April 23/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 20/26-31/:"A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
Second Letter to the Corinthians 05/11-21/:"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 22-23/17
Tomahawks targeting Syria as a message for Iran/Huda al Husseini/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
How Iran today resembles its past/Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
The new circumstances surrounding birth control/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 22/17'
The fate of their prisoners touches Palestinians to the core/Fawaz Turki/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
France: A Guide to the Presidential Elections/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/April 22/17
Two Canadians added to most-wanted U.S. terror list/By ALLAN WOODS/TheStar/Quebec Bureau/April 22/17'
A Young Prince is Reimagining Saudi Arabia/David Ignatius/The Washington Post/April 22/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 22-23/17
UNIFIL denies prior knowledge of Hezbollah tour
Saudi Arabia: Iran wants to replicate Hezbollah model wherever possible
Lebanese Army Detains IS 'Emir' and other Terrorists in Arsal Outskirts
Report: Concerns Linger over New US Financial Sanctions against Hizbullah
Army Commander: No Safe Haven for Terrorists in Lebanon
Report: Berri to Propose Voting System Format Based on Proportionality
PSP Suggests Hybrid Electoral Format, Reiterates Rejection for Extension and Vacuum
Mokdad supports adoption of total proportionality electoral law
U.S.Ambassador from ArzEhmej : U.S.A. commits to preserve Lebanon's enviroment, forests
Khreiss: Suspicious proposals regarding electoral law won't build country
No lights in Baabda Palace on Saturday evening
LAF Commander: Army capable of detecting and confronting any terrorist activity
LAF: Mleiss was killed during gunfire exchange
LAF foils terrorist infiltration attempt in Arsal
Senator Bennett wraps up visit to Lebanon
Farid Al Khazen: Failure to agree on electoral law indication of intent to hinder process
Slieman Frangieh supports proportional electoral law, says it is fair for all

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 22-23/17
Iran Wants to Import Tons of Uranium. Opponents of the Nuclear Deal Want the Trump Administration to Say No.
Mattis leaves Israel with unanswered questions
US Defence Secretary Meets Qatar’s Emir
Iran violating nuke deal with secret bomb trigger research, says opposition
Over 100 Killed, Wounded in Taliban Attack on Afghan Military Base
Iraqi forces seize valuable documents belonging to ISIS
US ground operation in Syria kills ISIS operative linked to Turkey club attack
Ten suspected militants arrested in raid near Syrian border
Russia complains to US over exclusion from Syria chemical probe
Sisi in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to attend anti-terrorism summit
Israel reopens Egypt crossing after security assessment
Chinese Jihadis' Rise in Syria Raises Concerns at Home

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 22-23/17
UNIFIL denies prior knowledge of Hezbollah tour
Ynetnews/Roi Kais/April 22/17/Hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited the border with Israel and declared his opposition to a provocative Hezbollah press tour, UNIFIL claims that the Lebanese government is responsible for the presence of armed terrorists in the area. UNIFIL is deflecting responsibility and denying prior knowledge of the presence of armed Hezbollah militants along the border with Israel Thursday. Hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited the border with Israel and declared his opposition to a provocative Hezbollah press tour, UNIFIL claims that the Lebanese government is responsible for the presence of armed terrorists in the area. UNIFIL issued a statement, saying, "Shortly before the journalists' delegation arrived in the area, the Lebanese army warned UNIFIL that there would be a press tour along the Blue Line, but did not specify any further details. "Regarding reports of the presence of armed men on this tour, this is a violation of Resolution 1701. As decided, Lebanese authorities are responsible for examining the presence of unauthorized elements in the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River."UNIFIL's statement comes a day after Prime Minister Hariri arrived in Lebanon for a tour of his own in an attempt to convey the message that the state is the landlord, not Hezbollah. "I started the visit to the headquarters of the UNIFIL force in order to convey the gratitude of the Lebanese people to all the countries that take part in it," said Hariri. "I emphasize that Lebanon is committed to Resolution 1701. As a state, our duty is to protect sovereignty and borders and to maintain security and stability of our citizens in this area. "The state and the army belong to all Lebanese. The only agenda is to provide security and stability for all Lebanese. There is no rule in Lebanon over any other regime. These things should be clear to everyone," Hariri said. In response to a question from a journalist about about Hezbollah's media tour, Hariri responded, "What happened yesterday in a certain place is something the government has no interest in and we oppose it. We came here today to say that we are committed to Resolution 1701."(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg)

Saudi Arabia: Iran wants to replicate Hezbollah model wherever possible
Staff writer, Al Arabiya EnglishFriday, 21 April 2017/Abdullah al-Maalami the Saudi Permanent Representative in the United Nations, said that Iran supports sectarian militias and tries to replicate the Hezbollah model wherever it gets an opportunity. Maalami also stressed that Saudi Arabia is ready to participate in any international efforts to eliminate terrorism. He added that the criminal regimes in Iran and Syria are trying to take advantage of Palestinian cause, highlighting that the way to peace is ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state as per the 1967 borders.
Iran’s ‘destructive activities’
Meanwhile, the US called on the International Security Council on Thursday to minimize the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to give priority to the devastating activities of Iran in the Middle East. US Ambassador Nicky Hayley described Iran as the “main cause” of conflicts in the Middle East, pledging to work with Washington’s partners to demand that Iran comply with UN resolutions. Hayley spoke about Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad, supplying it with weapons, training militias in Iraq, and supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, describing the activities as destabilizing. Hayley’s remarks come a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the Iranian nuclear deal a failure, two days after President Donald Trump issued an order to review the sanctions section of Iran as per the deal.

Lebanese Army Detains IS 'Emir' and other Terrorists in Arsal Outskirts
Naharnet/April 22/17/A special military operation carried out by the Lebanese army in the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal resulted in the killing of the so-called “legitimate Emir of Syria's Islamic State group”, a terrorist who have decreed the slaughter of Lebanese soldiers, the National News Agency reported on Saturday. The so-called legitimate Emir identified as Alaa al-Halabi, aka al-Mlais, hails from the Syrian town of Qara, said NNA. The Lebanese army carried out a thorough security plan at dawn on Saturday on the outskirts Arsal and arrested ten suspects believed to be dangerous terrorists, the Army Command-Orientation Directorate said in a statement. The army's security operation plan took place in Wadi al-Hosn area, it said. The troops arrested ten dangerous terrorists, and no causalities or wounded were recorded among the army's ranks, added the statement. VDL (93.3) reported that one militant was killed and three suspects from al-Fleiti family were arrested together with others. Wael al-Fleiti, one of the most dangerous fugitives, was among the detainees. He is involved in smuggling arms and ammunition into the town. Among the captives are Syrian nationals Alaa al-Halabi, Fawzi al-Sahli and Ahmed Niman, added VDL. A security source told the station that one of the Islamic State group's leaders was killed in the military operation and that he had ordered the killing of Lebanese soldiers. Among the detainees are arms dealers and members of a smuggling networks who work in favor of terrorist groups, it added. Arsal, which lies 12 kilometers from the border with Syria, has been used as a conduit for weapons and rebels to enter Syria, while also serving as a refuge for people fleeing the conflict. Lebanon is sharply divided over the war in Syria and Arsal is a particular flashpoint as refugees from the uprising and fighters and smugglers hostile to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad traverse the border.

Report: Concerns Linger over New US Financial Sanctions against Hizbullah
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 22/17/A Lebanese parliamentary delegation, composed of delegates and banking experts, is trying to convince the American authorities to alleviate the new law that the Congress plans to issue imposing new financial sanctions against Hizbullah party, amid concerns it would reflect on Lebanon's banking sector, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. According to information obtained by the daily, “the Lebanese delegation's endeavors this time look different from when the law was issued in its first edition. “At the time, the US administration was more understanding of the concerns of the Lebanese and avoided taking any step that would harm the Lebanese economy. Meanwhile, the current atmospheres are different and there is a kind of generalism in the administration and in the Congress itself,” said the daily. However, it pointed out that “the US administration is careful not to enact any law that could harm Lebanon's banking sector. But, this is not enough, because what is being prepared will put pressure on the financial situation as a whole.”Adding to the above, “there are concerns about Hizbullah's reaction to the US law in its second edition, which aims to turn the party into an ostracized political component in its environment. Anyone who has a surplus of money will have to move away from the party if he wants to avoid US sanctions.”“The previous time, a similar scenario ended after a bombing exploded at the headquarters of a well-known Lebanese bank, how would it end this time?” asked the daily.
In 2015, the US Congress voted to impose sanctions on banks that deal with Hizbullah, which the US considers as a "terrorist group". Lebanon's central bank instructed the country's banks and financial institutions to comply with the measure against the party.Hizbullah has fiercely criticized the law and accused central bank governor Riad Salameh of "yielding" to Washington's demands. In June 2016, a bomb exploded outside the Beirut headquarters of BLOM BANK, one of the country's largest, wounding one person. Several Lebanese newspapers known to be critical of Hizbullah said at the time the explosion was a "message" to banks complying with the US ruling.

Army Commander: No Safe Haven for Terrorists in Lebanon
Naharnet/April 22/17/Army Commander General Joseph Aoun stressed on Saturday that terrorists and militants will not find a safe haven in any area in Lebanon. “The security situation in the country is totally under the army's control. Any attempts to disrupt security and stability will be faced firmly,” said Aoun in a statement. The Army commander's comments came after the troops succeeded on Saturday at arresting a group of terrorists, including an IS Emir who has reportedly decreed the killing of Lebanese soldiers. “There is no safe haven for terrorists in any region in Lebanon,” he stressed. At dawn on Saturday, the Lebanese army arrested in Wadi al-Hosn in the outskirts of Arsal a group of ten terrorists who have infiltrated Lebanon's territory earlier. Among the detainees is the so-called Syrian legitimate IS Emir Alaa al-Halabi, aka al-Mlais, who has ordered the killing of Lebanese soldiers. Among the detainees are arms dealers and members of a smuggling networks who work in favor of terrorist groups, it was reported.

Report: Berri to Propose Voting System Format Based on Proportionality
Naharnet/April 22/17/Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to propose a new electoral law format next week that will be based on a full proportional representation system and six districts, al-Akhbar daily reported on Saturday. Sources close to the Speaker said on condition of anonymity, that “he is open for discussions suggesting an increase in the number of districts to 9 or 10. The proposal guarantees that 50 lawmakers would be elected with the votes of Christians,” they said. Berri's position follows a failed draft law format of the so-called qualification system that was suggested by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil which Berri and many political parties have described as “unconstitutional”. Political parties have embarked on introducing new formats, the first will be announced today by the Progressive Socialist Party, Berri next week and al-Mustaqbal Movement “when they are ready,” said the daily. High-level political sources told al-Akhbar that serious electoral research has been effectively suspended since the Foreign Ministry meeting on Wednesday night. "We need momentum that will lead to progress and break the status-quo situation," the sources said. They expressed concern that we arrive at the deadline which expires on May 15, without reaching a new voting system. 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. Hizbullah has repeatedly called for an electoral law fully based on the proportional representation system and a single or several large electorates. Druze leader Walid Jumblat has rejected proportional representation, warning that it would "marginalize" his minority Druze community, whose presence is concentrated in the Aley and Chouf areas. Amid reservations over proportional representation by other parties such as al-Mustaqbal Movement and the Lebanese Forces, the political parties are mulling a so-called hybrid electoral law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

PSP Suggests Hybrid Electoral Format, Reiterates Rejection for Extension and Vacuum
Naharnet/April 22/17/The Progressive Socialist Party proposed on Saturday a new electoral law format that equally mixes between the majoritarian and proportional voting systems. PSP MP Ghazi Aridi said in a press conference declaring the proposal: “The PSP is only keen on reaching a new law to help the elections be held on time,” assuring that solidarity and consensus are needed to save the country from a political crisis. The PSP's hybrid format mixes between the majoritarian and proportional voting systems. It divides the parliament seats equally where 64 MPs would be elected according to a majoritarian system in the current 26 districts, while the other 64 according to a proportional system in 11 districts. “Many formats and ideas were suggested, it is normal not to reach consensus on all of them. But because consensus did not happen and we are under the pressure of the deadlines, we wanted to make an initiative and take advantage of every moment until May 15 and after an open consultation with all political forces,” he The MP reiterated that vacuum at the legislative authority is “totally rejected and so is an extension of the parliament's term.”

Mokdad supports adoption of total proportionality electoral law
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - "We as Lebanese should all work to accomplish a new electoral law for the upcoming elections," member of Parliament Ali Mokdad stressed on Saturday, underscoring that Hizbullah has from the very beginning supported the adoption of total proportionality electoral law because it allows fair representation to all the Lebanese with no exception. "If this proves impossible, we can discuss the option of proportional representation in enlarged provinces and electoral circles," he added, on the sidelines of the ceremony held in Baalbeck castle by the Ministry of Culture and UNESCO to launch a strategy "For the safeguarding of archaeological sites in Lebanon". It is worth to note that the launching ceremony took place under the patronage of Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury who stressed the importance of preserving the cultural heritage, underscoring that its loss is a humanitarian and national catastrophe.

U.S.Ambassador from ArzEhmej : U.S.A. commits to preserve Lebanon's enviroment, forests
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - The USAID-funded Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI) organized on Saturday an "Environmental Day" at ArzEhmej Park in Ehmej, Byblos to celebrate the "International Earth Day" under the patronage of Ehmej Municipality and in cooperation with the committees of the Social and Enviroment corridors in the North, Rachayya and Al-Shouf in the presence of Environment Minister Representative Paul Moussa, US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, MP Simon ABi Ramia, Ehmej Municipality head and Council members and dignitaries. Richard made a speech in which she stressed her cabinet's commitment to preserve the environment in Lebanon.She said ,"We are present here today because we share a strong belief in preserving Lebanon's forests and natural beauty. It is truly impressive to see youth from diverse backgrounds coming together with such passion and enthusiasm to plant trees and restore Lebanon's green landscapes and iconic cedar forests."She added "Every day, deforestation is happening at an alarming rate and is reducing the quality of life for everyone in this beautiful country. Degradation of forests is affecting Lebanon's land, the livelihoods of its people, and its biodiversity."Richard expressed sorrow that "forest cover has declined in this country by 17 percent over the past 50 years. Cedars, pines, and other trees are now increasingly at risk because of water scarcity, burgeoning urbanization, and wildfire threats. Clearly, the loss of these forests is posing serious economic and ecological threats."
She added "the alarming decline in Lebanon's forest cover has encouraged the U.S. government to join with Lebanese partners to promote reforestation and build capacity in local communities, organizations, and municipalities to prevent forest fires and protect lives. This is why in 2004, we joined forces with our Lebanese partners and the United States Forest Service to embark upon a nationwide campaign to combat wildfires in Lebanon. In 2010, we increased our support by launching the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI) aimed at promoting reforestation and preventing wildfires."
Richard said ,"through LRI, we collaborate with civil society, communities, youth groups, and municipalities to accelerate the pace and scale of reforestation. We have assisted in planting and are sustaining more than 600,000 native tree seedlings throughout Lebanon, with an average survival rate of 75-80 percent. To date, we have helped to create 1,200 seasonal jobs for men and women in rural areas. Working together, we also brought diverse communities together by creating three social and environmental corridors in Rachaiya, North, and Shouf to share best practices in reforestation, promote inter-sectarian dialogue, and foster understanding between Lebanese and refugee populations."She said "thanks to the LRI project's participatory approach to reforestation, we proudly support more than 40 communities working to adopt sustainable forestry practices and wildfire management and helping them to advocate for their environmental needs. We engage hundreds of youth each year in awareness and tree planting activities to empower them to take positive actions to protect Lebanon's environment.""Furthermore, we helped instill a national commitment to reforestation and forest conservation by leading other donors and the national government to commit to forest conservation by adopting best practices from around the world. Every year, thousands of Lebanese are rallying to build a greener future for Lebanon. This is a testament that the environment is a unifying factor that can bridge the gap among diverse communities and lead to transformative changes in environmental practices," Richard said. "Today, our commitment to promote Lebanon's environmental diversity is growing stronger," she stressed. Richard praised all volunteers by saying, " I salute your dedication and engagement to revive Lebanon's natural beauty and the cedar tree in particular. Your commitment to protect Lebanon's environment and communities is more than just the right thing to do; it's also the smart thing to do.""I want to commend the efforts of LRI, local communities, and environmental committees throughout Lebanon for being strong advocates for Lebanon's environmental issues, for broadening environmental awareness, and for partnering with us to create greener landscapes.I also want to extend my sincere thanks to the Ministry of Environment for supporting our efforts to promote Lebanon's rich environmental diversity."" Thanks to everyone for being here today. And thanks to all of you for your great work to restore the great forests which have symbolized this land for thousands of years.""I look forward to increased participation in initiatives like today to ensure sustainable reforestation in the future. There is a common saying that "prevention is better than cure." So let's work together to save these trees so that future generations of Lebanese can enjoy this country's natural beauty as we do today," she concluded.

Khreiss: Suspicious proposals regarding electoral law won't build country
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - "Liberation and Development" bloc member MP Ali Khreiss, said on Saturday that "suspicious proposals for electoral laws could not build a country and would only serve to divide the Lebanese." The MP also warned that the fall down of the Parliament would mean the collapse of the state, calling upon all parties to "work seriously during the remaining period to find a fair electoral law that brings the Lebanese people together instead of dividing them."Khreiss revealed that the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri will present a new proposal, hoping it would be welcomed by the various political parties.

No lights in Baabda Palace on Saturday evening
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - The President of the Republic Michel Aoun gave on Saturday his instructions to turn off all the exterior lights of the Presidential palace this evening in response to the invitation of the association "G" and its initiative to have a "Green Day" on Saturday to mark the Earth Day.
Accordingly, the exterior lights in the Presidential Palace will be turned off today at 8:30 p.m.

LAF Commander: Army capable of detecting and confronting any terrorist activity
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - The Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), General Joseph Aoun, visited on Saturday the barracks of the Lebanese Army Rangers (Maghaweer) in Roumieh and held a meeting with officers and soldiers. The General lauded the readiness and efficiency of the rangers, stressing the need to intensify professional qualitative training to up the performance of combat units. "The security situation in the country is under the full control of the army. Any breach in security and stability will be faced sternly," said Aoun. He asserted that the mission carried out at dawn today in Arsal proved, once again, that there was no safe haven for terrorists in any Lebanese region and that the LAF was capable of spotting any terrorist activity and halting it immediately.

LAF: Mleiss was killed during gunfire exchange
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Orientation Directorate issued on Saturday the following statement: "Following the initial statement concerning an army task force carrying out a raid on the town of Arsal, and arresting ten dangerous terrorists, the Command clarifies that during the raid, the task force was attacked by terrorist gunfire, and retaliated in the same fashion, killing the Emir of ISIS terrorist organization in the Qalamoun region, Syrian national Hassan Mleiss. The latter had taken part, along an armed group, in attacking centers for the LAF and invading an ISF building, kidnapping servicemen in the town of Arsal on August 2, 2014.Investigations are ongoing with the detainees, namely Syrian nationals: Fawzi Mohammad Sahli, Alaa Khalil Halabi, Ahmad Hassan Maiman, Abdullah Abed el Kareem Hassyan, Ahmad Fawzi Sahli, and Mohammad Fawzi Sahli; and Lebanese nationals: Wael Deeb Flaiti, Hussein Deeb Flaiti, Ameen Mohammad Hameed, and Mahmoud Deeb Flaiti.

LAF foils terrorist infiltration attempt in Arsal
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - A Lebanese Army Unit raided on Saturday morning the town of Arsal and arrested ten armed terrorists, according to a communiqué by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Directorate Department. The same source added that those terrorists infiltrated earlier the same town.

Senator Bennett wraps up visit to Lebanon
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - Colorado's Democratic U.S. senator, Michael Bennett, concluded on Saturday his visit to Lebanon, by meeting with Prime Minster, Saad Hariri, and Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, with discussions touching on bilateral relations between the two countries as well as the Lebanese-U.S. security The delegation visited also the Bekaa valley and met with Lebanese Army officials. After the meeting, Senator Bennett reiterated that the U.S. would continue to stand by the Lebanese people and State institutions in order to promote a secure, sovereign and prosperous future for the country.

Farid Al Khazen: Failure to agree on electoral law indication of intent to hinder process
Sat 22 Apr 2017/NNA - MP Farid Al Khazen told Voice of Lebanon radio on Saturday that the failure to reach accord over any of the proposed electoral laws is indicative of a political resolve for some to obstruct the legislative elections. The Free Patriotic Movement was more than willing to address the concerns of MP Sleiman Frangieh, according to Khazen, just as it was prepared to understand those of MP Walid Jumblatt. "Closed meetings helped in bridging gaps among various factions," he said, adding that what was portrayed in the media was an exaggeration of facts. The solution currently discussed pointed to the adoption of a single standard in administrative divisions, based on dividing each province to three The MP asserted that the proposed rehabilitative law had its advantages and disadvantages. However, the passage of time put tremendous pressure on all political factions to reach an agreement soon.

Slieman Frangieh supports proportional electoral law, says it is fair for all
Sat 22 Apr 2017/id during a party event in Bnachii on Saturday that among all proposed electoral laws, the proportional law is the best in guaranteeing proper representation for all factions, especially Christian ones. He warned against extracting Christians from the East, as was happening in Iraq, Egypt and Syria. Frangieh insisted that Christians spread across Lebanese territories and fortify their existence in the Levant. "If we have to choose between our interests and our dignity, we choose our dignity," he added, noting that his only concern remained the "national project."

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 22-23/17
Iran Wants to Import Tons of Uranium. Opponents of the Nuclear Deal Want the Trump Administration to Say No.
The Weekly Standard/April 21/17
The amount goes beyond what Iran might need to replenish its stocks.
The Trump administration is facing pressure to definitively rule out a longstanding request by Iran to import 950 tons of natural uranium, according to government sources and proliferation experts who spoke to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Tehran has signaled it will petition again for the yellowcake next week at a quarterly meeting in Vienna regarding implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Obama administration reportedly approved the Iranian request in its final weeks, but it was ultimately blocked by the United Kingdom. Iran has indicated of late that it will revive the request, setting up a key test for the Trump administration, which has placed the nuclear deal under a comprehensive review. Trump officials suggested to TWS that the administration has not yet decided whether it will overturn the Obama-era decision and prohibit Iran from importing the natural uranium. "I would certainly hope we would use all our leverage to prevent such a purchase by Iran," one senior White House official said. The White House's weapons of mass destruction directorate refused to comment to TWS. "We do not comment on the deliberations of the Joint Commission, as has been agreed to by all participating parties."The proposal is receiving resistance from Congress, with Florida senator Marco Rubio urging the administration not to approve Iran's request. "The Iranian regime remains an illegitimate nuclear actor, with international inspectors still unable to conclusively verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran," he told TWS. "Vetoing Iran's proposal to buy 950 tons of uranium yellowcake from Kazakhstan should be a no-brainer. Iran does not need this nuclear material, which far exceeds its needs and could someday be further enriched for the purposes of nuclear weapons."

Mattis leaves Israel with unanswered questions
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis /April 22, 2017
The Syrian shells exploding on the Golan were ringing in Israel’s ears on Friday, April 21, when US Secretary of Defense James Mattis flew out after talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The IDF spokesman accounted for the first mortar shell dropping on northern Golan as an accidental stray from the fighting in Syria. When the shelling continued, it was countered by an Israeli strike on a Syrian military target on the other side of the Golan border.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that this incident, far from inadvertent, followed on the surreal scene Thursday of a Hizballah officer taking reporters on a “tour” of Israel’s defense lines and proudly pointing a finger across the border to “explain” how the Zionist enemy was reduced to defense..
No less divorced from reality was the short Mattis visit to Israel. After the mandatory smiles were exchanged between hosts and visitor, the situation on Israel’s northern fronts with Syria and Lebanon remained as enigmatic as before his arrival.
Secretary Mattis was clear on how the United States proposes to help Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi fight the Islamic State terrorist menace on three fronts, Syria, the Red Sea and Libya. His answers with regard to Syria were in sharp contrast vague and noncommittal, leaving Israel unclear on the following pivotal points:
While the American Raqqa operation is on the cards, nothing was said about its aftermath.
Where do US-Russian military relations stand in Syria and what must Israel expect to happen next?
Since Russia has gathered the Syrian fighter jets under its wing, how will Israel be able to take action in Syrian air space when necessary to uphold its security interests? What if Syria defies the American threats and continues to use chemical weapons? It is clear that the Assad regime’s sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was a well-planned overture to an all-out offensive to capture the northern Idlib province, where 50,000 rebels are barricaded with their families. Some are refugees from other areas trampled by the Syrian army. Many are associated with Al Qaeda and other Islamist organizations. The Assad regime will now resume that offensive and no doubt again resort to chemical weapons. What is US policy regarding the Iranian forces fighting in Syria and their Shiite militia proxies? Where does Washington stand on Hizballah? Will the US go through with a former Trump plan to establish security zones in Syria with the help of Jordan and Turkey? And most importantly, how far does the Trump administration support Jordan’s military steps in southern Syria? Our military sources report that Syrian rebels backed by Jordanian intelligence and US air support have gone on the offensive against Islamic State forces in a southeastern area ranging from the edge of the Druze mountains up to the Iraqi border. The Jordanian offensive is slow-moving, which attests to hesitance in its intelligence services over how far to go. Israel is most concerned by the battles taking place in the last few days in Deraa, the main town in southern Syria not far from its northern border. What is to be done with the ISIS affiliate, Khalid Ibn al-Wallid Army, which is parked in the Golan-Yarmouk pocket at the junction of the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian frontiers? The last two questions call for clear US answers, because if the US-backed Jordanian-rebel operations goes much further, it will open the door for the pro-Iranian proxies including Hizballah to move in. They are already standing ready 70km north of Deraa waiting for the ISIS affiliate’s fighters to be cleared out of the way so that they can march in and effortlessly take over this strategic corner up to the Israeli border. Israel’s leaders were unable to draw the US defense secretary on these questions before he ended his visit Friday. They have mostly themselves to blame. By their policy of abstention from military initiatives on Israel’s northern frontiers, its prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff have made the government non-players in a crisis that vitally affects national security. Unlike Jordan, which took the chance of going into action, Israel was left on the sidelines and therefore kept waiting for answers.

US Defence Secretary Meets Qatar’s Emir
Asharq Al-Awsat English/April 22/17/Pentagon chief Jim Mattis met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani Saturday during a visit to the Gulf state which hosts the largest US air base in the Middle East. The visit to Doha is part of a Mideast tour which has included stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.Mattis has a scheduled visit to Djibouti on Sunday. The US Defence Secretary met with Qatar’s emir and was also due to meet with Defence Minister Khaled Al-Attiya during his brief visit, which aimed to improve relations with US President Donald Trump’s administration. The Gulf-US ties became increasingly frayed during Obama’s presidency, who seemed as too hesitant to intervene in Syria’s war and overly friendly with regional opponent Iran. Mattis, who commanded troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said on Friday that there was “no doubt” Syria has kept some chemical weapons and warned head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad against using them. Qatar played a major role in the negotiations that led to a recent deal to evacuate thousands of Syrians from besieged towns. Washington and Qatar have close economic ties, with national carrier Qatar Airways announcing in October the acquisition of up to 100 Boeing aircraft worth $18.6 billion (17.3 billion euros). The oil-rich Gulf state is home to the Al-Udeid air base which houses around 10,000 US troops.

Iran violating nuke deal with secret bomb trigger research, says opposition
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Saturday, 22 April 2017/Despite a landmark international deal to halt its nuclear program, Iran is allegedly “cheating” by conducting research into nuclear weaponry. An Iranian opposition group based in Washington has made the claims, saying that the regime is researching components such as bomb triggers and enriched uranium, as well as carrying out engineering and weaponization testing at a walled military complex south of Tehran. This location is declared off-limits to inspectors, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main operational arm, the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran (MEK) said in a statement carried by the Washington Times. “This is the site that has been kept secret,” said Alireza Jafrazadeh, NCRI’s Washington office deputy director. “There is secret research to manufacture the bomb and basically cover up the real activities of the Iranian regime.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between Iran and world powers restricts its nuclear fuel enrichment for 10 years. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (AFP) US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson branded the Iran nuclear deal a failure Wednesday as President Donald Trump ordered a review of how Washington is countering the threat from Tehran. The State Department admits that Iran has so far maintained its side of the bargain it struck with world powers in 2015 to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. But Tillerson argued the accord had just been a way of "buying off" the regime and would only delay its development of a nuclear weapon that could threaten its region and the world. "The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran," Tillerson told reporters. (With AFP)

Over 100 Killed, Wounded in Taliban Attack on Afghan Military Base
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 22/17/More than 100 Afghan soldiers were killed and wounded in a coordinated Taliban attack on an army base in northern Afghanistan, the country's defense ministry said Saturday. Two of the attackers blew themselves up and seven were killed in the assault near Mazar-i-Sharif city on Friday which lasted several hours and targeted soldiers at a mosque and dining facility. "The majority of our soldiers were offering Friday prayers" at the time of the assault, the ministry said in a statement, adding that "over 100 Afghan army forces were martyred and wounded". The government toll of the attack came as a military official who was at the base at the time of the assault told AFP that "150 soldiers were killed and dozens wounded". "They were young recruits who had come for training," he said on condition of anonymity.
A US military spokesman said earlier that "more than 50" Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack claimed by the Taliban, while Afghan officials had initially put the death toll at eight with 11 wounded.
The latest deadly assault against an Afghan military site underscores rising insecurity in the war-torn country as it braces for an intense fighting season in the spring. The facility in Balkh province is home to the Afghan army's 209th Corps. The last major attack against a military site was in early March when gunmen disguised as doctors stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital -- the country's largest military hospital -- in Kabul, killing dozens.

Iraqi forces seize valuable documents belonging to ISIS
Nasir al-Ageali, Al – Iraq Saturday, 22 April 2017/The Iraqi counterterror forces revealed on Friday that it found documents and photos of ISIS members, in addition to electronic devices used in their electronic war, at one of the organization’s headquarters in the Sohha neighborhood in western Mosul. Major General Maan al-Saadi told Al Arabiya that during an anti-terror operation, the Iraqi forces came under intense fire but they quickly controlled the situation. Iraqi forces broke into a house to find that it is an ISIS headquarters containing valuable information about the locations and names of terrorist members and leaders. Saadi added that ISIS had electronic devices and computers, as well as maps and books to learn how to fire guided missiles, but the books were written in Russian. They also found magazines and CDs used by the organization in its media war with Iraqi forces. ISIS have used high technical capabilities to carry out attacks and recruit elements through social media. The organization has managed to recruit many foreign elements via technology and communication tools. Saadi added, “ISIS labels its electronic war as electronic jihad. The Mufti of the organization issued a fatwa claiming that hackers and piracy is considered as legitimate jihad.”ISIS had launched its electronic magazine “Kybernetik” designed to teach its members how to participate in the cyber war against the West while avoiding online surveillance by the authorities in any country. The first edition of the magazine was published in German and was uploaded on the official website of the organization.

US ground operation in Syria kills ISIS operative linked to Turkey club attack
Reuters, Washington Saturday, 22 April 2017/The United States disclosed on Friday a secret military ground operation that killed an ISIS operative seen as a close associate of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and linked to an attack on a Turkish nightclub that left 39 people dead. Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, who was believed to be from Uzbekistan, was killed during the ground assault near Mayadin, Syria, on April 6, said Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command. “It was a ground operation. I think that’s all we’re willing to say about that,” Thomas said, declining further comment. He specified that Uzbeki did not die in an airstrike. Thomas said Uzbeki helped facilitate the attack on the exclusive Istanbul nightclub Reina in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. ISIS claimed credit for the attack, saying it was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria. The attacker opened fire with an automatic rifle, throwing stun grenades to allow himself to reload and shooting the wounded on the ground. Among those killed in the attack were Turks and visitors from several Arab nations, India and Canada. “We have clearly linked him with the New Year’s Eve Istanbul bombing,” Thomas said. Flowers and pictures of the victims are placed near the entrance of Reina nightclub, which was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul, Turkey January 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Ten suspected militants arrested in raid near Syrian border
Reuters, Beirut Saturday, 22 April 2017/Lebanon's army said it arrested ten suspected members of militant groups on Saturday after they came over the northeastern border from Syria, and a security source said a local ISIS leader was killed in the same raid. No army personnel were reported injured or killed in the raid in Arsal, a town which militants briefly overran in 2014 before withdrawing to the hills around the border. The army says it stages regular operations against ISIS and former al Qaeda-linked militants in the mountainous region. "An army unit carried out a swift raid at dawn today in Arsal, resulting in the arrest of 10 dangerous terrorists who had previously infiltrated it," the army statement said. A military source said the local ISIS leader had ordered the killing of two Lebanese soldiers and the suspects were arrested on charges of smuggling weapons. ISIS is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers taken hostage in the 2014 clashes. A number of attacks in Lebanon in recent years have been linked to the war in Syria, where Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah is fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia complains to US over exclusion from Syria chemical probe

AFP, Moscow Saturday, 22 April 2017/Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced "regret" in a phone call with his US counterpart Friday at Washington's opposition to a Moscow-backed plan to investigate an alleged chemical attack in Syria. In the call with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson which "took place at US initiative," Lavrov raised the probe proposal made by Russia and Iran at the global chemical arms watchdog, the OPCW, said the Russian foreign ministry. Western nations have accused the Syrian regime of carrying out the suspected April 4 air strike. But Moscow and Tehran, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have sought to clear Damascus of blame. During the Friday call Lavrov notably "expressed regrets about the opposition of the United States at the (OPCW) to an initiative... to send inspectors to Syria to verify reports of the use of sarin gas in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun" which left 87 dead, including many children. Lavrov and Tillerson "agreed to examine again a possibility of opening an objective probe into this incident under the auspices of the OPCW," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said a ministry statement. They also agreed to launch "as soon as possible a working group tasked with seeking solutions to tackle points of friction in bilateral relations", which are at their chilliest since the end of the Cold War. The US State Department later released a brief statement saying Tillerson and Lavrov spoke to "follow up bilateral issues" and topics "including the OPCW investigation into Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 4."Tillerson "reiterated his support for the OPCW's existing investigative mechanism," the statement said, without elaborating. Ties between Moscow and Washington have been strained by the Ukraine crisis and the Syrian conflict, the Moscow statement said. The OPCW on Thursday "overwhelmingly" rejected the Russian-Iranian move to launch a new investigation into the suspected chemical attack in Syria, delegates said, backing a probe already under way. The draft decision put forward by Moscow and Tehran -- and obtained by AFP -- had called for a new OPCW probe "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 attack on the rebel-held town in Idlib province.
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.

Sisi in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to attend anti-terrorism summit
Staff writer, Al Saturday, 22 April 2017/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where he is scheduled to hold a bilateral Egyptian-Saudi summit during the visit to discuss strategic relations between the two countries, the Egyptian presidency announced Friday.
The visit will be a consultation on various regional and international issues of common concern, especially the fight against terrorism in the region, as well as among the international community. The visit comes at the invitation of the King Salman with the aim to continue joint coordination with Egypt. King Salman had invited the Egyptian president to visit the kingdom at the Arab Summit held in Jordan last month.

Israel reopens Egypt crossing after security assessment

The Associated Press Friday, 21 April 2017/Israel has reopened its border crossing to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula shut over a week ago over intelligence warnings of possible attacks.
Israel’s counterterrorism office said on Friday the Taba crossing is reopened but warned that the threat to Israelis in Sinai remains “severe, concrete and immediate.”It recommended against visiting Sinai now and advised those already there to “leave immediately.”Israel shut the border a day after militants in Egypt bombed two churches earlier this month, killing dozens of Christian worshippers during Palm Sunday ceremonies. Earlier this week, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack that killed a policeman and wounded at least three in Sinai, near a tourist area along the Red Sea coast.
Sinai is popular with Israeli tourists for its pristine beaches and coral reefs.

Chinese Jihadis' Rise in Syria Raises Concerns at Home
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 22/17/Many don't speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's northern regions. Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country's civil war began in March 2011 to fight against government forces and their allies. Some have joined the al-Qaida's branch in the country previously known as Nusra Front. Others paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and a smaller number joined factions such as the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham. But the majority of Chinese jihadis are with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims, particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syrian and Chinese intelligence agencies who fear those same jihadis could one day return home and cause trouble there.The Turkistan Islamic Party is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China's Xinjiang to be East Turkistan. Like most jihadi groups in Syria, their aim is to remove Assad's secular government from power and replace it with strict Islamic rule. Their participation in the war, which has left nearly 400,000 people dead, comes at a time when the Chinese government is one of Assad's strongest international backers. Along with Russia, China has used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council on several occasions to prevent the imposition of international sanctions against its Arab ally. Beijing has blamed violence back at home and against Chinese targets around the world on Islamic militants with foreign connections seeking an independent state in Xinjiang. The government says some of them are fleeing the country to join the Jihad, although critics say the Uighurs are discriminated against and economically marginalized in their homeland and are merely seeking to escape repressive rule by the majority Han Chinese.
Abu Dardaa al-Shami, a member of the now-defunct extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, said the TIP has the best "Inghemasiyoun," Arabic for "those who immerse themselves." The Inghemasiyoun have been used by extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaida's affiliate now known as Fatah al-Sham Front. Their role is to infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death before a major ground offensive begins. "They are the lions of ground offensives," said al-Shami, who fought on several occasions alongside TIP fighters in northern Syria.
Xie Xiaoyuan, China's envoy to Syria, told reporters in November that the two countries have had normal military exchanges focused on humanitarian issues, although Chinese officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of sending troops or weapons. In the last year, however, Chinese and Syrian officials have begun holding regular, once-a-month high-level meetings to share intelligence o militant movements in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal military secrets. "These people not only fight alongside international terrorist forces in Syria, but also they will possibly return to China posing threat to China's national security," said Li Wei, terrorism expert at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and Director of the CICIR Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies.
Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there are about 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria, most of them with the TIP fighters in northern Syria who along with their families make about 20,000. Li, the terrorism expert, said Abdurrahman's numbers are way too high, adding that he believes the number are about 300 Chinese fighters in Syria who brought with them about 700 family members. "As the control of the passage along the borders between Turkey and Syria is being tightened, it is becoming more difficult for them to smuggle into Syria," Li said.
Syrian opposition activists and pro-government media outlets say dozens of TIP fighters have carried out suicide attacks against government forces and their allies and for the past two years have led battles mostly in the north of the country.
The suicide attackers include one known as Shahid Allah al-Turkistani. He was shown in a video released by TIP taken from a drone of an attack in which he blew himself up in the vehicle he was driving near Aleppo late last year, allegedly killing dozens of pro-government gunmen.
In 2015, members of the group spearheaded an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib and captured the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour on the edge of Assad's stronghold of Latakia region. They reportedly damaged a church in the town and raised their black flag on top of it. In late 2016, TIP was a main force to briefly break a government siege on the then rebel-held eastern parts of the northern city of Aleppo.
The role of the Chinese jihadis in Syria was a topic that Assad spoke about last month in an interview with Chinese PHOENIX TV, saying "they know your country more than the others, so they can do more harm in your country than others."
Unlike other rebel groups, TIP is a very secretive organization and they live among themselves, according to activists in northern Syria. They are active in parts of Idlib and in the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, as well as the Kurdish Mountains in the western province of Latakia.
Abdul-Hakim Ramadan, a doctor who was active in Idlib province, said one of his teams was trying to enter a northwestern village to vaccinate children when TIP fighters prevented them from entering, saying only Chinese can go into the area. Ramadan said unlike other fighters who have come to Syria, the Chinese have not merged into local communities and the language has been a major barrier.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 22-23/17
Tomahawks targeting Syria as a message for Iran
Huda al Husseini/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
There are sequential events and developments on the troubled Middle East front. A few months ago, the traditional public opinion was that all circumstances were in Iran’s favor, and Iran was reinforcing its influence through its direct and indirect involvement in the region’s crises, supported by the easing of the international sanctions without any “behavioral” condition. However, the scene today is no longer clear, due to the urgent regional circumstances that involve Russia, the new administration in Washington and the bold Arab positions.
The geopolitics of the region is moving fast. Russia and Turkey cooperated regarding the Syrian issue; American, Russian and Turkish generals have met in southern Turkey to avoid a military clash when facing ISIS. Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, has then become stronger and the US forces in Iraq began to deploy checkpoints on a large part of the borders; Iraqi voices started to call for Iran’s withdrawal. Therefore, it can be seen that Iran is losing its influence and can no longer put or object on agendas, like its allies or rivals, who are also working to protect their fundamental interests. There are some who said that Iran had a role in the chemical bombing in Syria, and that more than 20 Iranians were killed in the American bombing on Syrian Shayrat military base.
Iran is concerned about the Russian position, as their partnership has moved from the level of coalition to a less stable state. When Russia intervened in 2015 in Syria, its message was clear: Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime did not achieve its objectives. Then Moscow turned to Ankara, as it was more useful; however, Russia went back alone and seized control in Syria because it was sure that Turkey does not have enough influence on the Syrian forces against Assad. Then the chemical strike took place, followed by the American raid.
Iran is cautiously watching the new US administration's moves. President Donald Trump seems to be planning on carrying out his election promises of being tougher towards Iran
During this period, Iran noticed a decline in its personal cooperation with Russia. This was reflected in its strategy for Syria, so Iran headed to Qatar to discuss the exchange of the people of Kafria and al-Foua (north of Idlib) with the people of Zabadani and Madaya (north-west of Damascus).
There are two main points in this painful displacement: Russia wants an undivided and secular Syria as it has heavily invested in Syria and wants to achieve this goal among other ones, and Iran answered back by securing passages from its borders to the Mediterranean; it is a strategic need for Iran that wants to deliver weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is why Iran wanted to protect Bashar al-Assad’s regime and rushed in 2011 with Hezbollah to support the regime that was falling. According to reports, one of its goals is to spread its supply passages and build pipelines extending from east to west across Iraq to the Syrian coast. Hence, the latest displacement plan will change the face of Syria.
On the other hand, Iran is cautiously watching the new US administration's moves. President Donald Trump seems to be planning on carrying out his election promises of being tougher towards Iran.
In a statement to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), CIA director Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the strike on the Syrian base was a message to Iran that the US was ready to use the needed force to protect its interests.
Pompeo linked the Tomahawk missiles launched on the air base that was used to launch chemical weapons, to Iran’s compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said that his agency was closely monitoring Iran’s commitment to the agreement, including declared and undeclared nuclear facilities. He added: “We must keep in mind what happened in Syria and go back and read the agreement, especially regarding the declared and undeclared facilities, and the extent to which the IAEA auditors have reached these facilities; this is the level of certainty that we want to provide to the general leader”. He explained: “What I mean is that the Syrian strike was a decision-making process that was pivotal, deliberate and strongly built on a realistic understanding of the strategic importance of what we are facing today.”
When talking about Assad, Pompeo said that “there was someone who violated the ban on the use of chemical weapons, and that is not important.” This is why I think that the Iranians should be aware that this administration is ready to undertake activities that are different from what America has been doing in the last few years.
Violating the deal?
The CIA is checking whether Iran is violating the deal through secret nuclear activities. He added: “The agreement did not make Iran a friendly country as it is still sponsoring terrorism; the Iranian plan is still the same: it includes working on increasing their ability to deliver missiles to face Israel through Hezbollah, and increasing their activity through Shiite militias in Mosul. They also support Houthis in Yemen to launch rockets against Saudi Arabia. He added: The list of Iranian violations has increased significantly since the signing of the nuclear deal. Iran supports the Shiite crescent in the Middle East and this is not convenient for US interests.
For his part, Joseph Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, had ranked Iran in fifth place among the top five threats in the Middle East, and presented on the 9th of this month some details on the American strategy of containment: “We must be more effective in the gray area, through strong deterrence means, and capacity-building of allied countries. Iran must realize that there will be dire consequences if it decides to continue its malicious activities designed to provoke the region.” General Votel’s support “for direct contacts with the Iranian leadership, to improve transparency and reduce misjudgment probability” was remarkable.
At the same time, Trump used his meetings with Arab and Israeli leaders to confirm his intentions to tighten measures aiming to contain Iran and put pressure on it “in collaboration with regional friends.” Finally, the Trump administration took new economic sanctions against senior Iranian officials and the prison’s system there because of the widespread human rights abuses. Sohrab Soleimani, who is responsible for the infamous Evin prison, is the brother of General Qassem Soleimani, who is in charge of the terrorist Iranian activities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.
It is not by chance that Sohrab Soleimani is the brother of Qassem Soleimani. The first ran a prison known for arbitrary and coercive interrogations, ill-treatment of prisoners, the burial of many and giving their parents a paper with the grave number later on. The second does not need to be introduced; he has not ended the war but is rather still on the Iran-Iraq war, lost by Iran. He is leading the operations there through militias that have killed, destroyed and displaced people.
These new sanctions are adopted by the Trump administration, under the current broad review of all matters related to the nuclear agreement. An increase in human rights violations was observed under reformist President Hassan Rowhani. The new sanctions do not conflict with the US commitments under the nuclear deal, and are not dealt with as part of that deal. The shifts in the regional dynamics, which include Russia and the US, place Iran on the defense. After the chemical strike, Russia intensified its contacts with Saudi Arabia and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir will visit Moscow on the 26th of this month. As for the US, it is learning that strengthening military operations in Yemen and Syria without a dominant political game plan, does not put the new administration in a good position. In a warning message to North Korea, US Vice President Mike Pence said: “The time for the patience strategy is over, pointing to North Korea and Iran, adding to the Tomahawk message that was sent to Iran.

How Iran today resembles its past

Khairallah Khairallah/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
There’s no significance worth mentioning regarding the victory of any candidate in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections. It does not matter who will win as what’s more important here, is for Iran’s domestic and foreign policy to change. As Iran needs to quit playing the role of the regional dominating power that has led itself and the region towards sectarian strife and destruction. Iran, with its current regime which was established by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, cannot continue to play this game because it does not have a model to present inside or outside its borders. Iran can seek destruction and make the region’s countries depend more on foreign powers, including America, “The Great Satan.” There hasn’t been any change in Iran and there will not be any as long as Khamenei controls Iran as the guardian of the jurist. Iran will continue to be a state that dreams of playing a role that exceeds its size and capabilities while ignoring that the world is changing much faster than it thinks it is. However, it cannot be a power that builds because this will require more harmony among the region’s communities and it will mean investing in resources to serve citizens instead of squandering huge sums of money to buy weapons. Will Iran still be needed if it plays a constructive role and be useless to America or any other country?
Who plays the strings?
The experience of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani who was elected four years ago is the best proof that the Iranian president does not have a role. Many said Rowhani was a reformist and thought he will change Iran. In the end it turned out that hardliners used him during a certain phase to convince former president Barack Obama that it’s possible to play the Iranian card and resume negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program to reach an agreement.
A deal was in fact reached and signed by the P5+1 group and Iran in the summer of 2015. Iran received American aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It desperately needed this aid especially considering the decline of oil prices. Nothing changed on the regional level. On the contrary, Iran’s hostility increased towards everything related to Arabs in the region. It did not play any positive role in the Middle East and Gulf countries. Iran continued adopting a policy of sectarian mobilization. The latter is still Iran’s only investment outside its territories.
Before Rowhani assumed power, “reformist” Mohammed Khatami was president for 8 years, from 1997 until 2005. How did this influence Iran’s foreign policy? What is certain is that Khatami was an educated and knowledgeable man. He had good intentions towards neighboring countries and other countries. However, one judges another based on results. Iran, during Khatami’s terms and afterwards, continued to interfere in Arab domestic affairs. Iran’s interferences rather increased and Tehran became more hostile especially after it directly participated in the American war on Iraq in the spring of 2003.
A history of hostility
As time passed by, we realized how insightful Jordanian King Abdullah II was when he spoke about the Shiite Crescent which Iran seeks to establish after controlling Baghdad. The Jordanian king coined this term during an interview with the Washington Post in October 2004. The king did not mean to offend the Shiites especially that Hashemites consider themselves part of Ahl al-Bayt and they have never distinguished between Sunnis and Shiites. King Abdullah meant that Iran wants to control a region that extends from Tehran to Beirut and that it wants to achieve this aim through the use of sectarianism. This region includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon which is controlled by Hezbollah, a party that’s affiliated with Iran and that is merely a barricade in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, King Abdullah II said Iran has not changed. As seen through its response to the Jordanian king’s recent interview, Iran seems upset with Donald Trump’s administration and with the latter’s orientations towards it. Iran’s hostility towards a peaceful country that maintained its domestic stability, like Jordan, has thus increased.
Iranian officials made insulting statements in response to the Jordanian king’s interview. They did so although he only described the situation as it is without making any exaggerations. What is Iran doing in Iraq? What is it doing in Syria? What pushes it to bet on sectarian militias in Lebanon to harm the country’s economy, destroy state institutions and sever relations between it and Gulf countries? Of course, there is no need to wonder what Iran is doing in Yemen and why there is such grudge against Bahrain or why it intervenes in Kuwaiti affairs.
Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei exploited the post of the president of the Islamic Republic in Iran to suit certain phases which called for having a specific type of president. When the domestic and international situations called for a “reformist” president, a “reformist” president was suddenly elected! The world thought Iran will adopt a policy that’s based on openness and that it will stop supporting terrorism in all its forms! And of course, whenever they need a “hardliner,” someone like Ahmedinejad is miraculously brought into power!
Signs of change
There hasn’t been any change in Iran and there will not be any as long as Khamenei controls Iran as the guardian of the jurist. Iran will continue to be a state that dreams of playing a role that exceeds its size and capabilities while ignoring that the world is changing much faster than it thinks it is. Tehran also continues to ignore that the only beneficial investment it can make is investing in domestic projects that benefit the Iranians whom more than half of them live below poverty line.
The first round of Iranian presidential elections will be held on May 19. All we can note on this occasion is how much today resembles yesterday! During this time in 2013, Rowhani was elected president. The only one who thought Iran changed was Obama and his team which sacrificed the Syrian people who had revolted against injustice and dictatorship. Obama overlooked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in order to satisfy Iran. He was completely concerned over not upsetting Iran even when more than 1,000 Syrians were killed in August 2013 in a chemical attack on Damascus’ Ghouta.
It’s not a president who can change Iran. What may currently change it is a different American policy. It is only a matter of weeks and after that we will see whether Trump and his team will say it’s time for each regional and international party to know its real size on the map.
There is no doubt that the American strike on the Syrian al-Shayrat air base indicates a change in American policy – a change that Iran has begun to sense. However caution remains necessary before reaching a final conclusion regarding the future of relations between Tehran and Washington. Iran in the end has provided major countless services to America when it set the basis for a sectarian rift that has primarily changed the priorities of Arab countries, particularly Gulf countries.

The new circumstances surrounding birth control
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
During previous discussions targeting developments in the region, the calls for family planning, especially those related to birth control, had always been faced with confrontational or hostile answers because this issue was considered a foreign conspiracy. This was until houses and cities became overcrowded. The result is the imbalances we are currently witnessing. It is not easy to find solutions in terms of jobs, housing, treatments and a long series of modern requirements. However, as government and individual incomes dropped, hostility and hesitation shrank. We can see that people are now more aware of this dilemma. This is real life ruled by a fragile balance - blessings may not last forever. In the past, diseases, epidemics, famines and natural disasters were limiting the population growth. As science progresses with the development of medicine, the construction of dams, the development of agriculture, the chemistry of food preservation, human medical fertilization and immunization, the equation of the relation between humans, land and environment has changed. It is not a coincidence that most of the industrial countries are committed to birth control while poor communities are not.
In our region, it has never been possible to impose family planning. The Arab governments that tried it, have failed. Opposition groups have provoked the people against political regimes every time they try to suggest family planning, for political rivalry issues.
The reasons for the failure are not limited to the opposition’s efforts, as most are actually caused by a lack of awareness and the ease of life in countries that depend most on oil income.
Understanding the implications
Raising awareness remains the best way to change society’s bad habits and motivate people to adapt their financial potentials to their wishes and expectations. Those who do not have a good financial income, have to think thoroughly about how to manage their house and family. For financial reasons, the majority will not have large families and will not build houses with many unnecessary rooms and salons. They will gradually discover that the family bill is not about the rent of the house and the price of the food, because they will also be paying for the education and medical treatment of their children. The bigger the family, the greater the living costs. What is happening today is a correction to the random previous arrangements, including those of running the household, which will force many to take family and personal decisions for economic reasons, such as early marriage, polygamy, number of children and the employment of women. It will not be easy to correct the past, as there are already large families with small incomes. But it is possible to work on the awareness of new generations on understanding the realities of life and the outcomes of their decisions.
Yet we are aware that society will not accept governments interfering in their families’ private matters. Our society will not want to be taken down the same route as China and it’s one child policy. So the only choice is to focus on social and educational awareness from a younger age. Correcting the market economies that are currently under the spotlight, namely the reduction of subsidies on major commodities and the increase of the cost of living, requires family education and awareness that match the new changes.

The fate of their prisoners touches Palestinians to the core

Fawaz Turki/Al Arabiya/April 22/17
Palestinian society, like any other human community, is imbued with a great many ideological currents and political sensibilities. and thus its members never think in lockstep. But one issue they all seem to be consistently united on, and that never fails to tug at their heartstrings, is the fate of the 6,500 political prisoners held in Israeli jails. Earlier this week 1,000 of these folks went on a hunger strike, a form of non-violent resistance in which prisoners fast - to death, if need be - as an act of political protest, or to achieve more humane conditions behind bars. In this case the demands are wrenching in their modesty: more flexible visitation rights for family members, educational options, and more access to news periodicals, books and public phones.
Hunger strikes are no joke. They have been known to have lethal consequences. Medical literature paints a dreadful picture of the progressive deterioration of a determined striker’s body, which in the first days of the strike continues to use energy from glucose, the medical term for simple sugar. After that, the liver starts processing body fat. And when that in turn is depleted, the body enters a “starvation mode,” where the caloric intake of an organism, needed to maintain life, is exhausted. At this point, we are told, the body begins to devour the muscles and vital organs, and loss of bone becomes critical and life-threatening.
All of which goes to affirm the notion that when a man dies, his life ends, but when a martyr dies, his life begins.
A prisoner on a hunger strike can die within six to ten weeks. This happened in 1981 to ten hunger strikers incarcerated in Northern Ireland, in that now famous showdown between republican political prisoners and then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Among the prisoners - who died within 46 to 73 days of each other - was the iconic and now famous Irish patriot Bobby Sands, whose funeral was attended by 100,000 people. His act of defiance, coming at the cost of his life, galvanized Irish nationalist politics and was the driving force that later enabled Sinn Fein to become a mainstream political party.
When death makes a martyr
All of which goes to affirm the notion that when a man dies, his life ends, but when a martyr dies, his life begins.
Yes, it’s easy for a prisoner on a hunger strike to lose his life. It almost happened in 2015 to Muhammed Allan, a Palestinian political prisoner held without charges and without trial. Allan went on a 64-day hunger strike, during which he was at death’s door, having fallen unconscious and later placed into a medically induced coma. After he recovered somewhat - one never recovers fully from an experience like that - the occupiers’ Supreme Court ordered his release, but in act of vindictiveness the authorities re-arrested him less than a month later.
The plight of the thousands of their political prisoners in Israeli jails may, I say, tug at the Palestinian people’s heartstrings, but it also galls them at the gut: Who are these so-called Israelis incarcerating Palestinian patriots? How dare these latter-day settler-colonists come to Palestine and try its native sons in their foreign courts, dump them in their foreign jails, and subject them to their foreign laws? You expect no one to believe you when you tell them that roughly 750,000 Palestinians, including minors as young as 12, have passed through these jails since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered and occupied in 1967. Almost every Palestinian has a relative, or has had a relative, in jail, or has been there himself. They all languished in that entity’s 17 Special Jails, amongst them 14 members of the Palestinian parliament, and hundreds of non-violent protesters whose only crime was agitating peacefully to stop the Israeli army and colonists from expropriating their land.
Prisoned for stone throwing
Others were caught just throwing stones. Under Military Order 1651, for example, a Palestinian caught throwing stones at “people or property” can face a ten-year jail sentence. In an article about the subject in August 2013, the Economist wrote:” Conviction rates for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts, where most politically motivated cases are heard, exceed 99 percent. So many are processed every day that there’s scant time to delve into detail, let alone study cases in advance. Military judges, working in makeshift courts, rely on the testimony of soldiers to secure convictions.”
From 2000 to 2009, the article added, 6,700 Palestinians between the ages of 12 and 18 were arrested. Of those imprisoned, “nearly all” were “brought to court in leg shackles and handcuffs.” In a way, the experience of imprisonment is shared by all Palestinians, whether they are actually political prisoners behind bars or ordinary Palestinians living by the rule of the gun as an occupied people “The occupation of our land and subjugation of our people have gone on for 50 long years, Mr President,” Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader should tell Donald Trump when he meets with him at the White House on May 3. “Surely it’s about time we gained our right to freedom, independence and statehood in our homeland, a right that no one in the international community, including the United States, disputes.”

France: A Guide to the Presidential Elections
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/April 22/17
"What poses a problem is not Islam, but certain behaviors that are said to be religious and then imposed on persons who practice that religion." — Emmanuel Macron
"Those who come to France are to accept France, not to transform it to the image of their country of origin. If they want to live at home, they should have stayed at home." — Marine Le Pen
"It [France] is one nation that has a right to choose who can join it and a right that foreigners accept its rules and customs. — François Fillon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon has called for a massive increase in public spending, a 90% tax on anyone earning more than €400,000 ($425,000) a year, and an across-the-board increase in the minimum wage by 16% to €1,326 ($1,400) net a month, based on a 35-hour work week.
Benoît Hamon has promised to establish a universal basic income: he wants to pay every French citizen over 18, regardless of whether or not they are employed, a government-guaranteed monthly income of €750 ($800). The annual cost to taxpayers would be €400 billion ($430 billion). By comparison, France's 2017 defense budget is €32.7 billion ($40 billion).
Voters in France will go to the polls on April 23 to choose the country's next president in a two-step process. The top two winners in the first round will compete in a run-off on May 7.
The election is being closely followed in France and elsewhere as an indicator of popular discontent with mainstream parties and the European Union, as well as with multiculturalism and continued mass migration from the Muslim world.
If the election were held today, independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, would become the next president of France, according to most opinion polls.
An Ifop-Fiducial poll released on April 21 showed that Macron would win the first round with 24.5% of the votes, followed by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-establishment National Front party, with 22.5%. Conservative François Fillon is third (19.5%), followed by Leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon (18.5%) and radical Socialist Benoît Hamon (7%).
If the poll numbers are accurate, the two established parties, the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans, would, for the first time, be eliminated in the first round.
In the second round, Macron, a pro-EU, pro-Islam globalist, would defeat Le Pen, an anti-EU, anti-Islam French nationalist, by a wide margin (61% to 39%), according to the poll.
Nevertheless, most polls show that the race is tightening, and that two candidates who up until recently were considered also-rans — Fillon, who has been mired in a corruption scandal, and Mélenchon, who has performed well in recent presidential debates — are narrowing the lead that Macron and Le Pen have over them.
An Elabe poll for BMFTV and L'Express released on April 21 showed Macron at 24%, Le Pen at 21.5%, Fillon at 20% and Mélenchon at 19.5%.
The numbers indicate that neither Macron nor Le Pen can be absolutely certain they will proceed to the May 7 runoff. It remains to be seen if the April 20 jihadist attack on three policemen in Paris will bolster support for either Fillon or Le Pen, both of whom have pledged to crack down on radical Islam, and both of whom are competing for many of the same voters. Adding to the uncertainty: Some 40% of French voters remain undecided.
Following are the main policy positions of the top five candidates:
Emmanuel Macron
Macron, 39, a former investment banker, was an adviser to incumbent Socialist President François Hollande. If elected, he would be France's youngest president. A long-time member of the Socialist Party, Macron served in Hollande's cabinet for two years as economy minister until August 2016, when he resigned to launch his own political movement, En Marche! (On the move!).
Macron, whose core base of support consists of young, urban progressives, has been called the "French Obama." He insists that he is neither left nor right and has tried to position himself in the political center, between the Socialists and the conservatives — and as an alternative to Le Pen's populism.
Macron is business friendly and has called for cutting corporate taxes and for investing in infrastructure. He sparked outrage in February when he described France's colonial legacy in Algeria as a "crime against humanity."
His meteoric rise has been propelled by a scandal which has damaged the standing of Republican candidate François Fillon, and because the Socialists fielded Benoît Hamon, an unpopular candidate.
Macron's policy positions (platform here) include:
European Federalism: Macron has repeatedly called for a stronger European Union. At a January 14 political rally in Lille, he said: "We are Europe, we are Brussels, we wanted it and we need it. We need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger."
Immigration: Macron has repeatedly praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy, which has allowed more than two million mostly Muslim migrants into Germany since January 2015.
In a January 1, 2017 interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Macron accused critics of Merkel's open-door migration policy of "disgraceful oversimplification." He said: "Merkel and German society as a whole exemplified our common European values. They saved our collective dignity by accepting, accommodating and educating distressed refugees."
In a February 4 rally in Lyon, Macron mocked U.S. President Donald Trump's pledge to build a wall with Mexico: "I do not want to build a wall. I can assure you there is no wall in my program. Can you remember the Maginot Line?" he said, referring to a failed row of fortifications that France built in the 1930s to deter an invasion by Germany.
Islamic Terrorism: Macron has said he believes the solution to jihadist terrorism is more European federalism: "Terrorism wants to destroy Europe. We must quickly create a sovereign Europe that is capable of protecting us against external dangers in order to better ensure internal security. We also need to overcome national unwillingness and create a common European intelligence system that will allow the effective hunting of criminals and terrorists."
Islam: Macron has said he believes that French security policy has unfairly targeted Muslims and that "secularism should not be brandished to as a weapon to fight Islam." At an October 2016 rally in Montpellier, he rejected President Hollande's assertion that "France has a problem with Islam." Instead, Macron said: "No religion is a problem in France today. If the state should be neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity." He also insisted that the Islamic State is not Islamic: "What poses a problem is not Islam, but certain behaviors that are said to be religious and then imposed on persons who practice that religion."
Marine Le Pen
Le Pen, 48, a former lawyer and the youngest daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front party, has campaigned on a nationalist platform. She has called for a referendum on pulling France out of the European Union, abandoning the euro single currency, halting immigration and restore controls at French borders.
Le Pen, who has been called the "French Trump," has vowed to fight radical Islam, close extremist mosques and forcibly deport illegal immigrants.
On March 2, the European Parliament voted to lift Le Pen's immunity from prosecution for tweeting images of Islamic State violence. Under French law, publishing violent images can be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 euros ($79,000). Le Pen posted the images in response to a journalist who compared her party's anti-immigration stance to the Islamic State. She denounced the legal proceedings against her as political interference in the campaign and called for a moratorium on judicial investigations until the election period has passed.
Le Pen is also under investigation for allegedly misusing EU funds to pay for party staff, including a personal bodyguard. She has denied any wrongdoing and said the investigation was aimed at undermining her campaign. "The French can tell the difference between genuine scandals and political dirty tricks," she said.
Le Pen's policy positions (platform here) include:
European Federalism: "Everyone agrees that the European Union is a failure. It did not deliver on any of its promises, particularly on prosperity and security.... That is why, if elected, I will announce a referendum within six months on remaining or exiting the European Union..."
Immigration: Le Pen has said that she wants to cut immigration to no more than 10,000 people a year. She has also called on migrants to adapt to French culture: "Those who come to France are to accept France, not to transform it to the image of their country of origin. If they want to live at home, they should have stayed at home."
Islamic Terrorism: Le Pen has repeatedly vowed to crack down on Islamic terrorism. On February 5, she said: "In terms of terrorism, we do not intend to ask the French to get used to living with this horror. We will eradicate it here and abroad." After the April 20 jihadist attack in Paris, she reiterated: "We must tackle the root of the evil. It is Islamist fundamentalism, the ideology that their terrorists are harnessing."
Islam: Le Pen has vowed to restrict the practice of Islam in the public square. She wants to ban all visible religious symbols worn in public, including Muslim headscarves and Jewish skullcaps. She has compared Muslims praying in the streets to Nazi occupation: "For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it is about occupation, then we could also talk about it [Muslim prayers in the streets], because that is occupation of territory. It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of districts in which religious laws apply. It is an occupation. There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents."
François Fillon
Fillon, 63, a former Prime Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy and now the Republican candidate for France's 2017 presidential election, has pledged to defend traditional French values and identity. "This country is the daughter of Christianity, as well as the Enlightenment," Fillon has said. "I will put the family back at the heart of all public policy."
Fillon, who has been called the "French Thatcher" for his conservative policies, wants to end France's 35-hour work week, cut public spending by €100 billion ($107 billion), shrink the size of government by cutting 500,000 civil service positions, abolish a wealth tax and reduce immigration. He also wants to invest heavily in national security.
Fillon had been favored to win this race until he became the subject of a criminal investigation over allegations that he used government money to pay his wife and children more than €1 million ($1.1 million) for jobs they never did. He faces charges of embezzlement.
Fillon's policy positions (platform here) include:
European Federalism: Fillon has said that he is not in favor of more European integration. In an essay for Le Monde, he wrote: "Let's put aside the dream of a federal Europe. It is urgent to re-establish a more political functioning, so Europe can focus its action on well-defined strategic priorities."
Immigration: Fillon has called for quotas limiting immigration based on the capacity to integrate. At a rally in Nice on January 11, he said: "France is generous, but it is not a mosaic and a territory without limits. It is one nation that has a right to choose who can join it and a right that foreigners accept its rules and customs. We have six million unemployed and nearly nine million poor people. Immigration must be firmly controlled and reduced to a strict minimum."
Islam: Fillon has vowed to exert "strict administrative control" over Islam in France. He has also described radical Islam as a "totalitarianism like the Nazis." After the April 20 jihadist attacks, Fillon repeated his pledge to crack down on radical Islam. "Any movement claiming Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood will be dissolved," he said.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Mélenchon, 65, is head of the newly-established La France Insoumise ("Unsubmissive France"), a political movement supported by the Left Party and the French Communist Party. Mélenchon, who has been called the "French Bernie Sanders," has campaigned on an anti-capitalist, anti-globalization platform and vowed to put an end to "economic liberalism." He has called for a massive increase in public spending, a 90% tax on anyone earning more than €400,000 ($425,000) a year, and an across-the-board increase in the minimum wage by 16% to €1,326 ($1,400) net a month, based on a 35-hour work week.
Mélenchon's policy positions (platform here) include:
European Federalism: Mélenchon has pledged to redefine France's future relationship with the European Union. He has promised to negotiate a "democratic reconstruction" of European treaties, and to withdraw from the EU if it fails to meet his demands. "Europe, we'll change it or leave it," he said during an interview with France 2 television on April 7. He has also questioned France's continued use of the euro single currency.
Immigration: Mélenchon is opposed to immigration quotas. He called for undocumented workers to be legalized. He has called for re-establishing a ten-year residence permit for foreigners, and for all children born in France to obtain automatic citizenship.
Benoît Hamon
Hamon, 49, the Socialist Party nominee, was a former education minister under President Hollande but quit the government in protest of its pro-market policies. Although he defeated former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a party heavyweight, in the primary run-off on January 29 by a margin of 58% to 42%, he is now polling last among the top five candidates.
Hamon has promised to establish a universal basic income: he wants to pay every French citizen over 18, regardless of whether or not they are employed, a government-guaranteed monthly income of €750 ($800). The annual cost to taxpayers would be €400 billion ($430 billion). By comparison, France's 2017 defense budget is €32.7 billion ($40 billion).
Hamon, who has been called the "French Jeremy Corbyn," in reference to the leader of the British Labour Party, also wants reduce the French work week from 35 to 32 hours and make it more difficult for companies to fire people. He wants to legalize cannabis and impose a tax on robots and computers; the tax would apply to any technology that takes away jobs from humans.
Hamon's policy positions (platform here) include:
European Federalism: Hamon favors further European integration, especially on social issues. He has also called for "a process of social convergence with a national minimum wage set at 60% of each country's average wage." He has also called for the reformation of eurozone governance. "Only a complete revision of the European treaties could give the eurozone an institutional framework capable of correcting the founding mistakes of the Economic and Monetary Union," he wrote in a policy paper.
Immigration: Hamon has said that France does not have an immigration problem. In an interview with Le Parisien, he said: "Immigrants now occupy low-skilled jobs for which there is little competition with French workers. I think our country does not have an immigration problem." Hamon favors "a more equitable" distribution of asylum seekers in Europe and believes that France can accommodate more. He wants to allow migrants to obtain work permits after three months of being present in France. He has called for doubling the number of asylum seeker reception centers.
Islam: Hamon has come under fire for appearing to turn a blind eye to Islamic customs. In December 2016, after France 2 broadcast undercover television footage of daily life in Sevran, a heavily Islamized suburb of Paris, Hamon defended the Muslim practice of prohibiting women from entering bars and cafés. "Historically, there were never women in the coffee shops," he said. He added that "the French Republic is to blame for the fact that there are social ghettos where today public spaces can be off limits to women."
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.
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Two Canadians added to most-wanted U.S. terror list
By ALLAN WOODS/TheStar/Quebec Bureau
Sat., April 22, 2017
State Department says Farah Mohamed Shirdon recruited and fundraised for Daesh, while Tarek Sakr provided sniper training for Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusrah Front while in Syria.
MONTREAL—The United States has quietly added two Canadians fighting in Syria to its most-wanted terror list, saying the individuals pose a serious risk of committing acts of terrorism that could threaten America’s security, citizens or economy.
Farah Mohamed Shirdon, an Albertan of Somali heritage, is alleged to be a recruiter and fundraiser for Daesh, also known ISIS and ISIL. Quebecker Tarek Sakr is identified as having conducted sniper training for the Al Qaeda-linked al-Nusrah Front.
The decision was made last week and published Wednesday in an official register of U.S. government regulations.
The two have been added to the U.S. State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists along with the likes of Hamza bin Laden, son of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, members of a Daesh execution cell led by Jihadi John, the deceased British citizen Mohamed Emwazi, and Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen who was arrested last year for his role in the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Sakr and Shirdon are actively engaged in terrorism,” reads the April 13 State Department communiqué.
Specially Designated Terrorists are prohibited from accessing the U.S. financial system and bars U.S. citizens from assisting them or sending money.
It has been applied sparingly in the past to other Canadians, including Hassan El-Hajj Hassan, a Lebanese-Canadian dual citizen alleged to have participated a 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists; and Abousfian Abdelrazik, who was sanctioned in 2006 for his alleged ties to Al Qaeda.
The Toronto-born Shirdon, 24, was charged in absentia by the RCMP in September 2015 with six terrorism charges, including participating in a terrorist group, encouraging people to travel to Syria and send money to Daesh and making terrorist threats in an April 2014 propaganda video and in a September 2014 interview with Vice Media.
The Mounties said at the time that Shirdon left Canada on March 14, 2014 for Syria and that reports he had been killed in 2014 were not true. The Americans say he was in Raqqa, the terror group’s Syrian base, in November 2015.
“Our investigation showed that Shirdon served in a combat role and performed other functions for ISIS such as recruiting, fundraising, encouraging others to commit violence and spreading propaganda,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin DeGrand said when announcing the charges against Shirdon.
The State Department said that Shirdon also goes by various iterations of the alias Abu Usama al Somali.
Canadian authorities have been less forthcoming about the alleged activities of Syrian-born Sakr, aged 30. The U.S. notice says that he “has conducted sniper training in Syria and periodically travels to Turkey.”
Sakr has been identified in court documents as one of a group of young Quebec men who travelled to Syria in 2012 to participate in the insurgency against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Members of that group are suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of two American citizens, Theo Padnos and Matthew Schrier.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Scott Bardsley, said: “For national security and privacy reasons, the government of Canada cannot provide information on Tarek Sakr.”
“There are no current criminal charges against Tarek Sakr. The Government of Canada cannot comment on who is or is not the subject of a criminal investigation as this falls under the independent realm of police agencies.”

A Young Prince is Reimagining Saudi Arabia
David Ignatius/The Washington Post/April 22/17
Two years into his campaign as change agent in this conservative oil kingdom, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be gaining the confidence and political clout to push his agenda of economic and social reform.
The young prince outlined his plans in a nearly 90-minute conversation Tuesday night at his office here. Aides said it was his first lengthy on-the-record interview in months. He offered detailed explanations about foreign policy, plans to privatize oil giant Saudi Aramco, strategy for investment in domestic industry, and liberalization of the entertainment sector, despite opposition from some people.
Mohammed bin Salman said that the crucial requirement for reform is public willingness to change. “The most concerning thing is if the Saudi people are not convinced. If the Saudi people are convinced, the sky is the limit.” he said.
Change seems increasingly desired in this young, restless country.
A recent Saudi poll found that 85 percent of the public, if forced to choose, would support the government rather than other authorities, said Abdullah al-Hokail, the head of the government’s public opinion center.
He added that 77 percent of those surveyed supported the government’s “Vision 2030” reform plan, and that 82 percent favored entertainment performances at public gatherings. Though these aren’t independently verified numbers, they do indicate the direction of popular feeling, which Saudis say is matched by anecdotal evidence.
“MBS,” as the deputy crown prince is known, said that he was “very optimistic” about President Trump. He described Trump as “a president who will bring America back to the right track” after Barack Obama, whom Saudi officials mistrusted. “Trump has not yet completed 100 days, and he has restored all the alliances of the US with its conventional allies.”
A sign of the kingdom’s embrace of the Trump administration was the visit here this week by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. While the Obama administration had criticized the Saudi war in Yemen, Mattis discussed the possibility of additional US support if the Houthis there don’t agree to a UN-brokered settlement.
(Writer’s note: I traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of the press corps accompanying Mattis.)
Mohammed bin Salman has been courting Russia, as well as the United States, and he offered an intriguing explanation of Saudi Arabia’s goal in this diplomacy.
“The main objective is not to have Russia place all its cards in the region behind Iran,” he said. To convince Russia that Riyadh is a better bet than Tehran, the Saudis have been “coordinating our oil policies recently” with Moscow, he said, which “could be the most important economic deal for Russia in modern times.”
There’s less apparent political tension than a year ago, when many analysts saw a rivalry between Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is officially next in line for the throne.
The deputy crown prince appears to be firmly in control of Saudi military strategy, foreign policy and economic planning. He has gathered a team of technocrats who are much younger and more activist than the kingdom’s past leadership.
Reform plans appear to be moving ahead slowly but steadily. Mohammed bin Salman said that the budget deficit had been cut; non-oil revenue increased 46 percent from 2014 to 2016 and is forecast to grow another 12 percent this year. Unemployment and housing remain problems, he said, and improvement in those areas isn’t likely until between 2019 and 2021.
The biggest economic change is the plan to privatize about 5 percent of Saudi Aramco, which Mohammed bin Salman said will take place next year. This public offering would probably raise hundreds of billions of dollars and be the largest such sale in financial history. The exact size of the offering will depend on financial-market demand and the availability of good options for investing the proceeds, the prince told me.
The rationale for selling a share of the kingdom’s oil treasure is to raise money to diversify the economy away from reliance on energy. One priority is mining, which would tap an estimated $1.3 trillion in potential mineral wealth.
The Saudi official listed other investment targets: creating a domestic arms industry, reducing the $60 billion to $80 billion the kingdom spends annually to buy weapons abroad; producing automobiles in Saudi Arabia to replace the roughly $14 billion the government spends annually for imported vehicles; and creating domestic entertainment and tourism industries to capture some of the $22 billion that Saudis spend traveling overseas each year.
The entertainment industry is a proxy for the larger puzzle of how to unlock the Saudi economy. Changes have begun.
A Japanese orchestra performed here this month, before a mixed audience of families. A Comic Con took place in Jeddah recently, with audience dressing up as characters from the TV show “Supernatural” and other favorites. Comedy clubs feature sketch comedians (but no female stand-up comics, yet).
These options are a modest revolution for a Saudi Arabia where the main entertainment venues, until recently, were restaurants and shopping malls. The modern world, in all its raucousness, is coming, for better or worse.
King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh hosted a Monster Jam last month with souped-up trucks. There are plans for a Six Flags theme park south of Riyadh.
Maya al-Athel, one of the dozens of young people hatching plans at the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, said in an interview that she’d like to bring a Museum of Ice Cream, like one she found in New York, to the kingdom.
“We want to boost the culture of entertainment,” said Ahmed al-Khatib, a former investment banker who’s chairman of the entertainment authority. His target is to create six public entertainment options every weekend for Saudis. But the larger goal, he said, is “spreading happiness.”
The instigator of this attempt to reimagine the kingdom is the 31-year-old deputy crown prince. With his brash demeanor, he’s the opposite of the traditional Bedouin reserve of past Saudi leaders. Unlike so many Saudi princes, he wasn’t educated in the West, which may have preserved the raw combative energy that is part of his appeal for young Saudis.
The trick for Mohammed bin Salman is to maintain the alliance with the United States, without seeming to be America’s puppet. “We have been influenced by US a lot,” he said. “Not because anybody exerted pressure on us — if anyone puts pressure on us, we go the other way. But if you put a movie in the cinema and I watch it, I will be influenced.” Without this cultural nudge, he said, “we would have ended up like North Korea.” With the United States as a continuing ally, “undoubtedly, we’re going to merge more with the changes in the world.”
Mohammed bin Salman is careful when he talks about religious issues. So far, he has treated the religious authorities as allies against radicalism rather than cultural adversaries. He argues that extreme religious conservatism in Saudi Arabia is a relatively recent phenomenon, born in reaction to the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni radicals later that year as a reaction to the Shi’ite radicalism.
“I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young,” the prince said. “We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era,” he concluded. “That age is over.”