April 18/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 21/01-14/:"After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you? ’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life

Letter to the Romans 06/03-11/:"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 17-18/17
Syria’s Part in the Potential Russian-American ‘Deal’/Raghida Dergham/April 16/17
Palestinians' Real Enemies: Arabs/Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/April 17/17
Iran's Elections: Black Turbans vs. White Turbans/Mohammad Amin/Gatestone Institute/April 17/17
On Backdrop Of Egyptian Efforts To Fight Hamas Tunnels, Egyptian Writer Calls To Tie Rapprochement With Hamas To Demolition Of Tunnels/MEMRI/April 17/17
Why Easter Brings Out the Worst in Islam/Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/April 17/17
‘Master Bomb’ and Trump’s message to the world/Ghassan Charbel/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Evacuation deal is Syria’s new moment of /Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Why Syria is one thing and Assad is another/Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Why Turks can’t get enough of Erdogan/Mahir Zeynalov/Al Arabiya/April 17/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 17-18/17
Rahi Raises Prayers for 'Peace and Prosperity' in France
Houri: Bassil's Law Format Brings Back Logic of Civil War
Fadlallah Urges Approval of Electoral Law on May 15, Says Format Can't be 'Imposed'
Israeli Gunboats Violate Lebanese Waters
Two Families Trade Fire in Akkar
Two Men Shot Dead in Qob Elias, Suspect Handed Over to Authorities
Assailants Toss Stun Grenade in Sidon
Meeting by Lebanese, Palestinian Democratic Youth Unions: Preparations underway for largest Arab participation in World Youth and Student Festival in Russia
Hariri eulogizing late MP Franjieh: He offered himself to Lebanon, his main concern was the unity and coexistence of the Lebanese
Shabayta: Palestinian political leadership did not hold official meeting today
Army contains clash in Akkar, restores calm to the region
Joint Security Forces in Ain Helwe call for reinforcing troops
Minister of Information of the Sultanate of Oman welcomes the experience of his Lebanese counterpart

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 17-18/17
Mass evacuation in Syria postponed after blast kills 80 children
Golan Druze March for Syrian Independence Day
UN: Nearly half a million Iraqis have fled Mosul fighting
Iraqi forces fight door-to-door in Mosul as offensive enters seventh month
ISIS seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says
Clashes erupt between tribes and ISIS militants in Sinai
Egypt arrests 13 terrorist suspects 'preparing attacks'
Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike
Turkish PM: People’s message clear, referendum has ended all arguments
Erdogan Slams Criticism of Disputed Turkey Poll
Saudi Arabia Hails Turkey Referendum 'Success'
Pakistan police arrest 22 in "blasphemy" mob killing

Links From Jihad Watch Site for April 17-18/17
Raymond Ibrahim: Why Easter Brings Out the Worst in Islam
New York Times publishes op-ed by convicted jihad murderer, calls him a “Palestinian leader”
South Dakota Muslim brandishes weapons, Qur’an outside Christian conference, says “Be f**king terrified,” isn’t arrested
UK: Westminster car jihadi told family, “You will soon hear of my death, but don’t worry…I will be in paradise”
Nashville area one of top 20 places in US where girls are at risk for female genital mutilation
Pakistan: Muslims torture Christian man with hot iron rods for “befriending” Muslim woman
Australia: Muslim cleric tells girls they’ll go to hell for having non-Muslim friends
Robert Spencer: What Is It About Converts to Islam?
Robert Spencer: Relax: Muslim Trucker Who Posted Jihad Material to be “Deradicalized”
Anne Marie Waters Moment: Easy Guide to Debating the Useful Infidel. Part I: “Not All”
UK: Two large supermarket chains won’t stock Christian Easter egg, but do carry halal ones
Syria: Sunni Muslims murder 126 people, wound 55 in bomb attack targeting Shi’ite evacuees

Links From Christian Today Site on April 17-18/17
Turkey's President Erdogan declares referendum victory, opponents cry foul
US won't tolerate more North Korea nuclear tests, says VP Pence
Prince Harry sought counselling more than a decade after mother's death
Scottish churchgoing sees dramatic fall, further decline predicted
What is the key religious liberty case on Neil Gorsuch's desk this week?
The not-so-empty tomb: remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury found in hidden crypt at Lambeth
anger, evil of the world - all the darkness hidden in the corners of our hearts'
Holy Saturday: The space between grieving and rejoicing

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 17-18/17
Rahi Raises Prayers for 'Peace and Prosperity' in France
Naharnet/April 17/17/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi presided over a mass service on Monday in appreciation of France in presence of French Ambassador Emmanuel Bonne and a number of political figures, the National News Agency reported. Rahi prayed for the prosperity and peace in France, saying: “We raise our prayers for the peace and prosperity of this dear country. Our prayers also accompany the beloved people of France, who are preparing these days to elect a new President of the Republic.” After the mass, Rahi welcomed Army Commander General Joseph Aoun.

Houri: Bassil's Law Format Brings Back Logic of Civil War
Naharnet/April 17/17/Al-Mustaqbal MP Ammar Houri criticized on Monday an electoral law proposal suggested by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil saying “it brings us back to the logic of civil war.”“The (so-called) qualification part of Bassil's proposal brings us back to the logic of civil war. It is very far from the constitution and the path drawn by the Taef agreement,” said Houri in an interview to VDL (100.5). “Any electoral law must be based on the constitution and the Taef agreement,” he stressed. The MP assured that negotiations to arrive at a new electoral law are ongoing. Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil announced recently that the political parties have reached a “preliminary agreement” over the so-called new “qualification electoral system”.The system had been initially proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri several months ago before being eventually endorsed by Bassil. Bassil's proposal suggests that in the first round, voting takes place in the current 26 districts and voters are not allowed to vote for candidates from other sects. Two candidates for each sectarian seat qualify for the second round during which voting would take place in 10 newly-defined electoral districts and according to a non-sectarian proportional representation polling system. The law has not garnered consensus as yet, the Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat have openly rejected it.
Al-Mustaqbal Movement and other parties have also expressed their reservation.

Fadlallah Urges Approval of Electoral Law on May 15, Says Format Can't be 'Imposed'
Naharnet/April 17/17/MP Hassan Fadlallah of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc on Monday called on the political forces to seek the approval of a new electoral law during the May 15 legislative session as he stressed that no party in Lebanon can “impose” a certain electoral system on the other parties. “We have a grace period from now until the May 15 parliamentary session that Speaker Nabih Berri has called for, and we want it to be a session for the approval of a new electoral law,” Fadlallah added.Media reports are speculating that the session will witness a controversial third extension of parliament's term due to the parties' ongoing failure to agree on an electoral law. Lawmakers were set to extend the legislature's term on April 13 but President Michel Aoun invoked his constitutional powers to suspend parliament for one month and force the postponement of a legislative session. “We want this country to live a state of calm and stability, away from tensions and attempts to drag it into problems that it can do without,” Fadlallah added. He emphasized that “there is no possibility for anyone in Lebanon to impose a certain format on the other parties, seeing as the composition and sectarian nature of our country necessitate consensus on the essential issues.”The lawmaker warned that “we must not take the country to sectarian tensions, because there are external parties that are working night and day on stirring disputes among the sects in Lebanon.”Fadlallah also stressed that “there will not be any disputes” between Hizbullah and Aoun or between the party and its ally the Free Patriotic Movement. “But some divergence and debate might take place sometimes over the electoral law or other issues and this is something normal,” the MP added. He also reassured that “the elections will be eventually held and we will have a new parliament.”

Israeli Gunboats Violate Lebanese Waters
Naharnet/April 17/17/Israeli military vessels violated Lebanon's territorial waters off Ras al-Naqoura, the Lebanese Army Orientation Directorate said in a statement on Monday. “On Monday at 4:23 am an Israeli military boat violated Lebanon's territorial waters opposite al-Naqoura crossing 260 meters into Lebanon's waters where it stayed for two minutes,” said the statement. Another violation was recorded at “5:23 am when a military boat violated the same location sailing to a distance of 275 meters for a period of six minutes,” it added. The army coordinated with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the wake of the incident, the statement said. Israeli troops regularly violate Lebanon's maritime and land borders crossing the electronic border fence and sometimes enter Lebanese territory through the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line, which was drawn up following Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.

Two Families Trade Fire in Akkar

Naharnet/April 17/17/A dispute between two families escalated into an armed clash Monday in the northern Akkar district, state-run National News Agency reported. “A dispute between members of the al-Akkoumi and Hamad families erupted into a fistfight and an exchange of gunfire at Bourj al-Arab-Burqayel intersection in Akkar,” NNA said. It added that the clash is related to old disputes. Army troops and Internal Security Forces members arrived later on the scene and contained the situation, the agency reported.

Two Men Shot Dead in Qob Elias, Suspect Handed Over to Authorities
Naharnet/April 17/17/Two men were killed on Monday when an unknown man driving a four-wheel vehicle opened fire at them in Qob Elias in the Bekaa region, the National News Agency reported. An unidentified man driving a four-wheel car opened fire at Talal Hmeid al-Awad and Khalil Qattan killing them instantly, NNA said. The victims own a coffee-vending van situated on the international highway at the junction of the vegetable market in Qob Elias. Awad was transported to al-Maalqa government hospital in Zahle, while al-Qattan was taken to Chtoura hospital. No details were reported about the motives of the crime, said NNA. Later during the day, NNA said the suspect, identified as Mark Yammin, was caught and handed over to the General Security after efforts exerted by Justice Minister Salim Jreissati. At the backdrop of the crime, tension flared in Qob Elias when enraged relatives of the victims gathered outside shops belonging to the suspect's father and started smashing them, media reports said.

Assailants Toss Stun Grenade in Sidon
Naharnet/April 17/17/Unknown assailants tossed a stun grenade at dawn on Monday in the southern al-Njasa neighborhood in Sidon, the National News Agency said. The grenade exploded triggering a fire in a pile of garbage, NNA added. Security Forces rushed to the scene and opened an investigation into the incident.

Meeting by Lebanese, Palestinian Democratic Youth Unions: Preparations underway for largest Arab participation in World Youth and Student Festival in Russia
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - Union of Palestinian Democratic Youth and Lebanese Democratic Youth Union held a joint leadership meeting, on Monday, at the Union's headquarters in Mar Elias-Beirut, which included members of the executive offices and district and university officials in various governorates of Lebanon. The meeting was devoted to discussing the preparations for the World Youth and Student Festival which will be held at the end of this year in Russia, with the participation of thousands of young people from dozens of countries at the invitation of the World Youth Democratic Union.
Members of both Unions stressed that "preparations are underway for the widest Arab youth participation in said Festival," considering it "an important global event, thus entailing an active presence of Arab youth, in a bid to shed light on the issues and challenges confronting the Arab region."They also agreed to "organize joint meetings at the level of universities and regions to develop a process for the implementation of youth programs and activities, and to coordinate joint moves in tackling issues of mutual concern."

Hariri eulogizing late MP Franjieh: He offered himself to Lebanon, his main concern was the unity and coexistence of the Lebanese
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - The family of former MP Samir Franjieh received condolences on his passing away at Saint George Maronite Church in Central Beirut on Monday, most prominently from Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who expressed his deepest sorrow at his loss. "The late Samir is a great national loss to Lebanon, for he offered himself to politics and to Lebanon, and I personally lost him as a sincere friend who wanted nothing for himself. His main concern was the unity of the Lebanese and their coexistence. The late Samir was a friend of Martyr PM Rafic Hariri and we hope they will meet together up in the sky," Hariri wrote in the condolences register.

Shabayta: Palestinian political leadership did not hold official meeting today
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - The Secretary of the factions of the PLO and Fatah Movement in Sidon, Maher Shabayta, denied in a statement on Monday that the Palestinian political leadership held any official meeting today, stating that the meeting held was only for deliberations over latest developments. The statement added that the official meeting has been postponed to Tuesday. "Fatah Movement does not adopt any official statement issued after the deliberations [today]."

Army contains clash in Akkar, restores calm to the region
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - The army and security forces were able to restore calm to the intersection area of Burj al-Arab-Berqayel in Akkar region, following the individual dispute between members of Hamad family and others from al-Akumi Family, which evolved into fighting and shooting, NNA correspondent in Akkar reported Monday evening.

Joint Security Forces in Ain Helwe call for reinforcing troops
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - The political leadership of the Palestinian forces held an urgent meeting on Monday in Ain Helweh Camp to closely monitor ongoing violations in areas of recent clashes, National News Agency correspondent reported. Conferees called for strengthening the equipment and number of the Joint Palestinian Forces in Al-Tireh neighborhood and to withdraw armed men from buildings in order to restore normal life and ensure the return of the inhabitants to their homes.

Minister of Information of the Sultanate of Oman welcomes the experience of his Lebanese counterpart
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - The Minister of Information of the Sultanate of Oman, Abdul Menhem Hussni, on Monday welcomed the move by his Lebanese counterpart Melhem Riachi to transform the ministry of information into a ministry of dialogue and communication.In an interview with Radio Lebanon, the Omani minister stressed that during the current period there is a need for dialogue, communication and approaching the other. "The challenges facing the world today require monitoring the electronic media, hence the need to elaborate laws that govern these media, in particular by pacts based on ethics," he added. Finally, he warned against the actions of certain electronic information sites that threaten Arab countries by disseminating information inciting hatred, racism and discord.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 17-18/17
Mass evacuation in Syria postponed after blast kills 80 children
The Associated Press, Beirut Monday, 17 April 2017/The evacuation of more than 3,000 Syrians that was scheduled to take place Sunday from four areas as part of a population transfer has been postponed, opposition activists said, a day after a deadly blast that killed more than 120 people, many of them government supporters. The reasons for the delay were not immediately clear. It came as shells fired by the Islamic State group on government-held parts of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour wounded two members of a Russian media delegation visiting the area, according to state-run Syrian news agency SANA. Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian journalists enjoy wide access in government-held parts of the country. Russia's Anna-News military news service, which employs the journalists, said one was wounded in the arm while the other suffered leg and stomach wounds. The news service said the two were evacuated adding that their condition was "satisfactory." The United Nations is not overseeing the transfer deal, which involves residents of the pro-government villages of Foua and Kfarya and the opposition-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani. All four have been under siege for years, their fate linked through a series of reciprocal agreements that the U.N. says have hindered aid deliveries. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, earlier said that 3,000 people will be evacuated from Foua and Kfarya, while 200, the vast majority of them fighters, will be evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya. Abdurrahman and opposition activist Hussam Mahmoud, who is from Madaya, said the evacuation has been delayed. Abdurrahman said no permission was given for the evacuation to go ahead while Mahmoud said it has been delayed for "logistical reasons."It was not immediately clear if the evacuees feared attacks similar to Saturday's bombing. Abdurrahman said Saturday's blast -which hit an area where thousands of pro-government evacuees had been waiting for hours - killed 126. He said the dead included 109 people from Foua and Kfarya, among them 80 children and 13 women. No one has claimed the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front have targeted civilians in government areas in the past. A wounded girl, who said she lost her four siblings in the blast, told Al-Manar TV from her hospital bed that children who had been deprived of food for years in the two villages were approached by a man in the car who told them to come and eat potato chips. She said once many had gathered, there was an explosion that tore some of the children to pieces. Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director, said in a statement Sunday that after six years of war and carnage in Syria "there comes a new horror that must break the heart of anyone who has one.""We must draw from this not only anger, but renewed determination to reach all the innocent children throughout Syria with help and comfort," he said. After the blast, some 60 buses carrying 2,200 people, including 400 opposition fighters, entered areas held by rebels in the northern province of Aleppo, Abdurrahman said. More than 50 buses and 20 ambulances carrying some 5,000 Foua and Kfarya residents entered the government-held city of Aleppo, Syrian state TV said, with some of them later reaching a shelter in the village of Jibreen to the south. U.N. relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien said he was "horrified" by the deadly bombing, and that while the U.N. was not involved in the transfer it was ready to "scale up our support to evacuees." He called on all parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and to "facilitate safe and unimpeded access for the U.N. and its partners to bring life-saving help to those in need."Residents of Madaya and Zabadani, formerly summer resorts, joined the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad. Both came under government siege in the ensuing civil war. Residents of Foua and Kfraya, besieged by the rebels, have lived under a steady hail of rockets and mortars for years, but were supplied with food and medicine through military airdrops. Critics say the string of evacuations, which could see some 30,000 people moved across battle lines over the next 60 days, amounts to forced displacement along political and sectarian lines. In eastern Syria, an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on the village of Sukkarieh near the border with Iraq killed eight civilians who had earlier fled violence in the northern province of Aleppo, according to Deir Ezzor 24, an activist collective, and Sound and Picture Organization, which documents ISIS violations. Airstrikes by the US-led coalition had killed dozens of civilians over the past several weeks as the battle against the extremists intensifies in Syria and Iraq.

Golan Druze March for Syrian Independence Day
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 17/17/Hundreds of Druze on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights marched Monday for Syrian independence day, carrying portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and chanting anti-Israel slogans. "God save Syria!" they shouted as they rallied in the town of Masada. "Down with the occupation!"Israeli officials say there are about 20,000 Druze on the strategic plateau seized by Israel from neighboring Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel subsequently annexed the 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of territory in an action never recognized by the international community. But the vast majority of Golan Druze have retained Syrian nationality. The civil war which has ravaged their homeland for the past six years is reflected in local divisions, with Masada opponents of the Assad regime refusing to march behind his picture. But both sides are united in their opposition to the Israeli occupation, residents told AFP. "We retain our Syrian identity and follow the path of national resistance," said Nasser Ibrahim, one of the organizers of Monday's march. "With the crisis in Syria, Israel has increased its measures on the Golan," said Assad opponent Ayman Abu Jabal, referring to what he called Israeli-ordered changes to the Golan school curriculum. Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war, but Israel says it has no wish to get involved in the fighting. It does, however, carry out strikes against its Lebanese foe Hizbullah, which fights for Assad in Syria. Last month, Israel struck what it said were Hizbullah targets in Syria, drawing Syrian anti-aircraft missile fire in the worst flare-up between the two governments since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

UN: Nearly half a million Iraqis have fled Mosul fighting
The Associated Press, Beirut Monday, 17 April 2017/The United Nations says nearly half a million civilians have fled Mosul since US-backed Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale military operation last October to retake the city from ISIS militants. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that 493,000 people have been displaced from the city. As many as 500,000 others are in ISIS-controlled parts of western Mosul, where fighting is still underway. The UN says food, water and medicine stocks are running low in the western half of the city, and that the fighting there is much heavier than it was in eastern Mosul, which the Iraqi government declared “fully liberated” in January.

Iraqi forces fight door-to-door in Mosul as offensive enters seventh month
Reuters, Iraq Monday, 17 April 2017/Iraqi forces gained fresh ground in door-to-door fighting in the Old City of Mosul, a military spokesman said on Monday, as the US-backed offensive to capture ISIS's de facto capital in Iraq entered its seventh month.A Reuters correspondent saw thick smoke billowing over the Old City, near the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, from where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his arrival. Heavy exchanges of gunfire and mortar rounds could be heard from the neighbourhoods facing the old city across the Tigris river that bisects Mosul into a western and eastern sides. The war between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces is taking a heavy toll on several hundred thousand civilians trapped inside the city, with severely malnourished babies reaching hospitals in government-held areas. Iraqi Federal Police forces "are engaged in difficult, house-to-house clashes with ISIS fighters inside the Old City", a media officer from these units told Reuters. Drones are extensively being used to locate and direct air strikes on the militants who are dug in the middle of civilians, he said. Troops have had the famous centuries-old al-Nuri Mosque leaning minaret in their sights since last month, as capturing it would mark a symbolic victory over the insurgents. A police spokesman said the troops were closing in on the mosque without indicating the remaining distance. Their progress has been slow as about 400,000 civilians, or a quarter of Mosul's pre-war population, are trapped in neighbourhoods still under control of the militants.
More 300,000 have fled fighting since the offensive operation started on Oct. 17, with strong air and ground support from a US-led coalition. Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, was captured by the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim fighters in mid 2014. Government forces, including army, police and elite counter terrorism units have taken back most of it, including the half that lies east of the Tigris river. The militants are now surrounded in the northwestern quarter including the historic Old City, using booby traps, sniper and mortar fire against the assailants. Police on Sunday reported a toxic gas attack on its troops that caused no deaths. It also said the militants were increasingly using suicide motorbikes attacks. The narrow alleyways restricts the use of suicide cars by the militants and tanks, armoured personnel carriers and Humvees by the government forces. The United Nations said last month that 12 people, including women and children, had been treated for possible exposure to chemical weapons agents in Mosul. But Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, said days later there was no evidence for that. The fighting has killed several thousands among civilians and fighters on both sides, according to aid organisations. Residents who have managed to escape from the Old City have said there is almost nothing to eat but flour mixed with water and boiled wheat grain.What little food remains is too expensive for most residents to afford, or kept for ISIS members and their supporters.

ISIS seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says

Reuters, Baghdad Monday, 17 April 2017/ISIS is talking to al Qaeda about a possible alliance as Iraqi troops close in on ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said in an interview on Monday. Allawi said he got the information on Monday from Iraqi and regional contacts knowledgeable about Iraq. “The discussion has started now,” Allawi said. “There are discussions and dialogue between messengers representing Baghdadi and representing Zawahiri,” referring to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda. ISIS split from al Qaeda in 2014 and the two groups have since waged an acrimonious battle for recruits, funding and the mantle of global extremism. Zawahiri has publicly criticized ISIS for its brutal methods, which have included beheadings, drownings and immolation. It is unclear how exactly the two group may work together, Allawi said. Islamic State blazed across large swathes of northern Iraq in 2014, leaving the Iraqi central government reeling. Baghdadi declared a caliphate over the territory the group controlled from the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul the same year, which also became a point of contention with al Qaeda. Last October, Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite volunteer fighters, commonly referred to as the Popular Mobilization Units teamed up with an international coalition, including the United States, to drive ISIS from of Mosul and the areas surrounding the city. The group has been pushed out of the half of Mosul that lies east of the Tigris River, but Iraqi soldiers and their allies are now bogged down in tough fighting in the narrow streets of in the Old City of Mosul, west of the river, according to Iraqi security officials. ISIS has used suicide bombers, snipers and armed drones to defend the territory under their control. The group has also repeatedly targeted civilians or used them as human shields during the fighting, according to Iraqi and American security officials. The militant group has lost ground in Mosul but still controls the towns of Qaim, Hawija and Tal Afar in Iraq as well as Raqqa, their de facto capital in Syria. Even if ISIS loses its territory in Iraq, Allawi said, it will not simply go away. “I can’t see ISIS disappearing into thin air,” Allawi said, referring to the group by a commonly used acronym. “They will remain covertly in sleeping cells, spreading their venom all over the world.”

Clashes erupt between tribes and ISIS militants in Sinai
The Associated Press, Egypt Monday, 17 April 2017/Three people were injured in clashes between militants and local tribes in the Sinai peninsula in a fight that began when militants shot at a truck smuggling cigarettes, Egyptian security officials said Monday. The officials told The Associated Press that ISIS group militants launched RPG attacks on Sunday in their stronghold around the city of Rafah in response to the kidnapping of three ISIS fighters by local tribes. The unrest started when militants shot at a truck smuggling cigarettes into the area, where the ISIS imposes a strict version of Islamic law that prohibits the sale of tobacco, tribal sources said. The government officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media. The tribal sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. The incident marks an escalation in tension between the two sides over the imposition of Islamic Law in northern Sinai. Last month, female teachers commuting from the region’s urban center, El-Arish, to Rafah reported being stopped by militants twice in one week and were asked not to take the road without a male relative in compliance with Islamic law. Locals said the militants had previously intercepted trucks carrying cigarettes and punished passengers with flogging. Northern Sinai residents have been caught in a violent battle between militant groups who have expanded their activity in the Peninsula since the removal of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 and security forces waging war against them. Militants have beheaded locals accused of collaboration with authorities and recently stepped up their attacks against the peninsula’s Coptic Christian minority, forcing hundreds to flee following a string of killings in the city of Arish in February.

Egypt arrests 13 terrorist suspects 'preparing attacks'

AFP, Cairo Monday, 17 April 2017/The Egyptian authorities have arrested 13 suspected "terrorists" allegedly planning to attack Christians and public institutions, the interior ministry said on Sunday, a week after deadly church bombings. The announcement came as Egypt's Christians marked Easter under tight security a week after Palm Sunday bombings claimed by ISIS killed 45 people at churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. The "13 terrorist elements" belonged to cells preparing attacks against "government and Christian institutions" and police in four northern provinces including Alexandria, a ministry statement said. It was not immediately clear when the arrests took place. Security forces have also discovered two farms in Alexandria and the neighbouring province of Beheira that were used to make explosives and store weapons, the ministry added. Egypt's Coptic Church said on Wednesday that it would cut back on Easter celebrations to a simple mass after the bombings. Parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved a three-month state of emergency declared by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the aftermath of the attacks. Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt's population of more than 92 million, have been targeted several times in recent months. In December, an ISIS-claimed church bombing in Cairo killed 29 people. The militant group has threatened more attacks against Egypt's Christian minority. Last week's bombings came ahead of Catholic Pope Francis's first trip to Egypt, which a Vatican official has said will go ahead as planned on April 28 and 29 despite the attacks.

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails launch mass hunger strike
By AFP, Ramallah, Palestinian Territories Monday, 17 April 2017/Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails launched a hunger strike on Monday following a call from leader and prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian Authority official said. Issa Qaraqe, head of prisoners’ affairs for the Palestinian Authority, said that “around 1,300 Palestinian prisoners” were participating in the hunger strike and the number could rise. The Palestinian Prisoners Club NGO put the number at 1,500. Israeli prison service spokesman Assaf Librati said that 700 prisoners had announced on Sunday their intention to begin a hunger strike. “We are checking this morning to see the number of prisoners actually striking as some of them said they would only observe a symbolic protest strike and then resume eating afterwards,” he said. “There will be an update later.”Barghouti is serving a life sentence over his role in the violent second Palestinian intifada. He is a popular figure, with polls suggesting he could win the Palestinian presidency. The strike was called in connection with Palestinian Prisoners Day, which is observed annually. Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel.

Turkish PM: People’s message clear, referendum has ended all arguments

Reuters, Ankara Monday, 17 April 2017/Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday that the people’s message was clear after a referendum which will hand President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers, and said the vote had ended all arguments. Election authorities said preliminary results showed 51.4 percent of voters had backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic in Sunday’s referendum. European monitors said the vote did not live up to international standards.

Erdogan Slams Criticism of Disputed Turkey Poll
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 17/17/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday angrily rejected criticism by international monitors of a referendum granting him extra powers that was disputed by the opposition and exposed bitter divisions in the country. The referendum was seen as crucial not just for shaping Turkey's political system but also the future strategic direction of a nation that has been a NATO member since 1952 and a European Union hopeful for half a century. Returning in triumph to his presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan addressed thousands of supporters gathered outside, telling monitors who criticized the poll: "Know your place." Showing no sign of pulling his punches, Erdogan said Turkey could hold further referendums on its EU bid and re-introducing the death penalty. The 'Yes' camp won 51.41 percent in Sunday's referendum, according to complete results released by election authorities. But the opposition immediately cried foul, claiming a clean vote would have made a difference of several percentage points and handed them victory. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said they would challenge the results from most ballot boxes due to alleged violations. "There is only one decision to ease the situation in the context of the law -- the Supreme Election Board (YSK) should annul the vote," the Dogan news agency quoted CHP deputy leader Bulent Tezcan as saying. The referendum has no "democratic legitimacy", HDP spokesman and lawmaker Osman Baydemir told reporters in Ankara.There were protests in Istanbul with a few thousand people crowding the anti-Erdogan Besiktas and Kadikoy districts, blowing whistles and chanting "We are shoulder to shoulder against fascism".Others brandished viral hashtag slogans from the referendum night like "The 'No' is not finished" and "'No' has won".
Unlevel playing field'
The opposition had already complained of an unfair campaign that saw the 'Yes' backers swamp the airwaves and use billboards across the country in a saturation advertising campaign. International observers agreed the campaign was conducted on an "unlevel playing field" and that the vote count itself was marred by late procedural changes that removed key safeguards. "The legal framework... remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum," the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) monitors said in a joint statement. The Turkish opposition was particularly incensed by a decision by the YSK to allow voting papers without official stamps to be counted, which they said opened the way for fraud. "Late changes in counting procedures removed an important safeguard," said Cezar Florin Preda, the head of the PACE delegation. But Erdogan told the mission to "know your place", saying Turkey had no intention of paying any attention to the report. He added: "This country held the most democratic polls that have never been seen in any other country in the West."
'End of the dream'
Erdogan earlier congratulated cheering supporters at Ankara's airport for "standing tall" in the face of the "crusader mentality" of the West. Getting back to business as usual, he chaired a meeting of the National Security Council which swiftly backed extending by another three months the already nine month state of emergency imposed in the wake of the failed July 15 coup. Turkey's Western allies have shown little enthusiasm for congratulating Erdogan and the president has given ominous signs of a looming crisis with the EU. Erdogan reaffirmed he would now hold talks on reinstating capital punishment, a move that would automatically end Turkey's EU bid, and would hold a referendum if it did not get enough votes in parliament to become law. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that if Ankara were to bring back the death penalty, the move would be "synonymous with the end of the European dream" and mark the end of decades of talks to enter the EU. In an interview in the Bild newspaper to be published Tuesday, he warned Turkey that "joining would not work right now."But Erdogan said Turkey could hold a referendum on the membership bid. "What George, Hans or Helga say does not interest us," he said, using typical European names.
'Big cities say No'
Turkey's new political system is due to come into effect after elections in November 2019, although Erdogan is expected to rapidly rejoin the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) he founded but had to leave when he became president. It would dispense with the prime minister's post and centralize the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers. Erdogan's victory was far tighter than expected, emerging only after several nail-biting hours late Sunday which saw the 'No' result dramatically catch up.
Turkey's three largest cities -- Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir -- all voted 'No' although 'Yes' prevailed in Erdogan's Anatolian heartland.

Saudi Arabia Hails Turkey Referendum 'Success'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 17/17/Turkey's ally Saudi Arabia on Monday praised the "success" of a referendum giving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. The cabinet, at its weekly meeting, voiced "congratulations to President Erdogan of Turkey and the Turkish people on the success of the referendum regarding constitutional reforms," the official Saudi Press Agency reported. The cabinet said it hoped the vote would contribute to "more development success across the country."The "Yes" camp won more than 51 percent in Sunday's referendum while the "No" side got almost 49 percent, according to near-complete results released by Turkey's election authorities. International observers said the referendum campaign was conducted on an "unlevel playing field," while Erdogan's opponents fear the result will hand him one-man rule. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two Sunni Muslim powers, have become increasingly close over the past year, sharing in particular a backing for the opposition in Syria's war. Saudi King Salman hosted Erdogan when he visited Riyadh to further strengthen ties in February.

Pakistan police arrest 22 in "blasphemy" mob killing
Mon 17 Apr 2017/NNA - Pakistan police announced Monday they had arrested 22 people after the lynching of a university student accused of blasphemy, but observers said there was little hope authorities would secure convictions. A large mob attacked journalism student Mashal Khan last Thursday, stripping, beating and shooting him before throwing from the second floor of his hostel at the Abdul Wali Khan university in the conservative northwestern town of Mardan. The brutality of the attack, recorded on a mobile phone camera, shocked the public and led to widespread condemnation, including from prominent clerics. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to prosecute the perpetrators as protests broke out in several cities. Salahuddin Khan Mehsud, police chief of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told a press conference the number of people arrested in connection with the case had risen to 22, from 12 at the weekend. They were mainly students but also included some university clerical workers. He said police had so far found no evidence to support the blasphemy allegations against Khan, and condemned the university for investigating the case without police involvement. A second senior police officer, who requested anonymity, said many members of the police, prosecution service and judiciary sympathised with the attackers and he did not expect any guilty verdicts. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive charge in conservative Muslim Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty. Even unproven allegations can prompt mob lynchings or lesser violence. ‘There are hundreds of sympathisers in my force and if I take too much interest in the case I might be killed too,’ the police officer said. He added that although arrests had been made on the basis of CCTV footage and video clips, a court would require witnesses to come forward and past experience had shown this would not be likely -- partly because Pakistan has no witness protection programmes. Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer employed by Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, noted that no Muslims were convicted for torching 100 Christian homes in a 2013 incident in Lahore sparked by blasphemy claims, nor for the murder of a young Christian couple a year later. ‘Nobody is going to stick their neck out because you will be abandoned,’ he said. Vigilantes have murdered 65 people over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to research compiled by the Center for Research and Security Studies think-tank. ---AFP

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 17-18/17
Syria’s Part in the Potential Russian-American ‘Deal’
Raghida Dergham/April 16/17
*Founder and Executive Chairman at Beirut Institute
The bargaining in the context of the potential Russian-American deal on Syria has started, but not in the context of the putative Grand Bargain that would include Ukraine and the fate of the Western sanctions on Russia, which remain a less attainable goal at present. The position of Iran in Syria is part of the discussions taking place, in the language of corridors and airbases. Hezbollah will not maintain a presence in the Golan in compliance with Israel’s strategic demands, but Israel’s position regarding the idea of an Iranian corridor to Lebanon complete with some form of an airport facility is noteworthy, whether the consent is covert or overt. The visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow, where he met with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov for nearly four hours followed by a meeting with Vladimir Putin, is evidence that a serious dialogue has begun in earnest between the Trump administration and Putin’s government regarding the bilateral relationship and the components of the potential deal, for which Syria has been chosen as the starting point. The US-British-French draft resolution at the UN Security Council condemning the use of chemical weapons in Idlib and calling for international inspection of Syrian airbases was met with Russia’s eighth veto, after the Russian envoy called for postponing the vote in the wake of accords reached between Tillerson and Lavrov. However, the signs of escalation in New York appeared less important as the bargaining began in Moscow on the same day. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, launched the opening salvo of US negotiating positions vis-à-vis Russia from the hall of the Security Council, which she chairs this month, stressing “partnership” with Russia in Syria.
Lavrov and Tillerson agreed on several points of partnership and accord, including the significant reaffirmation of Syria’s territorial integrity and collaboration in the fight against ISIS. Indeed, calling for a unified Syria means rejecting its partition, which is proceeding on the ground benefiting the Iranian “crescent” project that goes through Syria. For this reason, there is talk currently of a corridor and airbase for Iran, to compensate Tehran which Moscow does not want to abandon. To be sure, Moscow wants a deal with Washington, but not at any price. They both recognize that Bashar al-Assad will have to go sooner or later, and that he is just a temporary ‘knot’ rather than a fateful one.
Washington’s main message to Moscow is that the opportunity is ripe for securing an exit strategy from the Syrian predicament after guaranteeing some of its key interests there. Otherwise, Russia will inherit a broken Syria full of jihadists like ISIS, a US-empowered armed opposition, and an American intent to enjoy drowning Russia and Iran in the quagmire. Moscow’s main message to Washington is that it is ready to bargain, provided that the deal sought after is not linked to any attempt to undermine Russia’s global power prestige restored through Syria and Russia’s strategic interests. The space for the two sides to intersect seem wide today, in the wake of the US military strike in Syria which paved the way for serious negotiations.
American decision-makers working on Syria and Russia’s role, inside and outside the US administration, comprise top military brass who are well versed in the language of geopolitics. The US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, has won the admiration of this influential circle, and is now the mouthpiece of the military-political policy wing of the Trump administration. The main idea behind the rapid military response to the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikun was to draw redlines (in the sand) vis-à-vis Russia and Iran too.
The critical objective is to end the bloodletting in Syria, and letting the Kremlin know that the Trump administration is aware the Russian-Iranian policy in Syria is based on the ‘military solution’ rather than the ‘political solution’. For this reason, it has decided that imposing US military conditions needs to be included in the equation, in a departure from Obama’s neutral policy in Syria.
There are nearly a thousand US troops and massive reconnaissance assets in Syria. Military plans are already drawn. For this reason, President Trump was able to take the decision to strike almost instantaneously, though not arbitrarily. He has surrounded himself with expert military and political planners and is ready to exercise his role and powers as president based on professional, pragmatic advice.
These influential US foreign policy stakeholders want a strategic dialogue with Russia, but are looking to shape the future of this relationship from the perspective of the absolute US military edge between the two nations. In other words, their wager is that Russia would not dare confront the US militarily, and that all of its next moves in Syria would factor this in. In the US view, this is a negotiating hand, and they are willing to repeat the military message if needed, but all in the context of dialogue, accords, and the ‘art of the deal’.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is benefiting from the impression of escalation with Russia, because it helps exonerate itself regarding alleged suspicious ties with the Kremlin. The fear from an escalation with Russia could also help sell a deal and change the internal attitude vis-à-vis the Russians.
The main axes of negotiations sought by Trump’s White House with the Kremlin, according to sources well versed with the new talks, include: Curbing Iranian influence in Syria; defeating ISIS; and safeguarding Israeli interests. The main American message to Russia, the sources say, is: Buyers beware, if you break it you buy it. This, in the view of the Trump administration, could work as a wakeup call for Kremlin to take up the offer of strategic partnership with the US.
In other words, if accords fail, Syria will become the site of decades of Somali-style civil wars. The terrorists that had flocked to Syria could return to their home countries and settle scores, including Chechen and central Asian fighters from Russia’s neighboring five Muslim republics, while Russia drowns further in the Syrian quagmire.
Russia’s commitment to Assad is tactical, provisional, and up for negotiations, according to the US view today, especially since discussions are in full swing to find alternatives to Assad that would be acceptable to both Russia and the US. Since Washington is not in a hurry to remove Assad and is willing to accept the survival of the pillars of the regime in Damascus without the Assad dynasty, there are prospects for an accord, because Assad’s fate is no longer the main knot if strategic understandings are reached to secure US and Russian interests in Syria, which have other conditions.
Indeed, the fate of Hezbollah and the militias backed by Tehran in Syria remains the biggest obstacle. Moscow is not willing to abandon Tehran, and Washington understands why it is difficult to expect this. For this reason, there is talk about pragmatic resolutions to the Iran Knot in Syria. Hezbollah is ready to pull out from Syria, as soon as Tehran decides it, but Tehran will not decide this unless it can retain a corridor to Hezbollah into Lebanon. Moscow is willing to pressure Iran to adapt to accords, once reached with Washington, and it is coming under US pressure to curb Iranian influence in Syria.
Russia is able to contain Iranian ambitions and projects in Syria and has many means to accomplish this, including exposing Iran militarily in Syria by pulling its protective cover on the battleground. Iran is well aware that it cannot shore up Assad alone or impose its project in Syria without Russia. The Trump administration is using that equation to demand the Kremlin to make up its mind on Iran.
What Moscow does not want is to suggest that it would approve regime change in Damascus not because it is committed to Assad in power but because it fears the principle of changing regimes from Syria and Ukraine, to Russia itself. Moscow will not concede its achievements in Syria either, in the absence of US guarantees that accept its vital interests in Syria, from military bases to reconstruction deals, in addition to safeguarding its status as a major player in the Middle East.
Until the Trump administration fully accepts these fundamental Russian interests, Moscow ill not back down from its commitment to Assad or its alliance with Iran. Talk about a deal is still in the early stages, and the path to cutting the deal in Syria is rugged and full of surprising obstacles, both inside Syria and outside, including in the framework of NATO-Russian relations and the developments in Ukraine, the other component of the still elusive Grand Bargain.
The US will not intervene militarily in Syria or Ukraine directly. Instead, it is relying on its military and economic edge to warn Russia, which remains weaker regardless of its might on display in Syria. Trump’s Washington will not be neutral like Obama’s, and is willing to strike if needed, certain that Moscow will not dare to confront it militarily. The Trump administration is ready for a deal with Russia, but it does not fear Russia rejecting a deal, because it knows this would harm Russia more and drag it further down the Syrian quagmire.
If Syria has been the place Putin’s Russia used to restore its prestige and world power status under Obama, Donald Trump is willing to make true on Making America Great Again from Syria too.

Palestinians' Real Enemies: Arabs
Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute/April 17/17
The Arab heads of state and monarchs do not like to be reminded of how badly they treat Palestinians and subject them to discriminatory and apartheid laws.
It is not comfortable or safe to be a Palestinian in an Arab country. Scenes of lawlessness and anarchy inside Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank have also driven many residents to move to nearby cities and villages. Most refugees in the West Bank no longer live inside UNRWA-run camps.
Let us end where we began: with the Palestinian (non)leadership. What has it done to help its people in the Arab countries? Nothing. No Palestinian leader will urge an emergency session of the UN Security Council to expose the ethnic cleansing and killing of Palestinians in Arab countries. No Palestinian leader will demand that the international media and human rights organizations investigate the atrocities perpetrated by Arabs on their Palestinian brethren. We are sure to see more such criminal silence when Abbas meets with the president of the United States.
Palestinians living in refugee camps in the Arab world are facing ethnic cleansing, displacement, and death -- but their leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are too busy tearing each other to pieces to notice or even, apparently, care much.
Between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, it looks as if they are competing for the worst leadership, not the best. Clearly, neither regime gives a damn about the plight of their people in the Arab world.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to visit Washington in the coming weeks for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, spends most of his time abroad. There is hardly a country in the world that he has not visited since he assumed office in January 2005.
Hamas, for its part, is too occupied with hunting down Palestinians suspected of "collaboration" with Israel, and arming its members as massively as possible for war with Israel, to spend much time on the well-being of the two million people living under its thumb in the Gaza Strip. Hamas does have resources: its money is otherwise designated, however, to digging attack tunnels into Israel and smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.
The globetrotting Abbas, treated to red-carpet receptions wherever he shows up, has no time to attend to his miserable people in the Arab countries. Abbas devotes more than 90 percent of his speeches to denunciations of Israel, uttering barely a word about the atrocities committed against his people in Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Iraq. The 82-year-old PA president is, as always, fully preoccupied with political survival.
Abbas's real enemies are his critics, such as estranged Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, and Hamas. Abbas is currently focused on undermining Dahlan and preventing Hamas from taking control of the West Bank. In the past few years, Abbas has also demonstrated an obsession with isolating and delegitimizing Israel in the international arena. For him, this mission is more sacred than saving the lives of Palestinians.
Notably, neither Abbas's Palestinian Authority nor Hamas dares to criticize Arab countries for their mistreatment of Palestinians. In this, they are nothing if not savvy: critics in Arab states pay an extremely nasty price for forthrightness.
Consider for a moment the agenda of the recent Arab League summit in Jordan. This monumental meeting was conspicuously silent on the plight of Palestinians in Arab lands. The Arab heads of state and monarchs do not like to be reminded of how badly they treat Palestinians and subject them to discriminatory and apartheid laws. Beneath the public Arab support for the Palestinians rests a ruthless policy of oppression that is largely ignored by Palestinian leaders, the international community and mainstream Western media.
This apathy has turned Palestinians in the Arab countries into easy prey.
The Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which once housed nearly one million Palestinians, stands almost empty after six years of Syria's civil war. Most of the camp's houses have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting between the Syrian army, Palestinian factions, ISIS terrorists and Syrian opposition groups. More than 3,400 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war. Thousands of Palestinians are believed to be held in various Syrian government prisons. Another 80,000 have fled Syria to neighboring countries.
In nearby Lebanon, the conditions of Palestinians are no better. Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, home to nearly half a million people, were long ago turned into ghettos surrounded by the Lebanese security forces. In recent years, the camps have become battlefields for rival Palestinian gangs and other terrorists, many of whom are affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS.
About 10 years ago, the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon was shelled by the Lebanese army; most of its houses were destroyed. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee the camp; hundreds were killed and wounded after a Palestinian terror leader, Shaker al-Absi, and his men launched a series of deadly attacks on Lebanese targets, and the Lebanese army assaulted the camp. Before they were attacked by the Lebanese army, Al-Absi and his men had barricaded themselves inside the camp, using civilians as human shields.
The scenario of Nahr al-Bared is now repeating itself in another Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon: Ain al-Hilweh. As in the previous instance, a terror leader, Belal Bader, has found shelter inside Ain al-Hilweh, home to more than 50,000 Palestinians. Like al-Absi, Bader is affiliated with radical Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Bader's presence in the camp has triggered a gang war with other Palestinian factions, resulting in heavy fighting between the warring gangs inside Ain al-Hilweh. In the past week, at least eight Palestinians have been killed and 40 wounded.
A street celebration in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh camp, July 2015. (Image source: Geneva Call/Flickr)
Residents of the camp now fear that they could meet the same fate as their fellow Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared.
The Lebanese army, however, has still not intervened to stop the bloodletting. For Lebanese security forces, Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon remain "no-go zone." All that is left for the Lebanese authorities to do, in the hope of preventing the violence from spilling outside the camps, is besiege the camps and impose restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.
The fears of the residents of Ain al-Hilweh are not unjustified. The Lebanese government is facing growing pressure to enter Palestinian camps and disarm the gangs that have been operating there over the course of many years.
By and large, in recent years, the Palestinians who used to live in Syria, Iraq and Libya have left these countries as a result of the civil wars, and oppression by the governments and various militias. It is not comfortable or safe to be a Palestinian in an Arab country. Scenes of lawlessness and anarchy inside Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank have also driven many residents to move to nearby cities and villages. Most refugees in the West Bank no longer live inside UNRWA-run camps.
Let us end where we began: with the Palestinian (non)leadership. What has it done to help its people in the Arab countries? Nothing. No Palestinian leader will urge an emergency session of the UN Security Council to expose the ethnic cleansing and killing of Palestinians in Arab countries. No Palestinian leader will demand that the international media and human rights organizations investigate the atrocities perpetrated by Arabs on their Palestinian brethren. We are sure to see more such criminal silence when Abbas meets with the president of the United States.
**Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Iran's Elections: Black Turbans vs. White Turbans
Mohammad Amin/Gatestone Institute/April 17/17
Any distinction between "extremists" and "moderates" in Iran's political establishment is false.
Whatever the results of the upcoming Iranian elections, there will be no shift in Tehran's human rights violations or core aims of regional hegemony and pursuit of nuclear weapons.
What does matter is the behavior of the West, particularly the United States, in the near future. If it again resorts to cooperating with Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, Khamenei will not only be able to pursue his regional and global interests unfettered, but will be better equipped to contain crises at home.
The presidential elections in Iran, scheduled for May 19, have observers wondering whether the "white turban" incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, will retain his position, or be defeated by his likely contender, the "black turban" mullah, Ebrahim Raisi, known for his key role in the 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners.
Iran's elections have observers wondering whether the "white turban" incumbent, Hassan Rouhani (left), will retain his position or be defeated by his likely contender, Ebrahim Raisi (right), the "black turban" mullah. (Images source: Wikimedia Commons).
More importantly, the question on Western minds is how and in what way the Islamic Republic will be affected by either outcome.
The two periods in Iran's recent history that need to be examined in order to answer this question are that of the tenure of former firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 to 2013), who also announced he is running again, and the one that has followed under Rouhani.
At the outset of the Ahmadinejad era, Iran's GDP (using purchasing power parity) soared beyond $1 trillion, and two of the country's greatest threats -- Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan under the Taliban -- were eliminated. Both enabled Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to solidify his stronghold.
Midway through this period, however, Iran's economy fell sharply. Iran became the country with the fifth highest inflation rate in the world. Iran fell into a serious recession, and millions of Iranians found themselves unemployed. All this was going on even before the international community imposed sanctions on the regime in Tehran.
In the years that followed Ahmadinejad's replacement by the so-called "moderate" Rouhani, sanctions were lifted; oil exports reached pre-sanction levels; billions of dollars' worth of assets abroad were unfrozen; and hundreds of agreements were signed to expand business transactions with the West.
Nevertheless, the last year of Rouhani's first term was characterized by yet another economic crisis, summarized in March by Iranian Road and Construction Minister Abbas Akhoondi as: banks going bankrupt, crippling national debt and low economic efficiency.
Iran's economic crises mirrored its political ones. Despite a series of measures that the West imagined would usher in a new era, the opposite happened.
Indeed, although Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with world powers in July 2015 -- and then-U.S. President Barack Obama persisted in attempts at easing tensions -- the regime in Tehran, exceeding its own 30-year record, outdid itself in fundamentalist activities.
More than 3,000 executions of Iranians, for "crimes" such as "insulting Islam," have taken place under Rouhani; Iran got involved in three Middle East wars -- in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; and the regime's semi-official Mehr news agency said that the Rouhani government has done more to advance strategic weapons development recently than in the past decade.
All of the above indicates that any distinction between "extremists" and "moderates" in Iran's political establishment is false. As former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously put it: "An Iranian moderate is one who has run out of ammunition."
This is still true, which means that whatever the results of the upcoming Iranian elections, there will be no shift in Tehran's human rights violations or core aims of regional hegemony and pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In the event of a Rouhani victory, the country's economy will remain crippled as factional disputes continue and divisions widen.
If Raisi becomes president, Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps(IRGC) will tighten their grip on the economy, thereby causing an even greater depression as they allocate the bulk of the country's coffers to fuel regional wars and fund global terrorism.
As the late leader of the Communist Party of China, Deng Xiaoping, said during a speech in 1962: "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice."
In today's Iran, it does not matter whether the president's turban is black (signifying its wearer is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed through one of the 12 imams of Twelver Shi'ism) or white (meaning its wearer is not a descendant of the Prophet and is of non-Arab origin), as long as he remains loyal to the theocracy.
What does matter is the behavior of the West, particularly the United States, in the near future. If it again resorts to cooperating with Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, Khamenei will not only be able to pursue his regional and global interests unfettered, but will be better equipped to contain crises at home.
If, on the other hand, the U.S. adopts a policy of ending Tehran's Middle East meddling (as its missile strike a Syrian regime airbase on April 6 indicates it might), the Islamic Republic's domestic powder keg could explode, spelling disaster for the mullah-led regime, no matter which candidate wins the presidency.
*Mohammad Amin, born in Tehran, is a prolific author and expert in Iranian international affairs, and a fellow researcher at the Foundation of Studies for the Middle East (FEMO) in Paris.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

On Backdrop Of Egyptian Efforts To Fight Hamas Tunnels, Egyptian Writer Calls To Tie Rapprochement With Hamas To Demolition Of Tunnels
MEMRI/April 17/17
Recently, there have been increasing signs of rapprochement between Egypt and Hamas, including a visit by Hamas officials o Cairo in early February, 2017,[1] a more conciliatory tone taken by Hamas officials vis-à-vis Egypt, and a loosening of restrictions on the passage of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing.[2]At the same time, Hamas official 'Izzat Al-Rishq clarified that a warming of Hamas-Egypt relations would not come at the expense of the movement's relations with other elements (i.e., other Arab or Muslim countries like Iran).[3]Egypt, for its part, has made no concessions in its war against the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, and continues to flood and dynamite them, actions which on several occasions have caused the death or injury of operatives working inside the tunnels. For example, on January 17, 2017 the Egyptian military demolished six tunnels, and on February 25 it demolished another in an operation that killed three people. Hamas responded with a statement condemning these actions, which stated that "there is no justification for Egypt's ongoing use of these dangerous policies vis-à-vis the besieged people of the [Gaza] Strip" and that Egypt "must open the Rafah crossing on a permanent basis in order to end the suffering of Gaza and its people." It added: "It is the right of our people to live in dignity and freedom like the other peoples of the world; the international community must intervene in order to end the oppressive siege."[4]
Following the uncovering of numerous tunnels by the Egyptian military, the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm published several articles that condemned Hamas for using the tunnels to smuggle arms, terrorists and funds and thereby jeopardizing Egypt's security. Among those who addressed this topic were the daily's owner, Salah Al-Diab, and Egyptian writer and historian 'Abbas Al-Tarabili.
The following are excerpts from their articles:
'Al-Masri Al-Yawm' Editor: The Tunnels Have Become A Major Source of Discord Between Hamas And Egyptian Governments
Salah Al-Diab wrote about the threat posed to Egypt by the smuggling tunnels and about Egypt's efforts to fight them: "Hamas invented the tunnels and used them to benefit itself, not the Palestinian people of Gaza. The tunnels became a major source of discord between Hamas and Egyptian governments, discord which peaked when Egypt discovered that the tunnels were used to smuggle arms, terrorists and funds... Hamas gains considerable profits from the smuggling, up to $20,000 a day. Egypt, for its part, has destroyed over 5,000 tunnels and was forced to construct an iron barrier, 10 km long and 20-30 meters deep, at a cost of $2 billion. The barrier is 50 cm thick to make it proof against explosives. It also contains a 10-km pipe that carries sea-water and has openings every 30-40 meters, to create cracks in any tunnel that might be dug."[5]
Egyptian Historian: "Every Day We Awaken To Discover A New Tunnel That Brings Death To Our People And State"
Egyptian author and historian 'Abbas Al-Tarabili also wrote an article in Al-Masri Al-Yawm in which he harshly condemned Hamas and its actions. He stated that, despite its claims that it is increasing its presence on the Egyptian border to prevent the digging of tunnels, Hamas is not doing enough to end this dangerous phenomenon that is a threat to Egypt's security, and that the organization in fact benefits from the tunnels by taxing the goods smuggled through them. He called on the Egyptian authorities to continue their firm policy against the tunnels, to demand that Hamas reveal their location, and to make the destruction of tunnels a condition for Egypt's ongoing efforts to achieve an intra-Palestinian reconciliation as well as a condition for opening the Rafah crossing.
Al-Tarabili wrote: "How much longer will Egypt be patient with the Palestinian brothers who stab [us in the back?]... Every day we awaken to discover a new tunnel that brings death to our people and state. Is this simply our fate? We don't wish to boast about having shown grace to someone, but we have helped the Palestinians more than anyone else throughout their agonies that have lasted for nearly a century. Forget all the arguments with those who claim to stand with the Palestinian people, and there are many of them; in all honesty, those who trade in the Palestinian problem are numerous [as well].
"According to the Egyptian army spokesman, the Egyptian Border Guard [recently] uncovered a large tunnel in north Sinai that is obviously different from the many small tunnels. It is sad that this is happening while Egypt is trying to bring the warring Palestinian factions together, particularly Fatah and Hamas. Cairo hosts their representatives in order to bring them together and unite all Palestinian forces vying for power. Stranger yet is the fact that immediately upon returning to Gaza, Hamas leaders state that they will not allow interference in [matters of] Egypt's national security, and then the farce reaches its height when we uncover numerous tunnels. [In the meantime] Hamas announces the increase of security presence on its side [of the border]... as though [it] doesn't realize that all these tunnels are dug so that its men can pass over to Egyptian Rafah in order to smuggle weapons from their side along with the people who train the Sinai rebels, and in order to take subsidized food products from Egypt and sell them in Palestinian Rafah for Israeli shekels. There is also the longstanding issue of the smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes [into Egypt].
"On this matter, I and all respectable national figures believe that we must undertake a measure-for-measure policy: If [Egypt] has moved the residents of Egyptian Rafah away from the border for their own safety, and paid a hefty price for it,[6] why doesn't Hamas – who has sole control over the Gaza Strip, including Palestinian Rafah – move its residents away from the border at all costs to prevent them from digging hundreds of tunnels with which to trade in the lives and livelihoods of Egyptians? None of [the residents of Gaza] can even cough without Hamas knowing about it, let along dig tunnels! The reason Hamas doesn't do this is that Hamas benefits from these tunnels by charging tolls and taxes for them, and receives some of the profits from the goods that pass through them. It is not enough for Hamas to announce that it has increased its patrols on the border; it must send us maps of the tunnels.
"If [Hamas] cannot control the tunnel entrances on its side, why not enable us to work with it to uncover the tunnels and destroy every tunnel opening on its side? Moreover, I believe Egypt should tie its ongoing efforts to reconcile the Palestinian parties to the uncovering of these tunnels – meaning that Hamas must cooperate with us in fighting these tunnels in return for us continuing to promote the reconciliation... Hamas should make gestures and cooperate with us on terrorism, and especially on the tunnels, because most of the weapons smuggled through these tunnels are meant to be used against us. In fact, Egypt should officially announce that it is halting all attempts to reconcile [between the Palestinian factions] until Hamas meets Egypt's legitimate demand. We must tie the opening of the Rafah crossing, and the crossings for goods located to the south of it, to the destruction of tunnels on their side. And do not speak to us about the humanitarian aspects, [the people] on both sides of the crossing and those who require medical care. The folk saying goes: 'if wind is coming in through your [open] door, close it and [then you will have some] rest'...
"We require a decisive move, and not on Hamas's part. We need an even more decisive step. We must stop burying our heads in the sand." [7]
[1] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), February 4, 2017.
[2], March 6, 2017.
[3], February 8, 2017.
[4], February 25, 2017.
[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 17, 2017.
[6] As part of fighting the tunnels, in October 2014 Egypt demolished the homes of Rafah residents and moved them to new locations farther away from the border.
[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 22, 2017.

Why Easter Brings Out the Worst in Islam
Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/April 17/17
Why are some Christians murdered and many more terrorized in the name of Islam every Easter holiday?
This year’s most notable attack occurred in Egypt, where two Coptic Christian churches were bombed during Palm Sunday mass, leaving 50 dead and 120 injured. While this incident received some coverage in Western media, attacks on churches in Egypt on or around Easter are not uncommon. For instance, this last April 12, just two days after the Palm Sunday attacks, authorities thwarted another Islamic terror attack targeting a Coptic monastery in Upper Egypt. Similarly, on April 12, 2015, Easter Sunday, two explosions targeting two separate churches took place in Egypt. Although no casualties were reported—hence no reporting in Western media—large numbers could easily have resulted, based on precedent (for example, on January 1, 2011, as Egypt’s Christians ushered in the New Year—another Christian holiday for Orthodox communities—car bombs went off near the Two Saints Church in Alexandria, resulting in 23 dead worshippers and dozens critically injured). Less spectacular but no less telling, after 45 years of waiting, the Christians of Nag Shenouda, Egypt, finally got a permit to build a church; local Muslims responded by rioting and even burning down the temporary tent the Copts had erected to worship under (a different incident from this similar one). Denied, the Christians of Nag Shenouda celebrated Easter in the street, to Muslims jeers and sneers (picture here)
While almost anything can provoke Muslims around the world to attack churches, there is a reason that the animus can reach a fever pitch during Easter: more than any other Christian holiday, Resurrection Sunday commemorates and celebrates three central Christian doctrines that Islam manifestly rejects: that Christ was crucified and died; that he was resurrected; and that by especial virtue of the latter, he is the Son of God. As Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Bir, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s mufti said in 2013, Muslims must not commend Christians during Easter, for that holiday “contradicts and clashes with Islamic doctrine unlike Christmas.”From here the carnage makes sense. Thus on Easter Sunday, 2016, another Islamic suicide bombing took place near the children rides of a public park in Pakistan, where Christians were known to be congregated and celebrating. Some 70 people—mostly women and children—were killed and nearly 400 injured. Something similar was in store for Pakistan this year, 2017, as officials foiled a “major terrorist attack” targeting Christians on Easter Sunday.
Celebrating Easter is an especially dangerous affair in Muslim-majority regions of Nigeria: a church was burned down on Easter Sunday, 2014, leaving 150 dead; another church was bombed on Easter Sunday, 2012, leaving some 50 worshippers dead; Muslim herdsmen launched a series of raids during Easter week, 2013, killing at least 80 Christians—mostly children and the elderly; additionally, over 200 Christian homes were destroyed, eight churches burned, and 4,500 Christians displaced.
As Islam’s presence continues to grow in Europe, and in accordance with Islam’s Rule of Numbers, Easter-related attacks are also growing. According to one report, “the terror cell that struck in Brussels [in March, 2016, killing 34] was planning to massacre worshippers at Easter church services across Europe, including Britain.” In Scotland, 2016, a Muslim man stabbed another Muslim man to death for wishing Christians a Good Friday and Happy Easter. And if an al-Qaeda terror plot targeting Easter shoppers in the UK was not thwarted “it would almost certainly have been Britain’s worst terrorist attack, with the potential to cause more deaths than the suicide attacks of July 7, 2005, when 52 people were murdered.”
One can go on and on:
The day before Good Friday, 2015, Muslim jihadis raided a Kenyan university and massacred 147; along with the fact that they tried to distinguish between Muslim and Christian students in order to kill only the latter, that they taunted those whom they slaughtered by mockingly saying things like “This will be a good Easter holiday for us” placed their animus in the context of the Christian holiday. In Iran, Easter Sunday, 2012, saw 12 Christians stand trial as “apostates”; authorities raided an Easter service in a house-church in 2014, arresting and hauling off all those in attendance; and in 2015, various churches were banned from celebrating Easter Sunday altogether. On Easter Sunday, 2015, the Islamic State destroyedthe Virgin Mary Church in Tel Nasri, an ancient Christian region in northeast Syria. After Islamic rebels fired rockets at a Christian neighborhood right before that same Easter, 2015, killing approximately 40, a woman lamented how “Our Easter feast has turned to grief.” In 2015, Muslims attacked a Catholic village in Bangladesh as it celebrated Easter; they stabbed its priest, destroyed Bibles, crosses, holy pictures, musical instruments and homes, and slaughtered goats and chickens.
In Turkey, a pastor was beaten by Muslims immediately following Easter serviceand threatened with death unless he converted to Islam.
According to an AP report from 2013, “Iraq’s Catholic Christians flocked to churches to celebrate Easter Sunday, praying, singing and rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ,” but only “behind high blast walls and tight security cordons.”
Of course, while Resurrection Sunday has the capacity to offend—and thus bring out the worst in some—Muslims more than any other Christian holy day, one should be careful not to attribute too much doctrinal nitpicking to the assailants. After all, Muslims have bombed and burned Christian churches on other holidays—a Cairo church was bombed leaving 27 dead before last Christmas—and no holidays at all. (See here for Christmas 2016, here for Christmas 2015, and here for Christmas 2014 for dozens of anecdotes of Muslim violence against and slaughter of Christians in the context of Christmas.)
In short, whatever the holiday, growing numbers of Muslims appear to agree with the view voiced by one Egyptian cleric that “Christian worship is worse than murder and bloodshed”—meaning, shedding the blood of Christians and murdering them is preferable to allowing them to flaunt their opposition to Muhammad’s teachings, as they naturally do every Sunday in church. Only more doctrinally attuned Muslims, who are in the minority, save their attacks for that one day of the year that so flagrantly defies Islam: Resurrection Sunday.

‘Master Bomb’ and Trump’s message to the world
Ghassan Charbel/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
This is really a scary bomb, Weighing 10 tons, the power of its explosion is unprecedented if we exclude the nuclear element, which is enormously destructive. Designed to penetrate the fortifications, tunnels and basements. There is no hope of survival for those who exist in the targeted place. It is a tremendous fire wave; a programmed and ruthless earthquake. It is not an exaggeration to call it “The Master Bomb!” The fighters of ISIS, al-Qaeda and Taliban have to think carefully. It became an actual suicidal mission to set the American coat on fire. America has a long hand. As well as the hands of its laboratories. The Tunnels can no longer be considered as a safe haven, it does not even deserve to be called so anymore, as it is not enough now to prohibit the anger of the President in the White House. The morale explosive power of the bomb passed through Afghanistan. Most probably Russian generals are going to think about it for a long time. Their army has the ability to turn cities into ruined fields. But the aura of this bomb challenges them, it leaves deep concussions in the morale of their partners. Generals know that what’s more important than the power of a bomb is to take a quick decision to throw it out. Trump was acting on the basis that America in his time is able to reassure its allies and provoke its adversaries
Ding Dong to Russia and Iran
Leaving the Russian generals aside under their vast nuclear umbrella. There is no doubt that the North Korean president is concerned with the “Master bomb”, whom has been addicted to the nuclear and missile blackmailing. He received the news while preparing to celebrate his grandfather's birthday in an atmosphere of suspense and intimidation. His generals have to foresee through what happened in Afghanistan. The same goes for the Iranian generals who have turned diplomatic and missile tunnels into a permanent policy. Certainly they would not overlook that the bomb loaded with explosives and messages came a week after the American missiles rained down on the Syrian Shayrat Airbase. They know that what’s more dangerous than these missiles is the decision to throw them. Most probably, the generals of Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria feel sorry that Barack Obama's days has come to an end. In his days, the American Red Line became a popular joke on social media sites. Some of them were hasty to believe that America has already turned into a paper tiger.
Trump’s thumbprint
Can the journalist take the risk to state that Donald Trump's actual era began with bombing the Syrian airport and was confirmed by dropping “The Master Bomb”? Is it possible to say that what’s more dangerous than the terrible bomb is the change happened to the image of the President sitting in the Oval Office? Trump has been observed by his opponents and allies since he started his duties. The 100-day exam was not easy. Much has been written about the confusion of the new ruling. Lacking both coherent vision and team. The period was full of contradictory statements and hasty decisions. Many predicted that the reign of Trump would have an irreparable infections; domestically and abroad. An infection that would be internationally seen as similar to Obama and his famous red line.It is clear that Trump listened carefully to his administration and generals. America wants to be influential, it must be strong. Recovering America's influence and creating a clear image of the president. A president who does not hesitate to make difficult decisions when they are necessary to protect US interests. Thus Trump was acting on the basis that America in his time is able to reassure its allies and provoke its adversaries.
Rebooting the war on terror
The missiles that targeted Shayrat Airbase have revived the American Red Line. Trump's administration took advantage of the chemical attack; the president made a quick decision that pointed a finger at the Syrian regime, damaged the image of the Russian president and the role of his country. This was accompanied by a very important political step, which was to hint at the improving relations with China; if Russia chose to continue to protect the practices of the Syrian regime and did not oblige it to accept a serious political agreement. The Afghanistan bomb came to confirm that America is leading the war on terrorism from Afghanistan, Mawsel, to Al-Raqqa, and that the Russian role in this war is incomplete or ambiguous. Due to the two strikes, America seemed to regain its controlling seat, making it able to give guarantees, assurances and warnings. The return of Trump from Twitter to the established US institutions, in case he continued, would be a more severe bomb for the international balances than the missiles targeted the Shayrat Airbase and the Afghanian “Master Bomb”. Most probably Vladimir Putin made a big mistake when he hesitated to launch a serious and convincing political agreement in Syria, preferring to wait for a full deal. If he had done that, Trump would have found no choice other than supporting the Russian Syria to reduce the chances establishing of the Iranian Syria. When the American President regains the leadership position and reinforces his country's diplomacy, world leaders in this or that country must recalculate their own agendas.
**Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

Evacuation deal is Syria’s new moment of shame
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Saturday’s terrorist attack in Rashidin in Aleppo, which targeted residents who were being evacuated from the Syrian towns of Foua and Kefraya, shows the deep rift that exists in Syria today. Residents of Foua and Kefraya are Shiites who support the Assad regime. The displacement was carried out based on what was known as the four towns’ deal. As part of this deal, the Sunni residents of Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus would be displaced to northwestern Syria, Idlib and other areas, while Shiites in Idlib’s and Aleppo’s countryside would be displaced to West Syria or to what’s regarded by the Syrian regime as “useful Syria.” In other words, or rather blatantly, it’s a sectarian demographic division and manipulation of the Syrian social map on the basis of identity. It’s a major crime that kills whatever is left of plurality and spontaneity, which people enjoyed for hundreds of years despite the strife that occurred around them due to domestic or foreign disputes. The suicide attack against evacuees from Foua and Kefraya killed 112. Most of them were residents and fighters. They were waiting in Rashidin while opposition fighters and residents of Madaya, which is close to Damascus, were waiting at the Ramouseh bus station few miles away. It’s a major crime that kills whatever is left of plurality and spontaneity, which people enjoyed for hundreds of years despite the strife that occurred around them due to domestic or foreign disputes
Evacuation schemes
The plan was to transfer them to Idlib, which is controlled by the armed opposition. According to the four towns’ deal, there are two phases. The first one is to evacuate all residents of Foua and Kefraya whose number is estimated at 16,000 and the second one is to evacuate the residents of Madaya and Zabadani.The Syrian opposition was right to describe this displacement as a forced displacement of citizens who oppose Assad from major urban centers in West Syria. What happened to the residents or even fighters of Foua and Kefraya is an obvious crime. A similar attack – God forbid – may target residents and fighters of Madaya and Zabadani as it is expected that the Assad regime and its militias may retaliate. However, the worst crime here lies in deepening the sectarian divide and altering the country’s geography and manipulating demographic facts according to it.
Displacing Syrian identity
This barbaric demographic division is happening before the eyes of the entire world. It is happening in our era although we thought such displacement and ethnic cleaning have ended during the Middle Ages and with the Spanish Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.The Syrian regime, the militias affiliated with it, Iranian thugs and Vladimir Putin’s forces combined with al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and ISIS have sealed the fate of these four towns. They are all partners in destroying the historical and civilized Syrian identity. The four towns’ deal is a new Syrian shame.

Why Syria is one thing and Assad is another
Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Why did the United States carry out airstrike against Syria?
Firstly, the US did not strike Syria as proclaimed by the national media and the media that belongs to the terrorist group Hezbollah but it hit a military airbase fully operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from where the chemical weapons were launched on Idlib. The US destroyed the military aircraft and Quds missiles, which were used to hit the Syrian cities. Secondly, let us try to reestablish the facts to know the situation in Syria and why the regime of Assad was forced on the Syrian people.Syria, once heart of the Arab world, allied itself with a revolutionary (non-Arab) sectarian regime Iran. Iran, whose main objective as outlined in its constitution, is to spread its extremist ideology in the region. Syria is also allied with the sectarian terrorism group (Hezbollah), classified as a terrorist organization by the international community and by most of the Arab countries (it has branches in those countries and it is accused of many terrorist acts in those states). In addition, Syria is allied with Russia (the first country to recognize Israel and the Russian lobby which is the most important lobby inside Israel). This is the story of Syria under the Assad regime, a fascist, repressive and failed state changed from Ba’athist to sectarian state par excellence. It is strange that Syria’s allies (Iran and the terrorist organization Hezbollah) do not see the comparison between what happened in Iraq, which they strongly supported at that time, while in Syria they rejected it. Iraq was ruled by Ba’athist dictator (just like Syria), a minority ruling a majority (again, just like Syria).They exterminated the unarmed and defenseless civilians in Halabja in Iraq (Assad did the same in Hama and elsewhere). Saddam occupied Kuwait, Assad occupied Lebanon too but because of their exclusive sectarian outlook, they never see those issues with the same objective and fair eye.
It is strange that Syria’s allies do not see the comparison between what happened in Iraq, which they strongly supported at that time, while in Syria they rejected it
A reckless system
This reckless system, which is supported by the scum of the “thugs”, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions, is not due any respect nor is Assad worthy to continue ruling the country. The regime of Syria gave the Golan Heights to Israel in 1967 without any resistance or without firing a bullet against Israel and withdrew before the arrival of the Israeli forces. The Golan remained in complete calm for more than four decades. The Syrian regime has killed more Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis and Jordanians, more than the Israelis did. The removal of Palestinian resistance from Lebanon also contributed to ignite a civil war in Lebanon in which the Lebanese devoted sectarian presence, under the banner of terrorist Hezbollah, and yet continued with all despicable and shameless interference in the Palestinian cause with threats to assassinate its leaders, just like the assassinations of great political symbols in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. A wicked and phony political system inherited the rule of the republic from father to son, forcing the People’s Assembly to change its constitution in minutes to accept the age of the new president Bashar al-Asaad (by the way he was not the preferred first choice of his father).The regime has enmity with all the countries in the region and have forced its people to leave and migrate, deprived them of their privileges, bitterly humiliated them by imprisonment and nationalized the major private companies.
The nature of the regime
This is the Assad regime which is now objecting to the military strike against it. The US did not target any civilians, no civilians were killed and there was no monetary cost on the people. All the military equipment that was destroyed at the targeted airbase was within the military deal between the Assad regime and Russia, in exchange for the establishment of its military base on the coast of Tartus in the Mediterranean Sea (as it is well-known). Israel knows fully well that Assad poses no threat to them. There are three historical statements made at the time of the Syrian revolution when Rami Maalouf, the son of the uncle of Bashar Al-Assad and one of the most important pillars of the regime, said, “Security of Syria means security of Israel.” The next statement was by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah terrorist group. He said, “We will fight until the end in the defense of Bashar Al-Asaad.”And thirdly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself said, “the survival of Bashar Al-Asaad is a zguarantee for Israel’s security”. These statements need no analysis to understand the role of the Assad’s regime in the region and its importance to both Iran and Israel. America attacked a military airbase which was used against the civilians in Syria and it is run entirely by Iran. What is not understood until today is that Syria is one thing and Bashar Al-Assad is something else. Bashar Al-Assad is exactly the opposite of everything beautiful that Syria represented.

Why Turks can’t get enough of Erdogan
Mahir Zeynalov/Al Arabiya/April 17/17
Hardly is there any politician in modern times who is as good as Turkish president at winning polls. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, again, declared victory on Sunday in a referendum that significantly expanded his powers. Erdogan’s rise to power in the early 2000s followed years of devastating economic meltdown and unceasing political turmoil. Fed up with short-lived, incompetent and corrupt governments, Turks went to polls to vote for a strongman over and over. People didn’t want to return to dark old days in the 1990s and Erdogan was their invincible savior. Throughout his rule in the 2000s, Erdogan was not another autocrat who crushed the opposition and secured pillars of his government through brute force. Instead, he fixed the ailing banking sector, lifted millions of people out of poverty, drove economic growth through massive infrastructure projects and made sweeping political reforms.
Economic and political stability has so far underpinned his 15-year rule – the longest in Turkey’s history. Sunday’s referendum paved the way for Erdogan to stay in power until 2029. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that people in Turkey want to see Erdogan stay in power. But bestowing him with more powers was a gift even many of his supporters thought was unnecessary.For months, President Erdogan said voting for constitutional changes was the answer to a series of bomb attacks, sagging economy and post-coup turmoil. The changes will abolish the post of prime minister, weaken checks and balances, give the president an authority over judicial appointments, and bury the role of Parliament as the center of power. The European Union even said the constitutional changes would end Turkey’s membership bid. The victory was not an easy one and the narrow margin of victory must have been a disappointment for the government. The referendum in Turkey, which has a proud history of holding free and fair elections since the 1950s, is marred by allegations of fraud.  There were reports of videos being posted on social media showing precinct officials stamping otherwise invalid ballots, or stamped “Yes” on numerous ballots. Observers have long been scratching their heads to understand what type of regime Turkey had. Many Western nations called Turkey a Muslim ally that was democratic and modern. The referendum outcome may have significantly changed this equation
Recount demand
The opposition said it would challenge the results and demanded a recount. No Western leader called President Erdogan to congratulate on the Referendum Day even though there were congratulatory messages received from elsewhere. State-run news agency Anadolu was on the ground reporting the results while many questioned the accuracy of the entire process, with no rival news agency tracking the counting. Will anything change? Hardly. Erdogan has already been ruling the country in ways that alarmed world rights groups and attracted criticisms from Western nations. Turks went to polls on Sunday just to give more powers to Erdogan. It seems, the country has just changed its 9-decade old regime to accommodate Erdogan’s dreams. Observers have long been scratching their heads to understand what type of regime Turkey had. Many Western nations called Turkey a Muslim ally that was democratic and modern. The referendum outcome may have significantly changed this equation. Now Turkey officially appears to be moving toward a one-man rule. On foreign policy, it will be business as usual. It was Erdogan who called the shots in the past anyway. His policies in Syria, Iraq and continued partnership with Russia will more likely stay intact. Whichever way one looks at it, Turkey, it seems, cannot have enough of Erdogan even after so many years of him being in power.