March 24/15

Bible Quotation For Today/My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.
John 07/01-13: 'After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.’ After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, ‘Where is he?’And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, ‘He is a good man’, others were saying, ‘No, he is deceiving the crowd.’Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews."

Bible Quotation For Today/We suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Letter to the Romans 08/12-18: "We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us." 

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 23-24/15
Egypt’s Sisi again calls for ‘religious revolution’/March 23/15
Netanyahu's win is convenient for Arab leaders/Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/March 23/15

Russia and Lebanon against Saudi, Qatar push to condemn Hezbollah at UN/March 23/15
'Signing of bad Iran deal seems imminent, but Israel will still lobby to toughen accord'/March 23/15
Even Tunisia is safe no more/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/March 23/15

Lebanese Related News published on March 23-24/15
Saniora before STL: Syria Promised us 'New Lahoud' if We Accepted Extension
Report: Doha, Riyadh Pushing for Human Rights Council Condemnation of Hizbullah
Salam Holds onto Consensus, Says Cabinet to Discuss Budget-Wages Link
Abou Faour Orders Probe in Infant Death at Ajaltoun Daycare
Jumblat Warns Druze against Falling Anew into Syrian Regime 'Trap'
Kidnappers of Arsal Resident Ask for Ransom
Riachi to Discuss with Aoun on Tuesday Agreement Document
Berri Says Iran Nuke Deal Would Reflect Positively on Presidential Crisis
Two Detained at Checkpoint in Riyaq after Wrangling with ISF Members
Nusra Front Says 'Spring Battle' to Target Syria Not Lebanon
Shehayeb Calls for Widening Centrists Bloc, Says Jumblat Won't Boycott Parliament

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 23-24/15
U.S., Canadian med students among group in Syria: Turkish MP
Netanyahu secures clear majority to form next Israeli cabinet
What do opponents of an Iran nuclear deal really want?
Netanyahu Aides Cite Iran as Source of U.S. Tensions

Moving the war from Sanaa to Aden
Israel says arrests West Bank Hamas cell planning attacks
Yemen’s Hadi calls for no-fly zone, GCC military intervention
slamic State moves west to attack Syrian army in Homs: monitor
Syrian warplanes bomb Northern Province where helicopter crashed
King Salman holds talks with visiting UK Foreign Secretary Hammond
Obama to host Iraq’s Abadi in mid-April
Britain evacuates special forces from Yemen over worsening security
Sisi honors mother who had to dress as a man for work
Being enthusiastic about Egypt
ISIS now a priority at the expense of the Palestinian cause

Jihad Watch Latest News
Tunisia Bardo Museum jihad attack: “Pious” family of jihad murderer arrested
Brennan: Using term “radical Islam” gives jihadis “religious legitimacy”
France: Daily Islamic terror alerts, “they have lost all inhibitions about violence”
Egypt: Groom fractures bride’s skull at his mother’s request
UK: Theresa May, appeaser of jihadis, tells jihadis “the game is up”
Afghan woman killed by mob for blasphemy was teacher of Islamic studies

Saniora before STL: Syria Promised us 'New Lahoud' if We Accepted Extension
Head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora started on Monday giving his testimony at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, focusing on the ties between former Premier Rafik Hariri and the Syrian regime during the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the influence the Syrian security apparatus wielded on Lebanon. He said before the trial chamber at The Hague: “The Syrian regime sought to extend the term of then President Emile Lahoud, promising us that a 'new Lahoud' would emerge in the aftermath of the constitutional amendment.” The debate over the extension of Lahoud's term in 2004 was among the factors that led to the strain in ties between Hariri and the Syrian regime, headed by President Bashar Assad. His extension required a constitutional amendment in Lebanon, which Saniora said he opposed.
He said that Hariri received “the order to extend Lahoud's term from Assad during a meeting in August 2004.”
“Assad stated that Hariri would accept the extension or he would break Lebanon on his head,” said the former premier before the STL. Saniora revealed that he refused to attend a cabinet session two days later in August aimed at tackling the extension. “I received a telephone call from my wife and Wissam al-Hassan urging me to attend the session in order to avoid appearing that I was abandoning Hariri,” the MP revealed. He acquiesced to the demands in spite of his rejection, adding that the extension “almost made me retire from politics.”
“The Syrian intelligence pledged that we would be faced with a different Lahoud than the one we had to deal with so far if we accepted the extension,” he continued. “We however did not sense any change in his behaviour after the extension and Hariri contacted head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh to address the issue,” said Saniora.
The head of the Mustaqbal bloc remarked that Hariri sought to reconstruct Lebanon and build a strong Lebanese state, which he said threatened the Syrian regime that aimed to maintain its grip over the country, This prompted it to wage campaigns against the slain premier aimed at tarnishing his image. This campaign was wielded by the Syrian security apparatus, as well as its Lebanese allies, Saniora explained. “Hariri had many enemies and whoever reviews the history at the time would realize very well who they were,” he stressed.
“Lahoud had animosity towards Hariri, but he was not the only one,” he stated.
Saniora was then pressed by Trial Chamber Judge David Re to name officials that were pressuring Hariri, to which he replied: “Several officials were responsible and I cannot name them all.” He was then asked to name whom he thought were responsible to which Saniora responded that these officials include figures who were part of the security apparatus, as well as journalists and politicians. He was asked who the main source of the incitement against Hariri was, to which he replied: “There was deep cooperation between the Lebanese and Syrian apparatuses.” “The Syrian apparatus wielded more power over the Lebanese one, while the Lebanese apparatus had greater spite,” he revealed.
“Ghazaleh was head of the Syrian apparatus at the time, while Major General Jamil al-Sayyed was head of the Lebanese apparatus,” he explained. “Neither him nor Ghazaleh had animosity towards Hariri, but the respective apparatuses used them to their ends,” he stated.
“Ghazaleh wielded more power because he represented the Syrian side and he was the visible tool in Lebanon of the Syrian regime,” said Saniora. “Ghazaleh used to refer his reports on Lebanon to officials above him. I have not met them, nor do I wish to meet them, but I have heard of them. They are part of the circle just below Assad,” he remarked. Addressing the October 2004 assassination attempt against MP Marwan Hamadeh in 2004, Saniora stated: “Hariri believed that it was a message against him, but he still told all who warned him that they would never dare harm him.”
“I cannot identify who was behind the assassination attempt. I can say that it was a political stance and I can only wonder who was capable of such an act,” he continued. “Hariri believed that those responsible for the security system where behind the attempt against Hamadeh's life, but he didn't have any evidence,” noted the MP. “The attack against Hamadeh cannot be a random one, but given the circumstances at the time, it was aimed at intimidating us,” he explained. Earlier, Saniora had stated that “Hariri's ties with late Syrian President Hafez Assad differed than those with President Bashar Assad.” He spoke of the “strong grip” the Syrian security apparatus had on the Lebanese government at the time, adding: “Nothing could be done without the regime's approval.”
He gave an example of how he sought the nomination of current MP Ghazi Youssef as parliament speaker, but the regime opposed it.
The regime also rejected Youssef's nomination in the 2000 parliamentary elections and wanted Hariri to name Hizbullah candidate Mohammed al-Berjawi on his list, revealed Saniora. Syria also wielded its influence in how Hariri formed his government in 1997, continued the MP. It sought to impose three ministers of its choice on the premier, but Hariri rejected the names.
He held a long meeting with Hafez Assad during that time in order to “explain to him that the political and security conditions at the time were not suitable for the appointment of those figures,” explained Saniora. “Hariri sought my appointment along with Bahij Tabbara and Samir al-Jisr instead,” he stated. “Efforts were being made to completely link Lebanon to Syria through the Syrian security apparatus and its Lebanese allies,” remarked head of the Mustaqbal bloc.
Earlier, Saniora had spoken of how he met Hariri, saying that they knew each other as acquaintances at the same school in the southern city of Sidon where they both hail from. They became closer when they joined the Arab Nationalist Movement in the early 1960s. “I enjoyed strong ties with Hariri and we always spoke frankly with each other,” added Saniora. “Hariri and I had common financial interests, but we were also concerned with the interests of the people and improving their daily lives, which was dear to the former premier,” he emphasized. “Hariri was keen on Lebanon and he sought to cooperate with me and several others to improve the country” in the wake of the 1975-90 civil war, he continued. The STL is tackling the assassination of Hariri in a major bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. It has so far indicted five Hizbullah members in the crime. It kicked off its trial in 2014 and has so far listened to the testimonies of several witnesses. Testimonies in 2015 have been focusing on the political aspect of the assassination and Hariri's ties with Syria. A number of lawmakers and journalists have given their accounts on the matter.

Egypt’s Sisi again calls for ‘religious revolution’
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/03/23/2015/J.Post
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi again called on Sunday for a “religious revolution” against extremism within the Islamic world in an interview on a religious public radio station. Sisi said the global Islamic community needs to rethink and revolt “for religion and not against it,” Ahram Online reported. The Egyptian president was interviewed on the 51st anniversary of the Holy Koran radio station. Sisi called for countering “extremist” views and erroneous religious beliefs, adding that the Islamic value of tolerance must be promoted, according to the report. He has been leading a fight against an Islamist insurgency at home and has allied with anti-revolutionary Gulf states, which have provided needed economic aid. In January, Sisi made a similar call for a “religious revolution,” warning, “the Islamic nation is being torn apart and destroyed” by extremism, according to excerpts published by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute). Speaking at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the world’s top centers for Sunni learning, Sisi said, “I am addressing the religious scholars and clerics. We must take a long, hard look at the current situation.” “It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing and destruction all over the world,” he said. “It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of 7 billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable,” said Sisi according to MEMRI.

Report: Doha, Riyadh Pushing for Human Rights Council Condemnation of Hizbullah
Naharnet /Qatar and Saudi Arabia are reportedly leading a campaign for the adoption of a statement by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that slams Hizbullah's presence in Syria. As Safir daily on Monday said that the two Gulf countries are seeking to include a clause in the closing statement of the council's annual meeting to condemn Hizbullah's participation in the war in the neighboring country. But Lebanon's foreign ministry entered a diplomatic battle to stop such a move, said the newspaper. The ministry has held contacts with several member states to urge them not to include such a clause in the statement and to only refer to “foreign fighters” present in Syria. According to As Safir, the ministry has stressed that the priority of the Lebanese authorities at the current stage is to safeguard stability and avoid anything that creates chaos. It reportedly told the representatives of member states that the draft-statement in its current formula does not fall in favor of Lebanon's stability. Last year, Lebanon thwarted a similar attempt after Riyadh and Doha reacted positively to its demand not to condemn Hizbullah, which is fighting alongside troops loyal to Syrian President Bahsar Assad. But in 2013, the 47-member Council backed a resolution from the United States, Britain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, condemning “the intervention of all foreign combatants in the Syrian Arab Republic, including those fighting on behalf of the regime and most recently Hizbullah.”In December last year, the U.N. General Assembly also adopted a resolution that strongly condemned the interference of foreign fighters in Syria, in addition to the “Hizbullah militia.”

Salam Holds onto Consensus, Says Cabinet to Discuss Budget-Wages Link
Naharnet/Prime Minister Tammam Salam has stressed that the government would manage the people's affairs under a decision made by its members to have consensus on regular decisions, saying they would discuss ways to incorporate the wage scale in the 2015 budget.
Salam, according to his visitors, said that the cabinet would continue in its work to manage the affairs of the Lebanese and meet their needs under the unusual circumstances. It would also follow up the issues that concern Lebanon and the Lebanese from all factions, said the PM, whose remarks were published in several dailies on Monday. “We agreed on not to obstruct” the government's work, he said, adding “I am responsible for the adoption of the consensus mechanism. I have never called for unanimity.”Earlier this month, the cabinet changed its working mechanism after it was hit by paralysis as a result of the veto used by several ministers. The cabinet members agreed for regular decisions to be made by consensus and for decrees to be presented to the government for signature after being signed by Salam, the relevant minister and Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. These decisions were taken to manage the cabinet's affairs in the absence of a head of state. “We are living in exceptional conditions. All we seek for is to manage the country's affairs without forgetting about the presidential vacuum which is a sensitive issue,” Salam's visitors quoted him as saying. An extraordinary cabinet session set to be held on April 16 to discuss the state budget will discuss ways to include the cost of the civil sector wage scale, he said. He added that Lebanon can no longer endure the absence of a budget. On a regional level, the PM stressed the importance of the Arab summit that is scheduled to be held on Saturday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he will give Lebanon's speech. He hoped that Arab officials would succeed in overcoming the crises gripping the region. Salam will also head to Kuwait next Monday to attend the donors conference on Syria. Lebanon, which is suffering as s result of Syria's civil war as a result of 1.5 million refugees, is expected to receive more international assistance at the conference.

Bkirki Considers Dialogue Only Solution to Presidential Impasse
Naharnet/The seat of the Maronite church is keen to resolve the presidential deadlock through dialogue between the political arch-foes, deeming it as the only way to end the crisis. Bkirki spokesman Walid Ghayad stressed in comments published in al-Mustaqbal newspaper on Monday that “there is no other solution to the presidential stalemate but dialogue between the Lebanese parties, similar to those carried out at this stage.”Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi “blesses these talks and encourages their continuation,” Ghayad pointed out, remarking that putting high stakes on “foreign agreements linked to developments like the nuclear deal or others will not have any significant impact” on the situation. Several Lebanese officials have placed high hopes on a nuclear deal between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran and its positive impact on the crises gripping the country. The Bkirki official noted that al-Rahi is exerting all efforts to end the presidential vacuum as he underlines the importance of dialogue to reach the demanded results. On Sunday, al-Rahi expressed grave concern during a mass at Bkirki at the end of centenary of the death of Saint Rafqa over the ongoing presidential vacuum and its repercussions on the constitutional institutions. He called on the rival parties to understand the risks compelled by vacuum, noting that the “country's economy is paralyzed.” MPs failed on several occasions to elect a new head of state over lack of quorum. President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May without the election of a successor. Hizbullah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc have been boycotting electoral sessions due to a disagreement with the March 14 camp over a compromise presidential candidate.

Russia and Lebanon against Saudi, Qatar push to condemn Hezbollah at UN
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/03/23/2015/J.Post
Russia and the Lebanese government oppose Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to condemn Hezbollah for its fighting in Syria, Lebanese media reported on Monday. “This is absolutely illogical, because Hezbollah stands by the legitimate regime and does not fight it,” Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin said after speaking to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, according to the Lebanese Daily Star. Zasypkin claimed that the Syrian government was defending itself with Hezbollah’s help from a “terrorist offensive,” according to the report. The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were pushing for an anti-Hezbollah clause in the closing statement of the Human Rights Council’s annual conference. The Lebanese foreign minister argued against the move.

Riachi to Discuss with Aoun on Tuesday Agreement Document
Naharnet /A meeting is expected to be held on Tuesday between Lebanese Forces official Melhem Riachi and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun to continue the ongoing discussions over the “declaration of intent” between the two parties.According to al-Mustaqbal newspaper published on Monday, the meeting will tackle the document of principles and set the second stage of the dialogue between the two Christian parties. The meeting will reportedly be held in presence of FPM lawmaker Ibrahim Kanaan. The second stage of the dialogue, according to the daily, highlights several matters, including the ongoing presidential vacuum and the electoral law. Aoun and LF leader Samir Geagea are both presidential candidates. Their rivalry and other factors have left Baabda Palace vacant sine President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May last year. Geagea considered during televised interview earlier this month that “major progress” has been achieved in talks with the FPM, pointing out that he introduced amendments to 16 out of 17 points in the paper before sending it back to Aoun. The dialogue between the FPM and the LF is expected to be crowned with a meeting between the old-time rivals.

Berri Says Iran Nuke Deal Would Reflect Positively on Presidential Crisis
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri has expected positive developments in the presidential deadlock after a possible deal over Iran's nuclear program. Al-Mustaqbal daily on Monday quoted Berri as saying that any agreement between the P5+1 group of powers and Tehran would lead to a “satisfactory atmosphere in the region, including Lebanon, which is a fertile ground for solutions and settlements.”Berri told his visitors, according to the newspaper, that the nuclear deal would help elect a new president and would reflect positively on the dialogue between the rival parties. Lebanon has been without a head of state since President Michel Suleiman's term ended in May last year. Iran-backed Hizbullah, Change and Reform bloc and other MPs from the March 8 alliance have been boycotting the parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new president. Officials have said that the United States and Iran are drafting elements of a deal that commits the Iranians to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines they use to enrich uranium. The Obama administration is seeking a deal that stretches the time Tehran would need to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year.

Jumblat Warns Druze against Falling Anew into Syrian Regime 'Trap'
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Monday warned the minority Druze community of Syria against being dragged into the Syrian regime's “war of killing and destruction.” “The regime's policies that are based on turning regions and sects against each other are aimed at inflaming the fire of strife and prolonging the conflict,” Jumblat cautioned in his weekly editorial in PSP-affiliated al-Anbaa newspaper. Members of the pro-regime National Defense Force militia are currently engaged in clashes with rebel and Islamist fighters near the Syrian towns of Dhibin and Bakka in the mainly Druze Sweida province. Fighting is also ongoing in the Umm al-Alaq village near Sweida's Najran. Meanwhile, fierce clashes are still underway with the aim of seizing control of the triangle linking the Syrian areas of northwestern Daraa, Quneitra's countryside and the western countryside of Damascus. Relations between Daraa and Sweida are characterized by extreme caution and lack of confidence due to the current crisis. In his editorial, Jumblat warned that the regime is dragging “the revolution and all its components to the arena that it masters playing on – the arena of violence, killing, destruction and explosive barrels.” “The regime will once again use the Druze Arabs, the same as it used them a few months ago in Arneh, with the aim of implicating them in absurd fighting with their Syrian brothers,” the Druze leader cautioned. “I join my voice to the voices of the journalists, artists and activists in the Daraa province, who have issued a statement highlighting the relation of good-neighborliness that links Sweida to Daraa and the need to consolidate this historic relation … in the face of the regime's policies,” he added. He also called for “further awareness, national responsibility and political and ethical courage” to “avoid falling anew into the regime's trap.”

Saudi FM: Iran shouldn’t get ‘deals it doesn’t deserve’
Staff Writer, Al Arabiya News/Monday, 23 March 2015
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday that Iran should not be given "deals it does not deserve," in reference to the looming nuclear agreement between Tehran and the major powers. Prince al-Faisal made the statement during a joint press conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Riyadh. The Saudi top diplomat said Iran was conducting “aggressive policies, and interfering in the countries of the region and [seeking to] acquire a nuclear weapon that threatens regional and international security.”
“It is impossible to give Iran deals it does not deserve,” Prince al-Faisal said, according to Al Arabiya Net. He said the “dangerous escalation in Yemen” was at the top of his discussion with the UK foreign secretary. The solution in Yemen cannot be reached without the Houthis backtracking on their power takeover in Sanaa, Prince al-Faisal said. “The Houthi coup threatens the security and stability of Yemen, the region and the world,” he said. He added that a planned Yemen peace conference in Riyadh was open to the Shiite rebels, urging a fast response by “all parties” to the Gulf initiative for peace talks. He warned that “necessary procedures to protect the security of the region” could be taken if the “Houthi coup” does not end. Regarding the crisis in Syria, al-Faisal said Assad should not have a role in Syria's transition, a point also noted by Hammond.

Netanyahu secures clear majority to form next Israeli cabinet
In Israel, it is not necessarily the leader of the largest party who forms the next government.
Agence France Presse, Jerusalem/Monday, 23 March 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a clear majority of support to form a new coalition government, a spokesman for the president’s office told AFP on Monday. President Reuven Rivlin was wrapping up two days of talks with representatives of the 10 parties elected to Parliament to hear who they would recommend as prime minister, with six factions throwing their support behind Netanyahu. “He has just met with Yisrael Beitenu and they have just recommended Netanyahu, giving him 67,” presidential spokesman Jason Pearlman told AFP, referring to the number of MPs in the 120-seat parliament who would back the Israeli leader. Last week, Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud secured a shock election victory, winning 30 seats in the Knesset with the Centre-left Zionist Union following a distant second with 24. In Israel, it is not necessarily the leader of the largest party who forms the next government and becomes premier but the one who can form a working coalition, preferably with a majority of at least 61. Although the results were out last week, official figures will only be published on Wednesday when the Central Elections Committee chairman formally presents them to Rivlin who will have to announce his choice of leader to form the next government. Rivlin will then invite Netanyahu to his presidential residence during the evening to formally task him with building the coalition, the presidency said. Netanyahu will have four weeks to complete the task, although Rivlin can extend the deadline by another 14 days if necessary. The parties backing Netanyahu are all expected to form part of his next government, which is widely seen as being a rightwing-religious coalition with a majority of 67. Among them are Likud (30), the far-right Jewish Home (eight), hardline anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu (six), ultra-Orthodox parties Shas (7) and United Torah Judaism (seven), and the newly formed centre-right Kulanu party of Likud defector Moshe Kahlon (10). Throughout the election campaign, Kahlon had held his cards close to his chest, hedging his bets as most polls predicted a win for the Zionist Union. But after Netanyahu’s decisive victory, Kahlon threw his support behind Netanyahu, in a move formalized in talks with Rivlin on Monday. Netanyahu has promised Kahlon the powerful finance portfolio. Four parties are entering the opposition: the Zionist Union, the Joint List which groups Israel’s main Arab parties, the centrist Yesh Atid and the leftwing Meretz party.

U.S., Canadian med students among group in Syria: Turkish MP
Mehmet Ali Ediboglu says members of the group sent text messages to the families saying they are fine.
The Associated Press, Istanbul/Monday, 23 March 2015
A Turkish opposition lawmaker says that an American and a Canadian are among a group of medical students believed to have crossed into Syria from Turkey. Mehmet Ali Ediboglu previously told The Associated Press that the group consisted of nine British medical students and doctors. The lawmaker says he is helping family members of the group, who are in Turkey. On Monday, he said 11 people were in the group – seven British citizens, two Sudanese, one American and one Canadian. He says he believes the group crossed into Syria from the Turkish border town of Akcakale, across from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group territory, on March 13 or March 14. He says members of the group sent text messages to the families saying they are fine.

Sisi honors mother who had to dress as a man for work
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News/Monday, 23 March 2015
An Egyptian mother who dressed herself as a man to provide for her family was awarded by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday for working more than 40 years. Sisa Gaber Abu Douh, 65, became known in her home town of Luxor as the city’s most supportive mother and has recently received the “breadwinner” award from the Social Solidarity Ministry on Mother's Day celebrated in the Arab world last week. Her story made worldwide headlines this week. Sisa was left at 21 pregnant with a girl and without a source of income when her husband passed away. But the devoted mother chose to give up her femininity to provide for her only daughter, Huda. She decided to work and disguised herself as man, as she comes from a less privileged part of the Egyptian society, where working women are frowned upon.
She wore loose-fitting traditional male robes and a turban. She worked as a shoe-shiner, laborer and farmer. “I preferred working in hard labor like lifting bricks and cement bags and cleaning shoes to begging in the streets in order to earn a living for myself and for my daughter and her children,” she said. “So as to protect myself from men and the harshness of their looks and being targeted by them due to traditions, I decided to be a man … and dressed in their clothes and worked alongside them in other villages where no one knows me.”
Sisa expressed her happiness over being invited to meet the Egyptian president and told Al Arabiya News in an interview that she will ask him to provide a home for her only daughter.

Israeli delegation heads to France ahead of final round of Iran nuclear talks
By Barak Ravid/ Mar. 22, 2015 /Haaretz
The Israeli delegation's trip is a last-ditch effort to influence the understandings taking shape between Iran and world powers; France holds toughest view on deal.
A senior Israeli delegation traveled to Paris Sunday afternoon to discuss the nuclear deal coming together between Iran and world powers. The meeting between Israeli and French officials is set for Monday, two days before the final, decisive round of nuclear talks gets underway in Switzerland, where the sides will try to determine a framework for continuing the nuclear talks.
The Israeli delegation includes National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and other senior figures in the Foreign Ministry and intelligence community. They are expected to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and members of the French negotiating team taking part in the Iran talks, led by French Foreign Ministry political director for Iranian affairs, Nicolas de Riviere.
The Israeli delegation's trip is a last-ditch effort to influence the understandings taking shape between Iran and the P5+1 – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. They are meeting with French officials because they hold the toughest stance vis-a-vis Iran. The Israelis believe they can improve the developing agreement by persuading the French to improve it.
In the last round of talks between Iran and world powers in Lausanne, Switzerland, significant differences emerged between the positions of France and the U.S. that made progress in the talks difficult.
France called for Iran to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency's demand that it disclose information about the possible military nature of its nuclear program as a condition for any agreement with world powers. The UN watchdog suspects that Iran tested a long-range missile that can carry a nuclear warhead several years ago and also tested nuclear detonation mechanisms.
In light of the differences between France and the U.S., the foreign ministers of those countries met in London with their British and German counterparts on Saturday in an effort to reach united position. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande also discussed the subject by telephone.
The final round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers opens Wednesday in Lausanne, a week before the March 31 deadline set to reach a framework agreement for a nuclear deal. If the sides come to an agreement, the talks will continue through June in an attempt to finalize a comprehensive deal.
The Iranian foreign minister and U.S. secretary of state are expected to attend the last round of negotiations, and the other foreign ministers may attend as well.
Despite progress made, gaps remain between the two sides' positions and it remains unclear whether a framework agreement will be possible by the end of the month.
French officials say that the March 31 deadline is an unofficial date that was raised by the Americans due to political pressure from Congress, which is threatening to impose additional sanctions against Iran. They said they told the Americans that, as far as they are concerned, the end of June is the decisive timeframe.
France also opposes quickly lifting the international sanctions on Iran, particularly those imposed by the UN Security Council. Foreign Minister Fabius even called his delegation at the end of the last rounds of talks and demanded they not accept any deal that provides immediate sanctions relief. France believes that removing some of the sanctions too quickly would diminish the leverage world powers hold over Iran to fulfill its part of the deal.
The disagreement between the U.S. and France also relates to the duration of the agreement between world powers and Iran, with the former willing to accept a 10-year deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program. The French want a deal to be in effect for a minimum of 15 years.

Netanyahu Aides Cite Iran as Source of U.S. Tensions
the New York Times
JERUSALEM — Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, called Sunday for reconciliation and healing after a divisive election campaign that ended in a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but inflamed domestic discord and worsened already rancorous relations between Mr. Netanyahu and the Obama administration.
“We have been through a stormy and passionate election period — this is the time to begin a process of mending and healing in Israeli society,” Mr. Rivlin said, adding, “While the government that will be formed will have been elected by a majority of Israel’s citizens, it must provide an answer to the needs of all the citizens of Israel — Jews, Arabs, left, right, north, south, center and the periphery.”
Yet in what appeared to be an effort to counter President Obama’s criticism of Mr. Netanyahu’s contentious remarks on a Palestinian state and an Election Day warning about too many Arab voters, Netanyahu loyalists said that the true cause of the tensions with Washington was Israel’s strong opposition to a nuclear accord with Iran.
Mr. Rivlin, whose post is largely ceremonial, made his remarks as he began consultations with representatives of parties elected to Parliament to initiate the formal process of building a coalition government. He started with Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, which won 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and is expected to rely primarily on right-wing and Orthodox parties to form a majority government.
Particularly galling for many in Israel and around the world was Mr. Netanyahu’s comment in an Election Day video in which he asserted that Israel’s Arab citizens were streaming to the polling stations “in droves.”
Days earlier, Mr. Netanyahu, in another appeal to right-wing voters, seemed to promise that no Palestinian state would be established under his watch. He appeared to be reneging on a policy speech he made in 2009 endorsing, under certain conditions, the two-state solution, a pillar of American Middle East policy.
Despite the prime minister’s postelection attempts to walk back his comments, Mr. Obama vented his ire over them in a videotaped interview with The Huffington Post this weekend. The United States ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told Israel Radio on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu’s apparent change of position, in which he said he opposed a Palestinian state, and his subsequent efforts to insist that his remarks were misinterpreted, has created “a confusing situation that leads to doubt about what Israel’s true policy is.”
Speaking in Hebrew, Mr. Shapiro added, “We have to reassess our outlook on what our standing is regarding the goal of how to progress in the direction of a solution of two states for two peoples; if negotiations are impossible, what other steps are correct.”
But Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu “didn’t say what the president and others seem to suggest that he’s saying.”
Mr. Dermer pointed to growing instability in the Middle East and what he described as the alliance between the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the Islamic militant group, as impediments to the peace process.
Yuval Steinitz, a Likud minister loyal to Mr. Netanyahu, told Israel Radio later on Sunday that the main reason for tensions with Washington was “the strong disagreement we have with the United States over the Iran issue.”
“We cannot accept the idea that the whole world — the Iranians, the Europeans, the Americans — are talking about the nuclear agreement with Iran and we have to sit quietly on the side,” he said.
The dispute over Iran reached a flash point in the days before the Israeli election when Mr. Netanyahu, in defiance of the White House, addressed the Republican-led Congress and warned against an accord that seemed to be taking shape between Tehran and six world powers.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who was a formal adviser to Mr. Netanyahu and spoke to him over the weekend, said that the core of what he described as “cool winds blowing” from Washington was Iran, not the Palestinian issue.
“I don’t see the disagreements over the Palestinians being the basis for the state of relations — it must extend to the fact that they’re about to cut a deal with Tehran and they know that Israel has serious reservations about the substance of that agreement,” Mr. Gold said in a telephone interview. “The issue of Iran is paramount in both Jerusalem and in Washington, and it may affect the tone at present.”Mr. Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative research group, expressed confidence that relations would soon be repaired, if only because of other regional realities, like threats posed by the Islamic State and instability in Yemen. “In the past we’ve had similar tensions over aspects of the peace process, and ultimately the region forced us into surmounting our differences and working together as allies,” he said.

Even Tunisia is safe no more
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 23 Mar, 2015
Few would argue that Tunisia escaped the repercussions of its so-called Arab Spring with the least damage. The recent attack on its Bardo National Museum, however, reminds us that states like Tunisia nonetheless remain hostage to their geographic locations and cultural and social environments. Tunisia is not an island, rather, an Islamic state, and during a time when political Islam is experiencing turmoil it remains under threat of unrest regardless of its own immunity, coherent institutions and tolerant and open-minded culture.
The main difference between what Tunisia is experiencing and the malaise we witnessed in Mashriq states is that the former remains a real “state” in the proper meaning of the word. Its case is like that of Britain and the way it dealt with the Troubles in the 1960s and 70s or how Spain deals with the Basque secessionists. Whereas, what we see in the Arab Mashriq—the Fertile Crescent in the north and Yemen in the south—is the complete failure of the concept of the “state”, not to mention the concept of national borders and boundaries.
This means that the authorities in Tunisia, including all the major political components, still have the advantage of tackling security issues in a direct and effective manner armed with broad national consensus regarding the importance of confronting cross-border extremism and terrorism.
Such a situation is fundamentally different from that of the international “war against terrorism” that is being fought today in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; because there is not much difference between the extremist and takfirist terrorist groups and the government-affiliated and status quo sectarian militias and militia they are fighting.
The Ennahda party, the most prominent Islamist group in Tunisia, was quick to openly denounce the atrocity committed at The Bardo Museum. It is clear that Ennahda—based on its own long history in the opposition as well as its short history in power—understands the reality of the situation today, perhaps more than any other Islamist group in the world. Thus, it is well aware of the danger of being viewed as an “incubator” for all terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda and its ilk, in a country like Tunisia, noted for its enlightened and forward looking society.
In spite of this, we have still noticed that some Arab media outlets, in addition to all of Iran’s state-owned media, are deliberately linking Islamist rule in Turkey with the remnants of extremism and takfirism in Tunisia, as well as Libya. Whether or not there are Turkish Islamist parties that wish to establish a “system” of Islamist states in the Middle East and North Africa, saying that the leaders of Turkey—which remains part of NATO—are involved in supporting groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda is completely illogical.
What is certain is that there are parties in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya who have contributed to tyranny and incited ethnic and sectarian intolerance, destroying their countries’ political institutions and ripping apart their social fabric. After these countries had experienced periods of prosperity and economic and cultural progress during periods of tolerance, intolerance and exclusiveness reared their ugly heads to weaken any real chance of maintaining proper civil society.
Subsequently, we find ourselves today facing these grim realities:
— The transformation of what was a national authority acting as the umbrella under which all other components of the nation gathered, expressing the nation’s ambitions and protecting its interests, into just another sectarian armed faction.
— The national army has become a sectarian or ethnic or tribal or partisan militia; thus, pushing all those who are frustrated or indignant by the status quo to form their own counter-forces.
— The disintegration of national borders in light of the absence of any security or military authority, along with the emergence of every armed group with different loyalties, identities and objectives operating according to agendas that have nothing to do with the demands and interests of the local people.
— The emergence of blatant interference by regional powers holding old hegemonic objectives in the above-mentioned Arab countries. Keen to settle historic scores, they are now pushing their client religious communities in these countries to conspire against their own compatriots.
— The Arab region, as a whole, has been transformed into an open theater for international superpowers to settle their own private scores with each other, while their governments make deals that go against the wishes of the afflicted Arab people and come at the expense of peace, development, prosperity and the future.
Today, for example, it would be impossible for a security solution in Iraq to succeed that does not address the dangerous political dimensions in the country; including the presence of Iran’s Quds Brigade commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani carrying out tours and “inspections” of his forces in Tikrit.
Nor can there be any solution in Syria if this is limited to a security agreement whose only goal is to hit the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its ilk, while the Assad regime—whose actions and alliances were the main catalyst behind ISIS’s emergence in Syria—remains in power. And sure enough, there is no point in any attempt to put an end to the violence in Yemen if the international community, particularly the US, continues to implicitly adopt the Houthis—who in turn are tied to Iran’s regional project—as a strategic ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
These political traps that US President Barack Obama is deliberately ignoring in his dealing with the Middle East’s thorniest files, and which most recently resulted in a terrible setback for Washington with regards to the Israeli election results, are absent—so far at least—from the Tunisian file.
In Tunisia, there are no secessionist groups threatening the unity of the country. There are no sectarian or religious or ethnic prejudices, nor any partisan or provincial party seeking to monopolize rule. Rather, Tunisia’s popular culture is known for its rational and realistic vision, particularly, how it learns from the mistakes of others, including following the Libya scenario.
However, the number of Tunisian extremists fighters in Syria and Iraq (more than 3,000 according to the Tunisian Foreign Ministry) is very high, and large enough to confirm the need to develop an integrated and effective strategy to combat terrorism and extremism.
If we take into into account the assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, the tense situation in the Jabal ech Chaambi and the most recent attack on The Bardo Museum, we must conclude that neither the Tunisian interior, nor the country’s borders with Libya and Algeria, are safe.Against the threat of terrorism, vigilance and quick response are an absolute must.

'Signing of bad Iran deal seems imminent, but Israel will still lobby to toughen accord'
By REUTERS/03/23/2015/J.Post
PARIS - Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday it was probable that world powers and Iran would agree a "bad deal" over Iran's nuclear program, but he would still lobby to toughen any accord before talks resume this week. "We think it's going to be a bad, insufficient deal," Steinitz told Reuters in an interview before meeting French officials in Paris. "It seems quite probable it will happen unfortunately." France, the United States and four other world powers suspended talks with Iran in Switzerland on Friday and are to reconvene this week to try to break the deadlock over Tehran's atomic research and the lifting of sanctions before a March 31 deadline for a framework deal. Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, is not a party to the negotiations but feels especially threatened by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. It has long described France as the negotiating power with views closest to Israel's and Steinitz is due to speak to France's top negotiator and President Francois Hollande's diplomatic adviser later in the day. "Although we are against a deal in general, until it is completed we will point to specific loopholes and difficulties," he said. He said two fundamental issues that need to be toughened up were the number of centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope - and any potential capacity Iran is given to pursue research and development. "In this (accord) you are getting a robust and complicated deal that enables Iran to preserve capabilities and allow it to remain a threshold nuclear state," he said. Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful needs only. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that the United States was negotiating a bad deal with Iran that could lead to a "nuclear nightmare" - drawing a rebuke from US President Barack Obama and exposing a deepening US-Israeli rift. "I don't believe the US will abandon one of its closest allies, its closest and most democratic ally in the entire Middle East, because we express our differences on the Iran deal," said Steinitz, who is Netanyahu's point man on Iran.

Netanyahu's win is convenient for Arab leaders
Smadar Perry/Ynetnews/Published: 03.23.15
Analysis: The Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi and Gulf state rulers trust Israel's re-elected prime minister to handle the Iranian issue, and the Americans to pressure him on the Palestinian issue.
As always, everything has to do with everything: After he finally telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama sat in front of the cameras to record a special message to Iran's ayatollahs for the Nowruz holiday.
"For decades (since 1979), our nations have been separated," the president said from Washington. "We have an opportunity to pursue a different future between our countries" through a "reasonable deal.
Nowruz is an excellent excuse. It marks the beginning of spring and big hopes for the Persian New Year. Masses go out to the parks, eat till they burst and take selfies. An entire generation of young people in Iran is dreaming of emerging from the isolation.
Obama, in the recorded message, also speaks about unresolved differences of opinion. But after 18 months of negotiations, it doesn’t seem like Washington or Tehran will let the agreement slip out of their hands. Too many commercial interests and leaders' prestige are involved here and there. And also, we must admit, an unclear chance that they will succeed in sticking a finger and plugging the nuclear arms race.
The Arab world, just like officials in Jerusalem and in the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, is monitoring the steps of the American dance which is casting a shadow on the elections results here. One can definitely say that the roof did not collapse on the Arab leaders' heads when Netanyahu won. The elections here appeared odd, and if there was any attention, it focused on the joint Arab list, and that attention was limited too. Israel's Arabs are still perceived as a strange entity, sort of collaborators enjoying a democracy which was not born in their region. Despite the potential, there is no chance that they will head the bridge to peace.
So far, we haven't heard that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or Jordan's King Abdullah telephoned Netanyahu to congratulate him. On the eve of the elections, al-Sisi actually told the Washington Post that he talks to Netanyahu "a lot." Abdullah is keeping quiet. He is stressed out because of the Islamic State which is sitting on his fences and the bloody clashes in Syria which are spilling very close to the Jordanian border. In recent days, Abdullah sent his foreign minister on an abrupt visit to Tehran. The last thing he needs is that the Revolutionary Guards' long hands in Iraq will approach the kingdom.
There is a lot of restlessness in the new king's palace in Saudi Arabia. Try to convince the White House that there is a huge difference between the Sunni majority in the Arab world and the Shiite minority which is pressing in Lebanon, fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad, settling in Iraq and expelling the president from the palace in Yemen. Try to remind them that Saudi Arabia, rather than Iran, holds the key to the global oil market.
Obama's brief visit to Riyadh only raised the tensions. It was as if he came to the first wife to indicate that he has had enough of her, and he is about to take a new wife instead of her. He doesn’t mind leaving bleeding wounded on the ground and doesn’t care how much the deal will cost.
Despite the complaints in the Arab media, a Netanyahu-led right-wing government is very convenient for the Arab leaders. They trust him to do their job for them on the Iranian issue, and they trust the Americans to pressure him on the Palestinian issue.
It also guarantees that Israel will be isolated in the world. When Netanyahu promises that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch, even if he did retract the statement in a way, they see themselves free of any open relations with us. There will be no normalization here in the near future.
Here is the insight of a veteran Arab commentator, who has been following us for decades: Netanyahu, he explains, has given the green light for Gaza's reconstruction in order to keep the next conflict away and neutralize the Iranians' long hands within Hamas. It's good for Egypt, it's excellent for Jordan and it's convenient for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It calms down the new king in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates. It also provides a time-out until the agreement with Iran.

Netanyahu to form next Israeli government
Roi Yanovsky/Ynetnews
Latest Update: 03.23.15/ Israel News
After garnering 67 voices in his favor, sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be tasked by President Rivlin with gathering factions to form Israel's 34th government; Yesh Atid to sit in opposition. After attaining the support of 67 future Knesset members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially won the right to form Israel's 34th government on Monday. The incumbent prime minister received the support of 10 seats from Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu, pushing him above the threshold needed to form a coalition. The support of Yisrael Beytenu brought an additional six seats for a total of 67. Earlier on the second day of the nomination process, Yesh Atid informed President Reuven Rivlin that it would not recommend any candidate as prime minister. "We have decided to sit in the opposition," MK Yael German told Rivlin. "We will serve the people from the opposition," stressed the second Yesh Atid representative, MK Meir Cohen.The number of MKs-to-be supporting Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog stands at 29.
The second round of consultations with the factions began early on Monday in Jerusalem; Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu, and Meretz arrived at the President's Residence over the course of the day. Rivlin will likely officially nominate Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday.
The Likud leader will then have until May 7 to form a coalition. Several of the factions had appeared before the president on Sunday, with no unexpected surprises in their nominations. The Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, and United Torah Judaism recommended Netanyahu – giving him 51 voices. The Zionist Union expectedly threw its support behind its leader, Herzog, who thus won 24 voices,and was joined by Meretz' five seats. The Joint Arab List has decided to not nominate any candidate for prime minister.
Political sources also stressed on Sunday that a national unity government was out of the question. Both Likud and Zionist Union representatives signaled their intent to continue their rivalry in the Knesset, despite President Rivlin's attempt to reconcile between the parties.