English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For March 17/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today

Waking the Widow’s Only son from death: Jesus touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’The dead man sat up and began to speak
Luke 07/11-17: “Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us! ’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 16-17/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/
Freefalling Lebanese Pound Hits New Low
'We are Hungry': Lebanese Protest Worsening Economic Crisis
Road-Blocking Protests Renew as Dollar Hits LBP 15,000
Wazni Confirms Lebanon to Cut Subsidies, Hike Fuel Prices
MPs Approve EDL Treasury Loan amid LF, PSP Objection
Senior U.S. General Voices Support for Army in Lebanon Visit
Activist Accused of Collaborating with Israel Released
Russia Asks Hizbullah to Play 'Decisive' Role in Govt. Formation Process
Hezbollah delegation in Moscow receives Israeli warning: Don’t do like the Houthis
Hariri Inspects UAE-Donated Field Hospital
The Hezbollah Empire in Lebanon and the Assassination of Lokman Slim/Makram Rabah/Politics Today/March 16/2021
The fall of Lebanon is a question of when, not if – opinion/Itzhak Levanton/Jerusalem Post/March 16/2021
The Power of Not Now/Despite statements to the contrary, Lebanon’s political class seems unenthusiastic about forming a government today./Mohanad Hage Ali/Carnrgie MEC/March 16/2021
The Aounist Elites’ Ethics/Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/March,16/2021

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 16-17/2021

US report says Russia, Iran and Hezbollah meddled in 2020 election
Netanyahu: Israel will have four more peace deals soon..."I brought four peace agreements, and there are another four on the way."
Israel's Bennett: Right-Winger, Likely Kingmaker and Possible PM?
Israel's Arabs Stage Flash Mob to Highlight Fatal Shootings in Their Community
Assad Decrees Financial Stimulus amid Stifling Crisis in Syria
21 Troops Killed in Ambush in South Syria
Turkey Urges Russia to Prevent Syrian Regime From Targeting Civilians
Greece, Turkey Resume Preliminary Talks on Maritime Dispute
HRW Says Rebel Fire Caused Yemen Blaze that Killed Migrants
U.S., Japan Warn China on 'Coercion, Destabilizing Behavior'
N. Korean Leader's Sister Warns U.S. as Biden Envoys Begin Asia Trip
Ancient Christian ruins discovered in Egypt’s Western desert


Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 16-17/2021

Turkey prepares to clash with Israel, Greece and EU over East Med/Seth Frantman/Jerusalem Post/ March 16/2021
Attention President Biden: Yemen's Houthi Rebels are Iranian-backed Terrorists/Con Coughlin/Gatestone Institute/March 16/2021
The Long Covid Picture Is Stark. Why?/Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/March, 16/2021
When the Margin Calls In an interview, Hamza Meddeb discusses the 2020 protests in the impoverished Tunisian region of Tataouine./Michael Young:Carnegie MEC/March 16, 2021
The Russians are coming to the Gulf/Haitham El-Zobaidi/The Arab Weekly/March 16/2021

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 16-17/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/

Freefalling Lebanese Pound Hits New Low
Agence France Presse/March 16/2021
Lebanon's currency hit a new low against the dollar on the black market Tuesday, continuing its freefall in a country gripped by political deadlock and an economic crisis. The latest plunge means the Lebanese pound has lost almost 90 percent of its value on the informal market in just 18 months.
The Lebanese pound has been pegged to the dollar at 1,500 since 1997, but the country's worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war has seen its unofficial value plummet. The slide has picked up speed over the past two weeks, with the exchange rate soaring from 10,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on March 2 to around 15,000 on Tuesday. Three money changers said they were buying dollars for 14,800 to 14,900 Lebanese pounds, while a customer told AFP they had sold the foreign currency at 15,000 pounds to the dollar. The pound's fall has led to soaring food prices in a country where more than half of the population now lives below the poverty line. The smell of burned tires wafted over Beirut on Tuesday after gaggles of protesters took to the streets in the capital and elsewhere in the country, in the latest such demonstrations in recent weeks. "Lebanon exchange rate reaches 15,000LL to the 1$. Last night it was 13,250," tweeted analyst Maha Yahya. "Country collapsing around us & we are unable to do anything," said Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Since fall 2019, banks have largely prevented ordinary depositors from accessing their dollar savings or transferring them abroad, forcing them to resort to the black market to obtain foreign currency. In a country that needs dollars to import goods, several shops have closed their doors in recent days to re-price goods and some factories have halted production. The government resigned in August last year after a devastating port blast that killed 200 people and ravaged a large part of the capital. But the deeply divided political class has failed to form a new cabinet to enact desperately needed reforms to unlock billions of dollars in promised international aid. France and the United States last week hit out at Lebanon's squabbling politicians, with Paris saying they were failing to help the country as it slid towards "total collapse."France has taken a leading role in trying to break the political deadlock in its former protectorate, with President Emmanuel Macron visiting the country twice last year.

'We are Hungry': Lebanese Protest Worsening Economic Crisis
Associated Press/Agence France Presse/March 16/2021
Outraged protesters returned to the streets of Lebanon's capital Tuesday, blocking roads with burning tires and garbage containers as the currency continued to plummet to all-time lows and the country's financial crisis intensified. The protests resumed -- although in smaller numbers -- following several days of relative calm as the Lebanese pound continued its slide, plunging to a new low of 15,000 to the U.S. dollar on the black market. "Where are the people? Come down, we are hungry, we are fed up!" yelled Ahmad Shuman, a protester frustrated at the small number of people taking part in demonstrations.
"The rate is now 15,000 and rising. We the people are hungry," another protester told local television. "Political leaders are sitting at home. What more do they want? For a Lebanese to set himself or his children on fire?"
In another Beirut neighborhood, small groups of young men, some driving scooters, pelted shop windows with stones and asked them to close in rejection of the dollar exchange rate surge. The currency has lost 90% of its value since October 2019, when anti-government protests erupted, including more than 25% in the past few weeks alone. Senior politicians, meanwhile, have refused to work together to form a new government that would implement the reforms needed to extract the nation from the crisis.
The currency crash has pushed more than half the population into poverty as prices soar. It has also depleted foreign reserves, raising concerns that Lebanon's central bank will end subsidies of some basic commodities, including fuel in coming weeks. The crisis is posing the gravest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-90 civil war. France's foreign minister warned last week that Lebanon is running out of time before total collapse, putting the blame squarely on the country's leaders whose refusal to come together to form a government has exacerbated the crisis.
U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter, speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday, said the U.S. is concerned about developments in Lebanon and the apparent inaction of the country's leadership in the face of multiple ongoing crises. "Lebanon's political leaders need to put aside their partisan brinkmanship and form a government that will quickly implement critical and long-needed reforms, restore investor confidence, and rescue the country's economy," she said.
Lebanon's government resigned in August following a massive explosion at Beirut's port that killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital. Disagreements between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have so far delayed the formation of a Cabinet. Hariri was chosen for the post in October.

Road-Blocking Protests Renew as Dollar Hits LBP 15,000
Naharnet/March 16/2021
Protesters took to the streets in most Lebanese regions on Tuesday as the national currency hit a new low against the dollar on the black market. The slide has picked up speed over the past two weeks, with the exchange rate soaring from 10,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on March 2 to around 15,000 on Tuesday. Angry protesters blocked several key streets in the capital and its suburbs and major roads in the North, the Bekaa and the South. They also blocked the highway linking Beirut to the South in the Khalde, Naameh, Saadiyat and Jiye areas. The army later intervened and reopened the highway in Saadiyat and Jiye and the Elia intersection in Sidon.In the North, a fight broke out between protesters in the Dinniyeh town of Miryata and a motorist who insisted on crossing a blocked road linking Dinniyeh to Tripoli. The National News Agency said an army force intervened and fired in the air to disperse the crowds before arresting three people in connection with the clash. A similar clash erupted in the nearby area of al-Ayrouniyeh, also prompting the army’s intervention. Young men on motorcycles were meanwhile roaming Beirut's streets and asking shop owners to close their businesses in rejection of the dollar exchange rate surge, NNA said. A witness told Naharnet that the young men scuffled with the owner of a money exchange shop who refused to close his business in the Hamra area. In Tripoli, protesters marched in the city’s streets and staged sit-ins outside the houses of several politicians, demanding their resignation and calling for the immediate formation of a “transitional government” that can halt the collapse. And in Batroun, most shops and firms closed due to the dramatic surge in the dollar exchange rate and amid “an atmosphere of grief, anxiousness and fear,” NNA said. The agency added that businesses have concerns over security, especially after “the increase of robberies targeted against the various shops and institutions.”Gas stations in Batroun were also witnessing a run by anxious citizens seeking to fill the tanks of their vehicles. “While a number of stations have already closed, the owners of other stations are readying to close earlier than usual to preserve the quantities that they still have and in anticipation of a new hike in prices tomorrow,” NNA said. Citizens in Batroun were also scrambling to supermarkets and grocery stores, which ran out of many items due to panic shopping by residents fearing essential foodstuffs shortages.

Wazni Confirms Lebanon to Cut Subsidies, Hike Fuel Prices
Naharnet/March 16/2021
Caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has confirmed that Lebanon will scale back food subsidies and gradually raise gasoline prices to save dwindling foreign reserves.. In an interview with Bloomberg, Wazni said the central bank has $16 billion left in foreign reserves, of which only $1 billion to $1.5 billion can be used to fund subsidies, enough for two to three months. “Lebanon can no longer continue with the same pace of subsidies,” Wazni added, without giving a timeframe for the changes. “It costs $500 million a month, $6 billion a year. That’s why the government made the decision to rationalize subsidies and reduce them on some items.” The government will remove certain products, including cashew nuts and some branded coffees, from the subsidized list partly because they were smuggled abroad for profit, Wazni said. It also plans to gradually increase prices at fuel stations in the coming months, reducing gasoline subsidies to 85% from 90%. Subsidies on wheat, medicines and fuel for electricity generation remain for now, Wazni added. “The decision has been taken to reduce subsidies on the food basket,” he said. “The decision that needs to be taken in the coming weeks is the gasoline. Last month, during the lockdown, we had the same consumption so we think something’s wrong.”Wazni acknowledged the measures would fuel inflation -- forecast at 77% this year, before accounting for reduced subsidies. To help poorer people cope, Lebanon will introduce cash transfers via prepaid cards under a program approved by parliament Friday. The government will pay needy families up to 1 million pounds monthly and also secured a $246 million World Bank loan to support 786,000 of the poorest people. Wazni said the government still planned to devalue the currency as part of a transition to a flexible exchange rate, but wouldn’t take that step without an economic reform program and support from the International Monetary Fund to help restore confidence and anchor the pound. Lebanon defaulted on its $30 billion in international debt a year ago. With no reforms or payment plans agreed since, it can’t borrow or attract investors, while the pandemic and banking crisis hit businesses. It was therefore “no surprise” the pound had weakened, according to Wazni. “The situation is: no dollar inflows, less confidence and political impasse, which means uncertainty because you are fearful of the future as the reserves are declining,” he said. “There are financial, economic and political factors that are playing a role and circumstantial factors that led to the fast deterioration in a few days.”The draft budget foresees no increases to income or value added tax. Instead, Wazni proposes a 1% tax on bank deposits above $1 million and a 10% to 30% tax on interest earned by banks on deposits at the central bank. The government has yet to approve the budget, which could face opposition from banks and depositors who’ve already suffered an unofficial haircut of more than 65%.

MPs Approve EDL Treasury Loan amid LF, PSP Objection
Naharnet/March 16/2021
The joint parliamentary committees on Tuesday approved an LBP 300 billion treasury loan for Électricité du Liban, Lebanon's state-run electricity producer, amid the objection of the MPs of the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party. “The central issue was in the equation that was proposed -- either the loan or darkness -- and the MPs were not satisfied at all, considering it a form of blackmail because this issue will always be repeated,” Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli, who chaired the meeting, said. “Personally, I clearly sympathized with the proposal of the Democratic Gathering and the Strong Republic blocs, which called for refraining from approving the draft law and rather issuing a recommendation and stressing that there is an alternative choice, which is the formation of a government,” Ferzli added. “I always emphasize that the real exit is the formation of a government,” he went on to say.
Noting that the loan will be paid from “depositors’ money at the central bank, which amounts to $17 billion,” Ferzli said MPs categorically reject to “finance our negative situation.” “Next time -- God willing after the formation of a government and heading towards salvation -- no loan should be approved under the ‘darkness or approval’ slogan. Next time we will say: leave or darkness!” Ferzli added. Caretaker Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar had warned Thursday that the country would plunge into "total darkness" at the end of the month if no money was secured to buy fuel for power stations.
Power cuts have been common in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, forcing Lebanese to pay a second power bill to private generators for three to 12 hours each day during the outages. Now the country is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, and fast running out of hard currency to back imports.Ghajar warned the state electricity company, EDL, was strapped for cash. Ghajar, who was speaking after meeting President Michel Aoun, warned of repercussions on all sectors if the power went out. "Imagine your life without electricity, internet, phones, hospitals or vaccines... It's surreal to live in the 21st century without electricity," he said. Ghajar has called for emergency funding for the state power company to continue providing power, until a larger loan is approved by parliament. Until now the electricity company had been functioning on the remains of a loan allocated under the 2020 budget, but the 2021 budget has not yet been passed as the country struggles with twin economic and political crises. Lebanon has been importing fuel on a shipment by shipment basis since the start of the year, after a contract with a subsidiary of Algerian state company Sonatrach ran out and was not renewed.
Users on social media lashed out at Ghajar's comments. "What is surreal is that we have these officials in charge," one wrote, echoing widespread sentiment that the country's political elite is incompetent or corrupt and responsible for the country's many crises. The international community has long demanded a complete overhaul of the electricity sector, which has cost the government more than $40 billion since the end of the war. Lebanon's government resigned after a massive blast in Beirut last summer that killed more than 200 people, but a deeply divided political class has failed to agree on a cabinet to replace it.


Senior U.S. General Voices Support for Army in Lebanon Visit
Naharnet/March 16/2021
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), visited Lebanon on March 15, 2021, the U.S. Embassy said. McKenzie met with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), including LAF Commander General Joseph Aoun, where he reaffirmed “the importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability, and sovereignty, and underscored the importance of the strong partnership between the United States and the LAF, particularly as Lebanon endures significant economic challenges,” the Embassy said in a statement. McKenzie was accompanied by USCENTCOM officials and officers, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy C. Shea, and the U.S. Defense Attaché, Robert Meine. The visit to Lebanon also included office calls at the U.S. Embassy, visits to a USAID-funded water pumping and solar power station, and visits to the 3rd Land Border Regiment and a review of LAF operations at several military installations.
“This visit is a great example of the importance of trust and respect,” McKenzie said. “Our relationship with the Lebanese Armed Forces is built upon a mutual desire for security and stability in the region and our ability to train together for collective benefit,” he added.

Activist Accused of Collaborating with Israel Released
Agence France Presse/March 16/2021
A Lebanese court released a social media activist on bail on Tuesday, after her lawyer filed an appeal against a three-year sentence for "collaborating" with Israel, the lawyer and a judicial source said. Kinda al-Khatib, who is in her twenties, was arrested in June and charged with "collaborating with the enemy", "entering the occupied Palestinian territories" and "collaborating with spies of the Israeli enemy". Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel and forbids its citizens from traveling there. Khatib was sentenced to three years in prison in December. "The military appeals court on Tuesday decided to release the activist Kinda al-Khatib in exchange for a bail of three million Lebanese pounds," ($1,990 officially, $200 at the market rate), the judicial source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case. Her lawyer Jocelyne al-Rahi told AFP she had filed an appeal that had been accepted and a new verdict would be issued. "Kinda will continue to appear in court" until the new judgement, she added. Local media reports had said that Khatib visited Israel by crossing from Jordan. Since mass protests erupted against the political class in October 2019, several social media activists have been called in for questioning or intimidated, according to free speech defenders. Khatib's family and activists have denounced her arrest as "political" and a reaction to her tweets against those in power. Amnesty International has called for a trial in a civilian court.

Russia Asks Hizbullah to Play 'Decisive' Role in Govt. Formation Process
Naharnet/March 16/2021
Russia has asked Hizbullah to play a “positive decisive role” in the cabinet formation process, media reports said. The Russian side openly made the request in its talks with a visiting Hizbullah delegation in Moscow on Monday, highly informed sources told Nidaa al-Watan newspaper in remarks published Tuesday. Moscow even asked the party to “press the sides on which it has influence to stop obstructing the government’s formation,” in reference to President Michel Aoun and Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil, the sources added. The Hizbullah delegation for its part told the Russians that the party is “willing to play an effective role by communicating with its allies to facilitate the formation and resolve the obstacles,” the sources said. The delegation also categorically rejected that a one-third-plus-one share be granted to any political camp in the new government, even to allies, the sources added. The Russian side meanwhile focused on the importance of “forming a technocrat government led by PM-designate Saad Hariri so that it be able to pull the country out of its crisis.”“The two sides had identical viewpoints on this matter and the delegation expressed Hizbullah’s keenness on the importance that Hariri himself lead the new government, given his Arab, European and international ties that can efficaciously contribute to bringing aid to Lebanon,” the sources added.

Hezbollah delegation in Moscow receives Israeli warning: Don’t do like the Houthis

The Arab Weekly/March 16/2021
MOSCOW--Western diplomatic sources revealed that Russian authorities passed onto the Lebanese Hezbollah delegation, which began a three-day visit to Moscow on Monday, a message from Israel that Tel Aviv will not put up with military escalation by the militant Shia party from southern Lebanon. The same sources said that Israel asked Moscow to relay the message to Hezbollah in the wake of an Israeli arms build-up in southern Lebanon in recent weeks despite UN forces being stationed there.
The Israeli message confirmed the warning issued by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who said Monday while the Hezbollah delegation was visiting Moscow, “We’re prepared for every scenario on the northern front. I’d recommend that the Lebanese side not test the IDF’s abilities.”
Western diplomatic sources interpreted Gantz’s words as meaning that Israel no longer distinguishes Hezbollah from Lebanon, and that it will not allow the Yemeni scenario to be repeated in southern Lebanon.
The sources said that Israel wanted to draw Hezbollah’s attention to the fact that the launch of missiles from southern Lebanon or from the rest of Lebanese territory towards Israel, like Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, would cause great damage to all of Lebanon. Russia and Iran-backed Hezbollah fight on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Gantz had previously threatened that Israel would harshly respond to any threat by Hezbollah that affects Lebanon and its population.
“If the threats of Hezbollah turn into actions, the result will be painful for it and its leaders, and unfortunately for the Lebanese people as well,” he said.
He added that “there are thousands of homes in Lebanon with weapons storerooms alongside guestrooms. We have the moral obligation to protect Israeli citizens and we will attack these weapons storerooms.”
“If we have to go to battle, Lebanon will tremble and Hezbollah will be fatally wounded,” Gantz said last month. The head of the IDF Home Front Command Major General Uri Gordon warned that Israel would be exposed to 2,000 rockets per day in a future war with Hezbollah, which would pose a challenge to the Israeli military and civil defence capabilities.
“The enemies realize that they cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they are trying to move the war to a second front, which is our homes and our cities,” Gordon said while participating in a military conference on Monday.
He declared that Israel believes that Hezbollah today has an arsenal of about 150,000 rockets, and some of its weapons can target any point inside Israel.The diplomatic sources said that the Russian side, headed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, raised the issue of Lebanese government formation by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri with Hezbollah.
Lavrov met with Hariri in Abu Dhabi during his recent Gulf tour and discussed with him the obstacles that Iran is placing to Lebanon’s cabinet formation process. Sources added that Moscow had raised the issue with the Iranians, who responded that such an issue should be discussed with Hezbollah, not them. In response to a question as to whether the Hezbollah delegation had discussed the issue of forming the Lebanese government with the Russian foreign minister, Lebanese politician Mohammad Raad said “we touched upon the issue in the context of the discussion.”
Raad was quoted by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station as saying after the 40-minute meeting that they had a “friendly and frank meeting.” He also said that a new government should be formed quickly because this “will be the key for stability and to begin solving the crisis.”
Lebanese sources, however, say that Hezbollah’s ambitions to control the next government are the main obstacle to solving the crisis. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said during his contacts with a number of Lebanese officials in conjunction with the visit of the Hezbollah delegation to Moscow, “it is time for a settlement that goes towards forming a government.”Bogdanov invited the head of the Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, and the head of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Franjieh, to visit Russia. Bogdanov held a lengthy meeting with the Hezbollah delegation headed by Raad, after its discussions with the Russian foreign minister. The visit by the four-member Hezbollah delegation comes as Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades and stuck in political stalemate over the formation of a new cabinet.


Hariri Inspects UAE-Donated Field Hospital
Naharnet/March 16/2021
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has inspected the site where the field hospital donated by the United Arab Emirates is being established at Beirut waterfront, his press office said. "This hospital is dedicated for the treatment of coronavirus patients," the press office said in a statement. "The engineers and those in charge of the project informed Hariri of the scheduled date of completion and opening," the statement added.

The Hezbollah Empire in Lebanon and the Assassination of Lokman Slim
Makram Rabah/Politics Today/March 16/2021
مكرم رباح: امبراطورية حزب الله في لبنان واغتيال لقمان سليم
This might be another chapter in Hezbollah’s ongoing drive to dominate Lebanon.

People attend the funeral ceremony of Lokman Slim, after he was kidnapped then found dead, in Beirut, Lebanon on February 11, 2021. Lokman Slim was known for his opposition to the Hezbollah. Photo by Houssam Shbaro. Anadolu Agency.
Almost forty days have passed since the assassination of Lebanese political activist and staunch Hezbollah detractor Lokman Slim, with no evidence or any leads provided by the Lebanese state on the culprits of his heinous murder.
Slim, aged 58, was found dead in his rental car on the morning of February 4, with six bullets in his body, five to his back and one to his head. He was returning from his friend’s house in the southern village of Neha, deep in Hezbollah-controlled territory, 28 km from the Lebanese-Palestinian border.
Slim’s execution-style murder and the mystery that shrouds it has led to the simple conclusion that Hezbollah is responsible for silencing this furious and uncompromising voice against the Iranian militia’s hegemony over the Shiite cultural and public sphere, a hegemonic grip which Hezbollah extended to include different aspects of Lebanon’s non-existent state.
Naturally, Hezbollah denied its involvement or even knowledge of Slim’s assassination and condemned the crime. It asked “the judicial and security authorities concerned to work quickly to expose the culprits and punish them.” Ironically, Hezbollah’s alleged trust in the judicial system was nowhere to be found when the United Nation’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon found high-ranking members of its security apparatus guilty of killing Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
To add insult to injury, in his latest televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, downplayed the killing of Slim speaking for over an hour without mentioning his name, claiming that the fact that Slim was killed in an area controlled by Hezbollah does not indicate their culpability, and hinted that Slim’s killing might be the work of Israel or any Western party which benefits from politically accusing Hezbollah of the murder.
If this were the case and Israel was involved in Slim’s abduction and killing, Hezbollah needs to justify why they did not impose a full lockdown on Slim’s crime scene and why they failed to provide any sort of lead or information to the Lebanese security agencies investigating the crime.
Traditionally, in all security incidents which involve Israel, like the mysterious explosion which rocked the southern village of Ain Qana, Hezbollah was swift to impose a lockdown on the area and prevented the press as well as the Lebanese security agencies from accessing the town, something which they have done multiple times before.
If one is to accept the logic of Nasrallah, or rather the lack thereof, in other words, seeking the help of the judiciary to solve the murder of Slim, it is natural to examine the three elements of any crime – motive, means, and opportunity – and apply them to the life and death of Lokman Slim.
When it comes to motive, Lokman Slim made a career of openly challenging all forms of authority starting with his establishing of UMAM Documentation and Research, an NGO which was concerned with preserving the memories of Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war, memories which Lebanon’s ruling establishment chose to bury alongside the bodies of its fallen victims.
Additionally, as a Shiite activist and a native of the town of Haret Hreik, in the heart of the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, Slim worked diligently to reclaim and challenge the ideological grip of Persian Shi’ism as imported by Hezbollah. This earned Slim and his family daily badgering and intimidations by Hezbollah and their band of hoodlums, some of whom were his neighbors, who went as far as branding him an Israeli collaborator which in Hezbollah’s understanding of the word is a call for murder.
Hezbollah has the required skills to abduct, interrogate, and execute a civilian like Lokman Slim, while equally terrorizing any witnesses from stepping forward and exposing the group.
If we are to explore the means of the crime it would clearly confirm that Hezbollah, with its infinite security and military means, is beyond capable of carrying out a such targeted assassination deep in its controlled areas without leaving any traces or even witnesses. Hezbollah, which is fully immersed in Iran’s regional wars, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and beyond, has the required skills to abduct, interrogate, and execute a civilian like Lokman Slim, while equally terrorizing and preventing any witnesses from stepping forward and exposing the group.
Third, Hezbollah had the opportunity to carry out Slim’s murder simply because they knew they can get away with it – like they have done many a time before. At this particular moment, when the Biden administration and the European Union are so eagerly pursuing the reassumption of the Iranian nuclear deal talks, the killing of Lokman Slim would simply go unnoticed and would join the tens of similar political crimes that remain unsolved.
Consequently, if one is to review the aforementioned legal principles, the first suspect the Lebanese judiciary needs to summon is Nasrallah himself and hundreds of his party members who need to provide alibies and concrete evidence of their innocence. Realistically, however, this utopian judicial measure will never take place as long as Hezbollah is in possession of its Iranian arsenal of arms that grants it absolute powers and full impunity.
Lokman’s murder is simply a preemptive strike carried out by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, that wants to send a violent message to its own Shiite constituency: Hezbollah is are no longer hesitant to kill its own Shiite “brothers” and in their own abode if needed, and any future challenge to its authority will be met with blood and iron.
The brutal assassination of Lokman Slim will continue to perplex people in terms of its timing and its ultimate objectives. Yet, anyone who is slightly familiar with Slim’s life and career does not need to look for justification of why Iran’s Lebanese militia feared Slim’s brave rhetoric and resistance to their prevailing narrative – they feared these more than Israel’s warplanes and hit squads.
To Hezbollah, which is accused of killing Lokman Slim, this might be another chapter in their ongoing drive to dominate Lebanon and the region, but in reality, this might indeed be the epilogue for a horror story which will not end well for the Lebanese villains.
*Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. His book Conflict on Mount Lebanon: The Druze, the Maronites and Collective Memory (Edinburgh University Press) covers collective identities and the Lebanese Civil War.

The fall of Lebanon is a question of when, not if – opinion
Itzhak Levanton/Jerusalem Post/March 16/2021
السفير الإسرائيلي السابق لدى مصر إسحاق ليفانتون كتب في جيروزاليم بوست يقول: سقوط لبنان هو مسألة متى وليس رأي إذا

The collapse of the Lebanese state is not a presumption anymore. It is a question of time, unless drastic steps will be taken.
At the outburst of the civil war in 1975, spreading damage and despair all over the country, the Lebanese army disintegrated. Druze officers joined the Druze forces; the Christian officers, the Christian camp; and the Shi’ites and Sunnis did the same, in a paroxysm of chaos.
The Taif Agreement in 1989 put an end to the civil war, adopted steps to make the army more united, coherent and the guarantor to stability. Today, the army does not fear the specter of fragmentation.
Today, the danger is poverty. The soldiers are not receiving their salaries, for lack of currency. This danger might lead to the disintegration of the military institution from within. Corruption, political stalemate, foreign interference – these are the main causes of Lebanon’s maladies.
Hezbollah enjoys the financial assistance of Iran and can preserve its political and military positions. The other groups don’t have such privilege. Therefore, the terrorist organization won’t hesitate to push Lebanon into the abyss. If this will occur, the organization will complete its “mise de main” over all of Lebanon, and behind it stands Iran.
In that case, the situation is no longer a domestic Lebanese problem. It is regional and, what is more, international.
The Biden administration is so far not showing any public interest. France’s president, who a few months ago visited Lebanon twice and offered an emergency plan, has started to lose hope.
The only Lebanese personality who dared to raise the torch of hope is the head of the Maronite Church, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai. He did not hesitate to touch the hot potato of Hezbollah weapons. He called to distance Lebanon from regional conflict and for an international conference to solve the situation.
Besides the strong words, his initiative is like a call in the desert.
Last October and at the US’s instigation, Israel and Lebanon started negotiations to delineate the maritime border. If successful, this will inject billions into the Lebanese economy.
Hezbollah torpedoed these negotiations, fearing a beginning of normalization with Israel. An additional complication is the Lebanese desire to expand its maritime claim by 1,400 kilometers, which would engulf Karish, an Israeli gas field.
In the face of this grim picture, the American administration should again bring Israelis and Lebanese to the negotiation table and strike a deal on the maritime borders, parallel to convening an international conference. Israel should stand strongly behind the US.
*The writer served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt.

The Power of Not Now/Despite statements to the contrary, Lebanon’s political class seems unenthusiastic about forming a government today.
Mohanad Hage Ali/Carnrgie MEC/March 16/2021
Since the resignation of Lebanon’s government on August 10 last year following the devastating blast in Beirut Port, the Lebanese political class has been moving from one quandary to the other. The country’s pain has deepened as a majority of the population has fallen below the poverty line. The value of the Lebanese pound has collapsed, so that $1.00 is now equivalent to over LP10,000, while the official exchange rate is still at $1.00 equivalent to LP1,500.
In the past seven months, there have been multiple reasons for why the political class has delayed forming a government. This has included disagreement over granting the two Shi‘a parties, Hezbollah and Amal, the finance portfolio, President Michel Aoun’s insistence on holding a blocking third in any new government, and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri’s refusal to hand the Interior and Justice Ministries over to Aoun and his son in law Gebran Bassil.
However, these excuses are becoming less and less convincing. The three major forces in the government-formation process—Hariri’s Future Movement, the Shi‘a parties, and Aoun’s and Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement—are all hesitant to form a government, each for its own reasons. These range from their reading of regional geopolitical realities to their self-interest and political ambitions. They are all taking part in a spectacle bordering on the ridiculous.
Hariri has said that he would like to form a government to implement the French initiative brought to Beirut by President Emmanuel Macron last September. The plan calls for the formation of a “working government” that can implement reforms, which in turn would unlock foreign aid to Lebanon. Yet Hezbollah is not keen to form a government under the French plan, since its patron Iran prefers to deal directly with the United States over Lebanon, rather than with Paris. Hezbollah, in trying to accommodate Tehran, has not sought to break the deadlock in the cabinet formation process.
Iran and Hezbollah also remain wary of the impact of regional shifts after the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, as well as of the nature of a final settlement in Syria. Russia’s relations with Israel have facilitated coordinated Israeli airstrikes on Iran and its allies in Syria. At the same time, Moscow has exploited its relations with certain Gulf states, such as the UAE and Bahrain, to improve their relations with the regime in Damascus. Iran’s primary concern, or fear, is that its presence in Syria will be sacrificed on the altar of Arab reconstruction aid to the country and a normalization of relations between the Gulf states and Damascus, which hypothetically may extend to Israel. Therefore, holding Lebanon hostage increases Iranian leverage with the United States, and to an extent France. By maintaining uncertainty in Lebanon, Hezbollah is signaling that Iran is in charge of its destiny, no one else.
Aoun also does not want a new cabinet that would be formed under the conditions set by Saad Hariri. Instead, he wants to have enough leverage over it to secure the presidency for Bassil after Aoun’s mandate ends in 2022. The president and Bassil had sought veto power over any new government, to put Bassil in a powerful position for the presidency. That demand has since been dropped, given the wave of opposition from across the political spectrum. However, that only makes Aoun less enthusiastic about a government today.
At the same time, Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah is not solid enough to secure the party’s support for Bassil’s presidential ambitions. This has made the president more insecure about his son in law’s political future and about his own disintegrating legacy, which is why he is uneasy about a government that would fail to meet his terms.
Another major problem for Aoun and Bassil is whether they will be able to retain control of the Energy Ministry. If they do not get the portfolio for the first time in over a decade, this could have political implications. Any reforms in the energy sector under a non-Aounist minister would highlight Bassil’s responsibility for Lebanon’s disastrous electricity situation.
Saad Hariri’s calculations are not very different from Aoun’s. Saad’s brother Bahaa, who had not been involved in Lebanese politics, made a comeback in 2017 and has been slowly building his base and securing media influence. He has adopted a critical attitude toward his brother and his concessions to Hezbollah, despite the party’s apparent role in the assassination of their father, Rafik, in 2005. Saad’s attempt to rebuild his ties with Saudi Arabia and improve his financial situation have failed. Basically, if he concedes to Hezbollah and Aoun on the finance, interior, and justice ministries, he may face Saudi opposition, which could increase his brother’s influence.
In addition to all these reasons, the political class in general does not appear eager to form a government, as it would need to implement painful reforms in order to unlock foreign aid. The country’s leaders would prefer a bailout in the context of a shift in regional or international politics, as the requested reforms today would require them to give up their leverage and patronage networks in the system.
By the same token, a consensus government would revive the narrative of the October 17 uprising, namely that the whole political class is responsible for the calamitous state of affairs in Lebanon. Therefore, the delay in the government is the result of a collective choice, and the politicians’ blame game is merely an act. Ultimately, they prefer to allow the current caretaker government of Hassan Diab to take the explosive step of lifting the remaining subsidies on vital goods. Only then would a new cabinet step in and pick up the pieces, preferably within the context of some sort of U.S.-Iran understanding. The political class views procrastination as the most suitable policy to serve its interests and those of its patrons abroad.
The Aounist Elites’ Ethics
Hazem Saghieh/Asharq Al-Awsat/March,16/2021
Many hold their hearts as soon as they see any Aounist activist or high-ranking official on TV. Scandal is on its way! Parents would rush to tuck their kids in bed to save them from hearing offensive statements. Facial expressions change...
In such situations, viewers would be expecting one of three things to happen: Either a sexual insult against a woman who has an opposing opinion to that of Aounists, a racist obscenity directed against Syrians or Palestinians, or a sectarian attack against Muslims as a whole. A lack of courtesy and civility is precisely what defines their rhetoric. Other Lebanese parties and movements could commit actions of this kind, but this remains an exception limited to situations of maximum tension and fury. With the Aounists, it is the rule. It could be expressed angrily, but it is often said calmly, as though it is something normal that one does not need to be get carried away or become infuriated to say. Their television station, OTV, is the most prominent platform for espousing this stuff, though it seeps through to other stations.
In all likelihood, obscenity has never been absent from Aounist elites’ political rhetoric, but it has never been as intense and commonplace as it is today. Behind this, most probably, is a sense of being detached and disconnected from everything. From everything that binds the person speaking to whoever is listening, thus to any form of public responsibility. The state and institutions? Economic success? “The strong reign?” Combating corruption? Lebanon’s image in the world? These are some of the Aounist headlines that ended up becoming irrelevant. “This has nothing to do with us”..it is said.
Nevertheless, the disconnection manifests itself most clearly in two headings, the most intimate to Aounists:
Defending Christians’ rights and interests and loyalty to the army, from whose ranks Michel Aoun has emerged.
However, today, after the October 17 Revolution and especially after the August 4 port explosion, the Christians do not associate Aounists with anything but the erosion of their rights and the undermining of their interests. As for the subjugated army, its conditions are no different from that of the people; the dispute between its commander, Joseph Aoun, and the president of the republic has become political life’s major news story.
This disconnection culminates in the fact that the multi-faceted crisis that exploded during the Aounist reign was met with pitiful rationalization and wicked behavior. There is an absolute inability to rationalize what is happening, coupled with interpretations that are filled with conspiracies. In terms of behavior, there is greed that broadly induces disgust because it is impeding the formation of a government, which is a condition for reform, which is, in turn, the condition for obtaining loans and aid.
This allows us to say that Aounism has failed to become anything more than a contingency, a fleeting movement in Lebanese political life, especially Christian political life. Neither is it another Chamounism nor is it another Chehabism. It is neither a new Constitutional Bloc, National Bloc, or Kataeb. It will most likely not last long.
Of course, things haven’t always been like this. Previously, up until the 2016 presidential election, Aounists enjoyed overwhelming popular support, representing over two-thirds of Christians. The Aounists managed to reach an “understanding” with Hezbollah, which was a gateway to changing the traditional Christian attitudes. The latter, for the first time in their modern history, came to despise the West and fawn over the security regime in Syria. They even came to adore “resistance”, especially since those who were killed pursuing it were members of another religious sect. Moreover, it seemed to many that the Aounists, who had opposed the Taef Accord and had not taken part in any of that era’s governments, had the moral high ground. Today, all of that has changed. Some observers have begun predicting that Hezbollah will abandon the “understanding” concluded with them because they no longer provide the party with anything substantial. It is from this dissociation from everything around them that the Aounist elites’ new ethos springs. It is similar to the ethos of those who were fighting in the markets of Beirut during the Two Years War: They would exchange profanities directed against parents and sanctities, while they were isolated from a frightened society sheltered at home; they had no considerations but persistence for the longest time possible in their isolation that exacerbated as the fighting went on.
Fighters, in this case, revert to their most basic instincts, the worst of what they have inherited from their social classes, regions and upbringing. To the lumpen-ness that results from being disconnected from everything alive, productive and mobile. Those fighters would defecate or urinate in public and private places that had previously been hotels, schools, and places of worship. They were doing everything that is not doable. In this sense, it was not astonishing when the Aounists received the largest share of insults hurled by the revolution’s protesters. What is astonishing is that their milieu considered those insults “obscene.”

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 16-17/2021

US report says Russia, Iran and Hezbollah meddled in 2020 election
Reuters/March 16, 2021 19:36
Iran launched a 'multi-pronged covert influence campaign' to undercut Trump’s support, US intelligence agencies found
Putin likely directed a Russian effort to manipulate the election in trump's favor
WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin knew of and likely directed a Russian effort to manipulate the 2020 US presidential campaign to benefit former President Donald Trump with “misleading or unsubstantiated allegations” against challenger Joe Biden, US intelligence officials said on Tuesday.
The assessment was made in a 15-page report into election interference released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It underscored allegations that Trump’s allies played into Moscow’s hands by amplifying claims made against Biden by Russian-linked Ukrainian figures in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election. Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump, a Republican, and became president on Jan. 20.
US intelligence agencies found other attempts to sway voters, including a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” by Iran intended to undercut Trump’s support. Trump pulled the United States out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and imposed fresh sanctions.
The report also punctured a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing “did not deploy interference efforts.”
“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report said.
US officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran.”
US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russia also interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
The Russian, Chinese and Cuban Embassies in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations and the Venezuelan Ministry of Information also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran routinely deny allegations of cyberespionage and subterfuge.
The new report said Putin knew of and “probably directed” the election interference efforts. As an example, Putin “had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach,” a Ukrainian lawmaker who played a prominent role in the effort and has ties to Russian intelligence, the report said.
“We assess Russian leaders preferred that former President Trump win re-election despite perceiving some of his administration’s policies as anti-Russia. We have high confidence in this assessment,” the report stated.
A key role was also played by a second man with Russian intelligence ties, Konstantin Kilimnik, according to the report. Kilimnik and Derkach met with and gave materials to Trump-linked people to push for formal investigations, and Derkach released four audio recordings to try to implicated Biden in corruption, it said.
That refers to conversations that right-wing figures in the United States cited as evidence that Biden tried to protect his son Hunter from a probe in Ukraine.
Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman. Trump last year pardoned Manafort for a criminal conviction that stemmed from Mueller’s investigation.
Russian agents also tried to “phish” employees of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, “likely in an attempt to gather information related to President Biden’s family,” it said. Hunter Biden had served on Burisma’s board.
As in the 2016 election, the Russian so-called troll factory formerly known as the Internet Research Agency pushed disparaging stories on social media about Biden and Democrats and complained about censorship by the tech companies, the report said. It also sought to exacerbate US divisions on racial justice issues, the report said.


Netanyahu: Israel will have four more peace deals soon..."I brought four peace agreements, and there are another four on the way."
Jerusalem Post/March 16/2021
Israel is on the way to making peace with four more countries in the region, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday. “I brought four peace agreements, and there are another four on the way,” he said in an interview with Ynet. “I talked about one of them yesterday.”“One of the leaders in the region” had called him on Monday night, and they spoke for 45 minutes, he said. Netanyahu rebuffed accusations that he did not attend a planned Likud event in Ashkelon on Monday night because of the threat of rocket fire from Gaza. Rather, he was speaking to the regional leader, and since he does not have good cellphone reception in his armored car, he would not have been able to conduct the call on the way to Ashkelon, he said. “I don’t want there to be [rocket] launches because of me and because of a political event, but that was not the reason,” Netanyahu said. “We were significantly late… I will visit Ashkelon, and we will take care of their security.”Over the past year, Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Several countries are thought to be considering following suit, including Niger, Mauritania, Indonesia and others. Ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have grown closer in recent years. Netanyahu met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November, and they considered meeting in Abu Dhabi last week. However, Netanyahu’s trip to the UAE was delayed due to a diplomatic imbroglio between Israel and Jordan.


Israel's Bennett: Right-Winger, Likely Kingmaker and Possible PM?
Agence France Presse/March 16/2021
Israel's Naftali Bennett is a multi-millionaire former high-tech entrepreneur who made a name in politics with hardline religious-nationalist rhetoric and who could be the kingmaker following Israel's election next week. Bennett leads the Yamina party, which has backed Israel's proposed annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, while Bennett himself has made pitches to hard-right voters throughout his career. As the former defense minister eyes a return to government, he has highlighted his management experience, arguing he is the man to heal Israel's pandemic-battered economy. Bennett had been part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition that collapsed in 2018. But he was not asked to join the Netanyahu-led unity government formed in May, a move seen as an expression of the premier's personal contempt towards him, despite their shared ideology. Bennett entered politics after selling his tech start-up for $145 million in 2005 and the next year became chief of staff to Netanyahu, who was then in opposition. He was widely regarded as a Netanyahu protege, but now he could play a starring role in ending the prime minister's record 12-year tenure. Polls point to another inconclusive result in the March 23 vote, Israel's fourth in two years. While the precise vote share is impossible to predict, multiple scenarios suggest Yamina's seats will be decisive in determining whether Netanyahu, or the anti-Netanyahu bloc, can form a majority. Bennett has said he could sit in an anti-Netanyahu government, but he has not ruled out joining the premier, especially if that helps avoid a dreaded fifth election.
Put aside politics -
A former special forces commando who will be 49 two days after the election, Bennett is the son of US-born parents and lives with his wife Galit and four children in the central city of Raanana. After leaving Netanyahu's office he became in 2010 the head of the Yesha Council, which lobbies for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. He then took politics by storm in 2012 when he took charge of the hard-right Jewish Home party, which was facing extinction from parliament. He increased its parliamentary presence fourfold, while making a series of incendiary comments about the Palestinian conflict.
In 2013, he said Palestinian "terrorists should be killed, not released." He also argued that the West Bank is not under occupation because "there was never a Palestinian state here", and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be resolved but must be endured like a piece of "shrapnel in the buttocks." Beyond holding the defense portfolio, Bennett has served as Netanyahu's economy minister and education minister. He re-branded Jewish Home as Yamina (Rightward) in 2018. In opposition and with the coronavirus pandemic raging last year, Bennett dampened his right-wing rhetoric to focus on the health crisis, releasing plans to contain the virus and aid the economy. He has sought to broaden his appeal, and in Israel's chaotic and divided political scene, he has an outside shot at being prime minister in an anti-Netanyahu coalition. "In the next years we need to put aside politics and issues like annexation or a Palestinian state, and focus on gaining control over the coronavirus pandemic, healing the economy and mending internal rifts," he told army radio in November.

Israel's Arabs Stage Flash Mob to Highlight Fatal Shootings in Their Community
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
At Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle, buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, around a dozen young people suddenly began to collapse slowly and theatrically to the ground, to the shock and confusion of Israelis out shopping or enjoying a coffee. “Did it scare you?”, flash mob organizer Mohamd Jabarin asked those watching, and proceeded to explain the intention - to draw attention to a surge of shootings within Israel’s Arab community and accuse police of failing to tackle the violence. At least 24 Arab citizens of Israel have been shot dead this year, mostly by unknown assailants from within their towns and villages. The shootings, most often crime and gang related, have become a defining issue for the 21% minority ahead of a March 23 national election. The largest expression of the frustration and anger felt by the community has come through anti-violence protests by tens of thousands in Umm al-Fahm and other Arab towns.
But the flash mobs are an attempt to raise awareness of the shootings in the heart of Jewish Israeli towns. Demonstrators accuse the police of turning a blind eye to the violence, which they say is a result of poverty and years of underinvestment in their minority communities. Israel’s police say they investigate all shootings and are continuing their work to gather illegal weapons, arrest all criminals and bring them to justice. “The only solution for the inaction of the police ... is to take to the streets and mobilize the Palestinian Arab people,” said Enab Mhajne, 19, at the Umm al-Fahm protest on Friday.
Behind her protesters waved Palestinian flags, an unusual sight on the streets of Israel. Israel’s Arabs - Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship - are mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s creation in 1948. Some Arab politicians have advocated working with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the violence. Posters of Netanyahu have begun appearing in Arab neighborhoods of cities like Haifa with a slogan bearing the Arabic slogan “We are with you”. Netanyahu, who many Arabs accuse of discrimination against their community, has pledged 100 million shekels ($30.24 million) to combat violence in Arab localities. But Luna Hasan, another one of the flash mob organizers, said Arabs should focus on collective action to address the shootings, rather than rely on any one politician. “Arabs are represented in every aspect of the economy, in almost every aspect of life in Israel ... we deserve safety, and we deserve protection,” Hasan, 24, said.

Assad Decrees Financial Stimulus amid Stifling Crisis in Syria
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
Amid sharp economic decline, Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree on Tuesday granting hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and soldiers a one-time financial stimulus, equivalent to an average monthly salary. The stimulus — the third since October — comes as the national currency is crashing, now at 4,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared to 700 a year ago. The official rate for the dollar is fixed at 1,256 Syrian pounds for $1. Nearly 80% of Syrians live in poverty, and 60% are food insecure — the worst food security situation ever seen in Syria, according to the United Nations. The decree stated that a one-time 50,000 Syrian pounds, which is nearly $11 on the black market, would go to public sector workers, including those on part-time contracts and conscripts. And 40,000 Syrian pounds would be dispensed to pensioners. Inflation has hit between 180 and 300%, according to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics. The price of a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sugar has gone from 700 Syrian pounds to around 2,400 this year. Economist Ziad Ghosn said the one-time payment is equivalent to the average monthly salary and estimated the cost of the stimulus would be around 120 billion Syrian pounds. He also estimated the stimulus would reach about 2 million people. Syrians have been struggling with deteriorating economic conditions, shortages of basic goods and medicine, and have been forced to wait in long lines to buy subsidized bread and fuel. A decade of conflict has caused huge devastation to the Syrian economy, isolated its government and displaced its people, driving most of them into poverty. The pandemic restrictions have added to pressure on the economy, compounded by the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, which has been a bridge to Syria economically and financially. More than half a million people have been killed in Syria's 10-year conflict that has also left the country's infrastructure in ruins and most of its oil and agriculture resources outside of government control.


21 Troops Killed in Ambush in South Syria
Agence France Presse/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
Gunmen killed 21 Syrian soldiers in an ambush in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday, a Britain-based war monitor said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 "members of the Fourth Armored Division and the regime's intelligence units were killed in an ambush by militants."State news agency SANA reported a "terrorist attack" on a military bus in Daraa, but did not give details of numbers killed. The soldiers were en route to the al-Mzairib district in the rural west of the province to arrest a former opposition commander when they came under fire by militants loyal to him who sought to thwart his capture, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said. "The militants attacked two military trucks and two small buses carrying regime forces," he added. That sparked a gunfight which forced Damascus to deploy reinforcements to the area, Abdul Rahman said. Russian-backed regime fighters recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, in a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011. State institutions have since returned, but the army is still not deployed across the whole province, the Observatory says. Many former rebels stayed instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal, either joining the army or remaining in control of parts of the province. They were allowed to keep their light firearms. Al-Mzairib is among the districts controlled by former opposition forces. Since it came under regime control, Daraa has witnessed a spate of bombings and assassinations targeting regime forces, former opposition figures and civilians. Most of them remain unclaimed. Syria's war has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions since it started with anti-government protests in 2011.

Turkey Urges Russia to Prevent Syrian Regime From Targeting Civilians
Ankara- Saeed Abdulrazek/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
Turkey has called on Russia to prevent the Syrian regime forces from targeting Turkish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
Ballistic missiles were fired from the Syrian government-run Kuweires airbase in Aleppo and struck al-Bab and Jarablus towns, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday. The raid “targeted civilian settlements and fuel tankers … civilians were wounded,” the ministry added in a tweet.
“After the firing started in the [Operation] Euphrates Shield area and civilians were targeted, a notification was sent to the Russian Federation side to stop the shooting and the determined targets were put under fire,” the ministry stated. Turkish troops in the region “have been alerted” and the developments are being followed, it added. In response, the Turkish base stationed in Jabal Aqeel, in the vicinity of al-Bab city, targeted government forces positions in Nubl, Zahraa, and Tadef towns, east of Aleppo. Separately, Turkish intelligence agents have captured a senior figure from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, which Ankara considers an extension of the “banned” Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ibrahim Babat, described by Turkish state news agency Anadolu as a YPG “brigade commander,” was caught during an operation inside Syria while he was driving in an unspecified location. He was brought back to Turkey, the agency said, adding that he provided information on plans to attack Turkish military posts on the Turkey-Syria border. Hand-made explosives, landmines, and electric detonators were seized in Babat’s possession to be used in later attacks on the Operation Peace Spring area, it added. The Kurdish figure joined the PKK/YPG in 2011, started with his activities in rural areas in Iraq before moving to Syrian in 2017, where he was promoted in the group.

Greece, Turkey Resume Preliminary Talks on Maritime Dispute
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
Greece and Turkey began another round of exploratory talks in Athens on Tuesday, seeking common ground on a long-standing maritime boundaries dispute before a European Union summit later this month. The two neighboring NATO allies are at odds over issues such as competing claims over their respective continental shelves, maritime rights and air space in the Mediterranean, energy, ethnically split Cyprus, and the status of some islands in the Aegean. Underlining the tensions, Turkey this week protested against a deal between Greece, Israel and Cyprus for an undersea cable linking their electricity grids. According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Ankara believes the planned route for the cable runs through Turkey's continental shelf. The exploratory talks are meant to lay the ground for formal negotiations but the two countries have made little progress in more than 60 rounds of meetings since 2002 and cannot even agree on what issues to discuss, Reuters reported. Ending a five-year hiatus, officials met in January after months of tension in the eastern Mediterranean. Diplomatic sources said another round of talks had resumed in a central Athens hotel on Tuesday, however no details have been given on the substance of the meetings. Athens has said it will discuss only the demarcation of exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, not issues of "national sovereignty". Ankara, which hopes to improve its relations with the European Union, which has supported EU-member Greece and threatened sanctions on Turkey, has said it wants all issues, including air space and the Aegean islands, on the table. The talks are scheduled to end on Wednesday. European leaders are expected to discuss the eastern Mediterranean at a meeting on March 25-26. Greece, which in recent years has reached maritime accords with Italy and Egypt, argues that if the two sides fail to agree, they should refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

HRW Says Rebel Fire Caused Yemen Blaze that Killed Migrants
Agence France Presse/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that "unidentified projectiles" launched by Yemen's Huthi rebels caused a March 7 blaze that killed dozens of migrants at a holding facility in the capital.
The Iran-backed rebels control much of northern Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, whose capture from the Saudi-backed government in 2014 sparked a devastating war. "Scores of migrants burned to death in Yemen on March 7, 2021, after Huthi security forces launched unidentified projectiles into an immigration detention center in Sanaa, causing a fire," HRW said in a statement. It said detainees -- most of them Ethiopian migrants -- had been protesting against overcrowding when camp guards rounded up hundreds of them into a hangar and fired two projectiles into the building. "The migrants said the first projectile produced a lot of smoke and made their eyes water and sting. The second, which the migrants called a 'bomb', exploded loudly and started a fire," HRW said. Footage that AFP obtained from one of the survivors showed dozens of charred bodies piled on top of one another and strewn across the ground, with one person crying out in prayer.Another video published by HRW showed security forces walking among survivors outside the facility, as the fire raged inside with black smoke billowing. HRW said hundreds of injured migrants were being treated in hospitals in Sanaa where a "heavy security presence" had posed problems for humanitarian agencies. It cited interviewees as saying they saw the Huthis rearrest migrants who were not severely injured. "Huthi authorities should urgently engage with Ethiopian authorities whose nationals are languishing in Yemeni detention centers under their control," HRW said.
- 'I was terrified' -
Last week, the International Organization for Migration urged the rebels to provide unimpeded access to the injured. It said more than 170 people had been hurt, over half of them seriously, and cited local migrant groups as saying as many as 60 people were killed. "I don't have the words to express what it was like – (the projectiles) exploded, and there was so much smoke and then there was a fire that spread," HRW quoted a 20-year-old migrant as saying. "I was terrified, I felt like my mind was blocked with smoke." In correspondence with HRW, Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said the incident "should not be politicized or exploited." "The incident that took place was a normal result that occurs in similar incidents all over the world," he said, according to the statement. He called for the lifting of a longstanding Saudi-led blockade on Sanaa's rebel-controlled airport, so migrants "can return home."The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to back the government against the rebels. Since then, tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Despite more than six years of conflict, the impoverished country is still a magnet for migrants from the nearby Horn of Africa seeking a better life in the wealthy Gulf Arab states.


U.S., Japan Warn China on 'Coercion, Destabilizing Behavior'
Agence France Presse/Tuesday, 16 March, 2021
The United States and Japan warned Beijing against "coercion and destabilizing behavior" on Tuesday after top-level diplomatic and defense talks aimed at bolstering their alliance against rising Chinese influence. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken are on their first overseas trip, which began Monday in Japan, looking to shore up regional alliances and send a message to Beijing. They will continue on to South Korea, and a policy review by the new administration of its approach to Pyongyang is also a key part of the diplomatic outreach. But discussions in Tokyo focused on China's maneuvers in the region, including its increasing presence around islands disputed with Japan. "China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law," Blinken said at a joint press conference. "We're united in a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate wherever they can and resolve their differences peacefully." "We will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way." In a joint statement, the U.S. officials and their Japanese counterparts also warned that "China's behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges." "The ministers committed to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region," they added.
No comment on Pyongyang remarks
Issues from the coup in Myanmar to the way forward with North Korea were also on the table. Blinken accused the Myanmar military of "attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election", saying it was "brutally repressing peaceful protesters."But he declined to comment on the latest bombastic pronouncement from North Korea, where leader Kim Jong Un's sister earlier Tuesday warned Washington against "struggling to spread the smell of gunpowder on our land from across the ocean". The joint statement called again for Pyongyang's "complete denuclearization", warning North Korea's arsenal "poses a threat to international peace and stability."Blinken said Washington was still examining "whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that make sense" as it reviews US policy on the issue. "We reached out to the North Korean government through several channels, starting in mid-February, including in New York. To date we have not received a response from Pyongyang," he added. "This follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple attempts by the United States to engage."
President Joe Biden's decision to dispatch the two top officials to Asia has been interpreted as evidence of the administration's determination to set the agenda with Beijing. Even before Blinken and Austin set out, they made clear in a joint opinion piece that countering Beijing's moves in the region would be top of their agenda. "Together, we will hold China accountable," they wrote in the Washington Post. "If we don't act decisively and lead, Beijing will."
- 'Disruptive developments' -
The joint statement issued Tuesday specifically referenced the "importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait", though Austin declined to comment on whether he agreed with a recent US assessment that Beijing could invade the island within six years. "My job is to make sure that we are as ready, as fast as we can possibly be to face any challenge that would face us or the alliance," he said. The ministers also specifically referenced the increasing Chinese presence in the waters around the Senkaku islands, known in Beijing as the Diaoyu islands. The disputed islets are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, and Japan has voiced repeated protests over Chinese boats around the islands, as well as a new Chinese law involving the area. The statement expressed "serious concerns about recent disruptive developments in the region", including the law, warning that both sides would oppose "any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo or to undermine Japan's administration of these islands". Blinken and Austin are in Asia after a key summit between leaders of the Quad alliance, which groups the US, Australia, Japan and India, and Austin will continue to New Delhi after Seoul. The pair on Tuesday also met Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who said he hoped to hold "productive talks" with Biden when he becomes the first world leader to meet the new US president in person, in a trip planned for next month. Blinken will hold talks with Chinese officials in the United States after his stop in Seoul.


N. Korean Leader's Sister Warns U.S. as Biden Envoys Begin Asia Trip
Agence France Presse/March 16/2021
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's influential sister warned the United States against "causing a stink", state media reported Tuesday, as top Biden administration officials began a visit to key allies Tokyo and Seoul. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Japan on Monday on their first overseas trip, aimed at rallying military alliances as a bulwark against China and cementing a united front against the nuclear-armed North. The statement by Kim Yo Jong, a key adviser to her brother, was Pyongyang's first explicit reference to the new leadership in Washington, more than four months after Joe Biden was elected to replace Donald Trump -- although it still did not mention the Democrat by name. The United States and South Korea began joint military exercises last week and Pyongyang's official news agency carried a statement from her warning the new U.S. administration: "If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step." Trump's unorthodox approach to foreign policy saw him trade insults and threats of war with Kim Jong Un before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that saw a series of headline-grabbing meetings.
But ultimately no progress was made towards Washington's declared aim of denuclearizing North Korea, which is under multiple international sanctions for its banned weapons programs. It has isolated itself further, imposing a strict border closure to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighboring China. Shortly before Biden's January inauguration, leader Kim decried the U.S. as his country's "foremost principal enemy" and Pyongyang unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade.
'Crisis in March'
The talks process was brokered by South Korea's President Moon Jae-in but relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have been in deep freeze since Kim and Trump's summit in Hanoi collapsed in February 2019. Kim Yo Jong is a trusted adviser to her brother and was a key voice when inter-Korean tensions mounted last year, culminating in the North blowing up a liaison office on its side of the border. Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, pointed out that her announcements have previously represented incremental steps by Pyongyang. "North Korea has judged that the U.S. will not offer enough concessions and so has released this statement ahead of Blinken and Austin's visit to Seoul," he told AFP. There was a "high possibility" of a military provocation by North Korea during or immediately after the Americans' trip, he added. Seoul and Washington are treaty allies, with the United States stationing around 28,500 troops in South Korea to defend it against its neighbor, and they began computer-simulated joint military exercises last week. The North always condemns such drills as preparations for invasion, and in her statement, Kim Yo Jong said Seoul had "opted for 'war in March' and 'crisis in March'... instead of 'warmth in March'"."Those warm spring days three years ago, which they desire so much, won't come easily again", she added, threatening to scrap a North-South military agreement "if they dare resort to more provocative acts."
New York channel
Austin and Blinken arrived in Tokyo on Monday and held talks Tuesday that focused on China but also addressed the new administration's review of US policy towards Pyongyang. In a joint statement, the U.S. and Japanese officials called again for "the complete denuclearization of North Korea" -- a phrase that is anathema to Pyongyang, which prefers the broader and more ambiguous "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." Blinken declined to comment on Kim Yo Jong's warning, saying: "We're looking at whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that make sense, all of that is under review." He and Austin are due to hold consultations with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul on Thursday. Washington has attempted to reach out to Pyongyang "through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York", state department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters on Monday. "To date, we've not received any response from Pyongyang," she added. The "New York channel" is a reference to the North's mission to the United Nations, as Pyongyang and Washington do not maintain diplomatic relations.


Ancient Christian ruins discovered in Egypt’s Western desert
The Arab Weekly/March 16/2021
CAIRO--A French-Norwegian archaeological team has discovered new Christian ruins in Egypt’s Western Desert, revealing monastic life in the region in the fifth century AD, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said Saturday. The mission unearthed “several buildings made of basalt, others carved into the bedrock and some made of mud bricks” during its third excavation at the Tal Ganoub Qasr al-Agouz site in the Bahariya Oasis, the ministry said in a statement. The complex is comprised of “six sectors containing the ruins of three churches and monks’ cells” whose “walls bear graffiti and symbols with Coptic connotations,” said Osama Talaat, head of Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities at the ministry. Mission head Victor Ghica said the “19 structures and a church carved into the bedrock” were discovered last year. The church walls were decorated with “religious inscriptions” and Biblical passages in Greek, revealing “the nature of monastic life in the region,” Ghica said, according to the statement. It clearly showed that monks were present there from the fifth century AD, he said, adding that the discovery helped understand “the development of buildings and the formation of the first monastic communities” in this region of Egypt. The remote site, located in the desert south-west of the capital Cairo, was occupied from the fourth to eighth centuries, with a likely peak of activity around the fifth and sixth centuries, according to the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology (IFAO), in charge of the mission.
Previous excavations undertaken in 2009 and 2013 shed light on subjects including “the production and preservation of wine as well as the husbandry of animals” in a monastic context, according to the IFAO. Cairo has announced several major new archaeological discoveries in recent months in the hope of spurring tourism, a sector that has suffered multiple blows, from a 2011 uprising to the coronavirus pandemic. In February, it said a high-production brewery believed to be more than 5,000 years old had been uncovered at a funerary site in the country’s south. Also last month, an Egyptian-Dominican archaeological mission working near Alexandria announced it had discovered mummies from around 2,000 years ago bearing golden-tongued amulets.In January, Egypt unveiled ancient treasures found at the Saqqara archaeological site south of Cairo, including sarcophagi over 3,000 years old, in a discovery that “rewrites history,” according to famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 16-17/2021

Turkey prepares to clash with Israel, Greece and EU over East Med
Seth Frantman/Jerusalem Post/ March 16/2021
Ankara’s goal is to break up Israel’s relations. It has also sought to entice Egypt with claims of reconciliation in the last month.
Turkey has sent a diplomatic note to Greece and Israel claiming that the two countries must seek “its permission before assuming work on a proposed undersea power cable in eastern Mediterranean waters,” according to reports in Ankara on Monday night.
This comes just days after Israel ended a naval drill with Cyprus, Greece and France. Turkey signed a deal with the embattled government in Libya in 2019 and has been threatening claims by Nicosia and Athens at sea over the past year.
In April and December 2020, Turkey claimed it wanted to reconcile with Israel, seeking to entice it away from an emerging partnership with Greece.
Turkey’s pro-government media even sought to send maps to Israel, claiming it could sign a maritime deal with Jerusalem that would wipe Cyprus' claims off the map.
Instead, Israel and Cyprus have amicable ties and a maritime boundary that they agree on. Israel is getting new Sa’ar 6 ships to defend its EEZ at sea and its gas platforms.
In addition, Israel signed a deal with Greece and Cyprus for an East Med pipeline last summer and is part of a gas forum with them and other states, including Egypt.
Turkey’s goal is to break up Israel’s relations. It has also sought to entice Egypt with claims of reconciliation in the last month.
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Egypt has said that Turkey must enact domestic reforms to pave the way for normalization. Turkey hosts Hamas and other terrorist organizations which threaten Egypt and Israel.
“In a diplomatic note sent to the two countries' embassies and the EU delegation on Monday, Ankara said the three must seek its permission before conducting any work on Turkey's continental shelf, according to diplomatic sources,” Turkish media says.
Turkey is angry that Cyprus, Israel and Greece “last week signed an initial agreement on laying the world's longest undersea power cable linking their electricity grids.”
Ankara’s latest claim is that projected plans of the 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) EuroAsia Interconnector show it passing through Turkey's continental shelf, Turkish media reports.
Turkey apparently wants to use this threat hanging over claims regarding the cable to blackmail Israel. To show how it will use this, the government in Turkey gave its marching orders to state and pro-government media.
THE REGIME has arrested, jailed or forced into exile all critical journalists so that its media reflects the government stance. Daily Sabah, TRT and Anadolu rushed to print government claims about the continental shelf and the “note” Turkey is sending.
Turkey’s new note shows its real face compared to the claims of reconciliation last year. It has also slammed Kosovo for opening relations with Israel and has tried to sabotage the new Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain.
Ankara is also angry that Sudan and Israel are now making peace. These are setbacks for the belligerent country that backs Hamas and has tried to isolate Israel over the last decade.
Up until about 15 years ago, Turkey and Israel had good relations. Since then, however, Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power and has become increasingly authoritarian while his country has turned into a leading opponent of the Jewish state. It even compared Israel to Nazi Germany in comments at the UN in 2019.
Now, Turkey finds itself isolated in the region. Its only friends are Qatar, Hamas and the weak Libyan government, as well as some extremists in northern Syria known more for ethnic cleansing and working as mercenaries for Ankara than accomplishing anything else.
Ankara wants to put on a new face, speaking recently with Russia and Qatar about Syria and also having its leader Erdogan pen an op-ed in Bloomberg. However, it has managed to alienate France and many other countries.
The US may work with Turkey on hosting a Taliban peace conference, although it appears to prefer Russia and Iran to working with the West and the US. Even NATO appears to now be concerned about Turkey’s crackdown on democracy and its drift toward Russia and China.
By setting up a challenge to Greece and Israel, Turkey may be preparing the way for increased tensions down the road with Cyprus, Egypt and France. These countries, along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, appear to have increasingly shared interests.
In addition, America and India, as well as other Quad countries, want to work more closely with France – and France and India both want to work with the UAE.
This means that an underwater cable or gas pipeline may be symbolic of larger, changing dynamics. Turkey, for instance, is nonplussed that Saudi Arabia is also working with Greece.

Attention President Biden: Yemen's Houthi Rebels are Iranian-backed Terrorists
Con Coughlin/Gatestone Institute/March 16/2021
[T]he Houthis have also used the sophisticated weaponry they have received from Iran, such as drones and ballistic missiles, to broaden the conflict into neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition military campaign to re-establish Yemen's democratically-elected government.
[US sanctions were] promptly denounced by humanitarian and aid agencies, which claimed that designating the Houthis as terrorists would impede the global effort to help Yemen's starving population, an argument that appears perverse as the Houthis control most of the key aid supply routes, and regularly steal aid supplies to sell on the black market and fund their terrorist operations.
So far this month the Houthis have launched more than 20 drone and missile attacks against predominantly civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. In the most high profile attack, the Houthis used an explosive-laden drone and a ballistic missile against the Saudi petroleum plant at Ras Tanura, prompting global oil prices to rise above $70 a barrel earlier this week, its highest in more than a year.
Mr Biden has indicated he is keen to revive the controversial nuclear deal with Iran and, by easing the pressure on the Houthis, whose success on the battlefield is entirely due to the weapons and support they receive from Tehran, the White House was hoping to send a message to Iran that it was serious about having a constructive dialogue with Tehran. Instead, in the weeks since Mr Biden lifted the FTO, the region has seen a significant increase in Houthi activity.
[B]y helping to facilitate these attacks by providing the Houthis with sophisticated weapons, Tehran is showing that, far from seeking improved relations with the new US administration, it remains committed to pursuing an uncompromising policy of aggression throughout the Middle East, one that is unlikely to result in the resumption of talks on the problematic issue of Iran's nuclear programme anytime soon.
So far this month the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched more than 20 drone and missile attacks against predominantly civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. Pictured: Supporters of the Houthis protest against the US designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation, on January 20, 2021, in Sanaa, Yemen.
US President Joe Biden has good reason to regret his hasty decision to remove the terrorist designation applied to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen after they responded to his act of benevolence by unleashing a fresh wave of attacks in the Middle East.
The Houthis and their Iranian backers are primarily responsible for starting Yemen's long and bitter civil war after they overthrew the democratically-elected government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2014.
Apart from helping to create what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster, the Houthis have also used the sophisticated weaponry they have received from Iran, such as drones and ballistic missiles, to broaden the conflict into neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which is leading the coalition military campaign to re-establish Yemen's democratically-elected government.
In one of their more outrageous acts of provocation, the Houthis fired missiles at Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and continually attack civilian targets in both Yemen and Saudi.
It was behaviour like this that prompted former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to designate the Houthis a terrorist organisation in the dying days of Donald Trump's administration.
Announcing the decision to designate the Houthi movement -- known formally as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God) -- as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) on the day before Mr Trump left office, Mr Pompeo said the aim of the move was "to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping."
The US action banned Americans from doing business with the Houthis and made it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.
The move was promptly denounced by humanitarian and aid agencies, which claimed that designating the Houthis as terrorists would impede the global effort to help Yemen's starving population, an argument that appears perverse as the Houthis control most of the key aid supply routes, and regularly steal aid supplies to sell on the black market and fund their terrorist operations.
Responding to pressure from within his own Democratic party, Mr Biden, in one of his first acts as president, lifted the FTO against the Houthis, which was an act also seen as an attempt by the new administration to make a goodwill gesture to Iran.
Mr Biden has indicated he is keen to revive the controversial nuclear deal with Iran and, by easing the pressure on the Houthis, whose success on the battlefield is entirely due to the weapons and support they receive from Tehran, the White House was hoping to send a message to Iran that it was serious about having a constructive dialogue with Tehran.
Instead, in the weeks since Mr Biden lifted the FTO, the region has seen a significant increase in Houthi activity.
So far this month the Houthis have launched more than 20 drone and missile attacks against predominantly civilian targets in Saudi Arabia. In the most high profile attack, the Houthis used an explosive-laden drone and a ballistic missile against the Saudi petroleum plant at Ras Tanura, prompting global oil prices to rise above $70 a barrel earlier this week, its highest in more than a year.
The upsurge in violence by the Houthis and their Iranian backers is deeply embarrassing for Mr Biden, whose decision to lift the FTO designation against the Houthis last month now looks extremely ill-judged, to say the least.
"We continue to be alarmed by the frequency of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in the aftermath of the latest round of Houthi-inspired violence. "Escalating attacks like these are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace."
Mr Biden has now pledged to help strengthen Saudi air defences against further attacks by the Houthis and Iran, which is also embarrassing for the new administration, as only last month the Biden administration announced it was ending its support for the Saudi-led coalition in its war against the Houthis. Now it finds itself having to defend the Saudis against further Houthi acts of aggression.
The real lesson of this latest upsurge in Houthi-related violence, however, is that it shows that Mr Biden's hopes of reviving negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme are as flawed as his approach to the Houthis.
For, by helping to facilitate these attacks by providing the Houthis with sophisticated weapons, Tehran is showing that, far from seeking improved relations with the new US administration, it remains committed to pursuing an uncompromising policy of aggression throughout the Middle East, one that is unlikely to result in the resumption of talks on the problematic issue of Iran's nuclear programme anytime soon.
*Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
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The Long Covid Picture Is Stark. Why?

Therese Raphael/Bloomberg/March, 16/2021
The downslope of the Covid crisis is proving to be its own bumpy ride — and there’s no telling yet how long it will last. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about the disease itself, but in terms of grasping the impact of lingering post-Covid Syndrome, or Long Covid as it’s often called, we’re just getting started.
As hospital admissions from Covid decline, clinics dealing with post-Covid effects are being flooded with demand and questions around treatment are proliferating. Addressing the problem will require more resources at a time when health-care systems are tapped out. That’s hard in the UK, where hospital executives say they will have to cut back services if the Treasury can’t find more funds than what Chancellor Rishi Sunak put in last week’s budget.
So far, research into Long Covid has suffered from various limitations, such as small sample sizes or truncated follow-up periods. Even so, the emerging picture is stark.
Britain’s Office for National Statistics estimates that 23.6% of females with Covid-19 and 20.7% of males continued to experience symptoms five weeks after they tested positive for the virus. Nearly 10% had symptoms 12 weeks later.
More than 117 million people around the world have been infected with Covid-19. If at least one in 10 experience symptoms that persist for weeks or months after the virus has left their body, that’s a lot of disability, however temporary. The reported symptoms list is too long to publish here but includes fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, muscle aches, stomach illness and heart palpitations. Long Covid doesn’t care if you’re young or super fit or just had a mild case of the virus.
At University College London Hospital, the clinic for post-Covid treatment is a multidisciplinary team involving respiratory, cardiology and neurology specialists, as well as occupational therapists and psychologists. It is struggling to keep up with demand, says Melissa Heightman, a respiratory physician and clinical lead. Only about one-third of their non-hospitalized patients with post-Covid illnesses have recovered fully, she says. “I think we’re at the worst moment, because we are facing the second wave needing follow up. The referrals at the clinics are twice the number we can cope with.”
The problem isn’t only the number of patients struggling with Long Covid; it’s also that there is still much we don’t know about how to treat the condition that is complex and can affect different systems of the body.
Doctors treating post-Covid patients find sharing experiences invaluable. Steroids, antihistamines and Vitamin D have been shown to help reduce symptoms in some cases. Some patients are put on beta-blockers to control their elevated heart rate; a common treatment for gout has helped improve chest pain in some patients. Rest seems a universal protocol, whereas exercise can lead to a relapse. Researchers and patients (sometimes one and the same) exchange experiences, hope and exasperation on Facebook groups, Twitter and other social media.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of unscientific advice going around too. When Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of the lifestyle brand Goop, suffered “long-tail fatigue and brain fog” after her bout with Covid-19, she was recommended a program of “intuitive fasting,” which includes fasting until 11 a.m. every day and eating a keto and plant-based diet, by leading “functional medicine practitioner” Will Cole, who isn’t a medical doctor.
Paltrow was so happy with the results that she wrote about it in her blog, but the details (including regular use of an infrared sauna) set off alarm bells in the medical community. “We wish her well, but some of the solutions she’s recommending are really not the solutions we’d recommend in the NHS,” said Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service in England.
Still, this points to many unanswered questions. What causes post-Covid fatigue? The NHS’s Covid Recovery website informs sufferers that it could be a continued response to the virus, or it could just be the “effect of a serious illness.” What makes this fatigue last a long time? The official word is, “in some people, different things.” Who’s to say special diet regimes might not help on the margins?
There is some encouraging evidence that vaccines have helped people with their post-Covid symptoms, along with some serious theories on why that might be the case. Perhaps this potential benefit will help reduce vaccine hesitancy, especially among ethnic minorities and younger people.
And given emerging evidence that children can also suffer longer-term effects of the virus, there’s a case for vaccinating them too if current trials establish they are safe and effective for those under 18.
The good news is that Long Covid sufferers are getting attention — there are some 70 Long Covid clinics around the UK, and, according to NBC News, more than 80 post-Covid clinics in the US. This is a feat if you consider how relatively new Covid is. It took more than 80 years to determine a diagnosis for what’s known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS. Today it affects an estimated 2.5 million Americans and shares symptoms with Long Covid.
The costs of ignoring illness are high. ME/CFS sufferers have greater health care needs, are more likely to be unemployed, often require care from family members and are more likely to attempt suicide. Research into ME/CFS remains paltry, but sufferers are hoping that the interest in Covid’s after-effects will help shed new light on their own plight. Maybe they will get answers too. The US National Institutes of Health has just announced funding worth $1.15 billion for investigations into Long Covid, which it has named Post-Acute Sequelae of Sars-CoV-2 or PASC.
For now, though, many suffering from Long Covid will have to continue to rely on support groups and their own reserves of patience. “Patients are expecting an awful lot from a health service that is pretty much defeated,” says Heightman. “We are so tired. And we don’t have enough of the right skillset in the right place. This is the moment to try to sort this out.”

When the Margin Calls/ In an interview, Hamza Meddeb discusses the 2020 protests in the impoverished Tunisian region of Tataouine.
Michael Young:Carnegie MEC/March 16, 2021
Hamza Meddeb is a nonresident scholar at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where he focuses on economic reform, the political economy of conflicts, and border insecurity across the Middle East and North Africa. Recently, he published an article titled “Life on the Edge: How Protests in Tataouine Forced Tunis to Back Down,” which was widely read, particularly in Tunisia. Diwan interviewed Meddeb in mid-March to discuss his article, and more broadly to get his views on the situation in the marginalized regions of southern Tunisia, as well as future prospects there.
Michael Young: You’ve recently written an article on the 2020 protests in Tataouine, in southern Tunisia. What caused them?
Hamza Meddeb: The starting point of the protests was a demand for implementation of an agreement signed in 2017 between protestors and the government of then-prime minister Youssef Chahed. At the time, protestors had demanded jobs and regional development for Tataouine, as well as the equitable distribution of the region’s oil and gas revenues. In June of that year, protestors and the government reached an agreement that guaranteed job creation and establishment of a regional development fund. In 2020, protestors believed the government has broken its promises and resumed the campaign.
This reflected a deep crisis of trust between the central authorities and the population in the peripheries. Exacerbating this was a feeling that, despite the general elections of 2019, the political class and the central authorities were still not committed to fulfilling their pledges from 2017. The lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in April and May 2020, like the consequent closure of the Libyan border that lasted throughout 2020, led to the collapse of the border economy, plunging the region into a severe economic predicament.
MY: How was oil used by protestors as a weapon in the 2020 protests?
HM: The protestors called their movement the “Kamour movement,” named for the Kamour oil pumping station located 110 kilometers from Tataouine. The station is a crucial transit point for oil by companies operating in Tunisia’s desert. In 2017, and again in 2020, protestors occupied the facility and blocked the transfer of oil. Tataouine’s oil fields contribute 20 percent of Tunisia’s gas output and 40 percent of its oil output. Oil was a crucial bargaining chip in the negotiations with the government. Also, protestors formed a coordination committee representing cities in Tataouine Governorate, as it was vital to show that all the governorate’s cities were represented in their movement in order to claim their right to benefit from oil and gas revenues.
The “weaponization” of oil was crucial to the success of the movement but was not the only explanation for its success. The population’s solidarity with the protestors was important in increasing the cost of repression by the state. Indeed, the violent security response in summer 2020 fueled local sympathy for the protests, with more people joining them. Repression was counterproductive as the movement escalated further in July 2020 when protestors threatened to prevent access to the Nawara gas field, threatening to block gas production after hindering the transfer of oil.
Oil companies operating in the region responded by warning Tunisia’s president that they might pull out of their concessions. The pressure on the protestors also rose as oil companies started reducing the salaries of permanent staff and laid off some contract workers. The protestors feared losing the approval of the population. The stakes were so high that the only option left for both sides was to negotiate and try to find a way out of the crisis. A new agreement was signed in November 2020. Oil production resumed a day after the signature of the agreement, ending a four-month shutdown.
MY: What was the outcome of the protests, and what made it different than previous ones?
HM: The agreement of November 6 fulfilled most of the protestors’ demands. The environment and planting company of Tataouine, a state body, would hire an additional 1,000 people, while oil companies would hire 285 people. Of this number, 215 were to be immediately hired by December 31, 2020. This did not happen because of delays in the recruitment process, again generating distrust. Initially, the agreement of 2017 had mentioned that oil companies would hire 1,500 people. However, this was not possible and protestors had to lower their expectations in 2020.
Also, the 2017 agreement had established an annual fund of 80 million Tunisian dinars ($29 million) dedicated to developing the region. This was reaffirmed in the 2020 agreement. The fund will be managed by the Tataouine Regional Council, which represents key state administrations in the region—education, health, infrastructure, and agriculture—and is led by the governor. The fund is supposed to finance projects to encourage entrepreneurship and diversification of the region’s economy. The government will also help to bolster small and medium enterprises in Tataouine by offering loans totaling 2.2 million Tunisian dinars ($800,000) to finance the projects of a hundred young entrepreneurs.
Overall, the 2020 agreement was more realistic than the one of 2017. However, there was still mistrust. Protests erupted in February 2021 against the delays in implementing the agreement. However, progress has since been made in this regard, which is essential to regaining the trust of the population.
MY: Just how bad has the economic situation been in southern Tunisia, traditionally a marginalized area?
HM: In 2019, Tataouine’s unemployment rate was the highest in the country at 28.7 percent, almost twice the national average of 15.3 percent. Tataouine also has one of Tunisia’s highest percentages of unemployed graduates, estimated at 58 percent in 2017. Education is neglected and universities in the cities offer limited work prospects for young graduates. Public services are of lower quality than in many other governorates. Even today, in the health sector, there are very few intensive care beds in interior and border regions, and those that exist were created after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tataouine’s regional hospital has only eleven specialized doctors, which is the lowest number in the county.
This situation has exacerbated Tataouine’s marginalization, reducing considerably its attractiveness for investment, which was already negligible. The Tunisian Institute of Competitiveness and Quantitative Studies warned in 2018 that Tataouine was the governorate with the lowest level of economic attractiveness.
A major aspect of the systemic crisis in Tataouine is the tribal land tenure system. Thirty percent of land is subject to collective tenure and is managed by tribal councils, hindering privatization. Fragmentation of land ownership among tribes and communal disputes over land have discouraged investment, obstructing the development of alternatives to oil and gas.
The result of all this has been a multilayered crisis and a deep feeling of neglect among the population. The Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of the border intensified the crisis and the push factors driving migration. Thousands of young people from southern border areas migrated, or tried to migrate, to Europe in 2020. An estimated 11,000 undocumented migrants, many of them from southern Tunisia, reached Italian shores between January 1 and October 31.
MY: Do you foresee any amelioration in the situation in southern Tunisia in the near future, or is the south’s marginalization a structural issue that would require overhauling the entire hierarchy of power in the country, which is very difficult?
HM: The south’s marginalization is a structural issue. Reversing this would require rethinking Tunisia’s development and governance model toward more decentralization and the building of a genuine development strategy at the local level. The challenge for Tataouine will be to diversify its local economy away from oil, encourage entrepreneurship, and resolve land tenure issues, but also to think of cross-border cooperation opportunities with Libya. A regional development strategy based on attracting large non-oil investment to foster private enterprise and reforming land tenure is essential for improving the region’s attractiveness. Speeding up the process of decentralization is key in that it will foster local decisionmaking and the legitimacy of state authorities at the local level.


The Russians are coming to the Gulf
Haitham El-Zobaidi/The Arab Weekly/March 16/2021
The West has left the Gulf at a dangerous juncture during which the region faces existential threats from Iran. Adding fuel to the fire, the US administration has waged a media smear campaign against Saudi Arabia barely a month after coming to office.
Russia appears to be in a geopolitical position much like the one previously defined by the Soviet Union. The Communist party inherited a strategic position from the Tsarist era after the Bolshevik revolution. The same position was then inherited by Russia from the former Soviet Union. The main difference is that of leadership: What do you do with all the geographic strength in the face of existential challenges with the West, whether you are an ideological communist or a Russian patriot who wants his country to garner the position it deserves in the world?
The leaders of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, knew exactly what they wanted from their state when they inherited the Tsarist regime in 1917. Boris Yeltsin was a drunkard who did not know what he wanted from the Russian state he carved out of the Soviet Union during its disintegration in 1991.
But his heir, Vladimir Putin, knew exactly what he wanted. The geopolitical situation of Russia, if not exploited and channeled into power, would be lost as the superpower status of the Soviet Union was lost. On more than one occasion, Putin wanted to issue reminders of Russia’s power, and he succeeded in that. Such was the case in Crimea and Syria, and it is now the case in the Eastern Mediterranean. There, he finds today an opportunity to access the gates of the Gulf region that were ignored by successive American administrations. He found the gates open for him.
Just as he sensed a strategic opportunity in Crimea, he has now realised that there is a strategic opportunity in the Gulf.
One of the main flaws of the former Soviet Union was its hesitation at the height of its power. It deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba first and believed that the United States would not notice. Then, its leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to withdraw after an American blockade and threats from President John F. Kennedy, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. It sent fighter squadrons deep into Egyptian territory during and after the war of attrition with Israel. The jet fighters were piloted by Russian officers because the Egyptian pilots had not completed their training on advanced MiGs after their air force was destroyed on the ground during the 1967 war. But the Soviet Union imposed on its pilots a complete radio silence so that the Israelis would not “discover” that the Russians were taking part in the war.
It is intriguing that a great power would fear a country like Israel. Signs of the ageing of the Soviet leadership began in the 1960s, not in the 1980s, as is commonly believed. Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev was a symbol of inertia, but he was not the only symbol. Politburo formations ran in succession over a short period of time until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and completely killed the idea of ​​the Soviet Union.
Vladimir Putin witnessed all this the day the Berlin Wall collapsed. He was then a mid-ranking intelligence officer in Berlin. If the prestige of a great power is lost, everyone will dare to assail it. It started with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and ended with protesters in Eastern Europe.
Today, Russia is aware of the magnitude of the strategic gaps left in the region by the United States in particular and the West in general. And it is more than ready to fill the gaps.
Russia is not shy about sending its strategic fighters and bombers to strike targets in Syria and turn the balance of war in its favour. It does not matter if it is a just or dirty war. Why? Because at stake is unrestricted access to the Mediterranean offered with this strategic opportunity.
From the Hmeimim air base and the naval base in Tartus, the Russians overlooked the Eastern Mediterranean. The loss of a fighter plane shot down by the Turks allowed Putin to ensure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s compliance, and transform the nature of the relationship between them strategically. Through the Turks, the Russians began to dismantle military relations within NATO and sell advanced Russian weapons with a tangible espionage dimension tied to the second largest army in the Atlantic alliance. The S-400 missiles are now, or will be, part of NATO’s defence system, and with them there is more than a Russian expert helping train the crews and operate the systems. Russian “experts” are within the NATO loop of information.
The Eastern Mediterranean is a flexible notion. It reaches the shores of Tunisia and Italy. By a leapfrog, Putin was in Libya. He learned the lesson of the mercenaries from the United States. “You have Blackwater and I have the Wagner Group.” Where he could not send the army, Wagner did the job. And any day he did not like the arrangements, the company could withdraw without political or diplomatic repercussions. Mercenaries were created to commit violations with impunity as the Blackwater experience has taught us.
Putin had been waiting for the situation in the Gulf to ripen quietly. There was George W. Bush’s war and its deconstruction of Iraq. Then Barack Obama toyed around with the idea of ​​democracy during the “Arab Spring” and the chaos that followed. Then there were the Donald Trump jolts. Finally, Joe Biden came into the picture as a new American president targeting moderate Gulf powers, especially Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf has historically been reluctant to replace its relationship with the West with non-Western ties. The West is a complete package, including weapons, protection, culture, trade and an oil market. But can the Gulf be blamed today for relinquishing its adherence to the West?
The West has left the Gulf and not the other way around. The West has left the Gulf at a dangerous juncture during which the region faces existential threats from Iran. Adding fuel to the fire, the US administration waged a media smear campaign against Saudi Arabia barely a month after gaining office.
Moreover, a mix of alternatives is available. Advanced weapons from Russia, goods from China, exceptional industrial technology from countries like South Korea capable of building better nuclear plants than those constructed by the US, services from India and more recently, Israeli information technology that the United States itself buys from Israeli companies.
The Chinese, Indian and Korean leaders moved early, while the Russians waited and the Israelis imposed themselves by virtue of the Iranian challenge.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent tour is a continuation of the gradual strategic entry into the Gulf. If Turkey establishes bases in the Gulf and acts as if it were a Gulf state with full rights through the Qatari gate, then why doesn’t Putin’s Moscow act with the same mindset? What Biden loses in the Gulf, Putin gains.