April 21/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 24/36-45/:"While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,"

No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him
Letter to the Romans 10/04-12/:"For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" ’ (that is, to bring Christ down)‘or "Who will descend into the abyss?" ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 20-21/17
Sanctions against Hezbollah/Diana Moukalled/Arabnews/April 20/2017
Samir Franjieh's death marks the end of a political idea/Michael Young/The National/April 20/17
Syria: The Tillerson Proposal to the Russians/Middle East Briefying/April 20/17
The Russia-Iran Alliance: Where to/Middle East Briefying/April 20/17
Syrian refugees are not a ticking time bomb, but Lebanon’s exploitation of them is/Kareem Chehayeb/Middle East Eye/April 20/17
Iran blocks Telegram/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 20/17
Riyadh and Baghdad: Getting relations back on track/Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/April 20/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 20-21/17
Sanctions against Hezbollah
Samir Franjieh's death marks the end of a political idea
Syrian refugees are not a ticking time bomb, but Lebanon’s exploitation of them is
U.S. Asks U.N. to Tackle 'Destructive Nature of Iran, Hizbullah Activities'
Richard Says New U.S. Embassy Compound Fills Her with 'Optimism for the Future'
UNIFIL head chairs regular tripartite meeting with LAF and IDF officials
Geagea Slams Hizbullah Border Tour for Reporters as 'Strategic Mistake'
Hizbullah Organizes Border Tour for Reporters on Israel's Defense Measures
Hizbullah Bloc Warns against Failure to Agree on Electoral Law before May 15
Jumblat Reminds that 1960 Electoral Law is Still in Effect
Kidanian honors German diplomatic delegation
Hajj Hassan pursues visit to Moscow, underlines promotion of economic ties
Hariri follows up on Palestinian refugees census, receives Spanish ambassador and Roukoz
Report: Electoral Negotiations Almost Paralyzed
Qassem Adheres to Proportional Law, Says Suggested Law Versions Must be Complete to Decide on
Hamadeh Wonders Why Cabinet Refrains from Meeting
Lebanese parliamentary delegation, IMF Middle East officer discuss Lebanon affairs
Hasbani begins meetings in Washington

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 20-21/17
Policeman and suspected gunman shot dead in Paris gun battle
Iran FM Slams 'Worn-Out' U.S. Nuclear Accusations
U.N., Russia Set for Syria Meet without U.S.
Watchdog Rejects Russian-Iranian Bid for New Syria Chemical Attack Probe
Rouhani among 6 Candidates Selected for Iran Vote, Ahmadinejad Barred
US Tries to Clear Waters after N. Korea 'Armada' Confusion
Israel Extends Remand of Teenager Accused of U.S. Bomb Threats
Clashes at Protest to Support Palestinian Hunger Strikers
Egypt Army Says Senior IS Cleric Killed in Sinai
Guardian Council Bars Mahmoud Ahmadinejad From Iran Election
Iran: Latest News From Prisons, the Situation of Conscience & Political Prisoners
Status of the Iranian Regime's Nuclear Bomb Making Apparatus Details to Be Revealed

Links From Jihad Watch Site for April 20-21/17
Iran seeking to ban non-Muslims from running in elections: it’s against Sharia
Turkey: Fugitive al-Qaeda jihadi discovered working as an imam
Paris on lockdown as gunmen kill cop in “terrorist act”
Trudeau: Canadians must move “beyond mere tolerance towards acceptance”
Muslim migrants ‘campaign’ for Le Pen in France: 14 injured as migrants storm town hall
Australia: Muslim pleads guilty to marrying 14-year-old girl
Sharia in Indonesia: Woman caned for having sex before marriage
Australia implements citizenship changes based on Australian values
Sandra Solomon Moment: What Islam Taught Me About Christians
Muslim receiving cancer treatment in Israel arrested smuggling explosives from Gaza

Links From Christian Today Site on April 20-21/17
Vicar's daughter Theresa May can't take Christian votes for granted. Here's why
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen blasts Pope Francis and Church for political 'interference'
Hispanic Christian leader 'hugely alarmed' over apparent deportation of 'DREAMer' under Trump
Will removing a 'conscience clause' force Christian pharmacists to dispense morning-after pills?
Father's grief as 16-year-old Coptic boy is murdered in Egypt's 'war on Christians'
Hereford Cathedral hits back at criticism of Grayson Perry art display
It's taken 8 years, but the UN finally recognises Christian anti-persecution charity
MPs overwhelmingly back #GeneralElection2017

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 20-21/17
Sanctions against Hezbollah/عقوبات ضد حزب الله
Diana Moukalled/Arabnews/April 20/2017
In its responses to questions regarding its sources of funding, Hezbollah has always said it does not deal with Lebanese banks. Its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah once said the money comes directly from Iran. These statements contain some truth, as security agencies at the ports and airports are allied with Hezbollah and so may easily permit it to pass through weapons and funds via planes arriving from Tehran or elsewhere.
It is hard to erase from Lebanese memory scenes at the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, when Hezbollah began distributing funds directly to those whose homes had been damaged, rather than via banks.
This was accompanied by media coverage aimed at showing that Hezbollah is ready to directly and generously compensate its followers for war damages. This does not mean intended recipients received their compensation, but it was a significant opportunity for the party to show off its financial capabilities.
These scenes have not been repeated, especially as the party has been under international pressure for years to reveal its sources of funding. This pressure has been concentrated in the US, where Congress is expected to announce in the coming days additional measures to punish and hunt down the financiers of Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.
Striking a balance between the need to dry out Hezbollah’s finances and the fragile situation in Lebanon is challenging but not impossible for the US Treasury.
The new sanctions are tougher than previous ones, especially with the sanctions list expanding to include organizations assisting Hezbollah, such as the Amal movement and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel.
What worries many banks in Lebanon and the region is that leaked information about the sanctions suggests that unlike previous ones, Lebanon will not be able to take financial measures to avoid them.
Here we note the extent of secrecy and caution that governs the positions of Lebanese officials on the matter, in light of their effort to find an exit from the expected crisis. Even Hezbollah, which is directly involved, has limited its position to calling on the government, which it controls, not to comply.
Bankers, even those in a rivalry with Hezbollah in Lebanon, are coming together because the new US approach could harm Lebanon’s economy, which is largely based on the banking sector’s vitality. Classifying a bank as “uncooperative” in implementing US sanctions would be very damaging. Sanctioning Lebanese parties and individuals in Hezbollah’s orbit could widen partisan confrontation with a sector that is unable to withstand such shocks.
The US Treasury does not need more than a formal statement to bring down Lebanon’s economy. With the administration of President Donald Trump, all possibilities are open. Striking a balance between the need to dry out Hezbollah’s finances and the fragile situation in Lebanon is challenging but not impossible.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.

Samir Franjieh's death marks the end of a political idea
وفاة سمير فرنجية تمثل نهاية فكرة السياسية
Michael Young/The National/April 20/17
When Samir Franjieh passed away in Beirut last week, much more died than the indefatigable Lebanese political figure of some five decades. Gone with him was also a vision of national politics that has lost considerable ground in his Maronite Christian community, which regards itself increasingly as being on the decline politically and demographically.
Franjieh was from a prominent political family from the northern Lebanese town of Zghorta. His late father, Hamid Franjieh, was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1952, while his uncle Suleiman was elected president in 1970, shifting the political power in the family to Suleiman’s side and that of his descendants. Not that this made a great deal of difference to Samir Franjieh, who was never likely to follow a conventional path in his political career. A leftist in his younger days, he was part of one of the groups that would later coalesce into the Organisation for Communist Action in Lebanon, earning him the label of the "Red Beyk". Always more of an intellectual than a bruiser, he was nonetheless savvy and experienced, and was remembered as a mentor by many a politician and publicist.
But Franjieh had undergone change himself over the years. From the left-wing activist, he later became an advocate of inter-religious dialogue.
Franjieh was a founder of the Permanent Congress for Lebanese Dialogue, established with Muslim clerics and public figures. This shift underlined how Franjieh, like many of those on the political left in the 1960s and 1970s who had sought to change Lebanon’s sectarian system, had later rallied to the advantages it offered in terms of sectarian coexistence.
But this return to traditionalism was not itself easy, given that his own community was shifting in the opposite direction. With the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, the Maronites felt increasingly marginalised in a society with a clear Muslim majority and under Syrian control. The Syrian withdrawal in 2005 gave Maronites a new confidence, but one increasingly tinged with a feeling that Lebanon’s Muslim communities were taking them for granted.
Most recently, this blend of confidence and insecurity led the two leading Christian political parties – the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun and the Lebanese Forces Party of Samir Geagea – to support a new election law for parliamentary elections scheduled for this year. While nothing is yet final, the law they are leaning towards would allow voters from each sect to choose only candidates from their own sect in a first round of polling. In that way, both parties feel, no Christians would be brought into parliament by non-Christian voters.
To Franjieh, such a scheme was anathema, alien to the coexistence for which he had long worked. "This law puts an end to the idea of living together, a reality created in Lebanon by political, economic and social exchange between the Lebanese," he said in 2013.
It was a revealing moment, one in which the former leftist who had once condemned the Lebanese system, was now defending it against mainstream Maronite parties, many of which had formerly regarded him as a threat to the Lebanese system. The irony was hardly limited to the Maronites, however. Even someone such as the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a close friend of Franjieh who himself had railed against sectarianism, today is one of the system’s staunchest supporters.
There were many other paradoxes in Franjieh. In our last encounter this year, he recounted how as a young man he was being driven by taxi to the village of Ehden, the summer retreat of the inhabitants of Zghorta.
The reputation of the Zghortawis is that of a clannish society governed by the rules of vendetta, a gun always at hand, as in Sicily or Corsica. As he entered Ehden, the taxi driver remarked that its inhabitants were "animals", not realising who he had in his car.
Franjieh laughed at the story later, perhaps amused at the contrast between his own sedate ways and his town’s ferocious reputation. And yet one could see occasional flashes of the streetwise, tough-minded northerner through his humour and sophistication. In that regard he embodied his town better than most, for Zghorta remains a multifaceted place, with a civil society as independent and lively as the one in Beirut.
Since I first met Franjieh in the early 1990s he had been struggling with the spectre of serious illness. That created the most enduring paradox in the man. He was someone who seemed to be living permanently in the shadow of premature death, yet who remained a relentless optimist.
Never complaining, never down, he seemed not to be discouraged by how heavily the odds were stacked against his ideal for Lebanon – and himself.
Many remarked how Franjieh’s death left behind an emptiness that will be difficult to fill. Certainly, the Maronite community has lost a voice of reason at a time of sectarian impetuosity. As for Lebanon, there is no doubt it has become a far less interesting place without Samir Franjieh.
**Michael Young is a writer and editor in Beirut

Syrian refugees are not a ticking time bomb, but Lebanon’s exploitation of them is
Kareem Chehayeb/Middle East Eye/April 20/17
At the recent Syria conference which drew world leaders to Brussels to discuss how to support the refugees in the country, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri – on his first official European tour during his third stint as prime minister - discussed how they had negatively impacted the country’s economy and infrastructure. "Invest in hope ... peace ... and support [Lebanon's] stability," Hariri said. “It’s not only about aiding refugees, it’s also about the future of Lebanon.”
And then he went in for the hard pitch: the international community should provide Lebanon with $10-12bn over the next seven years - otherwise Lebanon will refuse to keep them.
The following day at an event with the Hong Kong-based Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce in Beirut, he called on China to invest in Lebanon given the impact of the refugee crisis. “Investing in Lebanon today is preparing for the massive reconstruction of Syria,” he said.
And despite the government scrambling to agree on an electoral law which has all but extended the terms of MPs for a third time, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani announced this week that he will be meeting with World Bank officials in Washington DC on Wednesday to negotiate more aid. The money, he said in a press conference, will be used to rehabilitate Lebanese infrastructure and its health sector among others.
Trying to calm the protestors down, Hariri and his entourage were met with plastic water bottles raining down on them
Hariri and Hasbani's narrative is ideal for an international community that has shamelessly helped intensify the armed conflict in Syria while doing the bare minimum to take care of refugees who continue to suffer on land and sea.
But it is equally suitable to silence disgruntled Lebanese citizens that have become impatient, and rightly so, at the lack of public services, infrastructure, and social justice in their country.
Pitting the poor against refugees
In 2015, people took to the streets as a result of the garbage crisis – at least, that’s where headlines focused. But this went beyond trash. More broadly, protesters objected to government corruption, and the laundering and squandering of their tax money. Their complaints were met with teargas, water cannons, mass arrests, and rubber bullets.
The establishment has set in motion a demonisation campaign of Syrian refugees which has become integral over the past few months to policy planning
When public sector workers escalated their calls for a wage hike through protests and strikes in early 2017, the government obliged, but then proposed new tax measures that would negatively impact the middle and working classes in Lebanon. A wave of protests took place, calling on the government to better manage public funds to fund the wage hike. Trying to calm the protestors down, Hariri and his entourage were met with plastic water bottles raining down on them.
Since his election last October, Lebanon's political elite have branded Michel Aoun’s leadership as a “new term” and an era of reform. In reality, while Lebanon's foundational components remain the same, the establishment has set in motion a demonisation campaign of Syrian refugees which has become integral over the past few months to policy planning.
While the government has adopted a rhetoric that promotes transparency and better financial management as a result of the wave of protests in 2015, the refugee crisis is always mentioned as a prime problem.
While Syrian refugees often work uncontracted jobs with no social security or insurance, they spend roughly $1.5bn in Lebanon per year
Take for example the cabinet’s electricity reform plan which aims to finally give Lebanon 24 hours of electricity. Last month, the cabinet passed a very expensive electricity reform plan which was met with questions and concerns, even from other ministers.
Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil’s justification for such a plan? Despite the lack of electricity and other basic public services agitating the public since the civil war ended in 1990, he said in February: “If it weren’t for the [Syrian] refugee crisis, Lebanon would have electricity 24/7.”
And in light of Lebanon’s increased security problems, notably the greater visibility of extremist groups like the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat al-Nusra, and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, Hariri argued in Brussels that Lebanon’s security is “threatened” as a result of the socioeconomic impact of Syrian refugees.
Lack of legal status is a nightmare for Syrians in Lebanon
The government has successfully convinced many people that Syrian refugees strain the economy. There are some pages on social media platforms that actively blacklist Syrian small businesses, encouraging "patriotic" citizens to boycott them.
However, the government fails to mention that while Syrian refugees often work uncontracted jobs with no social security or insurance, and receive pay roughly at half of Lebanon’s minimum wage, they spend roughly $1.5bn in Lebanon per year.
There is no mention of their exploitation in the workplace, and certainly no mention of their contribution to the economy.
Displacing refugees
To add insult to injury, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are being systematically displaced across the country. In February, the mayor of Hadath, south of Beirut, cracked down on Syrian businesses, implementing an order from Lebanon’s ministry of labour that limits the jobs Syrians are allowed to work. To make matters worse, Syrians residing in Hadath were forced to leave their homes too.One month later, another town south of Beirut, Naameh, implemented the same measures. The mayor, who spoke to me on the matter, used the same justification: the Syrians are taking our jobs and oversaturating the economy. Syrian-owned small businesses were closed, and businesses employing Syrians with jobs that are not permitted under the ministry of labour were threatened to be shut down unless they fire them. This is not a coincidence; the mayor told me that other towns will follow suit and have been in close coordination with each other.
It gets worse.
Less than two weeks before the Brussels conference, the Lebanese army officially agreed to pull down 80-90 refugee settlements in northern Lebanon. While UNHCR says this will impact as many as 12,000 Syrians, activists estimate that up to 20,000 will be impacted. Three thousand have been displaced thus far according to Human Rights Watch, also confirming that the military has not found another location for them. This happens in light of Hezbollah and the Free Syria Army’s Saraya Ahl al-Sham’s negotiations to send Syrian refugees back through the Qalamoun Mountains to Syria.
Exploiting suffering for personal gain
In short, the Lebanese government is asking the international community for aid money while violating the principles of international law, namely forcibly returning those fleeing from persecution and violence.Perhaps Hariri and other Lebanese political officials are right when they call Lebanon a ticking time bomb, but their causes for concern are a far cry from reality. If Lebanon is to crash economically or experience a security crisis, systematic government corruption and the lack of transparent and effective state institutions will be the root cause, not helpless refugees fleeing war.
And while it is definitely no easy task to handle a refugee population that totals roughly a quarter of your country's populaton, the antagonising rhetoric towards them since day one indicates that perhaps that was the plan all along. Of course, the ideal scapegoats are those that are most defenceless.
The situation that Syrian refugees face in Lebanon is best described as tragic - because of Lebanon’s inability to look after them and because they have been used as a political tool by the ruling class to promote sectarian and xenophobic ideologies. But most of all, their circumstances are tragic because of the way in which Lebanese leaders are willing to exploit the socio-economic suffering and security fears of both Syrian refugees and ordinary Lebanese people for their own gains.
*Kareem Chehayeb is a Lebanese writer and musician based in Beirut. You can follow him on Twitter @chehayebk

U.S. Asks U.N. to Tackle 'Destructive Nature of Iran, Hizbullah Activities'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/The United States on Thursday urged the U.N. Security Council to devote less attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and make what she called Iran's "incredibly destructive" activities a priority in the Middle East. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley branded Iran the "chief culprit" of conflicts in the Middle East and vowed to work with Washington's partners to demand Iran comply with U.N. resolutions. Haley cited Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, weapons supplies to Huthi rebels in Yemen, training of Shiite militias in Iraq and the presence of Tehran-backed Hizbullah in Lebanon as destabilizing. "The Israel-Palestinian issue is an important one, deserving of attention. But that is one issue that surely has no lack of attention around here," Haley told the monthly council meeting on the Middle East. "The incredibly destructive nature of Iranian and Hizbullah activities throughout the Middle East demands much more of our attention.""It should become this council’s priority in the region." Haley's remarks came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson branded the Iran nuclear deal a failure and two days after President Donald Trump ordered a review of the lifting of sanctions under the agreement. The U.S. call to shift the focus to Iran drew a cool response from other U.N. Security Council permanent members. France, Russia and China made no mention of Iran during the council's monthly meeting on the Middle East, instead emphasizing the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement to bring regional peace. Addressing the Security Council, Iran's ambassador hit back, accusing the United States of waging a "misleading propaganda campaign" against his country. "The U.S. and the Israeli regime want to remove the Palestinian issue -- that is central to all conflicts in the Middle East -- from these open debates," said Iranian Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo. "By blaming all others but the occupier, the U.S. seeks to erase the question, rather than addressing it." The council holds a monthly meeting on the Middle East and the Palestinian question. Haley has repeatedly accused the top U.N. body of being biased against Israel. Describing the monthly meetings as "Israel-bashing sessions," Haley said the debates "do nothing" to address differences but were instead pushing Israel and the Palestinians further part. Trump's administration has fiercely criticized the government of ex-president Barack Obama for refusing in December to use its U.N. veto to block a resolution demanding Israel halt expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. A vocal supporter of Israel, Haley has branded the resolution, which was adopted after the United States abstained, a "terrible mistake."

Richard Says New U.S. Embassy Compound Fills Her with 'Optimism for the Future'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/In a demonstration of the U.S.-Lebanese “enduring friendship and important bilateral partnership,” U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard on Thursday broke ground on the new U.S. Embassy compound in Beirut, an Embassy statement said.
In her remarks at the ceremony, Richard said: “Breaking ground today on our New Embassy Compound is a strong message to the Lebanese people that we are with you for the long term. We intend to continue the spirit of cooperation and partnership that has defined our journey together for 200 years.”The multi-building compound will be located in the suburb of Awkar on a 43-acre site. The compound will provide “a safe, secure, sustainable, and modern platform that supports U.S. Embassy staff in representing the U.S. Government to Lebanon and in conducting day-to-day diplomacy,” the Embassy said. “That we are building a billion dollar facility on this site, overlooking your vibrant capital and the breathtaking Mediterranean, fills me with great optimism for the future. I hope you share that optimism – it is what fuels the next generation to continue the work that was done before them to build a secure, stable, and prosperous Lebanon,” Richard told the guests at the ceremony. The facilities of the new compound represent “the best in American culture, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture, and construction execution,” the Embassy said in it statement. Professionals from the United States, Lebanon, and other countries will be working side-by-side to complete the new diplomatic facility. Morphosis Architects of Culver City, California, is the architect for the project. B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama is the construction contractor.

UNIFIL head chairs regular tripartite meeting with LAF and IDF officials
Thu 20 Apr 2017 /NNA - UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Michael Beary, today chaired a regular tripartite meeting with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) at the UN position at Ras Al Naqoura.
Discussions focused on issues related to the implementation of UNIFIL's mandate under UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), air and ground violations, the situation along the Blue Line and its ongoing visible marking, as well as the issue of withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Ghajar.
Major General Beary underlined the importance of maintaining the rhythm of face-to-face discussions, through the tripartite forum, that allow all the parties to take continuous stock of pressing issues and security concerns along the Blue Line. He also called on the parties to focus on building trust and confidence in order to maintain the cessation of hostilities and stability along the Blue Line. Underscoring the importance of using UNIFIL's liaison and coordination arrangements in order to avoid any misunderstanding between the parties, Major General Beary said, "The overall picture I see is one where there are several positives to be discerned and clear lessons on how some of the negatives could have been avoided by more timely engagement through UNIFIL's liaison and coordination channels." Emphasizing the importance of prevention, he called on the parties to build on the positives, pointing to instances that had proved that "pragmatic and practical arrangements are possible and to the benefit of all."The UNIFIL head also said that UNIFIL will continue to work closely with the parties in order to move the Blue Line marking process forward, "which will be in the long-term interest of both parties."

Geagea Slams Hizbullah Border Tour for Reporters as 'Strategic Mistake'
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Thursday slammed a tour for reporters that Hizbullah has organized on the border with Israel as a “strategic mistake.”“It is not a mere error but rather a strategic mistake, seeing as the party has given the impression that there is no official Lebanese army that is responsible for the border and that there is no State. What is worse than all of this is that it gave the impression that U.N. Resolution 1701 has become something of the past,” Geagea said in a statement. “At a time the region is boiling with events and at a time Israel is more and more showing hostile intentions towards Lebanon, we are in urgent need to remind of Resolution 1701 and to stress that Lebanon is fully committed to it. Secondly we need to prove that there is a State in Lebanon and that only the Lebanese army is responsible for the border, in anticipation of any hostile operations against Lebanon that Israel might be thinking of,” the LF leader added. “We call on the Lebanese government, in which we are represented, to understand the situation and ask Hizbullah to stop this type of behavior,” Geagea urged, calling on the government to “fully shoulder its responsibilities, especially in terms of the proper implementation of Resolution 1701, and to become properly in charge of the strategic decisions.”Earlier in the day, Hizbullah organized a tour for reporters along Lebanon's southern border to brief them about the defense measures that Israel has set up in recent months. “Around a year ago, the enemy built fortifications, sand barricades and massive defense measures to prevent any breach by infantry fighters,” a Hizbullah militant donning combat fatigues and sunglasses told the reporters. The Hizbullah fighter noted that his group has its “special tactics to deal with these structures.”“We are not discussing what the resistance will do or its plan but rather what the enemy is assuming,” he added. Both Hizbullah and Israel have warned that a new conflict between them would be worse than previous ones. Hizbullah fired more than 4,000 rockets on northern Israel in the 2006 war, while Israel bombarded targets across Lebanon, mainly in the south. The month of fighting killed an estimated 1,300 Lebanese mostly civilians, 44 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli soldiers.

Hizbullah Organizes Border Tour for Reporters on Israel's Defense Measures
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/Hizbullah on Thursday organized a tour for reporters along Lebanon's southern border to brief them about the defense measures that Israel has set up in recent months.The powerful Shiite group, which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, brought dozens of journalists on a rare and highly-choreographed trip to the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel. "This tour is to show the defensive measures that the enemy is taking," said Hizbullah spokesman Mohammed Afif, on a hilltop along the so-called Blue Line. “We are here south of the town of Alma al-Shaab, opposite to the blessed Palestinian territories that the Zionist enemies are occupying, and in this meeting we will briefly explain the geographic condition of this holy land and the military deployment and defense measures of the Israeli enemy,” a Hizbullah military commander identified as Haj Imad, dressed in digital camouflage and sunglasses, told the reporters. He said the Israeli army was erecting earth berms up to 10 meters high, as well as reinforcing a military position near the Israeli border town of Hanita. "Because their position is directly by the border and the enemy fears that the resistance will advance on it, they have constructed a cliff and additional earth berms and put up concrete blocks," he said. “The enemy has recently intensified its barricading efforts and fortifications while deploying monitoring and espionage systems,” the militant added. “Around a year ago, the enemy built fortifications, sand barricades and massive defense measures to prevent any breach by infantry fighters,” he explained. The Hizbullah fighter noted that his group has its “special tactics to deal with these structures.”“We are not discussing what the resistance will do or its plan but rather what the enemy is assuming,” he says. The Hizbullah militant also noted that Israel's fortifications are “of a defensive nature, in departure from the enemy's previous military strategy which had been based on attack throughout the past decades.”“This is a proof of the enemy's confusion and its fear of any future war,” the militant added.
As he spoke, an Israeli military patrol of two armored cars and a white bus wended their way along a road behind a fence, as two yellow bulldozers moved earth nearby. There has been rising speculation about the possibility of a new war between Israel and Hizbullah, more than a decade after their last direct confrontation. The 34-day conflict in 2006 led to the deaths of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Israel's army chief warned recently that in a "future war, there will be a clear address: the state of Lebanon and the terror groups operating in its territory and under its authority."There have been periodic skirmishes along the U.N.-monitored demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon, longtime adversaries which are technically still at war with each other.
'We don't fear war'
Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, after a 22-year occupation that faced armed resistance spearheaded by Hizbullah. Thursday's tour sought to paint Israel as afraid of a new conflict, while depicting Hizbullah as ready for war despite having committed thousands of its fighters to bolstering Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Journalists were taken from the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, with Hizbullah fighters in full military regalia stationed along the route alongside the group's yellow flag -- despite an official ban on any armed paramilitary presence in southern Lebanon.
Faces smeared with black and green camouflage, they stood silently holding guns and RPG launchers. On the demarcation line, officially patrolled by the Lebanese army and the U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL, there was little sign of tension. The scents of wild thyme and yellow gorse mingled in the air, the landscape peaceful beyond the noise produced by the sudden scrum of visitors. While eager to discuss the measures they say Israel has been taking, Hizbullah officials refused to be drawn on their own preparations for war, beyond insisting on their ability to fight if one comes. Some analysts believe Hizbullah would be hard-pressed to fight on two fronts, Syria and Israel, but others note the group's combatants have also gained new experience during years of battle in the Syrian conflict. "We don't talk about what the resistance will do," said Haj Imad. "But we do not fear war, we don't hesitate to confront it. We yearn for it and we will confront it if it is imposed on us, and God willing we will win."Despite the bellicose tone, Afif insisted that Hizbullah believes "the chances of war are remote.""These defensive measures show that Israel is the one who is afraid of the resistance and it is not the resistance that is afraid."

Hizbullah Bloc Warns against Failure to Agree on Electoral Law before May 15

Naharnet/April 20/17/Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc warned Thursday of the risks that Lebanon would face should the political parties fail to agree on a new electoral law before the May 15 legislative session. “The least negative repercussions would be the aggravation of the disagreements among the Lebanese, the placement of the country in a complicated dilemma and a terrible disappointment of the hopes for a possible positive change in the country,” the bloc cautioned in a statement issued after its weekly meeting. It also reiterated that “full proportional representation is the best constitutional formula for the anticipated law.”Hizbullah and its allies have repeatedly called for an electoral law fully based on proportional representation amid reservations by al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, and most recently the Lebanese Forces. But Mustaqbal's leader, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has recently announced that he is willing to accept full proportional representation. Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil and LF leader Samir Geagea have meanwhile called for a hybrid electoral system that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system, arguing that it grants Christians better representation.

Jumblat Reminds that 1960 Electoral Law is Still in Effect
Naharnet/April 20/17/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Thursday reminded politicians that the controversial 1960 electoral law, under which the 2009 polls were held, is still in effect. The parliament has extended its own term twice since 2009 amid acute political disputes and failure to agree on a new electoral law. “Why are some officials waging a disinformation campaign? There will be no extension. Until an agreement is reached on a new law, the 1960 law is still in effect, according to the Doha Agreement and according to the constitution,” Jumblat tweeted. Lebanese political parties meeting in Doha after the May 2008 clashes had agreed to stage the 2009 parliamentary elections under an amended version of the 1960 law. On April 12, President Michel Aoun suspended parliament for one month to prevent it extending its own term for the third time in less than four years. The legislature had been due to meet the next day to vote on an extension. In the wake of Aoun's move, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled a legislative session for May 15. Jumblat has repeatedly rejected the proportional representation electoral system, arguing that it would “marginalize” his minority Druze community whose presence is concentrated in the Aley and Chouf areas. He has announced that he would accept a hybrid electoral law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system but the political parties are still wrangling over the law's format and electoral districts.

Kidanian honors German diplomatic delegation
Thu 20 Apr 2017/NNA - Tourism Minister, Owadis Kidanian, held on Thursday a lunch banquet in honor of the German delegation visiting Lebanon for learning about tourism sites in the country. Kidanian said that the visit of the delegation was an acquaintance one aiming to reinforce bilateral relations and promote Lebanon as a place of tourism. "We will lay the foundation stone for the promotion of Lebanon in countries that forgot its existence," he concluded.

Hajj Hassan pursues visit to Moscow, underlines promotion of economic ties
Thu 20 Apr 2017/NNA - Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan, currently in Moscow, met with Minister of Services and Consumer Market of Moscow, Vladimir Posazenikov, in the presence of President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, Mohammad Choukair, and the Chairman of the Lebanese-Russian Business Council Jack Sarraf. Talks reportedly dwelt on means of bolstering trade and economic exchange relations between both countries, and the possibility of benefiting from customs facilities and exemptions which Russia has already granted to other countries, which would increase the prospects of Lebanese exports to Moscow, based on the common conviction of the interest of both countries in the development of economic and trade relations. Agreement was reached on preparing a visit for Russian businessmen, importers, traders and investors to Lebanon upcoming July to have firsthand look at the capabilities of Lebanese industry, technology and agricultural products, and to agree with Lebanese businessmen to set up a joint action mechanism that would activate exchange in both directions, notably from Lebanon to Russia. Hajj Hassan hailed during his work meetings with Russian businessmen the positive, effective and consistent role of Russia in support of the region's righteous and just causes, especially in supporting Syria and Lebanon in the face of the Takfiri terrorism.

Hariri follows up on Palestinian refugees census, receives Spanish ambassador and Roukoz
Thu 20 Apr 2017/NNA - Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, received today at the Grand Serail the President of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee Hassan Mneimne and the Director General of the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon Maral Tutelian. The meeting focused on the Comprehensive Census of Population and Housing in Palestinian Camps and Gatherings in Lebanon, a project of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in partnership with the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. During the meeting, the director of the project Abdelnasser Al-Ayi said that the preparatory stage has been completed and the executive one has started. He presented the goals of the project and its importance in providing clear data about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in order to develop appropriate social policies. He explained that the census includes all residents of the 12 Palestinian camps and all Palestinian refugees residing in the 126 areas and communities adjacent to the camps. Tutelian said that the project is a founding step that will benefit the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon in acquiring expertise and techniques for its future projects. Hariri also received retired Brigadier General Chamel Roukoz who said after the meeting: "We discussed the situation in Lebanon, particularly in Keserwan and I called on the Prime Minister to pay compensations to the apple farmers who could not sell their apples as the season was harmed by the weather. Prime Minister Hariri promised to pay compensations to a large group as soon as possible and to the rest later on."Asked if they discussed the electoral law, Roukoz said: "We discussed the issue and he shared his ideas with me. I personally support the proportional law in general. The atmosphere is positive and the issue can be solved through openness and positivity. The electoral law is essential to the stability in the country and this law should be fair and reassuring to all and this is the concern of Prime Minister Hariri and President Aoun."Asked if there will be a new law, he said that there should be a new law and the elections should take place before the end of September. Hariri also met with the Spanish Ambassador to Lebanon Milagros Hernando Echevarria and discussed with her the local and regional situation and the bilateral relations. Hariri later received the President of the Dar al-Fatwa Lebanese Committee in Kuwait Hassan Houhou who said that they discussed the electoral law, adding that he submitted a project to support the Lebanese Army through establishing an expatriate's fund to finance the army by donating one dollar from each Lebanese expatriate. He also received the President of Beirut Marathon Association May Khalil who updated him on the activities of the Association. Hariri later on met with the Education Minister Marwan Hamade and the Minister of State for Human Rights Ayman Choucair. Discussions focused on the situation and the ongoing contacts regarding the electoral law.

Report: Electoral Negotiations Almost Paralyzed
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 20/17/Twenty-two days separate Lebanon from the end of a one month time period, in accordance with a presidential decree issued by President Michel Aoun on April 12 that suspended the parliament, paving way for additional negotiations on a new law and avoiding another parliament term extension, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Thursday. “However, although the measure was supposed to give momentum at all levels to formulate a solution for the electoral-political crisis, the electoral machine engines seem to have been rusted,” said the daily. “They are governed by a suspicious freeze affecting political and official levels concerned with this file, which threatens to put the country on the brink of a political dispute opening Lebanon on various negative possibilities,” it added. “Until the contrary is proven, political forces are accused of indecisiveness and failure to deal with this pressing entitlement, which requires the need for rapid and serious adoption of a consensual electoral format that takes into account all the components and Lebanese families,” added the daily. Al-Joumhouria pointed out to the “blatant absence of political consultations during the Easter vacation and beyond, which is supposed to be driven by a sensitive entitlement,” thus discouraging the Lebanese on the ability of their leaders to address the matter. The daily added that the Lebanese expect the political class to address the issue seriously and to take into consideration the pressing deadlines facing the country. On April 12, Aoun invoked his constitutional powers to adjourn the parliament for one month. Lebanon's lawmakers were set to vote in Parliament the next day to postpone national elections and extend their term for a third time since 2013. Aoun justified the adjournment to give legislators time to craft a new election law and hold elections as quickly as possible. Lebanon's political parties say it is time to scrap the country's 1960 voting law that allocates seats by religious sect, but disagree over what system should replace it.

Qassem Adheres to Proportional Law, Says Suggested Law Versions Must be Complete to Decide on
Hizbullah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem reiterated adherence to the proportional representation system in a single electoral district, noting that in order for the party to decide on any other electoral format it must see the full version, al-Akhbar daily reported on Thursday. “Proportionality in a single electoral district is the rightful and fair law that provides proper representation and reflects the popularity of the parties at the national, partisan, sectarian and family levels,” said Qassem in an interview to the daily. Asked about Hizbullah's position as for the so-called qualification system suggested by their ally Free Patriotic Movement and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil. He said: “Before we decide our final position on any law, we must first know its final version that is agreed on by various parties. The answers today are only partial and we have not seen its final version. “We have agreed on some ideas in the qualification law format, but what is the final version? This is not yet settled because there are many observations that may change the law and turn it upside down,” he added. “We have clearly stated that we reject extension, vacuum and the 1960 law. We support a new law, but it is clear and certain that when we face the need to choose between these options, this time we will not accept vacuum,” remarked Qassem. He pointed out that efforts to agree on a new law before May 15 continue, “We are waiting for the positions of political parties to resolve the debate over the accepted law,” he said, adding "we have hope, and hope must be there to complete this opportunity."The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law. Early in April, President Michel Aoun invoked his constitutional powers and suspended the parliament which was scheduled to meet to extend it own mandate again. Several law formats were suggested to replace Lebanon's current 1960 majoritarian law, but none so far have garnered the agreement of all parties. Hizbullah has repeatedly called for an electoral law fully based on the proportional representation system and a single or several large electorates. Bassil has lately suggested the 'qualification law' where 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. Bassil's law was dubbed as sectarian.

Hamadeh Wonders Why Cabinet Refrains from Meeting
Naharnet/April 20/17/Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh wondered in a statement on Thursday about the reasons that make the cabinet refrain from holding sessions to tackle pressing issues, while the committees meet to discuss a new electoral law for the upcoming polls, the National News Agency reported. “Why does not the cabinet meet to tackle the people's livelihood issues and ease the country's facilities, meanwhile many committees are working and conducting communications to reach agreement over a new electoral law?" NNA quoted Hamadeh as asking. The cabinet convened on April 10 to look into a new parliamentary electoral law system to govern Lebanon's upcoming polls and agreed on the formation of a ministerial committee that will devise a new draft law. The committee met only once. The country faces a critical challenge and the fate of its parliamentary elections hinge on a legislative session scheduled for May 15. Twenty-two days separate Lebanon from the end of a one month time period, in accordance with a presidential decree issued by President Michel Aoun on April 12 that suspended the parliament. The May 15 parliament meeting is set to determine the fate of Lebanon's electoral law and the upcoming polls. On April 12, Aoun invoked his constitutional powers and adjourned the parliament for one month to avoid a new extension of the parliament’s term. Lebanon's lawmakers were set to vote in Parliament the next day to postpone national elections and extend their term for a third time since 2013. Aoun justified the adjournment to give legislators time to craft a new election law and hold elections as quickly as possible. Lebanon's political parties say it is time to scrap the country's 1960 voting law that allocates seats by religious sect, but disagree over what system should replace it.

Lebanese parliamentary delegation, IMF Middle East officer discuss Lebanon affairs
Thu 20 Apr 2017/NNA - The Lebanese parliamentary delegation including MPs Yassin Jaber, Alain Aoun and Bassem Shabb participated during the third day of International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference in workshops on developed communications and technologies as well as Central Bank's financial engineering during bank's crises.

Hasbani begins meetings in Washington
Thu 20 Apr 2017/NNA - Minister of Public Health, Ghassan Hasbani, started his meeting on Thursday at the World Bank headquarters in Washington. He met with World Bank's Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Hafez Ghanem. Minister Hasbani then met with a delegation of the committees concerned by the discussion of the projects, in presence of the World Bank's task force, as well as relevant directors and representatives of donor countries. Hasbani shed lights on the project developed by the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health in cooperation with the World Bank to support the health sector in Lebanon. The Minister will hold further meetings at World Bank headquarters in the next two days and will also meet with politicians in Washington.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 19-20/17
Policeman and suspected gunman shot dead in Paris gun battle
BBC/April 20/17/One policeman has been shot dead and two others wounded in central Paris, French police say, with their suspected attacker killed by security forces. The Champs Elysees, where the shooting occurred, was sealed off. Reports suggest a single gunman fired on a police patrol before trying to escape. It happened as presidential candidates made their last pitches in a TV appearance before Sunday's election. An anti-terrorist investigation has been launched. "On the face of it, the officers were deliberately targeted," interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told France's BFMTV news channel. Islamist militancy is a major issue in the polls after recent mass attacks claimed by so-called Islamic State. Because of its worldwide renown and its large number of visitors, the Champs Elysees has long been seen as a potential target, the BBC's Hugh Schofield reports from the French capital. State of emergency 'to protect election' A single gunman armed with an automatic weapon opened fire on a foot patrol before being killed in turn, according to Le Parisien newspaper, citing its own sources. The whole of the Champs Elysees has been evacuated and police vehicles are lined up near a point half way up the avenue around the George V metro station, our correspondent says. Shots were heard around 21:00 (19:00 GMT) in or near the Marks & Spencer store, provoking a panicked rush away from the scene by tourists and passers-by.

Iran FM Slams 'Worn-Out' U.S. Nuclear Accusations
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/ Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday criticized "worn-out" U.S. accusations that it was seeking a nuclear weapon to threaten the region and the world. "Worn-out U.S. accusations can't mask its admission of Iran's compliance" with a 2015 nuclear deal, Zarif wrote on Twitter. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes but signed a deal with world powers to restrict its fuel enrichment for 10 years in exchange for sanctions relief. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Tehran has so far met its obligations, but that the deal could only delay Iran's development of a nuclear weapon. The deal "fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran," he said, and was a product of "the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea." Zarif said Iran's compliance had forced the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump "to change course and fulfill its own commitments."Trump described the accord as the "worst deal ever negotiated" during his campaign and threatened to tear it up, but analysts say that is increasingly unlikely. Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer said a review would be conducted by U.S. government agencies over the next 90 days on whether to stick by the deal.

U.N., Russia Set for Syria Meet without U.S.

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/The U.N.'s Syria envoy said Thursday that he will hold talks with Russian officials next week but without the U.S. present after previous plans for a trilateral meeting were "postponed."U.N. peace mediator Staffan de Mistura said his meeting with Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov is set for Monday in Geneva. "The trilateral meeting is not off the table, it is simply being postponed", de Mistura told reporters. Asked why U.S. President Donald Trump's representatives decided to skip the meeting, de Mistura said: "you should ask them, frankly."
Syrian regime supporter Moscow and opposition-backer Washington had been the key foreign powers shaping the U.N.'s Syria peace process. De Mistura has previously asked for more clarity from Trump's administration on its vision for the Syria talks. U.S. officials have in recent weeks voiced commitment to support a negotiated solution to the conflict. Monday's sitdown with Gatilov "will be a very intense bilateral meeting," de Mistura said. He also restated his desire to convene a sixth round of U.N.-backed talks involving Syrian rivals next month. The previous rounds have failed to produce concrete results.

Watchdog Rejects Russian-Iranian Bid for New Syria Chemical Attack Probe

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/The global chemical arms watchdog Thursday "overwhelmingly" rejected a Russian-Iranian move to launch a new investigation into a suspected chemical attack in Syria, delegates said, backing the probe already underway. "The #OPCW executive council has overwhelmingly rejected the Russian and Iranian decision," the British delegation to the watchdog said in a Tweet. A draft decision put forward by Moscow and Tehran -- and obtained by AFP -- had called for a new investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) "to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident."But it ignored that the body, based in The Hague, is already investigating the April 4 attack on the rebel-held town in Idlib province which left 87 dead, including many children. The draft had also called for investigators to visit the Shayrat airbase -- bombed by the United States after the attack -- to "verify allegations concerning the storage of chemical weapons" there. But the Russian move had "attempted to undercut" the OPCW's existing fact-finding mission (FFM), the British delegation said in its tweet. "Needless to say - #OPCW FFM investigation continues" and "the UK fully supports it," it added. The move came as OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said Wednesday that "incontrovertible" OPCW test results had shown sarin gas or a similar substance were used in the attack. Samples from three people killed in the attack and seven survivors analyzed at four OPCW-designated laboratories "indicate exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance," said Uzumcu. Western nations have accused the Syrian regime of carrying out the suspected air strike, but Moscow, the closest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has sought to clear the regime of blame.
'What sarin fumes?'
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Thursday: "Not one representative of the OPCW has been there (Khan Sheikhun) in the two weeks. Where, by whom and how were the samples taken?""If there truly had been sarin in Khan Sheikhun, then how can the OPCW explain the charlatans from the White Helmets hopping about in sarin fumes without protective equipment?"The Russian-Iranian move for a new inquiry raised hackles at the OPCW executive council meeting this week. The fact-finding team "deserves our full confidence," the Belgian representative to the OPCW told the meeting on Wednesday. "We don't see the need to put in place a new structure."The draft decision had also sought to urge member states to "provide national experts for participation in the investigation."That would have enabled Moscow to deploy its own experts alongside the OPCW's independent teams in a bid "to discredit the results" so far, one source close to the discussions told AFP. In an unprecedented step, the OPCW's executive council in November condemned Syria's use of toxic weapons -- the council's first public condemnation of a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It came after a joint U.N.-OPCW investigation concluded in October that the Syrian air force had dropped chlorine barrel-bombs from helicopters on three opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015. Islamic State jihadists were also found to have used mustard gas in August 2015 in Syria. Russia last week vetoed a U.N. draft resolution condemning the April 4 attack and demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation, blocking Security Council action against its ally for an eighth time. After Moscow initially said a Syrian air strike had struck a "terrorist warehouse" containing "toxic substances," Russian President Vladimir Putin last week accused Assad's opponents of planning to stage chemical attacks to lure Washington deeper into the conflict.

Rouhani among 6 Candidates Selected for Iran Vote, Ahmadinejad Barred
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/President Hassan Rouhani was among six candidates approved Thursday by Iran's conservative-dominated Guardian Council to run in next month's election while former leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was barred, state media reported. The other candidates selected were hardliners Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, conservative Mostafa Mirsalim, former minister Mostafa Hashemitaba and Rouhani's ally and vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri. Both Ahmadinejad and his close ally Hamid Baghaie were barred from running by the Guardian Council. The former hardline president, who ruled from 2005 to 2013, shocked everyone by registering as a candidate last week against the advice of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. More than 1,600 candidates registered to run in the May 19 election, but the Guardian Council only ever selects around half a dozen. More than 130 women registered but none has ever been allowed to stand.

US Tries to Clear Waters after N. Korea 'Armada' Confusion
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/The Trump administration on Wednesday tried to clear the waters after it gave confusing messages concerning the whereabouts of a US supercarrier that supposedly was steaming toward North Korea last week. Amid soaring tensions ahead of North Korea's apparent ramping up for a sixth nuclear test, the US Navy on April 8 said it was directing a naval strike group headed by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to "sail north" from the waters off Singapore, as a "prudent measure" to deter Pyongyang. "We are sending an armada. Very powerful," were the words of President Donald Trump, and other officials made it sound like the ships were plowing toward the region. "A carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly... a huge deterrent. So, I think it serves multiple capabilities," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said April 11. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said the Vinson was "on her way up" to the region. But the Navy on Tuesday admitted the ships were in fact sent in the opposite direction -- away from Singapore and toward Australia to conduct drills with the Australian navy. Defense officials said the Vinson wouldn't be anywhere near North Korea before next week at the earliest -- it is thousands of nautical miles from the Java Sea where the ship was located over the weekend to the Sea of Japan. Critics pounced on the discrepancy as a dangerous miscommunication, saying it fed into North Korea's narrative that America is all bluster and doesn't follow through on threats.
- 'It is happening' -It also comes as the White House faces ongoing credibility issues on a broad range of topics including the size of Trump's inaugural crowd, his unsubstantiated claim that he was "wiretapped" by the Obama administration and his unsupported assertion millions of votes in November's election were illegal. "The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather," Spicer said Wednesday as he tried to clarify the issue. Speaking to reporters in Saudi Arabia, Mattis said the Pentagon had tried to be open about the Vinson's whereabouts.
"We generally don't give out ship schedules in advance but I did not want to play a game either and say we were not changing the schedule when in fact we have," he said. "She will be on her way. I will determine when she gets there and where she actually operates, but the Vinson is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the northwest Pacific."Rear Admiral Jim Kilby, who heads the Vinson strike group, wrote on Facebook late Tuesday that the ships' deployment "has been extended 30 days to provide a persistent presence in the waters off the Korean Peninsula."
James Faeh, a former Pentagon country director for Korea during the Obama administration, said the Vinson deployment was not a make-or-break development, given that the United States already has a massive array of military hardware and tens of thousands of troops in the region to deter Pyongyang.
He told AFP the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration on North Korea was "overheated and risky," but the strike group's deployment was "not at all outside of the mainstream." North Korea staged a massive military parade on Saturday and observers widely expected the country to conduct a sixth nuclear test to coincide with celebrations marking the birthdate of regime founder Kim Il-Sung. But that test hasn't happened yet, though North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attempted to launch a missile Sunday that the Pentagon said blew up almost immediately after launch.

Israel Extends Remand of Teenager Accused of U.S. Bomb Threats
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/An Israeli court on Thursday extended the remand of an Israeli-American teenager accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, police said. The 18-year-old's remand was extended until April 24 at a court appearance in the city of Rishon Lezion, police said. He was arrested on March 23 following an investigation that included the FBI. His identity has remained under a gag order, though authorities have confirmed he was arrested in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. A wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions since the start of the year helped spread fears over whether hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts have been on the increase in the United States. Some have said that the rise of Donald Trump as U.S. president has encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups. The arrest of a Jewish teenager over dozens of the threats has complicated the debate, however. Police say he is behind a range of threats against Jewish community centers and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months. The teenager is also suspected of being behind similar threats in New Zealand and Australia. In addition, police say he is suspected of a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in February 2015 that led to an emergency landing. His lawyer has said that he has a brain tumor and suffers from autism.

Clashes at Protest to Support Palestinian Hunger Strikers

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/Several dozen Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces Thursday outside a prison where detainees are on a hunger strike, while a group of Israeli hardliners nearby taunted prisoners by barbecuing. Some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have joined a hunger strike against conditions that began Monday, according to the Palestinian Authority's detainees' affairs department. The hunger strike has been led by prominent prisoner and popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Security forces fired tear gas, sound grenades and rubber bullets at the crowd of Palestinians who threw stones and protested in support of the detainees outside Israel's Ofer prison north of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the clashes.
Palestinian Prisoners Club head Qadura Fares told AFP at the protest that Israel would allow all the strikers, including Barghouti, access to lawyers, in a reversal of its previous position. Access to lawyers had been prevented following the start of the strike, Palestinian officials said, with Barghouti moved to solitary confinement. The Israel Prisons Service said it was acting under its rules, without elaborating further. A small number of Israeli hardliners held a barbecue nearby on the opposite side of a checkpoint, saying they hoped the smell would make prisoners' abstention harder.
Around a dozen Israelis grilled chicken and other kinds of meat, with a number of Israeli soldiers joining them to eat. "At this moment (the hunger strikers) will smell the food's scent and maybe later in the evening they will see it on television," event organizer Ofer Sofer told AFP in front of two barbecue pits. "It is a bunch of terrorists that are threatening us with hunger strike. We are happy that they are on strike. Let them have this strike as long as they want."They called for tough punishments for the protesting Palestinians, including worsening their conditions. Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offenses and alleged crimes. Around 500 are held under administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge. Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.

Egypt Army Says Senior IS Cleric Killed in Sinai
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 20/17/The Egyptian military said Thursday it killed a senior Islamic State group cleric and 18 jihadists in air strikes in the Sinai Peninsula where the extremists are waging an insurgency. The announcement came after the jihadists claimed a series of attacks, including a shooting near a monastery this week and twin church bombings on April 9 that killed dozens. Among the jihadists killed was "one of the prominent leaders of the so-called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the head of the religious affairs committee in the group," the military said, without saying when the strikes occurred. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was the name used by the jihadists in the Sinai before they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014. The jihadists have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The military has killed several of their top leaders, but the extremists have increasingly expanded their attacks from the Sinai to other parts of Egypt, especially against Christians. The April 9 church bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria followed a December suicide bombing in a Cairo church that killed 29 people, also claimed by IS. On Wednesday, the interior ministry said security forces killed a gunman suspected of killing a policeman and wounding three others near St Catherine's monastery in south Sinai the day before.IS, which claimed the shooting, has threatened more attacks on Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 90 million people.

Guardian Council Bars Mahmoud Ahmadinejad From Iran Election
NCRI/Thursday, 20 April 2017/The Iranian regime’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been disqualified from running in the May 19 Presidential election, state media reported.The Guardian Council, whose members are appointed by the regime’s Supreme Leader, disqualified all but six of the candidates for the election. Amid continued clashes between rival factions of the regime in the lead-up to the mullahs’ sham election, and following earlier hints that the Guardian Council would disqualify Ahmadinejad, his aides had threatened to disrupt the presidential campaign. In this regard, Abdolreza Davari, a figure close to Ahmadinejad, had tweeted in Farsi “we are not going to give in to heavy psychological operations of the oligarchy of authoritarians and colonialists. Removing Dr. Ahmadinejad and (Hamid) Baghaei from the 2017 scene is not possible.”Davari also claimed that according to the latest estimates of a security institution close to the government, approving Ahmadinejad and “his 20 million votes” is guaranteed. Despite being told by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to stay out of the race, Ahmadinejad had registered to run. The regime’s current President Hassan Rouhani was among the six candidates approved by the Guardian Council.

Iran: Latest News From Prisons, the Situation of Conscience & Political Prisoners
NCRI/Thursday, 20 April 2017/ Threats of building new cases for two political prisoners: Shahin Zoghitabar was called to information security and Farhang Pourmansouri was summoned to the inspection of the prison, on Tuesday, April 17th. At the information security, Shahin Zoghitabar was threaten by IRGC elements that if he gets involved in political activities or writes letters to those outside of the prison, he would face a new prison case. At the same time, Farhang Pourmansouri was threatened that there was a complaint against him, claiming misconduct from the prison master “Mohammadi”. Therefore, a new case has been prepared for him.
Persecution of Political and Conscience Prisoners by the Authorities in the Central Prison of Zahedan:
Political and conscience prisoners in the central prison of Zahedan are frequently being insulted and harassed by prison officials because of their religious beliefs.
Friday, April 14th, a prison guard called Mohammad Kalkaly, a prayer of Sunni prisoners of conscience imprisoned in ward number three, with insults and inhumane treatment, before he ordered the shaving of his beard. According to a prison guard named "Rasti", the order of such act was given him by the prison warden. Also on April 11th, an ill prisoner, “Hyatollah Noutizehi” from ward number one of Zahedan central prison, after a seizure was brought to the prison’s clinic in a wheelchair. But in such a condition, his foot hit the prison key keeper's foot. Due to this, even with the prisoner’s unsuitable condition, he was taken to the prison’s quarantine unit instead of the clinic. An IRGC officer claimed that the prisoner deliberately kicked him in his complaint. Hyatallh Noutizehi was sent to solitary confinement for 20 days. He was dispatched to the prison’s quarantine, even though this prisoner should have been treated in the clinic due to his deteriorating health.
Five Year Prison Sentence for a Kurdish Political Prisoner:
The so-called number two revolutionary court branch in the city of Urmia sentenced a Kurdish prisoner, who is currently held in the central prison of the city, on charges of "acting against national security through membership in one of the Kurdish parties”.
According to a human rights group of Kurdistan on March 4th, Bashir Pir-Mavaneh, a resident of a village around Urmia, has been arrested by the Information Ministry Security forces and is currently in their prison. He was interrogated for 12 days by them about his relationship with a Kurdish opposition party and then released to the central prison of the city. This Kurdish citizen has been sentenced in unit number two of the Urmia revolutionary court presiding by a so-called judge “Sheikhloo” with the delivery of a five year prison sentence. This political prisoner is now in number 13 of Urmia Central Prison, being held with ordinary criminals.
Beating of a Prisoner in Ward Eight of Evin’s Prison: Majid Abedinzadeh, a leading civil rights activist and witness of the infamous Kahrizak prison, is in ward eight completing his 3 year prison sentence. He was beaten by ordinary criminal prisoners last night.
Failure to comply with the principle of prisoner separation for political and criminal prisoners has precedent in the political prisoners being beaten. Other political prisoners, including Kayvan Karimi, Mehdi Rajabi, Amir Amirqooly and Waheed Saiadi-Nasir, were beaten in the general ward of Evin prison in recent months. It should be noted that ward eight in Evin’s prison is for ordinary crimes and the regime's housing of political prisoners among them is to torture and pressure those prisoners.
Poet didn’t show up in Court:
Habib Sassanian, a poet from Ardabil being held in Tabriz central prison, refused to appear in third branch of the revolutionary court in Tabriz presiding by Judge Bagherpour on April 18th in protest to disappearance of some of documents in his court records. A source close to the Sassanian family with knowledge about the latest situation of the prisoner said, "Habib Sassanian, following his beating on April 14th by prison authorities and in protest to his undecided situation after five days of a hunger strike, as well as missing some of the documents from his file in the Tabriz revolutionary court presided over by Judge Bagherpour, refused to appear in the court today and his trial was postponed until May 15, 2017.” This prisoner, in May 2016 along with five other Azeri-Turks, was arrested in the city of Ardabil. The charges against this political prisoner were erecting a political group, spying for foreign countries, copying of confidential data from Iran’s revolutionary guards and sending that confidential information to foreign countries. Habib Sassanian is still being held with illnesses and a lack of proper treatment in ward 12 of Tabriz central prison.
Transfer of a political prisoner from solitary confinement to the general ward of Evin’s prison after the 472 days: Kamran Qadri, an Austrian-Iranian citizen, has been sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of spying for enemy states. This is after 472 days of detention in solitary confinement within Ward 209 (a ward associated with the Iran’s Information Ministry) of Evin’s prison. He is being transferred to the general ward of the prison on Monday, April 16th.

Status of the Iranian Regime's Nuclear Bomb Making Apparatus Details to Be Revealed
NCRI/Thursday, 20 April 2017/Washington, DC, April 19 – Through information received from the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) network within Iran, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has obtained critical and reliable intelligence on the latest status of the Iranian regime’s nuclear bomb-making apparatus. The U.S. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI-US) will hold a press conference on Friday, April 21, 2017, at 10:30 am at the Willard Room, the Willard InterContinental Hotel (1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC), to unveil the details including locations, satellite imagery, and key players involved. NCRI has exposed some of the most significant parts of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program over the years, including Natanz uranium enrichment and Arak heavy water sites (August 2002), Kalaye Electric centrifuge assembly and testing facility (February 2003), Lashkar Ab’ad laser enrichment and Lavizan-Shian sites (May 2003), Fordo underground enrichment site (December 2005), and Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, SPND (July 2011).

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 19-20/17
The Russia-Iran Alliance: Where to?

Middle East Briefying/April 20/17
Many analysts assert that it is only “a marriage of convenience” that aligns Russia and Iran together. To support their argument, they cite the long history of enmity, the 500-hundred-year old suspicion of Russia among the Iranian people and the different objectives and ideologies between the two countries. This reasoning remains arguable, but, ultimately, it changes little in the short-term dynamics that placed the two countries in the same trench.
Whatever it is, the Iran-Russia alliance is moving forward. Based on a thorough study of the chronology of events between the two during the last 10 years or so, the project appears to have been initiated by Moscow. The nuclear talks and Syria provided Moscow with enough favorable wind to get its Iran project to sail. Recently, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (the post President Hassan Rouhani held between 1988 and 2005), announced that Iran and Russia share a military base “where Iran conducts its advisory mission to help the Syrian army and [pro-regime] resistance forces with Russia’s assistance”. The forces of the two countries fight side by side in Syria. As far as we know, allies fight together.
The dilemma for the US could be simplified as follows: The tougher it gets on one or both countries, the closer they get. It is true that previous patterns of the three-countries-dynamics, the US, Russia and Iran, may show signs confirming the hypotheses that only when the US is closer to one of the two countries that this country depreciated its ties with other. However, it is difficult to draw patterns from times prior to Russia’s new energy to recuperate part of the USSR allure or to the degree of success it has already achieved in this regard during the last decade or so. The taste of benefits and illusion of power must have impacted Russia’s perception of itself and its future strategies to the extent that even an improvement in US-Russian relations will not lead to a depreciation of Iran’s value in the general Russian outlook.
Even the theory that Russia and Iran are destined to compete in the field of energy exports is now debunked after Rouhani’s last visit to Moscow (March 27). According to European officials “Russia will now decide how much oil and gas any field, where the Russian companies are involved, can produce, sell and at what price. It is a total and a profound shift in Iran’s traditional policies. It is also a central step for Russia’s control over global natural gas markets”. Moreover, the usual disputes about demarcation of the Caspian see is now, after Rouhani’s visit, an issue of the past. It took a lot of work from experts in the two sides to settle the thorny part concerning the limits of each countries waters in the Caspian.
Will the Russian-Iranian alliance last for a long time? Is it strategic? Do the two have reasons to differ sometimes? These are kind of irrelevant questions because there are no alliances that last forever, and in every alliance, there are different views and interests. We pointed out before the fact that Russia has already emerged from the after-shock of the collapse of the USSR. Iran has also emerged from 37 years of different levels of isolation and pressures. This, in turn, sheds doubts on previous assertions and patterns concluded from the past. It also lays before our eyes a new paradigm in the relations between the two countries, and in the posture of each in relevant regions like Central Asia and the Middle East.
One dimension of Russia’s presence in Syria must have been to respond positively to Iranian requests, as part of the generous dowry offered for “Iran’s hand”. Another was what made former President Barak Obama wonder publicly and loudly about his amazement of how Russia helped to reach the nuclear deal. Putin’s main tactics are based on multiple methods, among them to use US mistakes. And they are quite a bit.
It should not surprise anyone if we find one day that Russia was always hopeful that the relatively moderate camp in Tehran does not gain the day there. If it does, Western companies will crowd to participate in fulfilling the moderates’ reforms and projects. Furthermore, the tension caused by the hardliners help Russia sell more arms to Iran.
The ultimate objective of President Putin is to break what he sees as a US-dominated unipolar world order. Iran is placing its bets on Moscow to get what it sees as its share in the Middle East. And Russia is promising to give Iran what it wants, and proving its good wills in Syria. But what will follow is not necessarily that Moscow will give a “cart blanch” to Iran in the Middle East. This may put unbearable pressures on Russian resources. Putin is more likely to give the Arabs the choice: either you decouple with the US, or we let Iran goes after you.
Obviously, it is not going to happen in this simplified way. But we have already seen some Arab leaders going to Moscow to ask for a Russian change in policy and help to restrain Iran. For Putin, to do that now is premature. He better wait, so long as his allies achieve progress. Then again, for Russia, it may not be the suitable formula. The suitable formula will be to “intermediate” between the Arabs and the Iranians. In other words, there will be no need to choose between the two sides. Putin can win both.
Russia understands that it is a reversed domino. If you make a friend, you can use this bridge to multiply your gains by making more friend. The only problem here is that Russia’s friendship comes at the expense of the West. Putin’s project of changing the world order can be carried out through a deal with the US. But if there is no such deal, that does not mean that the project would be frozen. And in a way, that is what is already happening.
Iran is very valuable to Russia. Moscow will go the extra mile to accommodate its allies in Tehran. It simply sees that the gains in energy coordination and geostrategic benefit’s optimization are too great to pass.
What we already see is a Russian-Iranian alliance growing every day. It is a work in progress. And it is progressing fast.

Syria: The Tillerson Proposal to the Russians
Middle East Briefying/April 20/17
It is wrong to assume that Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow ended in failure. Just after he left, Pravda.Ru reported that Tillerson does not lose hope to persuade Russia to begin cooperation with the US and refuse supporting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Sergey Ordjonikidze, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Civic Chamber said the meeting ended “if not with coordination, then with correlation of mutual steps and approaches to a solution”. Briefly, we do not think that Tillerson’s Moscow meetings failed. In the contrary, because it happened after proving practically that the US will not shy from using force, it may have started a new effort to end the Syrian war. Once again, we are reminded that diplomacy cannot be effective if it was hanging on big words and emotional pleas.
It was also reported that in their meeting of April 14, that followed Tillersons’s visit, Foreign Ministers Jawad Zarif and Syria’s Walid Al Mualem, allegedly heard clearly a Russian warning to both not to repeat the Khan Shaikhoun chemical attack. We said three weeks ago that the three countries prepare for an epic fight to recapture Idlib. Assad thought he can pave the road for the march to Idlib by chemical weapons. The Russians had to pinch the ears of both not to do another Khan Shaikhoun. Furthermore, Lavrov laid out the US demands. On top, was that Iran’s presence in Syria has to be trimmed in order to address Israeli and Arab concerns.
The central point for the Russians remains to reach a deal with Washington that ends the conflict and directs available resources against terrorism. Moscow does not want its involvement to be indefinite. When the US used the Tomahawk to underline its position, the message was that the Americans can get involved, and this message could fit Russia’s plans to make its Syrian military effort as short as possible. The hard nut has always been Iran and Assad. Tehran insists on having access to Hezbollah in south Lebanon, and Assad insists on keeping his chair. They both can go far in their determination, but perhaps not as far as the US, which has enough assets in the region and in Syria. And if the Russians pull out their support, they will be stuck where they are.
Tillerson’s message in Moscow was something like: We do not want to get involved but we will, if we have to, to end the slaughter. If we do not work together to find a way out, the result will not be good neither to us nor to you. Your allies (Iran and Syria) do not behave responsibly.
The tomahawk helped him make his point.
Following Lavrov, Zarif and Muallem, some reports point to an alleged Russian offer to the Iranians to pull Hezbollah out of Syrian territories close to Israel in return for a safe passage to Hezbollah. Other reports point to a new understanding between Tillerson and Lavrov and add that the Russian offer to the Iranians are actually part of the understanding.
Moreover, we said three weeks ago that the three countries prepare for an epic fight in Idlib. Assad thought he can pave the road for the march to Idlib by chemical weapons. The Russians had to pinch the ears of both Ministers warning them not to do it again.
The Iranian position was to get all of Syria. Neither Israel nor the Turks or the Arabs can live with that. Assad’s wants to remain the President until he dies. Syrians, or at least good part of them, cannot live with that. If the two issues are not solved, the crisis will drag on. And Secretary Tillerson has some ideas in how to handle both issues.
Giving the Iranians a “safe passage” to Hezbollah’s south of Lebanon in return for pulling their forces out of Syria is one ideas that was discussed. For Assad’s future, there are still some differences, but they are not unbridgeable. One of those ideas boils down to Assad leaving his palace after a reasonably short transition. The plan is to preserve the State and choose a moderate Sunni, potentially a senior military officer, the head of the state.
However, due to Putin’s commitment to the Iranian leader, he will not decide the fate of Assad unilaterally. All he can do, if they reject the Russian proposal, is to pull out of Syria and leave it to the Iranians and Assad who cannot go too far on their own. Another way is to drastically reduce Russia’s presence there. Moscow’s argument with its two allies would be that it cannot risk confronting a determined US, nor could it continue defending acts like the Khan Shaikhoun chemical attack or remain until they both het their military solution and control “every inch” of Syria. So, good luck guys, we are leaving.
Russia would say that if the Americans get seriously involved, as they seem to be intending, they (the Russians) would not risk a confrontation with the US to fulfill Iran and Assad’s agenda. It was obvious that Tillerson’s message and the Tomahawk made an effect. On the other hand, Iran and Assad were keeping the political track opened, while trying to reach a military solution. The gave priority to the latter, but accepted the former in appearance only. Tillerson’s message indicated that the US reject their approach and offers, instead, a genuine political settlement to the war.
If this approach works, it will stand on the other end of what we talked about in the last issue of MEB (What Should Follow the Tomahawk Attack on Syria). In other words, we are standing before two options: Either to work on changing the balance of force on the ground through building a relatively moderate force of Arabs and Kurds to confront Assad and Iran’s intransigent policies, or to do that through a deal with Russia. Briefly it is a top-down approach versus a bottom-up one.
Which one have a better chance of success?
The bottom up approach is laborious, will take longer, and not failure-proof. The top-down, that is the deal with Russia, is less risky, effective (it guarantees that the two powers will work together), and certain to have an instant effect on the ground. Moreover, the latter option keeps the state in its place, and only takes Assad out, eventually.
However, the problem with this approach is how to control the captured territories. This means that even if Russia accepts the Tillerson deal, a bottom-up approach will still be needed. The state, as it is right now, cannot control all of Syria. Order, stability, and repelling the terrorists will still need an effective force on the ground.
Absorbing the non-terrorist forces within any meaningful frame to control the ground will be a difficult job. It should take patience and caution. But at least we will have everyone working in harmony, with the US and Russia training the forces and vetting them. A deal, particularly stating that Assad will leave “for health reasons”, or for whatever reason, will have an instant impact on the opposition. We believe that even most of the Syrian foot soldiers of Nusra will cross their organizational lines then.
If coupled with cleaning the mess in northern Syria through a strict demarcation of PKK areas and a clear commitment not to target any neighboring country from Syria’s territory, we can see then a glimmer of hope.

Iran blocks Telegram

Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 20/17
It’s not strange that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that blocks necessary services like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. This is part of Tehran’s policy to block or disrupt satellite television channels and prevent citizens from accessing foreign media outlets.
All the Iranians can use out of available social media tools is the messaging app Telegram which was founded by two Russian brothers and that is headquartered in Germany. Forty million Iranians use its voice messaging feature while 20 million Iranians use its text messaging feature. There is high demand over this precious service which is the only available one there as the Iranians represent one fourth of the number of Telegram users across the world. However the government killed their joy and blocked the app’s voice messaging feature under the pretext of protecting national security. Truth is, if blocked out of fear, it will influence the course of the upcoming elections – a path which has been engineered already.
National security concerns
Thousands of candidates have been filtered according to the democratic standards of Iranian clerics. In the end, only those which clerics approve of are allowed to run for the elections. This is not a secret system but it’s public one. In the end, if the supreme guide rejects someone, he will not be allowed to engage in the elections or win it. What happened during the 2009 elections greatly embarrassed the political regime on the domestic and international level because those who deviated from the command’s path were figures that the regime’s leaders have accepted. The higher command had decided that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be the president.
The results were thus forged accordingly, angering Ahmadinejad’s rivals who were close to winning. The latter thus declared their rebellion and the famous Green Movement was launched. Many were killed, injured and detained as a result. Its memory haunts the Iranian authority which thinks that this massive popular movement against it would not have occurred, particularly in the capital, if it hadn’t been for Twitter and Facebook. There is high demand over this precious service which is the only available one there as the Iranians represent one fourth of the number of Telegram users across the world
Back then, at Al-Arabiya television channel, after Tehran shut down our office and expelled our correspondent, we almost completely depended on videos, footage and information attained via these two services to cover Iranian developments. The result was amazing as the regime was confused after footage of protests, confrontations and consequences were broadcasted on international media outlets. I sensed the Iranian regime’s fears and anticipated its next moves after I read a report about the influence of Telegram in Iran in the Los Angeles Times about a month ago. The report said security authorities have begun to warn users of sending political messages and forced all those who have a channel that has more than 5,000 subscribers to get a permit from the ministry of culture. Then it began to detain users who are active on this app.
A repeated charade
Iran has now shut down most of Telegram’s services hoping it can control the atmosphere of parliamentary and presidential elections which are mostly a repeated charade as results can be partially or completely forged even after filtering candidates in the first stages. What the regime cares about is controlling reactions in the street so that activity similar to the Green Movement’s does not happen again. We do not expect surprises in these presidential elections because the candidates approved are similar to one another. Even former president Ahmadinejad – despite his value and history – was prevented from running for the elections by the supreme guide. Ahmadinejad stunned everyone when he registered to run for elections despite the supreme guide’s warning. He made apologetic statements clarifying that he did not violate the supreme guide’s directions and vowing that he will withdraw after the first round. He added that he was only participating in the elections to support his friend, a presidential candidate, and help him attain popular and media attention.

Riyadh and Baghdad: Getting relations back on track
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/April 20/17
The recent visit of Adel Al-Jubeir to Baghdad was the first by a Saudi foreign minister in 14 years. It came after a period of estrangement between the two states and was an attempt to get relations back on track. After the 25-year closure of its embassy as a consequence of the Gulf War in 1991, Saudi Arabia appointed an ambassador and reopened the embassy in Iraq in December 2015. This reopening was seen by many observers as an indicator of coordination and cooperation between the two states in the fight against ISIS.
However, the relationship was overwhelmed by tension over the Iranian role and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, leading to the withdrawal of the Saudi ambassador from Baghdad, and the reduction of diplomatic representation to chargé d’affaires level in October 2016. Nevertheless, the Saudi foreign minister’s visit is a positive sign that may result in a new breakthrough in relations between the two major states that have many interests in common.
I think the visit will have an impact on resolving many issues, the most important of which is the restoration of political stability to Iraq. There is a strong correlation between political instability and terrorist attacks; any increase in a state’s political instability leads to an increase in its internal conflict, and consequently an increase in terrorist attacks, which is evident in Iraq.
Since the US invasion in 2003, Iraq has suffered from political instability, putting it first on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). According to the GTI of 2012-2015 issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in the USA and Australia, six Arab countries, including Iraq, which has headed the list for the last three years, top the index. According to the 2016 GTI, Iraq had 10,000 fatalities associated with terrorism, which is the highest recorded number in a single state. Thus, any lack or weakness of stability in an environment makes it a point of attraction where terrorists assemble in order to be redirected to other areas of conflict. This was the case in Iraq and countries of the so-called Arab Spring including Libya, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia. Riyadh and Baghdad could work on the enhancement of business opportunities by opening the strategic border crossing of Jemima, which would revive links between Saudi Arabia’s north and west of Iraq
Political and economic weight
Saudi Arabia, together with the neighboring Gulf states, could use their political and economic weight to support the Iraqi government and its political and security institutions in order to restore stability and internal harmony.
Moreover, GTI reports indicate that ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist organization in the Gulf region, as 88 percent of its terrorist attacks have targeted Saudi Arabia. Reports also indicate that four terrorist organizations that are fronted by ISIS have been responsible for two-thirds of terrorist attacks during the past few years. ISIS has made Iraq its headquarters and the base from which it runs its operations.
Therefore, there is a genuine interest in security coordination and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, through border controls, to abort any terrorist operations including recruitment, smuggling and training in arms and explosives, carried out by ISIS or any other terrorist organization in Iraq. The visit of the Saudi foreign minister to Iraq could also have a positive impact on economic relations and investment opportunities as trade between the two states remains low. During the past 10 years, the volume of trade exchange was between $2-3 billion. Riyadh and Baghdad could work on the enhancement of business opportunities by opening the strategic border crossing of Jemima, which would undoubtedly revive links between the north of Saudi Arabia and the west of Iraq. Direct flights between the two states would also create many business opportunities.
Finally, as the origin of Arabism, civilization and history, Iraq’s return is inevitable, and the people of the Gulf states look forward to seeing Iraq as a pillar of the Arab world once again.