January 03/15

Bible Quotation for today/Jesus and Nicodemus
John 03/01-21: " There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees.  One night he went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” “How can a grown man be born again?” Nicodemus asked. “He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!” “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” asked Nicodemus. Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don't know this?  I am telling you the truth: we speak of what we know and report what we have seen, yet none of you is willing to accept our message. You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world; how will you ever believe me, then, when I tell you about the things of heaven?  And no one has ever gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven.”As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up,  so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son.  This is how the judgment works: the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil.  Those who do evil things hate the light and will not come to the light, because they do not want their evil deeds to be shown up.  But those who do what is true come to the light in order that the light may show that what they did was in obedience to God." 

What is the gospel of Barnabas?
Answer: It’s important that we not confuse the gospel of Barnabas (ca. A.D. 1500) with the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. A.D. 70–90). The Epistle of Barnabas was written in the late 1st century, but probably not by the Barnabas named in the New Testament. While more of a pseudo-Gospel with some historical value, the Epistle of Barnabas was never considered canonical by the early church or any church council. The gospel of Barnabas, however, has absolutely no apostolic support and was written 1400 years after the time of Barnabas. This is evidenced by the fact that it was never quoted by any church father or church historian before the 16th century! By contrast, the books of the New Testament were all written early (before A.D. 100) and by eyewitnesses, or by those who interviewed the eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus (1 John 1:1-5; Luke 1:1-4). The four Gospels found in the New Testament were never questioned as to their authenticity. Even had the gospel of Barnabas been written during the time of the Apostles, it still would have never attained canonical status due to the historical and doctrinal errors it contains. For example, the gospel of Barnabas purports that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah (see Matthew 26:63-64). The gospel of Barnabas also says that Jesus was born when Pilate was governor (but history records Pilate becoming governor in A.D. 26 or 27). Furthermore, the gospel of Barnabas keeps some strange company, for it’s a favorite among Muslims as it teaches a Jesus consistent with the Koran. The gospel of Barnabas claims that Jesus did not die on the cross, as does the Koran in Sura 4:157. Historians are unanimous that the gospel of Barnabas was written in the 15th-16th century A.D., most likely by Muslims seeking to discredit the Biblical message regarding Jesus.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 02-03/15
The Danger of Playing with Terror/Amir Taheri/ASharq Al Awsat/January 02/15
Another Year of the Syrian Conflict/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/January 02/15
Saudi Clerics Fight for the Right to Marry Children/Raymond Ibrahim/January 02/15
In Afghanistan, the New Year Begins with an Ignominious End/Tarek Fatah/The Toronto Sun/January 02-03/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 02-03/15
U.N. Chief Extends STL Mandate for Three Years
After Meeting Son in Arsal Outskirts, Hommos Declares Nusra's 'Terms' for Visiting Captives
Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan Condemns Killing in the Name of Religion, Says Only Lebanese to Salvage Country
Kanaan Calls for Organizing Christian Ties, Says Aoun-Geagea Talks Soon
Iraq Seeking to Recover Stolen Money Found in Lebanon
Lebanon's Domestic Workers Move to Protect Rights
Lebanese Diplomat Sustains Knife Stabs in Brazil
Report: Fadel Shaker's Bodyguard Wounded in Bomb Attack
Sheikh Hommos Meets with Abducted Son on Outskirts of Arsal
Official Funeral Held for Karami in Tripoli

Lebanon's Domestic Workers Move to Protect Rights
Foreign Ministry Protests Attacks on Lebanon Envoys in Brazil, Chile
Health, Economy ministries in dust-up over sugar
Lebanese winemaker Serge Hochar dies in accident
Akkar village bids farewell to couple slain in Irbil
Lebanon announces new entry restrictions for Syrians
Weak factory data hint more central bank action

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 02-03/15
Saudi Says King Abdullah Has Pneumonia but in Stable Condition
Obama authorizes additional sanctions against North Korea in Sony hack

At least 19 killed in rebel fire on Syria’s Aleppo
Syrian opposition to discuss Russian peace plan
Gunmen kill 3 Sunni clerics in Iraqi city of Basra
Some AirAsia victims found belted in seats
Turkish minister slammed over 'career of motherhood' comment
In Turkey, 'Thief' is not Just a Five-Letter Word
Al-Jazeera Journalists Face More Jail Time, Eye Deportation
Netanyahu: Palestinian Authority is an entity allied with terror group, not a state
Egypt’s Sisi: Islamic “Thinking” Is “Antagonizing the Entire World”
Obama’s 2015 gift for Israel and Mid East: Funding for a new Iraqi army – dominated by Iran’s Rev Guards
Italy Takes Control of Drifting Migrant Ship
Al-Jazeera Journalists Face More Jail Time, Eye Deportation

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
Indian official: “Mistake” to portray terrorists as Muslims in police drills
Merkel boner: German Chancellor tells Germans not to attend anti-Islamization rallies
Robert Spencer in PJ Media: The 10 Most Important Jihad Stories of 2014
Georgetown Panel Promotes One-Way Interfaith ‘Dialogue’
Egyptian government accused of having double standards and failing to protect Copts in Libya
Egypt’s Sisi: Islamic “thinking” is “antagonizing the entire world”

U.N. Chief Extends STL Mandate for Three Years
Naharnet/U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has extended the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) for a period of three years from March 1, 2015, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1757, a statement on the U.N. chief's website said.
The mandate of the STL, which is based near The Hague in the Netherlands, is to hold trials for those accused of carrying out the bomb attack of February 14, 2005 in Beirut which killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 other people. “The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to support the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to bring those responsible to justice and to ensure that impunity for such major crimes will not be tolerated,” the statement said. “The United Nations looks forward to the continued support and cooperation of the Government of Lebanon,” it added. Five Hizbullah members have been indicted over the killing. Party chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the STL as a U.S.-Israeli scheme and vowed that the accused will never be found. The trial in absentia began in January 2014 and is currently ongoing.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan Condemns Killing in the Name of Religion, Says Only Lebanese to Salvage Country
Naharnet /Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan deplored on Friday the killings in the name of religion, stressing that the Lebanese are the only ones capable of salvaging their country.
“The crises in our nation are expanding due to the conflict in the neighboring countries, the delay in electing a new head of state and the deterioration of the political, economic and social conditions,” Daryan said on the occasion of the birth of Prophet Mohammed.
He warned that Lebanon and its political system are at risk, pointing out that only “coexistence, dialogue and consensus, no matter how sharp the differences are, we are the only ones capable of reaching a breakthrough.”Daryan noted that “martyrdom is associated with responsibilities towards ourselves and others.”“We are obliged with having awareness, solidarity and brotherly ties. We should assume our duties toward our society and nations,” the Grand Mufti added. Daryan lamented the nation “which is suffering from enormous wounds.”“Solidarity is now replaced with murder and unity with division,” he said. Daryan wondered “how we will face our prophet when more than 15 million people in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia are suffering from exodus... What will we say about the half million murdered Arab and more than one million others injured in less than five years?” He described the killing in the name of religion as a “disease.”“Our prophet calls for mercy and coexistence...” Daryan considered that the “slayers are well known,” warning that “everyone would lose in any civil war.”He called on the rival sides to abide by the principles of justice and religion to end strife and sedition. Daryan expressed solidarity with the families of abducted servicemen, who were taken hostage by the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group in August.

Official Funeral Held for Karami in Tripoli
Naharnet/Hundreds of mourners, including politicians, bid farewell to former Prime Minister Omar Karami in his hometown in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday. Karami was laid to rest in an official funeral after prayers, which were led by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan at the Mansouri Great mosque in the presence of Tripoli Mufti Sheikh Malek al-Shaar. Top officials, including Premier Tammam Salam, former Prime Minister Najib Miqati, Ministers Jebran Bassil, Elias Bou Saad, Rashid Derbas, and Wael Abou Faour, and MPs Fouad Saniora, Ali Bazzi, Samir al-Jisr and Mohammed Kabbara attended the funeral procession. Before the funeral, his casket was moved from the American University of Beirut Medical Center to Tripoli as mourners gathered on the streets of towns and in main squares in the northern city to welcome the convoy. Karami, 80, died on Thursday at the AUBMC where he was undergoing treatment from an undisclosed illness. Flags were flown at half-mast across the country after Salam announced a three-day mourning period that started on Friday. Karami served as prime minister for the first time between 1990 and 1992. He resigned after protests against rising living costs caused by the collapse of the Lebanese pound against the dollar.  He assumed the post again in 2004, but was forced to resign in 2005 following the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri. Karami's elder brother Rashid was a long-serving prime minister until his assassination in 1987. And his father was one of the architects of Lebanon's independence in 1943. Omar Karami is survived by his wife Mariam and four sons and daughters.

Kanaan Calls for Organizing Christian Ties, Says Aoun-Geagea Talks Soon
Naharnet /Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan stressed on Friday the importance of organizing the ties between Christians. Kanaan, who is loyal to Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, said in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) that “any presidential breakthrough would resolve several political disputes.”The lawmaker is reportedly holding talks with the media officer at the Lebanese Forces, Melhem Riachi, to prepare for the agenda of the dialogue between Aoun and LF chief Samir Geagea. “The meeting between Aoun and Geagea will be held soon,” Kanaan said, citing progress in talks to prepare for the dialogue between the two Christian leaders. He described the general atmosphere as “positive.”Both Aoun and Geagea have announced their candidacies for the presidency. Their differences, in addition to the rivalry between the March 8 and 14 alliances, have left the presidential post vacant. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May.

Egypt’s Sisi: Islamic “Thinking” Is “Antagonizing the Entire World”
Raymond Ibrahim on January 1, 2015 in From The Arab World, Islam
Sisi during his New Year’s Day speech before Al Azhar
Among other things, Sisi said that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”; that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”; and that Egypt (or the Islamic world in its entirety) “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”The relevant excerpt from Sisi’s speech follows (translation by Michele Antaki): I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible! That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world! Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!
I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now. All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it from the outside, to root it out and replace it with a more enlightened vision of the world. I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands. Note: It is unclear if in the last instance of umma Sisi is referring to Egypt (“the nation”) or if he is using it in the classical sense as he did initially to refer to the entire Islamic world.

Saudi Clerics Fight for the Right to Marry Children
Raymond Ibrahim/Veritas International Enterprise
January 02/15
Originally published under the title, "Islamic Law: Girls Can Be Married 'Even If They Are In The Cradle'."
Muslim attempts at "reformation" continue to be limited to words not actions. A few days ago, efforts to set a minimum age for marriage in Saudi Arabia "received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married."
Two years earlier, the justice ministry began pushing for setting a minimum age in the Arabian kingdom. According to Gulf News, "It submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age."However, the ulema—the "religious scholar," the learned ones of Islamic law—responded by totally ignoring the request. Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, its Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, shrugged the whole matter off by saying "There is currently no intention to discuss the issue." In other words, case closed. Although the brief Gulf News report focuses on the age 15, going back to earlier reports when the justice ministry began bringing this issue up, one discovers that the issue at stake is full-blown pedophilia. Back in 2011, for example, Dr. Salih bin Fawzan, a prominent cleric and member of Saudi Arabia's highest religious council, issued a fatwa asserting that there is no minimum age for marriage and that girls can be married "even if they are in the cradle."
The grand point of the Saudi fatwa, however, is not that girls as young as nine can be married, based on Muhammad's example, but rather that there is no age limit whatsoever.
Appearing in Saudi papers, the fatwa complained that "Uninformed interference with Sharia rulings by the press and journalists is on the increase"—likely a reference to the justice ministry's advocacy—"posing dire consequences to society, including their interference with the question of marriage to small girls who have not reached maturity, and their demand that a minimum age be set for girls to marry."
Fawzan insisted that nowhere does Sharia (or Islamic law) set an age limit for marrying girls: like countless Muslim scholars before him, he relied on Koran 65:4, which discusses marriage to females who have not yet begun menstruating (i.e., are prepubescent) and the fact that Muhammad, Islam's role model, married Aisha when she was six or seven, "consummating" the marriage—or, in modern/Western parlance, raping her—when she was nine.
The grand point of the Saudi fatwa, however, is not that girls as young as nine can be married, based on Muhammad's example, but rather that there is no age limit whatsoever. The only question open to consideration is whether the girl is physically capable of handling her "husband." Fawzan documented this point by quoting Ibn Battal's authoritative exegesis of Sahih Bukhari:
The ulema [Islam's scholars and interpreters] have agreed that it is permissible for fathers to marry off their small daughters, even if they are in the cradle. But it is not permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men. And their capability in this regard varies based on their nature and capacity. Aisha was six when she married the prophet, but he had sex with her when she was nine [that is, when she was deemed capable].
Fawzan concluded his fatwa with a warning: "It behooves those who call for setting a minimum age for marriage to fear Allah and not contradict his Sharia, or try to legislate things Allah did not permit. For laws are Allah's province; and legislation is his exclusive right, to be shared by none other. And among these are the rules governing marriage."
Once again, case closed.
Fawzan, of course, is not the first to insist on the legitimacy of pedophilia in Islam. Nor is this just some theoretic, abstract point; the lives of countless young girls are devastated because of this teaching. Recall, for instance, the 8-year-old girl who died on her "wedding" night as her "husband" raped her; or the 12-year-old who died giving birth to a stillborn; or the 10-year-old who made headlines by hiding from her 80-year-old "husband."
Finally, it should be borne in mind that Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz—the highest Islamic authority in the land of Islam's birth—not only dismisses calls to place an age restriction for marriage, but is the same Grand Mufti who called for the destruction of all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula (as first reported here). The consistency makes perfect sense. After all, in the eyes of non-Muslims, or "non-believers," Sharia law is nothing less than a legal system built atop the words and deeds of a seventh century Arab, whose behavior—from pedophilia and sex-slavery to war mongering and plundering to destroying non-Muslim places of worship—was very much that of a seventh century Arab. **Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a CBN News contributor. He is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007).

Obama’s 2015 gift for Israel and Mid East: Funding for a new Iraqi army – dominated by Iran’s Rev Guards
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 1, 2015
President Barack Obama’s New Year gift to Israel and the Middle East is a multibillion fund for establishing an Iraqi army as a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Wednesday, the last day of 2014, two defense ministers, Iran’s Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqani and Iraq’s Khallid al-Obeidi, signed a pact whereby Iran i.e. the Revolutionary Guards, will “continue to train new Iraqi military units" for replacing the army that crumbled under the onslaught launched by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant since last June.
“We do not see any other option than cooperation and being on the same side as Iran to uproot the terrorists,” said the Iraqi general. But he carefully avoided mentioning the 1,850 US soldiers posted to Baghdad, Kurdistan’s Irbil and the Al Asad air base in the western province of Anbar, or the 1,300 addition American combat troops, including paratroops of the elite 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The 3,150 US troops currently serving in Iraq are therefore sharing the task of rebuilding Iraqi military units with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards! Two other key points glossed over by the two defense ministers are revealed here by DEBKAfile’s exclusive military and intelligence sources: The sources of financing and recruits.
On the quiet, President Obama has promised Tehran and Baghdad to put up the funding for the new Iraqi army. It is to come out of the US budgetary allocation for the war on terror – a truly ironic gesture considering the missions of the Revolutionary Guards Corps’s pro-active arm, its Al Qods Brigades, which are primarily to orchestrate external terrorism. The source of the new manpower was disclosed by Deputy Commander of the IRGC Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, when he announced this week that Iran was assembling a mighty army from the various Shiite militias fighting in Syria and Iraq. “This force will be larger even than the Lebanese Hizballah,” he boasted. All those militias are under the direct command of the Guards. Therefore, the Obama administration has committed the United States to forging a strong military bond with Tehran and providing military and financial assistance for the creation of a strong regional Shiite armed force that will elevate Iran to the standing of leading military power in the Middle East.
US-Iranian cooperation in the war on ISIS is already in full swing in Iraq between the US officers and troops posted there and the headquarters of Iranian Al Qods Brigades Commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi provides liaison. So closely are the two forces aligned, that no Iraqi Shiite operation goes forward without first being cleared with the US command.

Netanyahu: Palestinian Authority is an entity allied with terror group, not a state
The Jerusalem Post/02/01/15
The Palestinian Authority is not a country, but rather a group allied with a terrorist organization, and for that reason its appeal to the International Criminal Court should be rejected out of hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Netanyahu’s comment came at the end of an interministerial meeting he convened in Tel Aviv to discuss ways to combat the Palestinian Authority’s signing of the Rome Statute and its intention of bringing Israelis to the court on war crimes charges.
“We expect the International Criminal Court to completely reject the hypocritical act by the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinian Authority is not a state. It is an entity in an alliance with a terrorist organization, Hamas, that commits war crimes,” he said.
Israel, Netanyahu said, is by contrast a “law abiding state with a moral army that upholds international law.”Israel, he promised, would defend the IDF’s soldiers, “just as they defend us.”
The participants at the meeting discussed ways to respond to the Palestinian move, though no operative decisions were announced. Among the proposals was for Israel to back civil suits by victims of terrorism around the world against the PA – and demand monetary damages – for supporting terrorism. Such suits have successfully been brought against Iran and Syria.
The PA, however, was undeterred by Israeli threats to respond and US disapproval of its moves, and on Thursday delivered applications to join 20 international organizations and treaties to UN official James Rawley.
Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat, who delivered the applications to Rawley during a meeting in Ramallah, said, “Today we are honored to hand the deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Palestinian papers to join a set of international conventions and treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”Erekat dismissed Israeli criticism of the decision to join the ICC. “Israel regarded it asThe Palestinian Authority is not a country, but rather a group allied with a terrorist organization, and for that reason its appeal to the International Criminal Court should be rejected out of hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Netanyahu’s comment came at the end of an interministerial meeting he convened in Tel Aviv to discuss ways to combat the Palestinian Authority’s signing of the Rome Statute and its intention of bringing Israelis to the court on war crimes charges.
“We expect the International Criminal Court to completely reject the hypocritical act by the Palestinian Authority, because the Palestinian Authority is not a state. It is an entity in an alliance with a terrorist organization, Hamas, that commits war crimes,” he said.
Israel, Netanyahu said, is by contrast a “law abiding state with a moral army that upholds international law.”
Israel, he promised, would defend the IDF’s soldiers, “just as they defend us.”The participants at the meeting discussed ways to respond to the Palestinian move, though no operative decisions were announced. Among the proposals was for Israel to back civil suits by victims of terrorism around the world against the PA – and demand monetary damages – for supporting terrorism. Such suits have successfully been brought against Iran and Syria. The PA, however, was undeterred by Israeli threats to respond and US disapproval of its moves, and on Thursday delivered applications to join 20 international organizations and treaties to UN official James Rawley. Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat, who delivered the applications to Rawley during a meeting in Ramallah, said, “Today we are honored to hand the deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Palestinian papers to join a set of international conventions and treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.” Erekat dismissed Israeli criticism of the decision to join the ICC. “Israel regarded it as an act of aggression against it, but we are exercising a civilized right based on international law and legitimacy,” he said. Erekat said that the first case the Palestinians would take to the ICC was Israeli settlements, which he dubbed a “war crime.” If Israel was afraid of the ICC, “it should stop perpetrating crimes,” he said. “Our message to the world is that we will defend our people everywhere against the crimes committed against them, including assassinations, demolitions, settlements and the aggression on the Gaza Strip. Those who commit crimes will have to bear the consequences.”
He criticized the US for continuing to deal with Israel as a “country above law.”
Erekat called on Washington to reconsider its positions and demonstrate more responsibility. “We demand that the US support international legitimacy by ending occupation and assassinations.” He also called for ending Israeli “terrorism” as a way of defeating terrorism in the region. If the Palestinians do take Israel to the court, they stand to face blowback not only from Israel, but from the US – which condemned the application – as well. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) warned the PA that the “recent appropriations bill signed into law will restrict US funding if the PA attempts to initiate an investigation through the ICC.” The US provides more than $400 million in annual aid to the PA. Annual appropriations legislation for the funds given the PA includes a clause saying that no economic support will be allowed if the PA initiates “an International Criminal Court judicially authorized investigation, or actively support[s] such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.” The US secretary of state, could, however, waive this clause if he shows that doing so would further Middle East peace. While Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz were at the meeting convened by Netanyahu to talk about the matter, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was not, reflecting the tension between Netanyahu and Liberman leading up to the election. In recent weeks, Liberman has been harshly critical of the prime minister, especially of his performance during Operation Protective Edge last summer.
Foreign Ministry officials close to Liberman said that Netanyahu’s failure to invite Liberman to the meeting shows that the prime minister is not truly interested in providing a solution to the problem, and only wants to hear from yes-men who will agree with his positions.
It is a shame, the officials said, that “political interests” will harm critical diplomatic work. The Foreign Ministry’s director- general, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, did attend the meeting. A source in the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed the criticism coming from Liberman associates, saying that Netanyahu was gathering recommendations for action, and that once decisions were made, they would be taken for approval to the security cabinet, where Liberman is a member.

Another Year of the Syrian Conflict
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 2 Jan, 2015
We are entering a new year bearing unresolved regional wars, such as the Syrian crisis which is threatening to engulf the entire region. The reason that this conflict endures is not due to the struggle between the two Syrian parties—the opposition and the government—but the struggle between different Middle Eastern states. If the Iranians succeed in keeping Bashar Al-Assad at the helm of the Syrian regime, they will have succeeded in taking de facto control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Syria is the key to Iraq’s national security. Therefore, if Assad remains in power Iran will have succeeded in imposing its presence over the entire Gulf region. While it is only natural for the United States to recognize the new regional reality which may change the old balance of powers—a balance which lasted for decades. What’s most interesting is that Iran’s victory will not have been achieved via military battles on the ground but rather through political maneuvers. Iranian ally Bashar Al-Assad has been under siege in the Syrian capital Damascus for over two years—he is in control of just one third of Syrian territory. As for Iraq, the central government is weak and reliant on foreign and domestic support.
So how did Iran secure a political victory where it had failed militarily? It did so as a result of two canny diplomatic maneuvers. First, Tehran convinced the West that it can confront insurgent groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that Iranian soldiers have fought on the same side as American troops. Tehran also carried out airstrikes on ISIS positions and deployed military experts on the ground in Syria and Iraq. However, we must also acknowledge that Iran was only able to do all this thanks to Gulf reluctance and Egyptian absence.
The second diplomatic maneuver saw Iran convince Arab states that have no involvement in the Syrian dispute, like Egypt, that this could be resolved politically. In reality, this represented a defeat for the Gulf states in their confrontation with the Iranian regime over Syria. The Russians also played their part by helping the Iranians promote the idea of establishing a new government that includes opposition figures, but with Assad remaining as president. Practically speaking, this is nothing more than a superficial change, with the regime remaining the same. Egypt initially remained distant from the Syrian crisis because it was preoccupied with its own revolution. Egypt, since the beginning, has adopted a negative stance towards the events in Syria. This was true during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and under the presidency of Mohamed Mursi and it remains the case under the current administration of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. While the Syrian regime has tried to appeal to the sentiment of the Egyptian people for years, putting forward the false narrative that what is happening is part of a broader conspiracy against Arab armies and seeking to engage with the Egyptian people’s pride in their armed forces. However, as we all know, there is a big difference between the Egyptian and Syrian military institutions. The Syrian military is governed by a minority sect which uses Syria’s military and security forces to serve its own interests.
The Egyptians don’t view Iran as a direct threat except in terms of the changing balance of regional influence and interests. I am confident that if the Mubarak regime was still in power, Cairo would have adopted a far tougher stance to eliminate Assad and support the Syrian revolution. This is because it knew that Assad is the Iranian proxy that opposed Egypt in Gaza and the West Bank and also backed the Muslim Brotherhood. The current Egyptian government is either not paying sufficient attention to what is happening beyond its borders, or it doesn’t understand this, or it is reserving its responses to deal with what it perceives to be more immediate concerns, like its dispute with Turkey.
In my own opinion, any Syrian reconciliation based on keeping the same regime in power without making real concessions is a major mistake which will strengthen Iran, not just in Iraq but also in the entire Gulf region. This is something the United States will accept because it falls within its new vision of dealing with the Middle East, one based on neglecting its previous regional commitments. I think that there can be no political solution that doesn’t put an end to Assad’s rule. The current situation on the ground will continue so long as Iran continues to support Assad. While we must also not forget that the Turks are providing support for some extremist armed groups, like the Al-Nusra Front. This is taking place in a manner that contravenes support for the Syrian civil opposition as represented by the Syrian National Coalition. The Turks will likely only change their position after it is already too late. This Turkish support of extremist groups only serves to promote Assad’s position and polish Iran’s position internationally. So, as we enter 2015, the Syrian crisis remains the most pressing one.

The Danger of Playing with Terror
Amir Taheri/ASharq Al Awsat
Friday, 2 Jan, 2015
With public sentiment rising against terrorism, the Pakistani and Afghan governments have decided to abandon their traditional policy of giving terror groups shelter in exchange for a promise not to carry out attacks inside the “host” nation. As a result of that self-defeating policy a variety of terror groups have been able to set up bases in the two neighboring countries, at times in full view of the authorities. The Pakistani Taliban attack Pakistan from bases in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban operate from bases in Pakistan.
Tolerating terror groups against a neighbor or a rival is nothing new. In fact, its history goes back to the ancient rivalry between the Roman and Persian empires when each set up a string of vassal mini-states as so many thorns in the side of the rival. More recently, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the United States and some of its regional allies financed, trained and armed terror groups as thorns in the side of the USSR. Some of those same groups ended up becoming more than thorns in the side of the US and its allies.
After the Red Army was thrown out, Pakistan invested in Afghan terror groups in the hope of gaining a dominant position in Kabul. The ramshackle post-Communist governments in Kabul retaliated by arming Pashtuns who wished to fight Pakistan. That disastrous policy has marked the history of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1990s.
Last week, however, Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif and his Afghan counterpart Shir-Muhammad Karimi signed an agreement that may well signal a strategic change in the two nations’ methods of dealing with terrorism. Under the agreement the two neighbors allow each other’s forces the right of hot pursuit. This had been a thorny issue for decades as successive Afghan governments refused to recognize the border fixed by the British during their rule in the Indian Subcontinent. Afghans claim that large chunks of northwestern Afghanistan, were Pashtun tribes form a majority, represent “Afghan occupied territory” that should return to “the motherland,” a position firmly rejected by Pakistan. Right now, some terror bases operating against Afghanistan are located just a couple of miles inside Pakistani territory under the protection of Pakistani border guards.With the new agreement, that protection will no longer be available. In fact on Wednesday an Afghan unit did pursue a terrorist group inside Pakistani territory for the first time.
The agreement also envisages an exchange of information on a regular basis. That would enable both neighbors to learn about planned attacks in time to deal with them. Up to now terror groups have been able to travel hundreds of miles with the full knowledge of Pakistani security services to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. A mere tip on their movements could have saved thousands of lives. The Afghans have repaid the compliment by keeping the Pakistanis in the dark about the movements of the Pakistani Taliban.
Although it is welcome, the agreement remains imperfect if only because it is vague on a number of crucial issues. For example, it says nothing about the presence of terror leaders, often in full public eye.
For example, the top echelon of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership is located in nine large houses in the Pakistani city of Quetta. The group, calling itself “The Quetta Shura,” or council, holds plenary sessions four times a year, often posting parts of the proceedings on YouTube. It is also there that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the self-styled “Commander of the Faithful” holds court, receiving local and foreign visitors. His secretariat reportedly employs more than two dozen individuals, including several Pakistani IT experts.
The Afghans repay the compliment by allowing the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Abdul-Razzaq full facilities to run his headquarters in Jalalabad close to the disputed border with Pakistan.
Both Islamabad and Kabul try to justify their strange behavior by claiming that they are allowing the Taliban nothing but “normal political activity.” In other words, the Taliban’s terrorist activities should be treated separately from the “exercise of their freedom of expression and assembly.”The United States could and should have an active role in cementing the new agreement and helping address its shortcomings. Since the US is actively involved in the war on terror in Afghanistan, it would only be normal if it coordinated at least some of its operations with Afghan and Pakistani security forces. With Kabul and Islamabad having agreed to set the thorny issue of borders aside for the time being, the US should no longer automatically rule out the targeting of terror groups fleeing from Afghanistan into Pakistani shelters or vice versa. The US could also cajole Afghanistan and Pakistan into agreeing on a common list of terrorist organizations. Such a list would remove the excuse that a group could be terrorist in one country and merely political in another.
Further down the road, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US may even envisage setting up a joint coordination mechanism, at least on an informal basis. All three nations have been victims of terrorism and continue to be targeted by terrorists often based in “ungoverned areas” straddling Afghan–Pakistani borders. Though it’s too early to know whether Kabul and Islamabad are truly committed to eradicating terrorism, the US must not miss the opportunity created by a massive turn in public opinion in both countries against terror and Islamism in general.Right now, no fewer than 73 countries face the threat of terrorism in one form or another. Thus, the terrorism could be regarded as an international problem that must be faced and solved by the international community as a whole. Those who play the terror card in the hope of tactical gains always end up burning their fingers, sometimes even their houses.
It is time we all realized that one man’s terrorist is no man’s hero and everyman’s enemy.

In Turkey, 'Thief' is not Just a Five-Letter Word
Burak Bekdil/Hürriyet Daily News
December 31, 2014
Originally published under the title, "Why 'thief' is not just a five-letter word."
On Dec. 9, the front page of the maverick daily BirGün featured a big headline in bold letters in Arabic script. For the readers who cannot read Ottoman, BirGün explained that the headline just meant "thief." On top of the headline the newspaper's editors explained: If you forcefully teach us Ottoman this is what you get.
It was a dissident newspaper's response to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who in early December insisted that "whether you like it or not Ottoman will be taught and learned in this country." This columnist has no idea if someone will get offended with the word and sue the newspaper. But it would be fun to read from a potential complaint to the prosecutor: "Your Honor, although this newspaper did not name any names, I am certain that it implied myself when it ran the Ottoman headline that read 'thief.'"
What could only be an exaggerated joke in a sane country is finally reality in Turkey. In March, a whole police unit scanned shots taken by photojournalists at a football game to find the fans who had unfurled a banner that read "There is a thief!" A few days later, a man unfurled the same banner, "Thief!" during one of Mr. Erdoğan's public rallies. Video footage showed the man was forced by security to lower the banner before being beaten by the crowd. The man claimed he was beaten with batons by Mr. Erdoğan's bodyguards for an hour and threatened with a gun. His wounds were verified by hospital reports.
An Erdogan campaign poster marred by graffiti saying "thief" in Turkish
Last week, a 16-year-old boy was arrested by the police for using the same word, "thief." A judge detained the underage boy for two days until another court released him. He will be tried for up to four years in jail for "insulting the president." The mighty Turkish state not only detained the teenaged boy during his school hours but also put him into custody together with adult detainees.
But the funniest "thief" story award goes to a more amusing incident. Recently, a man at a public rally gathered to inaugurate the high-speed train between Istanbul and Konya was complaining to his friend that his son's stationary at school had been stolen. "Imagine," the man told his friend, "There are thieves even at that age." Once again, the word "thief" did not go unnoticed by the Turkish "Securitate."
Official bodyguards detained him, and took him to a police station for interrogation. He was then sent to the prosecutor with a request for his arrest. The prosecutor – miraculously – decided that it was a mistake as the man testified that he had mentioned the word in connection with petty thievery at his son's school. The man was released but it was not the end of his nightmares. During his sleep the same night the police knocked on his door to arrest him once again and interrogate him on suspicion that he might be linked with an illegal organization. Indeed, the man had links with an organization, but not an illegal one: He was a member of Mr. Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP)!
Back in March this column, too, used the dangerous five-letter word:
Suppose you are walking on a crowded street, and somebody shouts, 'Rapist!' Would you get offended and start shouting back, 'No, I am not a rapist!' – unless, of course, you are. Or would you grab the man and start kicking him just because he shouted 'Rapist?' ...
Why, really, does Mr. Erdoğan, or anyone in his circle of power, behave so prickly when someone mentions the word 'thief?' What made the pro-Erdoğan crowd at the rally or his bodyguards presume the 'thief' banner targeted the [then] prime minister, and not, say, Vladimir Putin? Or the opposition leader? Why is [the AKP] so convinced every mention of the word 'thief' targets the prime minister? Should the word 'thief' be deleted from the Turkish vocabulary?
Too bad, Google insists on producing as many as 68,300 results when one types the dangerous, five-letter word together with a certain Turkish name.
***Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Italy Takes Control of Drifting Migrant Ship
Naharnet /Italian sailors on Friday managed to take control of a crewless merchant ship as it drifted toward the country's southern shores in rough seas with 450 migrants on board, in the second such incident in two days. Six coastguard officers were lowered from a helicopter onto the deck of the Ezadeen as it floated some 40 kilometers (25 miles) off Crotone on Italy's heel, the navy said. It marked the second such drama in days for Italy, which is struggling with a record wave of migrants making the perilous journey to the south European country from North Africa and Turkey, after the navy on Wednesday stopped another crewless ship with hundreds of migrants on board. Friday's rescue bid involved the 73-meter-long (240-foot-long) Sierra Leone-registered Ezadeen, which was meant to be travelling between Cyprus and the southern French port of Sete. Prior to losing power, the almost 50-year-old ship had been moving at a brisk seven knots and had been spotted by a coastguard plane 80 miles offshore shortly after nightfall.
One of the people on board the Ezadeen was able to operate the ship's radio and informed the coastguard that the crew had jumped ship. The coastguard asked for assistance from Icelandic patrol boat Tyr, which was in the area on a mission with Frontex, the European Union's border agency. The Tyr was able to draw alongside the runaway ship, but the weather conditions made boarding impossible. The Icelandic vessel has three doctors on board who are waiting to be winched on to the merchant ship by helicopter to treat any unwell passengers, the air force said.
- Series of dramas -
On Wednesday Italian sailors intercepted a freighter carrying nearly 770 migrants which had been drifting towards the rocks off Italy's southeastern shore on autopilot, abandoned by the people smugglers who had steered it from Turkey via Greek waters.
The Moldovan-registered Blue Sky M cargo ship got to within five miles -- or 45 minutes sailing time -- of a disaster before six navy officers were lowered on to the ship by helicopter and succeeded in bringing it under control.The vessel's human cargo included some 60 children and two pregnant women, one of whom gave birth on board as the boat steamed towards catastrophe, according to the Italian Red Cross. Many of the migrants on the ship were treated for hypothermia and broken limbs. The migrant boat dramas have come as Italy grapples with the aftermath of the Norman Atlantic ferry disaster in which at least 13 people have died following an onboard fire that erupted before dawn on Sunday in waters off Albania. They also come after a record year for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia attempting to reach Europe by sea. More than 170,000 people have been rescued by Italy in the last 14 months and hundreds, possibly thousands, have perished trying to make the crossing. They are almost invariably under the control of ruthless traffickers who earn thousands of dollars for every person they put to sea from Libya and other departure points in North Africa. Increasingly, the traffickers appear to have decided that the best way to get their human cargoes to Europe is to put to sea and then abandon the boats. Since the onset of winter they have been using bigger boats than the converted fishing boats and dinghies they previously favored. Agence France Presse

Al-Jazeera Journalists Face More Jail Time, Eye Deportation
Naharnet/Three Al-Jazeera journalists faced Friday the prospect of at least several more weeks in Egyptian prison, with two of them awaiting a decision on whether they can be deported, lawyers and relatives said.
Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were detained in December 2013 for spreading false information and accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.
Their supporters say the charges were politically motivated. Greste's lawyer said he had submitted a request to have his client deported from Egypt under a new law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. A similar demand has been made to deport Fahmy to Canada, according to his brother, while Mohamed's wife said she was looking at ways to get her husband out of Egypt. In the first trial, Greste and Fahmy each got seven years, and Mohamed was jailed for 10. Egypt's top court on Thursday ordered a retrial, but kept the journalists in custody pending a new hearing. A decree signed in November by Sisi allows him to deport foreigners sentenced to prison or on trial. "We presented this week a request to the prosecutor to expel Greste in accordance with the presidential decree," his lawyer Mostapha Nagi told Agence France-Presse on Friday. It is unclear how long the process will take, but Greste's family said they would apply for bail if it failed.
They said they had been advised that a retrial could start within 45 days, meaning the three could potentially spend at least several more weeks in custody. Speaking to reporters in Brisbane Friday, Greste's brothers Mike and Andrew said that deportation was "the best option to get Peter home." A senior official from the prosecutor's office said the journalists faced several possible outcomes. "The court may order their release on bail, the president could order their deportation, or he could give them a presidential pardon, but only if there is a new verdict," the official said. In a short hearing on Thursday, the Court of Cassation accepted requests by both the prosecution and defense for a retrial for the three jailed journalists. Greste's parents told Australia's ABC News they were "shocked" by the decision. "This was always on the cards but even though we have learned not to expect anything, or (to) expect the unexpected, we did expect a little bit better than this," his father Juris Greste was quoted as saying.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was more upbeat. "He is now back in the position of an accused person awaiting a trial," she told Australia's Nine Network in comments reported by the AAP news agency.
Fahmy's brother Adel told AFP that his legal team had submitted a deportation request. "He has Canadian citizenship," he said, adding that the decision rests with the Egyptian government."Mohamed's wife Jihan said that if his two colleagues are deported "I will try to get him another nationality so he can also be extradited." Greste's lawyer said that the three journalists were now wearing white prisoner uniforms instead of their usual blue fatigues, indicating their renewed status as accused individuals rather than convicts.
Hopes for the journalists' release have grown since a thaw in diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based. The reporters, who authorities say lacked proper accreditation, were sentenced in June for aiding the Brotherhood after the army ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Hundreds of journalists, many with black tape over their mouths, held silent protests after the three were sentenced to challenge what they see as growing media censorship in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera's coverage of their deadly crackdown on supporters of Morsi, accusing Doha of backing his Muslim Brotherhood party after his overthrow in July 2013. The Brotherhood, which saw electoral success after the ouster of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has since been declared a "terrorist organization" in Egypt. The court also ordered a retrial for four Egyptian co-defendants jailed for seven years on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and for "damaging the image of Egypt."Agence France Presse

In Afghanistan, the New Year Begins with an Ignominious End
Tarek Fatah/The Toronto Sun
January 02/15
Originally published under the title, "New Year Could Belong to Jihadis."
Not since America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam has that country faced such a comprehensive failure of objectives as in Afghanistan, where last Friday the NATO flag was lowered to mark the end of a 13-year war. While the ignominious April 30, 1975 American retreat from Saigon was a public debacle, best captured by the scene of the last U.S. helicopter lifting off from its embassy in the South Vietnamese capital, the withdrawal from Kabul was a quieter but sorry ceremony. The event marking the end of America's longest war was held in a basketball gym inside NATO headquarters in Kabul. As a brass band played and a colour guard marched, the U.S. commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, uttered words that sounded hollow to many. "Our commitment to Afghanistan endures ... We are not walking away," he said. Officially, the American-led NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is shifting to a support mission for training the Afghan army and police. In 2014 alone, the Taliban killed nearly 4,600 Afghan soldiers and policemen and murdered 3,200 Afghan civilians. But the Taliban, predictably, saw the lowering of the flag as an admission of defeat. In an e-mail to journalists, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, "ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible." Mujahid promised the Taliban would come back to power in Kabul. If statistics from the last year are any indication of what is in store for 2015, the Taliban commander may be right. In 2014 alone, the Taliban killed nearly 4,600 Afghan soldiers and policemen and murdered 3,200 Afghan civilians. If this was the outcome in the presence of NATO, one can only imagine how things will fare in its absence. And with elements of the Pakistan military on the border now free to help the Taliban, 2015 may very well become the year we see Mullah Omar back in power in the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."
These developments, along with the rise of jihadi groups across the globe, do not bode well for Canada and its NATO allies, or for any country that shares our liberal democratic values, from India to Australia.
The nature of our mutual enemy, the international jihadist movement driven by the supremacist ideology of Islamism, is such that after enduring 13 years of war, it stands stronger than the day it attacked the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 9/11.
Instead of draining the swamps to cure the malaria, the West has been shooting down one mosquito at a time, refusing to admit the existence of this ideological swamp.
In a rare, candid admission of not knowing what motivates the jihadists, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, said: "We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea." He was referring to the Islamic State (ISIS), but ISIS is not the only example. Pakistan is the original "Islamic State", the mother lode of the pan-Islamist movement, while the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia together with the Muslim Brotherhood and its sponsor, Qatar, are all ISIS-like in varying degrees. I wish I could say Happy New Year to you, but I can't, for I feel 2015 isn't going to be one.
***Tarek Fatah is a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a columnist at the Toronto Sun, host of a Sunday afternoon talk show on Toronto's NewsTalk1010 AM Radio, and a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of two award-winning books: Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism.

Saudi Says King Abdullah Has Pneumonia but in Stable Condition
Naharnet/Saudi King Abdullah, hospitalized earlier this week, is suffering from pneumonia and breathing with the aid of a tube, but is in stable condition, the royal court said on Friday. The long-ailing king, who is believed to be around 90 years old, was admitted to the King Abdul Aziz Medical City in Riyadh on Wednesday for checks. Examination "revealed pneumonia, which required the provisional insertion of a tube on Friday evening," a statement said. "Thanks be to God, that step was crowned with stability and success," the statement added, without saying how long the king would need to remain in hospital. In recent years, his advanced age and poor health have raised concerns about the future leadership of one of the world's key oil producers. Abdullah's half-brother Salman, 77, is next in line to the throne. He was named crown prince in June 2012 following the death of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. Salman has been representing the king at most recent public events, including last month's Gulf summit in Qatar, because of the monarch's ailing health. The Saudi stock market dropped by about five percent at one point following the royal court's announcement that the king had been hospitalized, before clawing back some of its losses to finish Wednesday day 1.8 percent lower. The market was closed for the weekend on Friday. The king's latest hospitalization comes as Saudi Arabia holds a high-profile position in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State group, which has seized swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria. Saudi warplanes have joined in coalition air strikes against the jihadists in Syria, although the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom has faced calls to do more to halt the flow of funds and fighters to IS from among its own citizens. The king's absence from the public gaze for some time last year prompted rumors on social media networks that his health was deteriorating. He underwent two operations in October 2011 and November 2012 to correct "ligament slackening" in the upper back. Since the death in 1952 of King Abdul Aziz al-Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, the throne has systematically passed from one of his sons to another, brothers and half-brothers. But many of Abdul Aziz's sons are old or have died. Abdullah's former crown princes Sultan and Nayef died in 2011 and 2012 respectively. In March 2014, King Abdullah named his half-brother Prince Moqren as a second crown prince, in an unprecedented move aimed at smoothing succession hurdles.Moqren, who was born in 1945, is the youngest of Abdul Aziz's sons. Agence France Presse