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Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 1,1-18.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him.
Free Opinions and Releases
Why Mrs. Bhutto had to die. By Walid Phares. Washington Times. December 31/07
Demagoging Pakistan's crisis. Dr. Walid Phares.Washington Times. December 31/07
India: Seventh Day of Violence in Orissa; Six Christians Dead, 400 Houses Burnt. December 31/07
Lebanon's heartless politicians are betraying its hapless people.The Daily Star. December 31/07
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 31/07
Mouawad: March 14 will Not Give Opposition Veto Power-Naharnet
Raad: Lebanon Crisis Back to Square One-Naharnet
Probe: IDF blunders played into Hezbollah's hands-Ha'aretz
US lawmakers visit Syria-Los Angeles Times
From Julia Roberts to the Middle East's bearded men-Ha'aretz
Sarkis - Aoun is used as a tool by Iran & Syria-Ya Libnan
Haaretz: UNIFIL Intensifies Supervision to Block Hizbullah Arms-Naharnet
Arab League to Meet Sunday as Several Stumbling Blocks Threaten Elections-Naharnet
Abou Faour Hails New Hard-line French Policy-Naharnet
Jordan PM Urges Lebanese to Resume Dialogue-Naharnet
Bin Laden Accuses Nasrallah of Double Standards-Naharnet
U.S. Senators Demand Peaceful, Sovereign Lebanon-Naharnet
Brammertz From Lebanon To Former Yugoslavia-Naharnet
Would Iran Facilitate Lebanon's Presidential Election?-Naharnet
The Pakistan Earthquake Threatens Iran-Naharnet
Meditation Prior to Confrontation in Lebanon-Naharnet
Gemayel takes aim at Berri over Constitution- Daily Star
Sarkozy pledges to shun Damascus until regime facilitates Lebanese poll-Daily Star
Sfeir calls on leaders to reach 'fair and suitable' solution to impasse-Daily Star
Arslan attributes impasse to problems with Taif-Daily Star
Hamas member remains in critical condition after stabbing in Tyre-AFP
Brammertz set for new post at court for former Yugoslavia-AFP
A judicial cure for what ails Lebanon- Daily Star
UNIFIL steps up efforts to block Hizbullah arms - Israeli paper- Daily Star
2007 saw Lebanon crisis go from bad to worse- Daily Star
Citing interference in Lebanon, France cuts off contact with Syria-International Herald Tribune
Study underlines opposing views on gender roles in Lebanon-Daily Star
Lebanese prep for New Year's festivities - with caution-Daily Star
Harvest of pine nuts gets under way in Jezzine-Daily Star
Two US lawmakers say Syria is ready for peace-AFP
France to cut Syria ties over Lebanon
By News Agencies
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday he had instructed his staff to suspend diplomatic contacts with Syria until Paris has proof that Damascus is working for a consensus president in Lebanon.
Speaking in Egypt after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Sarkozy said he had no regrets about his previous contacts with Syrian President Bashar Assad but the time had come for deeds rather than words from Syria.
"We cannot wait any longer. Syria must stop talking, must demonstrate [with deeds]," he said.
"I will not make any more contacts with Syria ... [and] all of my colleagues ... as long as there is no proof of Syria's will to let Lebanon choose a consensus president," he added.
Lebanon has not had a president since Nov. 23 due to disagreements between the anti-Syrian ruling coalition and the Damascus-backed opposition over the country's political orientation.
Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal called Sarkozy's comments surprising, telling Syrian state television that Damascus was working with France to reach an agreement on a president who represents all Lebanese.
Rival leaders have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as a consensus candidate to be president but they are still wrangling over how to share power once he takes office.
The conflict reflects a regional struggle for influence between Syria and Iran on one side, and the United States and its European and Arab allies on the other.
France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, played a lead role in mediating the agreement on Suleiman's candidacy and has been frustrated that the deal has not yet gone through.
The French president spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad as recently as the beginning of December to urge him to facilitate the election in Lebanon. Sarkozy sent his chief of staff, Claude Gueant, to Damascus in early November, and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem earlier that month on the sidelines of an Iraq conference in Turkey.
"France has taken the responsibility of talking with Syria," said Sarkozy. "One must recognize today that we cannot wait any longer, Syria must stop talking and now must act."
Mubarak told the same news conference it was unacceptable that Lebanon should go for months without a president and this could lead to unspecified complications. He appealed to Syria to use its influence in Lebanon to make sure parliament elects a new president.
"I ask Syria to intervene with the influence that it basically has in Lebanon to work to create agreement," he said.
Sarkozy also called on Israel to halt settlement construction as a gesture to push forward peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
"I have said on several occasions... that it is the moment for the Israelis to make some gestures that would show that peace is possible - including a freeze on the implantation of colonies," Sarkozy said, using the French word for the settlements. Sarkozy met Mubarak in the last days of a personal vacation the French president has taken in Egypt the past week. Later Sunday, Sarkozy toured the pyramids with his girlfriend, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni.
Abou Faour Hails New Hard-line French Policy
Naharnet?MP Wael Abou Faour has hailed the escalating international pressures on Syria aiming at easing the political impasse in Lebanon.
"These comments express the disillusionment of the Arab world and the international community about the chances of agreeing anything positive with the Syrian regime," Abou Faour said Sunday. He noted that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's comments in Egypt "put things back to square one regarding the relationship of the Syrian regime with more than one Arab and regional party". The Social Progressive Party MP stressed that "Lebanon is the Arabs' responsibility," and called for an "affective Arab role" in the international attempts to urge Syria into convincing its allies in Lebanon for electing a new head of state.
France "will have no more contact with Syria... until we have proof of Syrian willingness to let Lebanon appoint a president by consensus," Sarkozy told journalists after talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.(Naharnet-AFP) Beirut, 30 Dec 07, 22:32
Sarkis - Aoun is used as a tool by Iran & Syria
Naharnet/Sunday, 30 December, 2007
Beirut - Lebanon’s minister of Tourism , Joe Sarkis said that the government exercised its presidential authority in coordination with Bkirki , to ensure the normal operation of the country and the interests of the citizens are being properly handled Sarkis added : “Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is anxious to hand over the power to the new president “.Sarkis said : “We are not comfortable in using the power of the president , but just imagine if there was no government …who would have run the country in the absence of a parliament and a president ? Sarkis , in an interview with Al Liwa newspaper ( to be published tomorrow) accused Speaker Nabih Berri of hijacking the parliament and blocking the election of General Michel Suleiman as the new president of Lebanon. “Every time Berri comes up with a new and unconvincing announcement that the election will be delayed… Berri has abandoned his Baalbeck initiative to elect a new president “ he said
Sarkis pointed out that the Hezbollah led opposition has entrusted General Michel Aoun to negotiate on its behalf , in order to disrupt the election of the new president . We agree with Bishop Bechara Al Rahi, Aoun cannot make a decision …all the decisions are made by Hezbollah and Aoun is being used as a tool by Iran , Syria and their Lebanese allies …This is why thee is no point in negotiating with Aoun. Sarkis said we are determined to stick with General Suleiman as the presidential candidate and we hope we don’t have to use our last option of half plus one quorum to elect him, but Syria continues to block the election and our patience is running out. Time for Syria to stop interfering in our internal affairs
Mouawad: March 14 will Not Give Opposition Veto Power
Naharnet/Minister of Social Affairs Nayla Mouawad has said that the majority March 14 coalition will never accept granting the Hizbullah-led opposition veto power. Mouawad rejected what she termed the "handcuffing" of a new president with preconditions that would render the head of state "an employee of March 8 Forces." She stressed in remarks published Monday that a simple majority vote of MPs to elect a new president would only be used by March 14 as a "last resort."
Mouawad stressed that March 8 Forces, along with Hizbullah, Syria and Iran, "do not want a government in Lebanon and do not want Taef but want Lebanon to remain an arena for settling regional and international scores at Lebanon's expense." Beirut, 31 Dec 07, 08:55
Raad: Lebanon Crisis Back to Square One
Naharnet/Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad said the political crisis in Lebanon went back to square one, accusing the majority March 14 alliance of toppling national accord and the constitution. "The political crisis has intensified because the ruling party has broke its word on what has been agreed upon with the French in order to arrive at a consensus on Gen. Michel Suleiman's nomination for president and establish a national unity government where political blocs are represented with respect to their size in Parliament," Raad told a rally in the southern port city of Sidon on Sunday. "The Lebanese opposition is the stronger side in this current equation, and its strength lies in its steadfast and firm stances," he added.
Lebanon War probe slams IDF's 'grievous blunders'
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent
The Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, issuing Monday the findings of its investigation into the conduct of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, condemned the senior IDF command in unusually severe terms, saying that the army's methods of fighting played into Hezbollah's hands, and calling the Northern Command's lack of a ready plan to attack in south Lebanon a "grievous blunder."
In failing to mount a broad ground onslaught until the end of the war, the report states, the military "failed to achieve the war's central operative objective, combating Katyusha fire." While not focusing on the role of the government sector in directing the war, the report levies harsh criticism on its decisions. The policy of restraint which successive governments pursued following the 2000 IDF withdrawal from south Lebanon "brought the army to a state of paralysis and slackness."
The report further strongly criticizes the government for having delayed ordering a ground offensive until the final stages of the war. It states that the offensive should have been set into motion earlier in the conflict, and on a much broader scale.
All 17 members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee signed their names to the report, although about a third of them appended comments in a minority opinion. The committee began its investigation into the war in September, 2006, a few weeks after the fighting came to an end. Most of the work was done by its classified subcommittees.
The army's methods of fighting the war "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness, and lent strength to the enemy's [strategic and tactical] logic," the report concludes.
"The IDF wasted much valuable time in its deployment [and in its entry] of ground forces," the committee found, adding that this bore witness to "freezing of thinking and failure to read the map."
The report is especially critical of the IDF Northern Command, whose sphere of responsibility includes south Lebanon. "The lack of an approved and updated plan of attack was a grievous blunder by the Northern Command," the report states.
The ground offensive was necessary because "locating Katyusha rockets from the air was a nearly impossible mission, and neutralizing them could not be accomplished solely from the air," the investigation concluded.
"Despite this, no comprehensive ground offensive was mounted until the end of the war. The IDF failed to achieve the war's central operative objective, combating Katyusha fire. Hezbollah gunners launched large numbers of Katushas into northern Israel throughout the war, defying intensive IDF efforts to foil the rocket
Fire. Explicit orders to refrain from firing into areas designated as "nature preserves" constituted a major error at the command level, the report continues.
In comments on the report, MKs Silvan Shalom (Likud), Danny Yatom (Labor), and Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that a full report regarding the lessons of the Second Lebanon War cannot be issued without taking into consideration the interface between the military snd governmental echelons."
In further reservations, MKs Effi Eitam (National Union-National Religious Party) and Israel Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu) argued that "the lack of focus on the governmenal sector is liable to give the impression that responsibility for the results of the war rests solely on the shoulders of the military echelon, which is not the case." Committee Chair Tzachi Hanegbi wrote in the introduction to the report that "the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee knowingly refrained from dealing with the issuess of the personal responsibility at the levels of the military and the government." The Winograd Committee was appointed for this very reason, Hanegbi continued. "We felt that from the standpoint of the public trust, Knesset members should be wise enough not to place themselves in the position of independent judges." On Monday, reserve soldiers interrupted Hanegbi as he read from the report. The soldiers voiced anger that the report had concentrated so fully on the military's role, addressing government actions only indirectly. Hanegbi responded that it would have been hypocritical of politicians to pass judgment on the actions of other politicians.
U .S. lawmakers visit Syria
Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press
December 31, 2007
DAMASCUS, Syria -- A pair of U.S. lawmakers visited the Syrian capital on Sunday in an attempt to persuade the Arab state to make peace with Israel and woo it from the Iranian sphere of influence.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) visited Syria after a trip to neighboring Israel, which gave its blessing to the lawmakers' mediation effort. Israel and Syria have been in a state of war for decades despite occasional diplomatic forays between the two nations.
Israel hopes to draw the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad out of its alliances with Iran, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah and the militant Palestinian group Hamas, all of which oppose the Jewish state.
Specter said he hoped U.S. intervention would revive a dormant dialogue between Syria and Israel.
"The time is right now, and prospects are very good," Specter told reporters Sunday on his 16th visit to Syria since 1984. "The parties will continue talks through intermediaries, and it's my hope and expectation at some point, if preliminary progress has been made, the U.S. government would be ready too."
Still, Syrian officials voiced doubt that much would come out of the mediation effort as long as there is no movement on the issue of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.
Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli pullout from the plateau. In one poll this year, only 10% of Israelis supported a full withdrawal.
"Syria will appreciate any positive act to push for resumption of the peace process, but going into the details of the negotiations will need a different process," said a Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is no point of a peace process on the Israeli-Syrian track if the occupied Golan Heights are not guaranteed back."
Another possible irritant in the relations is an Israeli airstrike against an unspecified military target deep inside Syria in September.
The U.S. maintains chilly diplomatic relations with Syria over its alleged interference in Lebanese affairs and its support for militant groups that oppose Israel, including Hezbollah and Hamas. This month, President Bush accused Syria of contributing to the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon and said he had lost patience with Assad. Specter told reporters that he came in part to convey messages, gleaned from conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials, to Assad and his deputies, including Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
He told reporters that he would convey Syrian responses to Washington and Israeli officials along with his "sense of what should happen next."
He said that Israel understands that any peace treaty with Syria must include a return of the Golan Heights. "I am confident that Olmert wants to have a peace treaty with Syria and he is ready to do what is necessary in a reciprocal arrangement to get it done," the senator told email@example.com
From Julia Roberts to the Middle East's bearded men
By Yossi Melman - Haaretz
Milt Bearden bursts out laughing. He takes a sip of tea and repeats the question that was put to him: "Whose company do I prefer? The heads of Hezbollah or Julia Roberts? That's a good question." This is no joke. This hefty and amiable man has spent his life over the past decade jetting between Hollywood stars and the backstreets of terror in the Middle East; between concern about how Roberts' pregnancy will affect the production of the new movie, and the hope that Israel will find ways of holding a dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah.
"I find interest in many worlds," Bearden says. "And there doesn't have to be a contradiction between them." The meeting with him took place at the beginning of the month at The Cosmos Club - a venerable, upscale, members-only club in Washington whose walls are covered with photos of scientists who have won the Nobel Prize, journalists who have won Pulitzers, Supreme Court justices, generals, cabinet ministers and a few agents of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Advertisement
For 30 years, 67-year-old Bearden was a senior CIA case officer. In the past few years, he has served as a consultant to the movie industry. He most recently served as technical adviser for "Charlie Wilson's War" - a political movie directed by Mike Nichols ("The Graduate") and starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Charlie Wilson, 74, was one of America's most colorful politicians ever. Wilson, a graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis and a navy officer, arrived in Washington in 1973 after being elected to Capitol Hill as a liberal democratic congressman from eastern Texas. He was a man of contradictions who stood out because of his unusual lifestyle in which sex, drugs and alcohol played a central role. Wearing cowboy boots, he would enjoy being photographed playing with guns and surrounded by young and beautiful assistants who were known as "Charlie's angels."
Wilson was elected time and again by his constituents and served 24 years in Congress until his retirement in 1996. He was considered a liberal congressman who supported social justice, civil rights and the right to abortion, but he was a wild hawk when it came to foreign policy. He became a staunch supporter of Israel in its struggle against the Arabs - at least until he visited the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps near Beirut during the first Lebanon war. After that he transferred his love for Israel to the mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.
When then-Pakistani leader General Zia ul-Haq was asked to explain in short what had defeated the Red Army in Afghanistan, he replied with two words: "Charlie Wilson." Under the influence of a Texan socialite (played in the movie by Roberts) who served as the honorary consul of Pakistan, Charlie Wilson turned the struggle against the Soviet "Evil Empire" in Afghanistan into a private crusade. He did everything in his power to arm the mujahideen and provide funds for their war. He became obsessed with the Soviet gunship helicopters that controlled the battlefield and which plagued the mujahideen.
Wilson came to Israel and asked the military industries to manufacture a special cannon for use against helicopters that could be carried on donkeys. Later, accompanied by a new girlfriend, an American belly dancer, he went to Cairo. He and his entourage, an Israeli arms dealer and a CIA officer, met with the deputy Egyptian defense minister while his girlfriend used her belly dancing talents to entertain Egypt's defense minister. The charm worked. The Egyptians agreed to supply the mujahideen with arms and ammunition.
Saving the Mossad
"Charlie was larger than life," says Bearden, who headed the CIA operations in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989 and was responsible for arming and training the Afghan fighters. "Our assistance began way back in 1979 under the Carter administration," he says, "but until Charlie went into action, it was limited to some $10 million. Because of his enthusiasm and lobbying, he succeeded in convincing Congress and the administration to budget half a billion dollars for this purpose. Another half a billion dollars came from Saudi Arabia. The turnabout occurred when we started to supply them with Stinger shoulder missiles that led to shooting down the Soviet helicopters."
Don't you regret that you armed those who a decade and a half later would bring down the Twin Towers?
Bearden: "[CIA head] Bill Casey asked me to go to Pakistan because he thought the objective of the war had become immoral. It had deteriorated down to fighting to the last Afghan. Until then, the aim had been only to bleed the Russians. Bill thought the aim should be to defeat the Soviets and not just to torment them. I don't regret my contribution to defeat them. America spent $13 trillion on the struggle against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Almost 100,000 Americans were killed in Korea and Vietnam. The Soviets were an evil empire. They killed a million Afghans and caused 5 million refugees to flee. So what should I be sorry about?"
Perhaps that you, Charlie Wilson, and others raised a monster that later turned on its creator?
"How many Afghans were on those planes on 9/11? The United States' failure was that we didn't remain in Afghanistan to help with its rehabilitation after that war. We deserted Afghanistan. Al-Qaida found refuge there, because we had deserted it. We, the Americans, caused Bin Laden to be expelled in the middle of the 1990s from Sudan to Afghanistan. The Sudanese offered us Bin Laden at that time. We didn't want him. Had we remained in Afghanistan, maybe 9/11 might not have happened."
Bearden, 67, joined the CIA in 1964 and served in the organization for 30 years in a variety of field and operational missions. During the early 1980s, he was head of the CIA station in Nigeria and in 1983 was sent to head the station in Sudan. There he assisted the Mossad in its operation to bring the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel. He recalls that he met with Ephraim Halevy (who was in charge of the Mossad operation in Sudan) and Bearden was present when the president of Sudan, General Jaafar Nimeiri, met with then-U.S. vice president George H.W. Bush. "During that meeting, Bush asked Numeiri to allow the Jews to come to Israel, and the okay was given," he says.
Bearden and members of his team organized the airlift of American transport planes that flew the Jews out from a secret landing strip in the Sudanese desert. In 1985, Sudanese military officers, assisted by Muammar Gadhafi, overthrew Numeiri and took control of the government. Numeiri and the commander of his secret services, Omer Teib, were accused of collaborating with the Mossad and the CIA and of enabling the Jews to leave, in return for bribes of millions of dollars.
Bearden relates that one of the senior Sudanese politicians was caught by the rebels and made a deal with them: In return for information about the Mossad's operatives, his life would be spared. When this became known, three Mossad operatives fled, according to prior arrangement, to the home of Bearden and his French wife, Marie Catherine.
"A few days later, there was a knock at the door and my wife opened it," he says, "A young man stood there and told her: 'I am French and I want to talk your husband.' My wife smiled at him and replied: 'You are not French. I am French. I know who you are. Come in and go to the second floor.'" After a month Bearden and his CIA team were able to fly the Mossad agents out of Sudan to safety.
Bearden was thanked for his contribution by the senior echelon of the Mossad. From Sudan, he moved to Pakistan and then again to Germany until his retirement in 1994. "When I retired from CIA in 1994, I knew I would write a novel, which I did." "The Black Tulip" is a novel about the war in Afghanistan. He has also since written a non-fiction book, "The Main Enemy," about the last days of the Cold War between the CIA and the KGB before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Talking to Hezbollah
"And moving from novel writing to making movies is a pretty short step," says Bearden. "Yet the movie business came as pretty much a surprise. Robert De Niro had planned to make a series of CIA films as far back as 1997, and asked his New York friend, Richard Holbrooke [the U.S. ambassador to the UN and Germany] if he had any ideas. Holbrooke, in true spy-fashion, wrote my name and phone number on the back of a cocktail napkin and gave it to him. He called me the next day and that summer we began wandering around the world. First to Moscow and then to Pakistan and Afghanistan. We didn't finish 'The Good Shepherd' until nine years later. Now I've done three films as an adviser, and worked on the story line of a fourth. I have a couple more projects bubbling right now."
Nevertheless, it seems that the veteran spy can't live without the excitement of the world of intrigues and mystique. Bearden joined "Conflicts Forum," a non-profit organization founded by another former British MI6 spy, Alastair Crooke, who served as an EU special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The motto of the organization is "listening to political Islam recognizing resistance."
What can one talk about with organizations that have sworn to annihilate Israel?
Bearden: "Israel must understand that it is facing a guerilla and not a gang of suicide bombers. This is true of Lebanon and it is true also of Gaza. Israel must look for additional options and not only seek out the military option. In meetings with Hamas, we stressed that what for them is the end of negotiations - Israel's right to exist - is for us a precondition. In response, they say that until Israel talks to them about the Palestinians' rights, they will not show their strongest card - recognition of Israel's right to exist."
Is it not true that the rights of the Palestinians are merely a code phrase for the right of the refugees to return, which Israel cannot agree to?
"When they talk about rights, it's not necessarily the right of the refugees to return. They are asking that the Palestinian narrative be understood."
And is there also something to talk about with Hezbollah?
"Of course. Hezbollah is prepared to talk with everybody. Israel can talk to them about all the common problems on the border. For example, about an arrangement over the Shaba Farms."
As part of your contacts with Hezbollah and Hamas, did you also speak to them about the captive Israeli soldiers?
"No. I'm not involved in the contacts about exchanging prisoners. I'm not looking for headlines or for glory. There are others who deal with these issues."
At the end of our conversation, Bearden makes a point of stressing that, "Rotating between a Hollywood set and the backstreets of Beirut where Hamas and Hezbollah hang out is not all that great a leap. The only difference is that, if things don't go exactly as you'd like them on a movie set, you can always shoot another take. Not always so in Beirut."
It seems that, despite everything, Bearden prefers the company of Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts to the bearded men of the Middle East
Beirut, 31 Dec 07, 08:47
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Seventh Day of Violence in Orissa; Six Christians Dead, 400 Houses Burnt
You are free to disseminate the following news. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address www.persecution.org. Contact Jeremy Sewall, Policy Analyst, 1-800-ICC (422)-5441, firstname.lastname@example.org .
(December 30, 2007) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org has learned that state police and federal armed forces have failed to contain the anti-Christian violence that began on the eve of Christmas and has led to the killing of at least six Christians in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district.
A local Christian, on condition of anonymity, told ICC that 600 Christians had to hide in a Baptist church in Udaigiri village in Mallikapur area the night of December 28, as they anticipated attacks on their homes.
“Extremists tried to attack them during the night, but they were not more in number than the Christians, who could scare them away,” added the source.
According to a fact-finding team led by Dr. John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council (AICC), six bodies of Christians were found, 400 Christian homes and 60 churches were burnt down in the last six days in Baliguda Block of Kandhamal district.
“Young and healthy Christians have left their villages to flee for their lives, children, women, old and sick, who could not flee for their lives, are in great danger of their lives,” Dayal said in a statement.
“Remnants are starving for the last four days, and sick are suffering without medical attention. They are being forced to convert to Hinduism if they are to get food, medical attention and shelter, and their heads are [shaved],” Dayal quoted a victim as saying.
Meanwhile, The Indian Express newspaper reported that on December 22, local Christian leaders met the District Collector (administrative in-charge) and the superintendent of police, seeking protection.
“They handed over a letter which said they felt ‘insecure and paralyzed’ and requested that their ‘life and day-to-day livelihood should be ensured at least from 24th to 26th of December’,” it said.
However, the administration did not heed the cry of Christians.
“The fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution to protect lives has failed to reach the minority Christians in the state of Orissa. State security forces have been at the hands of guns and fundamentalists. No complaint from victims and Christian individuals has been filed by any police station,” said Dayal.
# # #
ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC delivers humanitarian aid, trains and supports persecuted pastors, raises awareness in the US regarding the problem of persecution, and is an advocate for the persecuted on Capitol Hill and the State Department. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.
“The Way to Contain the Conspiracies” – An Audio Message from
the Head of Al-Qaeda, Usama bin Laden,
Issued by As-Sahab Media – 12/2007
By SITE Intelligence Group
December 30, 2007
Usama bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, speaks in the defense of the Islamic State of Iraq and urges other jihadist factions and groups to unite within its ranks, in a 56:10 minute audio message prepared by As-Sahab and issued to jihadist forums yesterday, December 29, 2007. The speech is titled, “The Way to Contain the Conspiracies”, and is featured as a video with a still picture of bin laden. He references the Annapolis Conference, which was held on November 27, 2007, but does not mention the recent assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, suggesting a time frame of the tape’s records as late-November to mid-December. Events in Iraq that harm the ISI and the Jihad in general, such as nationalist groups, lack of unity beneath a Salafist banner, and creation of tribal militias, or Awakening Councils, are the primary focus of bin Laden’s speech. He draws parallels to the condition of the Mujahideen following the Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which was besieged by foreign influence and factionalism, warning that the same may come of Iraq, and uses this history as a means to foil what he understands as conspiracy against Mujahideen success.
Bin Laden raises similar points to those in his last speech on the subject of Iraq, “To Our People in Iraq”, that the Mujahideen must dismiss partiality to a patron, country, or leader, and rather be zealous for their religion and the establishment of the Shari’a, or law, of God. The ISI, with its history and leadership, is given support by bin Laden, who dismisses arguments of why cohesion with it by other groups was delayed. Its leaders, Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir, are taken as capable individuals who bin Laden states were recommended by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. This in addition to other explanations, effectively undermine arguments from some opponents that ISI should not be taken as a legitimate state because its rulers are unknown and its defenses relatively weak to a sovereign power.
He also argues that groups that receive patronage from a foreign state are constrained by that state’s wishes, be it Saudi Arabia, United States, or Iran. Iran is taken as an example in the case of Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in the conflict with Israel in 2006. Bin Laden demonstrates that Hezbollah, like some groups in Iraq such as Hizb Al-Islami (Islamic Party), deceive people in the interest of a patron. He claims Hezbollah acted intentionally against Israel so as to execute a UN Resolution allowing “Crusader” forces into Lebanon, effectively closing the border from Mujahideen to enter Palestinian territories because this was Iran’s desire.
Outside of the Iraq focus, bin Laden speaks in regard to Palestine, stating that the Jihad will expand to its territories and “we did not forget you after the events of September 11th… Can a person forget his people?”. Currently the Mujahideen fight the “heart” of global disbelief in Islam, America, and its “agents” in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa and Somalia, but will ultimately come to Palestine. Bin Laden decries those who recognize the existence of Israel and have sacrificed land to it, including the “defeatists” at Annapolis. He also calls upon Muslims to support the Jihad by all they can, warning: “Today Baghdad and tomorrow Damascus, Amman, and Riyadh, so fear Allah and do not be afraid to assign blame... The support of the truthful Mujahideen, especially in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, and Somalia is the project of the whole Ummah, and it is its first line of defense against all of its enemies.”
Further, bin Laden makes a statement similar to that recently issued by Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid AKA Sheikh Saeed, speaking from the General Command of Al-Qaeda, that the true Mujahideen avoid as much as possible collateral damage to Muslims. He adds: “You should know that the enemy takes positions amongst the Muslims so that they may be human shields, and here I stress to my Mujahideen brothers to be aware of these bunkering movements, and make sure that their operations target the enemy and are restricted by Shari'a restrictions, kept away from the Muslims if possible and done without hindering Jihad in the Name of Allah.”
The video and transcript are provided to our Monitoring Service subscribers.
Why Mrs. Bhutto had to die
By Walid Phares
December 31, 2007
Former Pakistani Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto was murdered because of her potential actions in Pakistan, by the combined forces of jihadism in that country. In short, they executed her to pre-empt her future war of ideas. This was the bottom line and here is why.
The long-term plan of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1990s was to eventually spread to Pakistan and seize power, and, ultimately after 1999, to seize the nukes, too. Miscalculating on September 11, Osama bin Laden lost Kabul and the jihadi war room crossed into their eastern neighbor. Plan B was then to seize Waziristan and gradually Talibanize the country, grabbing the "doomsday" devices in the end. For the last seven years, the jihadi hydra protected by the fundamentalist tribes, hooking up with the local Islamist movements and with tentacles deep inside the defense and intelligence apparatus, attempted to spread in that direction. President Pervez Musharraf, unable to determine the extent of radical influence in his own services, moved slowly and reluctantly on the containment strategies. This lost time resulted in several assassination attempts and allowed a widening of the jihadi networks in the country. Reacting to the breach of national security, he tightened the rope on the opposition, frustrating his secular opponents and alienating the nation's Supreme Court.
The descent into generalized violence was spiraling out of his government's control and working to al Qaeda's satisfaction. Both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar, acting as jihadi supreme rulers of the country, pressed on with calls for assassination and fatwas for regime change. By 2006, Mr. Musharraf was fighting on two fronts: taking on the jihadi forces, including the homegrown ones on the one hand; and dealing with the pressures from his secular opposition on the other hand. From early 2007, as Taliban operatives based in enclaves in the border areas continued to strike inside Afghanistan, al Qaeda's messages beaming out of Pakistan and violence were unrestrained. The United States pressed Mr. Musharraf to change direction.
The advice from Washington (which was endorsed by the West and not opposed by moderate Muslim countries) urged the general (who was also serving as president) to: 1) open up to the opposition and allow the exiles to come back to the country, despite sour past relations; 2) hold general elections and welcome a new democratically elected cabinet; 3) relinquish his command of the armed forces if elected president; and 4) launch an all-out military campaign against Pakistan's Taliban.
Reading the map accurately, Mr. Musharraf heeded almost all suggestions. He allowed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to return and head her large party, although he made it more difficult for her colleague, Nawaz Sharif — Mr. Musharraf's direct political enemy — to proceed as swiftly in his return to the political scene. Mr. Musharraf announced a general legislative election slated initially for next month. He was re-elected as president by the current legislature and resigned from the top military office. And last but not least, he indeed sent several divisions to the frontier valleys to battle the terrorists on their own turf. But by changing direction, he opened a Pandora's box for his government and for the political process he freed.
Former political enemies weren't smooth on reconciling: While Mrs. Bhutto began negotiating with Mr. Musharraf, demanding a purge in the military, Mr. Sharif called for Mr. Musharraf's resignation. In addition, the president of the high court refused to recognize the general's election as president. These turbulences triggered frustrations among the military as it was marching to confront the most lethal enemy in the North-West region. And taking advantage of this dizzying political storm, the jihadi forces launched their urban offensive culminating with the suicidal Red Mosque intifada in Islamabad in the summer. And as Mr. Musharraf was steering the wheels toward political reconfiguration, terror attacks targeted various cities as well as military personnel across the country.
But the return of Mrs. Bhutto to Pakistan sent a positive message to the public and a negative one to the radical Islamists. The daughter of a prominent leader, a member of a political family, a former prime minister in her own right — and, above all, a liberal Muslim woman — Mrs. Bhutto projected the possibility of a leap toward more balanced politics and greater steps toward pluralism — two ingredients for progress toward democracy. Her dialogue with Mr. Musharraf made possible the return of Mr. Sharif and the global march to new elections. The bickering politicians didn't let go of their sour feelings toward each other, but the political process was about to gradually return to the country.
The prospect of the January elections would be good for all parties. The president would be proving that his institutions are solidly democratic, thus legitimizing his own office. The opposition would gain the seats it needed to access the cabinet or become powerbrokers at the assembly. Mrs. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party was projected to be the largest bloc, and through a coalition in parliament, she was to become the next prime minister of this powerful Muslim country. That is precisely why she was murdered.
Indeed, the greatest losers in the upcoming elections, and in any democratic elections mobilizing large and experienced secular forces, would be the Islamists. Their six-party coalition achieved legislative power because of the absence of the secular and democratic forces. Now that Mr. Musharraf isn't in love with the jihadi forces anymore, several assassination attempts later; and after the seculars saw with their naked eyes what the fundamentalists were preparing for the country, the slice of Islamist vote was projected to shrink.
Mrs. Bhutto was the reason for this future political defeat. But beyond these political considerations, it was a war of ideas that the Taliban and their ilk feared the most. It is one thing for the radicals to measure themselves in comparison with the military's authoritarianism. But it is another thing to be blasted ideologically by a woman who would dominate Pakistan's politics. By jihadi standards it was unbearable to see Lady Benazir seizing the premiership of the executive power. A staunch modernist and a genuine Muslim, she would have been their worst nightmare. With her in power, forget about the Talibanization: There would be no suppression of women and no brutalization of minorities. There would be fierce empowerment of civil society. This is why the combined "war room" of al Qaeda, the neo-Taliban and the Pakistani jihadists decided to eliminate her.
In October, Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander in South Waziristan, threatened to kill Mrs. Bhutto upon her return. Mrs. Bhutto was aware of the Taliban and al Qaeda threats but dismissed them. Ata press conference in Dubai in NovemberMrs. Bhutto said "she did not fear 'militants and extremists,' acknowledging that Afghan and Arab militants as well as those of the Red Mosque had threatened her," Dawn TVreported. "She said that threats to her life had been whipped up to 'intimidate me and the people of Pakistan.' " She added, "I don't believe that a true Muslim will attack me. I believe Islam forbids suicide bombings." But the jihadists had previous tried to assassinate her in a prior bombing as she returned to Pakistan in October.
Since then, as she criticized Mr. Musharraf for his political failures, the state of emergency and her house arrest, Mrs. Bhutto nevertheless relentlessly attacked the "radical Islamists," whom she accused of terror and oppression. In those days between the first attempt and her slaughter on Thursday, Mrs. Bhutto acted as the single most influential, courageous and symbolic female leader in the Muslim world. She was waging a war of ideas on her own in the most dangerous jihadi environment on the planet. Had she survived to win the legislative elections, she would have become the most efficient Muslim prime minister in the war against the terrorists.
Benazir Bhutto was stepping into a hornets' nest with her face uncovered. She was executed by the Taliban in a manner that was almost frighteningly reminiscent of the massacre of Afghan women who refused to wear the burka. Now it is up to her party, her followers and her allies to pick up the struggle from where she fell and move forward with her legacy. They need to focus on the greater goal of salvaging democracy by uniting their efforts with the president to hold these elections against all odds, even at a different date, and to back their national army in a global effort to defeat the terrorists.
Pakistan is crossing a dangerous path, but the security stakes are the highest in the world, obviously because of the nuclear weapons. The assassination of Mrs. Bhutto has also another apocalyptic dimension. Since November 2001, bin Laden has revealed that the ultimate goal of al Qaeda is to claim what "is theirs," i.e. the atomic power of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Many jihadi leaders have since asserted the duty to equip the caliphate to come with the most powerful armaments in the world. The gradual advance of the Taliban into their eastern neighbor is aimed at reaching those nukes: Either they would infiltrate the intelligence agencies and the army or they would take advantage of chaos and collapse. The attempts to kill Mr. Musharraf and the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto converge into one thread, a maximum violence leading to a coup d'etat by their supporters inside the military. Once the cataclysmic scenario was achieved, the rest is left to dark imagination.
Armed with such devastating power, the suicidal jihadists will have an open field for their missiles, which could target India and the U.S. presence in the region, as well as Europe and the Russian hinterland. Eventually even China would be at their mercy. The alibis are endless as long as there are "infidels" to confront. Hence the world after such a day cannot function peacefully. Because of such an intolerable possibility, Washington, Brussels, Moscow, New Delhi and Beijing, as we speak, should be readying the world for such threats.
**Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.
Demagoging Pakistan's crisis
WASHINGTON TIMES EDITORIAL
December 31, 2007
The identifiable geostrategic consequences of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination are a weakening of President Pervez Musharraf's government and an increase in political volatility which this nuclear-armed nation can scarcely afford. This latter consequence points to the most troubling problem: The consequences simply are not yet known. While statesmen in Washington — Democrats and Republicans alike — try to devise a strategy to prevent the situation in Pakistan from imploding, at least one political demagogue — Sen. Hillary Clinton — has cynically attempted to exploit Pakistan's peril to revive her faltering presidential campaign.
Over the weekend, the violence continued. By yesterday, at least 38 died amid the rioting, while reports proliferated of bank robberies, mobs in the streets and government buildings set afire. The key immediate questions are whether Mr. Musharraf will re-impose the state of emergency he lifted two weeks ago, and whether he will attempt to postpone the rapidly approaching January elections, in which Mrs. Bhutto and her Pakistan People's Party were the leading contenders. So far, Mr. Musharraf has given no public sign of enacting a clampdown following the three-day mourning declaration, which ended yesterday. Nor has Mr. Musharraf signaled his intentions regarding the elections. Much depends on the security situation.
For now, three consequences seem identifiable. First, the assassination leaves Mr. Musharraf's already precarious government further weakened. Many in Pakistan, especially the opposition, blame him for Mrs. Bhutto's death, while radical Islamist forces seek to capitalize on the confusion to promote further chaos and destabilize the country.
Second, the accommodation between anti-Islamist forces in Pakistan which is necessary to build genuine security is now much less likely. With the leading opposition figure, Mrs. Bhutto, out of the picture, the chances of an angry moderate opposition finding common ground with Mr. Musharraf against radical Islamists are significantly diminished. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before Mrs. Bhutto's assassination had already announced a boycott of next week's elections, and Mr. Sharif called for Mr. Musharraf's resignation just hours after the assassination. It is hardly clear that Mrs. Bhutto's husband and her 19-year-old son, designated yesterday as her political successors, will be up to the job.
Third, nations with vital interests in Pakistan, including the United States and neighbors Afghanistan and India, now have little alternative but to look to Mr. Musharraf as the most realistic possibility for partnership in Pakistan. For all of Mr. Musharraf's shortcomings, the question of whether there is a Pakistani alternative to Mr. Musharraf and his government is profound.
Of course, the matter of most interest for the United States and Pakistan's neighbors India and Afghanistan continues to be this unstable government's nuclear-weapons arsenal in the context of the ugly flowering of radical Islamist groups, including al Qaeda and the Taliban. With the future of Pakistan's nuclear weapons hanging in this volatile balance, Mr. Musharraf's ability to slow the current crisis itself remains unclear.
That brings us to Mrs. Clinton, who has not been shy when it comes to bragging about the virtues of her "experience." In response to a reporter's question, the New York Democrat suggested that Mr. Musharraf could be toppled; called into question the legitimacy of Pakistan's elections scheduled for next week; demanded that Mr. Musharraf agree to an "independent" investigation of Mrs. Bhutto's death; and reminded everyone that she had known "Benazir" for 12 years — in other words, dating back to her second term as prime minister of Pakistan during the mid-1990s, when Mrs. Bhutto was facilitating the growth of al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Of course, as Walid Phares writes on the facing page, the Benazir Bhutto who was murdered in Rawalpindi on Thursday was a very different person from the prime minister that Mrs. Clinton met 12 years ago: Mrs. Bhutto came to realize that the jihadists could not be appeased, and she hoped to lead her country in a different direction. That's why the Islamists wanted her dead. Mrs. Clinton should have the minimal decency not to exploit her friend's death — especially not in ways that could destabilize Pakistan and give aid and comfort to the jihadists that Mrs. Bhutto was standing against.