrian-Lebanese border. The mountainous area has long been a smuggling haven, with multiple routes into Syria that have been used to transport weapons and fighters.
The army has been targeting gunmen along the country's eastern border to prevent them from advancing.

U.S.-Led Strikes on IS after Group Seizes 220 Christians
Naharnet /The U.S.-led coalition carried out air strikes Thursday against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, where the jihadists have launched a new offensive and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians. The raids struck areas around the town of Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving information on possible casualties. They followed the launch Monday of a new offensive by IS, which kidnapped the Assyrians as it seized territory around Tal Tamr. The town remains under the control of Kurdish forces, but at least 10 surrounding villages have been seized by IS, along with the captives. Many of those abducted are said to be women, children or elderly. The Observatory said negotiations were ongoing "through mediators from Arab tribes and a member of the Assyrian community" to secure their release. The IS offensive has killed at least 35 jihadists and 25 members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and of an Assyrian defence force, according to the Observatory. The fighting and kidnappings prompted around 5,000 people to flee the countryside, with many seeking refuge in Qamishli, a large city in the province that is controlled by Kurdish and regime forces.
"We've received around 200 families who are being hosted in local homes," Jean Tolo, of Qamishli's Assyrian Organization for Relief and Development, told AFP. "The people arriving are desperate. They are coming with nothing, they left everything behind."
Others made their way to Hasakeh city, the provincial capital, describing harrowing journeys after fleeing in their pajamas. The United States and United Nations denounced the mass abduction of Christians -- the first of its kind in the country -- and demanded their release.
"ISIL's latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, using another acronym for IS.
Osama Edward, director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told AFP Wednesday he believed the abductions were linked to the jihadists' recent loss of ground in the face of U.S.-led air raids.
"They took the hostages to use them as human shields," he said.
The jihadists, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrians for IS prisoners, he said. Before Syria's civil war erupted in 2011, there were 30,000 Assyrians in the country, among an estimated Christian population of about 1.2 million.
IS is accused of multiple abuses against minorities in the areas under its control in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Last week, a video emerged showing its fighters in Libya beheading 21 Christians, most of them Egyptian Copts. Such grisly videos have become a hallmark of the group, with one British-accented militant from the organization appearing in multiple videos showing killings of foreign hostages. On Thursday, experts and media identified the man dubbed "Jihadi John" by the British tabloids as Kuwaiti-born London computer programmer Mohammed Emwazi. He was first named by the BBC and Washington Post, with the International Center for the Study of Radicalization think tank saying it believed the identity to be "accurate and correct." More than 210,000 people have been killed since Syria's war began in March 2011. The conflict began with peaceful pro-democracy protests against President Bashar Assad but escalated into a civil war that brought foreign jihadists flocking to the country. In other developments, U.N. peace envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected in Damascus Friday for talks about a new plan for a six-week freeze of fighting in Aleppo, Syria's Al-Watan newspaper said reported. The envoy said earlier this month that Damascus was willing to suspend aerial bombardment and artillery fire on the city for six weeks. A group of French lawmakers met with Assad on an unofficial trip on Wednesday, drawing criticism from French President Francois Hollande. "I condemn it because French lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years," Hollande said. Agence France Presse

Suicide Attack on Turkish Diplomatic Vehicle Kills Two in Kabul
Naharnet/A Taliban suicide attack targeting a Turkish diplomatic vehicle belonging to the NATO mission killed two people in Kabul Thursday, highlighting the fragile security situation as the Afghan government presses for talks with the militants. The blast came shortly after 8:00 am (0330 GMT), not far from the Iranian embassy. The victims were a Turkish soldier and an Afghan passerby. Police initially said the vehicle was from the Turkish embassy, but a spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan later confirmed it was part of a coalition convoy. A statement from NATO's Resolute Support mission said "one service member died as a result of an attack in Kabul today". The coalition said however that NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan Ismail Aramaz, who is Turkish, was not involved in the incident and is unharmed. Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai gave details of the attack and death toll, saying the bomber was driving a Toyota Corolla. Abdul Rahman Rahimi, Kabul police chief, confirmed the death toll in the blast, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. "A suicide bomber blew himself up targeting a foreign convoy in central Kabul, a number of foreigners were killed in the attack," the militants said in a text message. The area was cordoned off after the blast, which left debris strewn in the road and nearby blast walls spattered with blood. Eyewitness Mohammad Yousuf, 17, described the moment the blast happened. "The suicide bomber was in a Toyota sedan, he detonated himself causing a big bang, soon after the explosion there was black smoke everywhere," he told AFP.
The Turkish foreign ministry condemned the attack, which it said also left a Turkish soldier wounded. "We expect the culprits of the attack to be captured and brought to justice," the ministry said in a statement.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the attack would not deter Turkey from its work supporting Afghanistan. It is the first major attack in Kabul's heavily secured center since early January, when a suicide bomber hit a European Union police vehicle, killing a passerby.
More than 13 years after the Taliban were ousted from power after a U.S.-led invasion, their insurgency remains resilient.  NATO ended its combat mission in late December, leaving a residual force to carry on a training and support mission to Afghanistan's 350,000 security forces, who now lead the fight against the Taliban. There have been growing hopes in recent weeks of talks between Kabul and the Taliban aimed at moving towards reconciliation after more than a decade of war. Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Monday that dialogue with the Taliban could begin soon and last week several militant commanders said preliminary meetings in Qatar were on the cards. But the Taliban's central leadership has denied such moves, indicating the fragile and embryonic state of the process.
There have been several attempts at starting dialogue in recent years between the Taliban, Kabul and the United States -- the Afghan government's chief supporter -- but with little success. The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as the first move towards a possible peace deal, but it shut a month later after enraging then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling it as the unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile. The election last year of President Ashraf Ghani, who pledged to make peace talks a priority, as well as supportive signals from Pakistan which has long held significant influence with the Taliban, has boosted hopes for possible dialogue. But the Taliban insist talks are impossible while foreign troops remain in the country and Thursday's attack served as a stark reminder that the war is far from over. Agence France Presse
Syrian Kurds cut ISIS supply line near Iraq; fears for Christians mount
By REUTERS/02/26/2015/J.Post
Kurdish militia pressed an offensive against Islamic State in northeast Syria on Wednesday, cutting one of its supply lines from Iraq, as fears mounted for dozens of Christians abducted by the hardline group. At least 90 Assyrian Christians were seized from villages in Hasaka province in a mass abduction coinciding with the offensive in the same region by Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict. The Syriac National Council of Syria put the figure as high as 150. Hundreds more Christians have fled to the two main cities in Hasaka province, according to the Syriac council and the Observatory. Islamic State has killed members of religious minorities and Sunni Muslims who do not swear allegiance to its self-declared "caliphate". The group last week released a video showing its members beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. The abductions in Syria follow advances by Kurdish forces against Islamic State in parts of the northeast near the Iraqi border, an area of vital importance to the group as one of the bridges between land it controls in Iraq and Syria."They want to show themselves strong, playing on the religion string, at a time when they are being hit hard," said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Observatory, speaking by telephone.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, backed by US-led air strikes, last month drove Islamic State from the Syrian town of Kobani, since when further signs of strain have been seen in the group's ranks.
The Assyrian Christians were taken from villages near the town of Tel Tamr, some 20 km (12 miles) to the northwest of the city of Hasaka. There has been no word on their fate. There have been conflicting reports on where the Christians had been taken.
"These were peaceful villages that had nothing to do with the battles," said Nasir Haj Mahmoud, a Kurdish official in the YPG militia in northeastern Syria, speaking by telephone from the city of Qamishli. Some Christians are fighting under the umbrella of the YPG in Hasaka province, but not in that area, he added. The new Kurdish offensive launched at the weekend was focused on dislodging Islamic State from areas some 100 km (60 miles) further to the east, including Tel Hamis, a town that is one of its strongholds.
The Observatory said at least 132 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the fighting since Feb. 21. It said an Australian man who had joined Kurdish YPG forces has been killed on Tuesday in an Islamic State assault. Officials from the YPG refused to comment. A Kurdish source in northern Syria confirmed the report, asking not to be named. Several foreigners, including Europeans and Americans, have joined the YPG in its fight against Islamic State. Their numbers are dwarfed by foreign jihadist recruits to the other side.
A second Kurdish official confirmed a foreigner had been "martyred" but declined to give further details.
In a telephone interview from the city of Qamishli, he said the YPG had cut a main road linking Tel Hamis with al-Houl, a town just a few miles (kilometers) from the Iraqi border. "This is the main artery for Daesh," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. The Kurdish YPG militia had seized more than 100 villages from Islamic State in the area, he added. "We believe we will finish the battle of Tel Hamis in this campaign," he added. Videos posted online by the YPG showed Kurdish fighters firing at Islamic State positions in Hasaka. Photos posted by activists showed displaced people who had fled the fighting for safer areas sitting in the backs of trucks.
The offensive underlines the emergence of the well-organized Syrian Kurdish militia as the main partner for the US-led alliance against Islamic State in Syria. Mainstream rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have mostly been eclipsed by jihadists, complicating a US plan to train and equip Syrian opposition forces to fight Islamic State. Washington has shunned the idea of partnering with the Damascus government, seeing Assad as part of the problem. Syrian government forces, waging a separate campaign against Islamic State, have made advances against the group in Hasaka in recent weeks. The latest fighting in Hasaka is one piece of the Syrian war that is about to enter its fifth year and is being fought by an array of forces on multiple front lines. Government forces and allied militia are waging their own campaign against Islamic State, while also battling other insurgents including mainstream rebels and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in western areas that are mostly under state control. A large offensive by government forces backed by the Lebanese group Hezbollah earlier this month made swift progress in the south before slowing, while an attempt to encircle rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo last week was repulsed, according to the Observatory. The US-based Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian government on Tuesday of carrying out hundreds of indiscriminate aerial attacks in the past year, mostly with barrel bombs, in defiance of a United Nations Security Council demand to stop.

In holy city, Iran's Rouhani seeks clergy's backing for nuclear talks
By REUTERS/02/26/2015/J.Post
BEIRUT - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited the holy city of Qom on Wednesday to appeal to its clergy, religious students and laypeople to back his efforts to strike a deal with major powers over the country's disputed nuclear program.
Iran is in the middle of sensitive negotiations with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany about its nuclear program. The major powers suspect Iran may be trying to build a nuclear weapons capability, a charge Iranian officials have repeatedly denied.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest religious and political authority in Iran who is perceived by many as a hardliner, has given reserved support to the negotiations, but he remains distrustful of Western intentions and has expressed doubts that any outcome could be favorable for Iran.
The senior clergy of Qom, a center of religious authority in the Islamic Republic, has long played a key role in Iranian politics, shaping public opinion and mobilizing the population, and some hardline figures among them still need convincing.
Rouhani's speech could be an attempt to tamp down their criticism before the deadline for the outlines of an agreement expires at the end of March. The next round of talks is expected to start on March 2 in Geneva.
Like Khamenei, these critics in Qom of the moderate Rouhani question the motives of the major powers involved. They are also deeply resentful of Western sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program and accuse the West of fomenting unrest in Iran after disputed presidential elections in 2009.
The sanctions, widely blamed for weakening Iran's currency and shrinking its economy, have shut the country out of the global banking system, battered its trade and lost it billions of dollars in oil revenue.
"In the negotiations, we will not accept imposition, humiliation and the continuation of sanctions," Rouhani said, according to Fars News.
"Like all of the days of the history of this revolution, the government desires the support of the people and especially the support of the people of Qom, the seminary and the senior clerics."
But Rouhani also said there would be no tolerance of those who try to impair the government's efforts.
"We will always respect critics and we tell them, just like supporters, that they have received government protection and will continue to do so," Rouhani said. "But subversion has no place in this country."
While Rouhani did not elaborate, he appeared to be referring to hardline critics of the nuclear talks who have repeatedly expressed doubts that Rouhani's negotiators can strike a deal with Western powers that is acceptable to Tehran.
Last month Rouhani accused such critics of in effect 'cheering on' the other side in Tehran's talks with world powers.

Fighting ISIS is the duty of all Arabs
Mshari Al-Zaydi/Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 26 Feb, 2015
When Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1990, an international coalition was formed to expel his army. The coalition was advocated and embraced by Saudi Arabia who effectively participated in it both militarily and politically and in terms of security while Egypt was at the forefront of the Arab states joining ranks.
The US-led coalition was successful and managed to liberate Kuwait from Saddam’s occupation. It was an effective and exemplary coalition at a critical stage in history and the Saudi participation was a colossal step taken by the late King Fahd.
Today the challenges have changed, problems have become more complex and things are no longer as clear as they were in the summer of 1990. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is as dangerous as an exploding meteor showering the earth with its fiery splinters.
Yes, there has been a coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and an attempt to form another one in Libya. But ISIS’s danger is not limited to those countries as we see it emerging in Libya, Nigeria, Mali and Yemen where murderers are being recruited from around the world.
The confrontation with ISIS exceeds the capabilities of a single country or fighter jets. It requires a comprehensive confrontation with an integrated military coordination and intelligence planning as well as concerted efforts in cultural, media, political, legal and economic fields, among others. During this week, we saw active steps taken against ISIS but not in the form of the coalition I just explained. Take for example the new US Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s visit to the Camp Arifjan base in Kuwait. He told officers there that ISIS is not only a threat to Iraq and Syria but the entire region.
Before this, the chiefs of staff of the armies of more than 30 nations met in Riyadh to discuss the war on terrorism. The US President Barack Obama gave a speech during an international summit on countering terrorism in Washington.
A religious conference was held in Mecca for the same purpose where the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz gave a distinguished speech. The Kingdom’s council of ministers emphasized in a statement the significance of the Washington summit and their appreciation of Saudi participation, maintaining that Riyadh would take part in serious international efforts aimed at fighting terrorism.
As for the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, in a recent speech he praised “all” Gulf states for backing Egypt in its war against terrorism, particularly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan.
“Arab brotherly states called me, including his Highness King Abdullah of Jordan who offered his condolences to the Egyptian people, government and leadership and offered to send forces to confront [ISIS] danger. Our brothers in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain all had the same attitude … We are together and the need to unite Arab forces has become more urgent given the huge challenges facing the region and Arab states.”
Is it the time to form a serious Arab coalition to fight ISIS and those who brought it into existence?

Fatah: 90% of Gaza’s residents want to leave because of Hamas
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH/02/26/2015/J.Post
More than 90 percent of Gaza Strip residents want to leave because of Hamas, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh said on Wednesday.
Addressing Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the Fatah spokesman asked: “Do you know that more than 90 percent of our people in the Gaza Strip want to emigrate, if given the chance, so they could escape from your regime? Do you feel any national responsibility toward the Palestinians and their cause?” Qawassmeh accused Hamas of killing Palestinians and lying. He claimed that Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007 was “one of the most important Israeli strategic goals.”
He accused Hamas of barring student, union and municipal elections in the Gaza Strip over the past eight years.
Qawassmeh accused Hamas of waging a smear campaign against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah after last summer’s military confrontation with Israel.
Hamas has been cracking down on Fatah members in the Gaza Strip by detaining and interrogating many of them, he added.
The Fatah spokesman held Hamas responsible for hindering efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip. Hamas has imposed taxes in goods entering the Gaza Strip and “flooded the local market with Israeli products,” he said.
Qawassmeh’s attack on Hamas coincided with the arrest of several Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip over the past 48 hours.
Hamas detained for interrogation Hatem Othman, Jon Musleh, Mu’men Abu Samra, Awad Musleh, Khaled al-Masari, Raed Saker, Muhammad al-Askari and Rami al-Jarba, sources in the Gaza Strip said.
Othman, a Fatah member, was transferred to the hospital for treatment after he had his leg broken during the interrogation, the sources said.
According to the sources, the Fatah members targeted by Hamas are affiliated with ousted Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan, who is currently based in the United Arab Emirates. The Fatah men had participated in a series of protests in the Gaza Strip against Abbas’s decision to cut their salaries because of their affiliation with his rival Dahlan.

Christians flee jihadis after Syria abductions

Agencies/Daily Star/Feb. 26, 2015
BEIRUT: Hundreds of Assyrian families have fled their homes in northeastern Syria after a mass kidnapping of their community by ISIS, activists said Wednesday.
Some 1,000 families have fled their villages in Hassakeh since Monday’s abductions, said Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network.
About 800 of them have taken refuge in the city of Hassakeh and 150 in Qamishli, a Kurdish-majority city on the Turkish border, Edward said, adding that the number of displaced people came to about 5,000.
Most of the hostages were women, children or elderly. State-run SANA news agency and the Assyrian Human Rights Network said they had been taken to the ISIS stronghold of Shaddadi, in Hassakeh province.
The U.S.-led coalition conducting a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS has targeted Shaddadi, a Arab-majority town, on several occasions.
Edward said he believed the abduction was linked to the jihadis’ recent loss of ground in the face of U.S.-led air raids against ISIS.
“They took the hostages to use them as human shields,” he told AFP.
The jihadis, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrians for ISIS prisoners, said Edward.
Their aim was to take the Assyrian village of Tal Tamer, near a bridge that links Syria to Iraq, he said.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish fighters recaptured three Assyrian villages and a nearby Arab village Wednesday.
“The [Kurdish] People’s Protection Units (YPG) have reclaimed Tal Shamiran, Tal Masri, Tal Hermel and Ghbeish,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said. But fighting continues in the area, he added.
In Tal Shamiran, the jihadis burned down part of a church, and in the Arab village of Ghbeish, ISIS militants decapitated four men and burned down houses and a school. They accused the villagers of collaborating with the Kurdish fighters.
The jihadis had been intimidating the villagers for weeks, Edward said, including threatening to remove crosses from their churches.
“People were expecting an attack, but they thought that either the Syrian army, which is just 30 kilometers from there, or the Kurds or the [U.S.-led] coalition’s strikes would protect them,” Edward added.
The United States condemned the abductions.
“ISIL’s latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, using another acronym for ISIS.
The Syrian Catholic archbishop of Hassakeh-Nisibi accused Turkey of allowing jihadis responsible for the persecution of Syrian Christians to cross its border unchecked, while preventing Christians from fleeing.
“In the north, Turkey allows through lorries, ISIS fighters, oil stolen from Syria, wheat and cotton: all of these can cross the border but nobody [from the Christian community] can pass over,” Jacques Behnan Hindo said.
Also, the nationality of the first Western fighter killed while fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS was identified as Australian, the Observatory’s Abdel-Rahman said.
Separately, French warplanes from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf carried out their first strikes against ISIS since the warship joined the fight against jihadis in Iraq this week.
“We hit a training base for Daesh in the west of Iraq,” said Marc Gander, communications adviser to Vice-Adm. Eric Chaperon, commander of the warship’s battle group, using an Arabic acronym to refer to ISIS. The target was “close to the borders with Syria, at [Al-Qaim],” Gander added.
One of the four Rafale fighter jets that took off Wednesday morning returned having released all four of its guided missiles while another dropped two, an AFP photographer said.

Iran forever forbidden from having nuclear arms: Kerry
Agencies/Feb. 26, 2015
WASHINGTON: Iran is “forever” banned from building a nuclear weapon under an existing international treaty, top U.S. diplomat John Kerry said Wednesday, seeking to dismiss fears that limits on its program imposed in a new deal may eventually be lifted.
“Please understand, there is no reduction [of restrictions] at any time that permits Iran to build a nuclear weapon,” Kerry told U.S. lawmakers when pressed whether a deal with Tehran would eventually allow them to develop atomic arms.
“Iran is forever forbidden from building a nuclear weapon, that is the nature of membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty which they are a member of.”
But California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Kerry that members of the panel have serious concerns about the direction of the talks.
“I’m hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran’s nuclear program,” Royce told Kerry. “That’s particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work.”
The secretary testified in the House two days after returning to Washington from the latest round of talks in Geneva involving Iran, the U.S. and five other powers. U.S. and Iranian officials reported progress on getting to a deal that would clamp down on Tehran’s nuclear activities for at least 10 years but would then slowly ease restrictions.
Royce said the U.N,’s International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concerns about the scope of Iranian military-related activities, including its work in designing a nuclear payload for a missile.“The IAEA inspectors have amassed over 1,000 pages which showed research, development and testing activity on technologies needed to develop a nuclear weapon,” the congressman said. “Of the 12 sets of questions that the IAEA has been seeking since 2011, Iran has answered part of one of them ... They are withholding that information.”
Kerry agreed that Royce’s questions were legitimate and that Iran must answer them if it wants to have an agreement with the U.S. and its partners on a deal to curb its nuclear program.
He said Iran has complied with all the provisions of a first-step agreement, which launched the talks. “They agreed to roll back their program,” Kerry said. “I think that’s cause for hope.”
Wednesday was Kerry’s second appearance before Congress in as many days. As he did Tuesday in the Senate, Kerry told members of the House Foreign Relations Committee that it’s inappropriate to condemn what is in an agreement before anybody knows what it is – or even if there even will be a deal. Negotiators are rushing to try to meet a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement that would keep Tehran from being able to develop nuclear weapons.

Erdoğan’s Dangerous Power Game
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 27 Feb, 2015
According to Western governments, more than 12,000 of their citizens have traveled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in various capacities including frontline fighters. Estimates also show that 8,000 citizens of some 20 other nations have also traveled to ISIS-held territory to lend a helping hand.
The question is: How do they get there?
Judging by public statements from Western officials, including France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the answer is that self-styled jihadists reach ISIS territory via Turkey. British Prime Minister David Cameron says his government is in contact with Turkish authorities to trace a number of London teenage girls who are suspected of having joined ISIS. At the same time, Iraqi authorities claim that they have fired on a number of aircraft suspected of smuggling arms and materiel to ISIS. Again, the question is: What country’s airspace did the planes traverse to reach ISIS territory? Again, the obvious answer is: Turkey. Western intelligence sources quoted by the media suggest that ISIS is sitting on a war-chest of around 2 billion US dollars, partly stolen from banks in Iraqi and Syrian cities captured over the past 18 months and partly thanks to exports from oilfields seized in Syria and Iraq.
ISIS, reportedly offering fairly attractive salaries to its jihadists, has operational costs of around 20 million US dollars a month. At least part of this is covered by donations from abroad.
Again, the question is: How does the money get to the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa? Here the answer is a bit more complicated. Go to any money transfer service in London, Paris or Berlin and you will have little trouble sending cash—albeit in sums no larger than 2,000 US dollars—to any address in Syria. However, when it comes to larger transfers one quickly encounters Turkish banks, often operating through branches in Vienna and the Turkish segment of Cyprus. Another question: How does ISIS manage to feed the population under its control and secure medical and pharmaceutical supplies needed for an estimated population of 2.8 million? The answer once again points to Turkey in the shape of the endless line of heavy trucks crossing the border every day often under the bored gaze of Turkish frontier guards. This is strange behavior by any standards. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and, theoretically at least, still an ally of the United States which is, again theoretically, leading a “coalition” to fight ISIS.
In other words while one NATO ally claims to be fighting ISIS another is enabling ISIS not only to resist but also to expand its territory.
At first glance, this doesn’t make sense.
A closer look, however, may offer pointers to a tentative explanation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is convinced that his American counterpart Barack Obama is not serious about fighting ISIS. In Erdoğan’s analysis, Obama’s strategy will lead to Iranian domination of Iraq and parts of Syria, in addition to Lebanon where Tehran is also in control through its Hezbollah agents. Worse still from Ankara’s point of view, Obama’s policy could lead to the emergence of a mini-Kurdish state on Turkey’s southern border in Syria. To counter Iran’s domination and the emergence of a Kurdish entity in Syria, Turkey needs ISIS as a balancing force. Erdoğan suspects Obama of even accepting a future role for Bashar al-Assad in Syria within the context of an overall deal with Iran. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s old friendship with the Assad clan makes such concerns more credible. Erdoğan, who has a suspicious mind, also fears that the US is already plotting to overthrow his regime by promoting the cleric-cum-businessman Fethullah Gülen as an alternative leader in Ankara.
Gülen, who lives in the US, is in regular contact with the Obama administration which is ignoring Ankara’s demands for his extradition on largely cooked-up charges.
The savage media campaign launched against Erdoğan by Iran is fanning the flames of the Turkish leader’s suspicions about a joint Washington-Tehran plot to unseat him, particularly as Obama has publicly invited Iran to “seize the opportunity” to become the “leading power in the region.”Erdoğan is especially sore about Obama’s refusal to take any action against the Assad clan. Ankara sees the US president’s so-called plan to train anti-Assad fighters in Turkey as an attempt at subterfuge to cover a deeper and more sinister strategy.
Thus, as far as Erdoğan is concerned, the tactical alliance between Ankara and Raqqa makes sense, at least in the short run. Erdoğan believes that things will clear up in a couple of years’ time.
First, he hopes to win another general election this year, thus consolidating his hold on power for five more years. In that context he is engaged in dense negotiations with imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan to cook up an accord to woo Kurdish voters in eastern Anatolia. Without that Kurdish vote, Erdoğan would find it hard to secure a majority in the rest of Turkey where opposition to his autocratic rule is on the rise.
Erdoğan also believes that the Rafsanjani faction in Iran, now controlling the presidency in Tehran, will be crushed in next year’s general election and thus will be unable to deliver on the fancy promises made to Washington. More importantly, Erdoğan knows that the Obama administration is on its last leg and, despite the president’s efforts to tie the hands of his successor, no future US president will pursue Washington’s current convoluted foreign policy. (Even a President Hillary Clinton would want to reverse Obama’s destructive strategy).
For all that, Erdoğan’s policy is deeply flawed. It is opportunistic and unprincipled.
Implicit support for ISIS might have made strategic sense if the self-styled ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi enjoyed genuine grass-root support at least in the areas he has captured, not to mention the Arab states of the Middle East as a whole. However, the best evidence available shows that ISIS is deeply unpopular even among radical Arab Sunnis. Thus, once ISIS is crushed, as it is bound to be, Turkey might find itself on the losing side. Having lost its NATO allies, Turkey could also become isolated in its own regional habitat.
Erdoğan’s Kurdish policy is also a jumble of contradictions. He has allied himself with one faction among Iraqi Kurds, thus pushing other factions towards Iran. His hope of dividing Turkey’s own Kurds is dicey to say the least. Even if he makes a deal with the captive Öcalan, many of Turkey’s ethnic Kurds will still not forget Ankara’s ambiguous stance during the fight over Kobani. Erdoğan criticizes Obama for refusing to see Assad and ISIS as two halves of the same problem. However, Erdoğan is making the same mistake only in reverse by acknowledging the evils of Assad but ignoring the equally evil ISIS.

Don’t blame Snowden for the ISIS fiasco
Michael Young| The Daily Star/Feb. 26, 2015
It was only a matter of time before an American official would use the ISIS stick against the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The head of the NSA, Adm. Michael Rogers, told a group this week, “I would say that [the Snowden leaks have] had a material impact on our ability to generate insights as to what counterterrorism, what terrorist groups around the world are doing.” Rogers only echoed what the former deputy chief of the NSA, Chris Inglis, told the Washington Times last September. He had stated that Snowden’s disclosures “went way beyond disclosing things that bore on privacy concerns. ‘Sources and methods’ is what we say inside the intelligence community – the means and methods we use to hold our adversaries at risk, and [ISIS] is clearly one of those.”
The remarks were perhaps true, but also misleading. For one thing, from what we are hearing, most intelligence agencies are well-informed about individuals who may pose a domestic threat due to their sympathies with jihadi organizations. In the case of the Kouachi brothers who committed the Charlie Hebdo attack in France, the problem was not the absence of information; it was the inability of the police and intelligence agencies to act on information they had.
Whether Snowden had leaked on U.S. surveillance capacities or not, ISIS would certainly have assumed that such capacities existed, and adapted accordingly. In his book “Body of Secrets” on the NSA, James Bamford wrote that agency officials would routinely play intercepts of conversations between Osama bin Laden and his stepmother to visiting congressmen to get more funding for eavesdropping activities. Someone as paranoid as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose ability to plan his actions off the radar were honed in U.S. prisons in Iraq, surely did not need Snowden to know that he had to communicate surreptitiously .
What Rogers and Inglis avoided saying was whether the Obama administration had properly judged the ISIS danger. The NSA likes to collect as much information as it can, which is why it crossed the line and began to accumulate the personal data of millions of people, including many Americans. But how that material is transformed into action by policymakers is another matter altogether.
Let’s look at ISIS. The Obama administration and intelligence agencies had plenty of time to assess the group by the time it captured Mosul in June 2014. Both ISIS and the Nusra Front had come on the scene years earlier in different organizational forms. Yet the administration was so determined to avoid involvement in Syria – “somebody else’s civil war,” as President Barack Obama disgracefully put it – that it failed to adequately respond to the arrival of ISIS.
Obama had a case that the United States would only lose from being drawn into the Syrian conflict, but that did not mean he was off the hook in evaluating potential threats to America and its allies. Worse, in 2011 Obama’s reluctance to undermine President Bashar Assad by helping the rebels was motivated by a fear that the ensuing vacuum could favor jihadis. In other words, the White House had adopted a template of carefully watching extremist groups in Syria, but still did nothing to hinder ISIS, for instance by arming its foes.
By the time Mosul fell, the ISIS phenomenon had far transcended the confines of Iraq or Syria, as the group had built a sophisticated system of financing and recruitment. America reacted with airstrikes, but it was too late. Having ignored Syria for domestic political reasons, the administration simply refused to consider the serious consequences of the war there for regional and global security.
Today, Obama apparently prefers to keep Assad in power, again fearing that jihadis would benefit from a void. Nor is he alone. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre the French sent an envoy to Damascus to discuss anti-terrorism cooperation. While neither Washington nor Paris wants to give Assad and his regime legitimacy, their reluctance to see him overthrown will only reinforce the appeal of extremist groups among those Syrians seeking Assad’s removal.
All this has had nothing to do with Snowden. It was the disastrous policies of the Obama administration that, partly, allowed ISIS to thrive. It was never about the United States sending troops to Syria, as Obama falsely depicted his options in Syria. ISIS grew because the U.S. failed to properly evaluate a conflict that had spun out of control. So when Rogers blames Snowden for crippling the NSA’s ability to generate insights on ISIS, he’s uttering nonsense. There was plenty of open source material allowing a highly credible appraisal of the group, but the administration simply delayed responding.
Some have suggested that the Obama administration has been Machiavellian in Syria, allowing its enemies to grind each other down. But was creating conditions for the advent of an Al-Qaeda on steroids the aim? The United States has spent the last decade developing a huge and invasive infrastructure to fight terrorism, but all ISIS has done is to show the profound limitations of the American efforts.
The NSA’s appetite for money is insatiable, so one expects it to target Snowden. The organization would do better to question the U.S. president, who has systematically misread Syria, as have those around him. They’re the ones who deserve condemnation, not Edward Snowden.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

With Netanyahu, the perfect is the enemy of the good
David Ignatius| The Daily Star/Feb. 26, 2015
Prussian King Frederick the Great offered this rebuke to those who refused to allow any concessions: “If you try to hold everything, you hold nothing.”
President Barack Obama might make a similar retort to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attack on the alleged “bad deal” the United States is contemplating with Iran. Netanyahu rejects any concessions that allow Iran to enrich uranium; he thinks the U.S. goal of a one-year “breakout” period before Iran could build a bomb isn’t enough.
To which several leading administration officials respond: Okay, then, what’s a better practical idea for controlling Iran’s nuclear program? They see in Netanyahu’s maximalist goals an air of unreality – of fantasy, even. They grant that their solution isn’t perfect. But they argue that it’s far better for Israel and the West than any other plausible scenario.
The Iran nuclear talks, arguably the most important diplomatic negotiations of the last several decades, will come to a head next month. Netanyahu will take his case against the agreement to Congress on March 3 in an unusual speech organized by the Republican House speaker. His own political leadership will be tested in Israeli elections on March 17. The Iran negotiations will reach a March 24 deadline for the framework of a final comprehensive accord.
Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz made the case against the Iran agreement in an interview with me last week. “From the very beginning, we made it clear we had reservations about the goal of the negotiations,” he explained. He said Obama’s effort to limit the Iranian nuclear program for a decade or so, in the expectation that a future generation of leaders wouldn’t seek a bomb, was “too speculative.”
The administration’s response is that the agreement is better than any realistic alternative. Officials argue it would put the Iranian program in a box, with constraints on all the pathways to making a bomb. Perhaps more important, it would provide strict monitoring and allow intrusive inspection of Iranian facilities – not just its centrifuges but its uranium mines, mills and manufacturing facilities. If Iran seeks a covert path to building a bomb, the deal offers the best hope of detecting it.
If the current talks collapse, all these safeguards would disappear. The Iranians could resume enrichment and other currently prohibited activities. In such a situation, the U.S. and Israel would face a stark choice over whether to attack Iranian facilities – with no guarantee that such an attack would set Tehran back more than a few years.
The deal taking shape would likely allow Iran about 6,000 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz. The Iranians apparently wouldn’t install IR-2s, which operate twice as fast, and they would limit research on future models, up to IR-8s, that are on the drawing board. How these research limits would be monitored and enforced is a key bargaining issue. Another critical variable is the size of the stockpile Iran could maintain; U.S. officials want a very low number, with additional enriched material shipped out of Iran.
One official argues that the U.S. would be better off with 9,000 IR-1s and a small stockpile than with 1,000 IR-2s and a large stockpile. Netanyahu probably won’t address this issue in his speech to Congress, since he insists the only acceptable number of centrifuges is zero.
Another key technical issue is how nonpermitted centrifuges would be dismantled. There is a range of options, from simply unplugging the equipment to pulverizing it altogether. The U.S. wants a formula that would require at least a year for the Iranians to restart the shelved equipment. As for the planned Iranian plutonium reactor at Arak, negotiators seem to have agreed on a compromise that will halt construction well before Arak becomes “hot” with potential bomb fuel.
The length of the agreement is a crucial variable. U.S. officials have always spoken of a “double-digit” duration period, somewhere between 10 and 15 years. Negotiators are also exploring the possibility of different phases of the timeline, with inspection provisions having a longer lifespan than, say, limits on the number of centrifuges.
The deal-stopper for the administration is if Iran balks at U.S. insistence that sanctions will only be removed step by step, as Iran demonstrates that it’s serious about abiding by the agreement. In the U.S. view, Iran has to earn its way back to global acceptance.
The Iran deal is imperfect. As Count Metternich observed in 1807 about negotiations with the rising powers of his day, “Peace does not exist with a revolutionary system.” But U.S. officials make a compelling case that this agreement is a start toward a safer Middle East.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Assyrians Captured By ISIS Now At 150, Negotiations for Their Release in Progress
Posted 2015-02-26
Hasaka, Syria (AINA) -- The number of Assyrians captured by ISIS in yesterday's attacks (AINA 2015-02-23) is now estimated to be at 150. ISIS attacked the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in Hasaka, Syria, killing at least 4 Assyrians guards who were defending their villages. There has been fierce fighting since yesterday between ISIS and Assyrian and Kurdish militia. Up to 130 ISIS members have been killed.
Negotiations to free some of the hostages are ongoing. Prominent Arab Sheiks in Hasaka are acting as intermediaries between ISIS and Assyrian leaders. The Sheiks are pushing ISIS to at least release the Assyrians who did not fight. According to sources in Hasaka, ISIS has agreed in principle to release those Assyrians who offered no resistance but flatly rejected releasing those who fought back.
The group of Assyrians that may be released is believed to be being held in Abdul Aziz Mountain, approximately 60 kilometers from the Assyrian villages where they were captured. This group of Assyrians is from the villages of Tel Goran, Abu Tina and Tel Jazira.
Nine Assyrians Killed
Simon Somo, killed fighting ISIS.
At least nine Assyrians have been killed fighting ISIS, they are:
Milad Sammy Adam
George Maholian
Tamir Darwish
Marius Hurmiz
Simon Somo
Abraham Qatina
Joseph Afeh
Julian Osi
Haysam from Hasaka
ISIS has captured 12 Assyrian fighters from Tel Tamar, including two females.
Killed fighting ISIS, from left: Julian Osi, Marius Hurmiz, Joseph Afeh, Haysam.
Refugees Need Shelter
The Assyrians who managed to escape to Hasaka and Qamishli left only with the clothes on their backs. There is a critical need for shelter for the 3000 Assyrian refugees.
The Assyrian community in Sydney collected 60,000 Australian dollars yesterday in an emergency fundraiser. The money will be sent to Syria to aid the refugees.
Bishop Meelis Zaia, the Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand for the Assyrian Church of the East, is meeting with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and other branches of government to request aid for the Assyrians who have been displaced by the ISIS attacks.
Assyrian American Bishops sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the ISIS Attacks on Assyrians (AINA 2015-02-26). The Bishops called for arming the Assyrians:
The dire situation of the Assyrian Christians in Khabur, therefore, calls for immediate action by the US and other coalition forces present in the area to provide them with safety and the necessary means to properly and effectively defend themselves. We believe that our president's administration in particular is morally obliged to secure the continued safety of the remaining Assyrian Christians in the Khabur region. We implore your good offices to bring this message directly to the attention of President Obama, and that our government act by taking concrete steps to help the remaining Assyrian Christians in the region to protect themselves, and to put a stop to the atrocities brought about by these fundamentalists who have created havoc in the Middle East.
The following is a partial list of the Assyrians captured by ISIS:
Village of Tel Hurmiz
Solomon Safar Gilyana
George Bolus Esho
Fuad Oshana Younan
Elias Darmo Warda
Youkhanna Bolbul Qatina
Zaya Benjamin Dinkha
Rihana Benjamin Dikha
Wedad Eliya Younan
Shamiran Esho Younan
Hermiz Gewargis Khano
Village of Qaber Shamiyeh
Enyir Warda Abdal
Fawwaz Joseph Tammo
Awiya Youkina Mallik Hermiz
Village of Tel Goran
Yikhannis Adam
Michael Mirza
Elias Mirza
Abdo Mirza
Mirza Mirza
Wegram Mirza
Fabronia Mirza
Miryana Mirza (6 Years old)
Wegram Mirza (unconfirmed)
George Ishmael
Ishmael Ishmael
Joseph Ishmael (unconfirmed)
George Esho
Salem Dashto
Aweya Zaya
Joseph Zaya
Joel Zaya (unconfirmed)
Tato Odisho
Jamil Odisho
George Odisho
Jamil Kolyat
Awiya Wegram
Joseph Esho
Najma Youkhanna
Mirza Khaya (unconfirmed)
5 unnamed women
Village of Tel Fweidat
Sargon Ninos
Joseph Ninos
Wedad Rihana Benjamin
Mayo Karko Hanna
Village of Tel Jazira
Shwel Esha
Hanan Esha
Munira Esha
Amira Esha
Ramziya Rihana
Raswina Esha
Mariam Gawriyeh
Abdul-Massih Noya
Iris Darmo
Sheren Darmo
Jamila Kako
Mansour Darmo (Child)
Najiba Youkhanna
Joseph Youkhanna
Firyal Youkhanna
Hanna Youkhanna (Child)
Mary Youkhanna (Child)
Sorin Youkhanna (Child)
Edwisha Youkhanna
Elissa Ishmael
Hamson Youkhanna
Salwa Roel
Bironia Samo
Amana Kako
Manal Kako
Adam Kako
Farida Kako
Shamiran Kako
Helana Kako
Shwarekh Khoshaba
Elizabeth Khoshaba
Khorshid Giwargis
Gabi Ishmael
Mouna Esha
Jessica Ishmael (Child)
Sharbel Ishmael (Child)
Wanes Ishmael
Ishtar Ishmael
Timatios Ishmael
Shamiran Mako
Marleen Ishmael
Miryana Ishmael
Ashor Nidor
Roel Dinkha
Aweshalem Dinkha
Sadeq Ishmael
Loudia Hermiz
Rami Ishmael
Michael Ishmael
Ninorta Ishmael
Giwargis Ishm
There are 35 contiguous Assyrian villages on both sides of the Khabur river, stretching 80 kilometers west from Hassaka to Ras al-Ain. The remaining inhabitants of these villages, some 3000, have now been evacuated, most to Hasaka and about 200 to Qamishli. Hundreds have taken refuge in St. Mary church in Hasaka and and St. Ephrem church in Qamishli.
Three weeks ago ISIS ordered Assyrians in the region of Hassaka to remove the crosses from their churches and to pay jizya (Christian poll tax), warning residents that if they failed to pay they would have to leave or else be killed (AINA 2015-02-03).

Assyrian American Bishops Letter Text that they sent to United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, Regarding ISIS Attacks on Assyrians
2015-02-26 01:55 GMT
(AINA) -- The Synod of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East has sent a letter to John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, regarding the ISIS attacks on Assyrian villages and the capture of 150 Assyrians (AINA 2015-02-23).
Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Kerry:
The atrocities very recently committed against the Assyrian Christians of the Khabur region in northeast Syria prompt us to write to your good offices in order to bring to your attention the urgency of the present situation. As the diocesan bishops of the Assyrian Church of the East in the United States, we would like to bring to the attention of the Obama Administration the sufferings and plight of our Assyrian Christians, which we have all witnessed taking place in broad daylight, early Monday morning. In our very own day, another holocaust is taking place in history, but this time against the Christian population of Syria by ISIL.
As you are well aware, the 35 villages along the almost 30 kilometer stretch of the Khabur River region were evacuated due to the approaching onslaught of ISIL and its forces of evil and destruction. We are hearing first-hand reports from our local diocesan bishop and other Assyrians who have helped in facilitating the settlement of the displaced that on Monday over 500 families were evacuated from the Khabur villages in the span of a few hours and brought to safety in the cities of Al-Hassake and Al-Qamishley. About 200 persons from another large village were still being bused out to safety, while five villages (at least) have already been completely taken by ISIL. These include the villages of Tel Baloa and Tel Shamiran, where 50 families were placed under house-arrest by ISIL and their village church burned down, while other reports stated that they were taken out of their village to a nearby town, and there status us unknown. The village of Tel Hurmizd suffered when 14 villagers were kidnapped and their whereabouts is not known till this moment. The village of Tel Goran has seen the kidnapping of some 15 persons, about 40 persons reportedly kidnapped from Tel Jazira, and Tel Shamiye has also been over-run by the ISIL forces. Local para-military Christian security forces have been active to protect the Christian population from further destruction and kidnappings, but with much difficulty due to the paucity of their number and weapons in comparison with those of the ISIL extremists. The total number of those kidnapped and/or held hostage in their villages is around 200 persons--children, women, the elderly and men! Further reports tell of incidents of killings, rape and the taking of women as concubines for these godless enemies of humanity.
The dire situation of the Assyrian Christians in Khabur, therefore, calls for immediate action by the US and other coalition forces present in the area to provide them with safety and the necessary means to properly and effectively defend themselves. We believe that our president's administration in particular is morally obliged to secure the continued safety of the remaining Assyrian Christians in the Khabur region. We implore your good offices to bring this message directly to the attention of President Obama, and that our government act by taking concrete steps to help the remaining Assyrian Christians in the region to protect themselves, and to put a stop to the atrocities brought about by these fundamentalists who have created havoc in the Middle East.
What we are witnessing before our very eyes, Mr. Kerry, is genocide (properly speaking) against the Assyrian Christians, and indeed it is already being termed 'another holocaust.' The United States and the great nations of the free, modern and democratic world cannot just stand by and allow this to happen! We pray that our plea will not go unheard, as it is a voice for those young children, women, elderly and men who are now left voiceless and without hope of safety for their lives. The credibility of our nation and its administration will be compromised if nothing is done and the Assyrian Christians in this region are left at the mercy of the merciless forces of ISIL.
We thank you for your immediate attention to this urgent matter and your consideration for the safety and lives of the Assyrian Christians in Khabur, Syria.
Very truly yours,
Mar Aprim Khamis
Bishop of Western USA
Mar Awa Royel
Bishop of California, Secretary of the Holy Synod
Mar Paulus Benjamin
Bishop of Eastern USA

Syria's Civil War Could Stabilize Its Region
by Daniel Pipes/The Washington Times
February 26, 2015
WT title: "Like-to-like ethnic migration in the Middle East: Syria's civil war could end up stabilizing the region"
Population shifts resulting from Syria's four-year long civil war have profoundly changed Syria and its three Arabic-speaking neighbors: Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Turkey and Israel have changed too, but less so.) Ironically, amid tragedy and horror, as populations adapt to the brutal imperatives of modern nationalism, all four countries are becoming more a bit more stable. That's because the fighting has pushed peoples to move from ethnic minority status to ethnic majority status, encouraging like to live with like.
Before looking at each country, some background:
First, along with the Balkans, the Middle East contains the most complex and unsettled ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national mix in the world. It's a place where cross-border alliances deeply complicate local politics. If the Balkans set off World War I, the Middle East might well spark World War III.
Second, historic tensions between the two main Muslim sects, Sunni and Shi'i, had largely subsided before Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power in 1979. Driven by Tehran's aggression, they have since flared anew.
The brutal 8-year war, 1980-88 between Iran and Iraq did much to exacerbate Sunni-Shi'i hostility.
Third, the imperialist European powers nearly ignored the identity of the peoples living in the Middle East as they defined most of the region's borders. Instead, they focused on rivers, ports, and other resources that served their economic interests. Today's jumble of somewhat randomly-defined countries (e.g., Jordan) is the result.
Finally, Kurds were the major losers a century ago; lacking intellectuals to make their case, they found themselves divided among four different states and persecuted in them all. Today, they are organized for independence.
Returning to Syria and its Arab neighbors (and drawing on Pinhas Inbari's "Demographic Upheaval: How the Syrian War is Reshaping the Region"):
Syria and Iraq have undergone strikingly similar developments. After the demise of monstrous dictators in 2000 and 2003, each has broken into the same three ethnic units – Shi'i Arab, Sunni Arab, and Kurd. Tehran dominates both Shi'i-oriented regimes, while several Sunni-majority states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar) back the Sunni rebels. The Kurds have withdrawn from the Arab civil wars to build their own autonomous areas. Once-ambitious dictatorships barely sustain functioning foreign policies. Also, the century-old boundary separating Syria and Iraq has largely vanished.
Syria: The part of Syria still ruled by Bashar al-Assad is becoming more Shi'i. An estimated half of the pre-war Syrian population of 22 million has been driven from its homes; of them, the 3 million refugees, mostly Sunni, who fled the country are unlikely to return both because of the continuing civil war and the Assad regime's revocation of their citizenship. The regime appears also to have intentionally reduced its control over the area near the border with Jordan to encourage Sunnis to flee Syria. In another ploy to increase the Shi'i population, reports indicate it has welcomed and re-settled about 500,000 Iraqi Shi'is, conferring Syrian citizenship on some.
Bashar al-Assad must have been a better ophthalmologist than dictator.
Iraq: The Syrian civil war provided the Islamic State (or ISIS/ISIL) with an opportunity to move into Iraq, seizing such cities as Fallujah and Mosul, leading to an exodus of non-Sunnis (especially Shi'is and Yazidis), and remaking Iraq along ethnic lines. Given the country's intermingled population, especially in the Baghdad area, It will be years – perhaps decades – before the sides sort themselves out. But the process appears inexorable.
Lebanon: Sunnis are growing more powerful, beating back the Iranian influence. The million new Sunni refugees from Syria now constitute 20 percent of the country's population, roughly doubling the Sunni community. Also, Hizbullah, the dominant Shi'i organization in Lebanon, is neglecting its own constituency and losing influence domestically by fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria.
Hizbullah militiamen in Syria reduces the groups influence in its home country, Lebanon.
Jordan: The recent influx of Syrian refugees follows an earlier wave of approximately one million Iraqi refugees. Together, the two groups have lowered the percentage of Palestinians in Jordan to the point that the latter probably no longer constitute a majority of the country's population, a shift with major political implications. For one, it reduces the potential Palestinian threat to the Hashemite monarchy; for another, it undermines the Jordan-is-Palestine argument championed by some Israelis.
In brief, Iraq and Syria are devolving into their constituent religious and ethnic parts, Lebanon is becoming more Sunni, and Jordan less Palestinian. However gruesome the human cost of the Syrian civil war, its long-term impact potentially renders the Middle East a less combustible place, one less likely to trigger World War III.
Mr. Pipes (, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2015 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

274 Assyrian Christian captives awaiting ISIS trial
Amy Assad/Asharq Al Awsat
Thursday, 26 Feb, 2015
The group burned downed ancient churches and houses during the raid, seizing hostages along the way
A general view shows a church in the Assyrian village of Abu Tina, which was recently captured by Islamic State fighters, February 25, 2015. (Reuters)
A general view shows a church in the Assyrian village of Abu Tina, which was recently captured by Islamic State fighters, February 25, 2015. (Reuters)
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Hundreds of Assyrian Christians abducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in a series of dawn raids on their villages in Syria’s northeast Hasakah province are being held in the ISIS stronghold of Al-Shaddadeh on the Abdulaziz Mountain and are awaiting trial by an ISIS court, according to Cambridge-based Assyrian scholar Nineb Lamassu.
ISIS, who last week released a video of the group beheading 21 Coptic Egyptian migrant workers in Libya, struck near the town of Tall Tamer on Tuesday, a predominantly Assyrian Christian area, North of the Khabur River.
The group burned downed ancient churches and houses during the raid, seizing hostages along the way.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Lamassu, who has relatives in the area and has regular phone contact with those who escaped the onslaught to nearby Qamishli and Hasakah city, said the entire southern strip of villages along the Khabur River, from Tal Hurmiz to Tal Shamiran, have now been emptied of their inhabitants and occupied by ISIS.
274 Assyrians were captured by the militants, according to a recent assessment from Assyrian sources on the ground. There were unconfirmed reports about the release of 23 hostages from the village of Tal Goran on Wednesday although there has been no news of their whereabouts.
The hostages are reportedly being questioned by ISIS about affiliations to local militias. Some members of the villages had been acting as “guardians” (lightly armed guards) to protect their areas from mounting threats from the radical group. Christians under the banner of the Syrian Military Defense Council have also recently joined up with Kurdish forces in the fight to push back ISIS advances.
Lamassu has made repeated attempts to make contact with the captured villagers “We are trying to call their mobiles. The replies we get say ‘We are the Islamic State’,” Lamassu said. “The information we got from [ISIS] is that these people are all fine for now, they are awaiting a trial. Those that held arms against them (guardians) will be killed, while those who didn’t (women and children) will be released.’”
“The general feeling among Assyrians is that those who carried arms will be held as ransom and the women and children will be enslaved regardless,” Lamassu said.
Under Islamic Shari’a law, Christians are categorized as Ahl Al-Kitab (People of the Book) and granted special “protected” status as non-Muslim citizens within an Islamic state. This historical status, known as dhimmi in Arabic, meant that non-Muslim citizens within an Islamic state enjoyed certain rights, in addition to restrictions including paying the jizya tax. Although the extremist version of Islam that ISIS purports to follow does allow for Christians to be enslaved, it does not allow for the enforced slavery of an entire Christian community. ISIS was only able to carry out this practice against the Yazidi community in Iraq because it does not recognize the Yazidis as monotheists or Ahl Al-Kitab.
According to Lamassu, 54 families in the village of Tal Shamiran were cornered by the group during the raids when they took refuge inside a church. Among those captured were also 34 families from Tal Jazeera, north of the Khabur River, and 13 men and 3 women from Tal Hurmiz. Some of the hostages have reportedly been moved by the militants from Al-Shaddadeh to Um El-Masameer, another ISIS controlled village on the other side of Mount Abdulaziz.
The Syriac Military Council said three of its fighters were killed in clashes with the group in Tal Hurmiz on Tuesday. Among those confirmed dead are 16-year-old Milad Bazi, a 60-year-old village guard named Shemun Somo and two female fighters, one of whom was 50 years old, named Welad.
Initially, ISIS had called for a prisoner swap with Kurdish militias in return for the captured Assyrians. Unconfirmed reports now say that ISIS is demanding an end to the US-led airstrikes in return for the release of hostages.
According to A Demand for Action, an international organization calling for the protection of Syria and Iraq’s indigenous religious minorities, 3,000 villagers were able to escape to nearby Qamishli and Hasakah city.
Despite difficulty making contact with the villagers in these areas, Lamassu was able to interview a resident named Admon Gabriel, broadcast in Assyrian dialect on the Assyria TV channel. “In Hasakah there is nothing; our villages are gone from Ben Roomta to Tkhoma (Assyrian names of the villages). They are all gone,” Gabriel lamented in the interview.
The attack is yet another blow to the already embattled ancient community. Founder of A Demand for Action, Nuri Kino, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the group are in Washington today to meet with congressmen, senators and the State Department. “We are devastated, frightened and horrified,” he said, “but we will not rest until we have the help of the world leaders. We are persecuted, experiencing yet another genocide not for what we have done, but because we are of another ethnicity, another faith and speak another language.”
Speaking to Reuters from Qamishli, a Kurdish official in the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Nasir Haj Majmoud described the villages as “peaceful” and added that although some Christians had been fighting under the umbrella of the YPG in the Hasakah province, the villages attacked by ISIS “had nothing to do with the battles.”
In an official statement for A Demand for Action, London-based representative Mardean Isaac called for further US-led airstrikes. “After the Iraq war of 2003, and since the Syrian crisis began, the persecution unleashed on [the Assyrians]—including extortion, kidnappings, murder, the ethnic cleansing of entire swathes of Baghdad, the Nineveh Plains, and now much of north-east Syria—has been so vast that their very existence in their ancestral homelands is in grave peril. This persecution has also been unleashed with equal fervor on the other Christian inhabitants of Syria, including Armenians,” he wrote.
The raid on the villages comes a month after the liberation of Kobani by Kurdish militia backed by US-led airstrikes. The Khabur River in Hasakah province is strategic for the warring factions, as it borders Turkey and areas controlled by ISIS in Iraq.