April 25/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 10/01-07/:"After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!" And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house."

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone
Letter to the Colossians 04/05-10/:"Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow-servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; he is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here. Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions if he comes to you, welcome him."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 24-25/17
Hezbollah Fundraising Underscores its Financial Crisis/David Daoud &Yaya Fanusie/Cipher/April 24/17
How New is the New Hamas Charter/Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/April 24/17
China Deploys Floating Nuclear Power Plant to South China Sea/Debalina Ghoshal/Gatestone Institute/April 24/17
Assad's unproved allegations about Jordan/Raed Omari/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
Chinese diplomacy amid the US-North Korea standoff/Talmiz Ahmad/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
The practice of social McCarthyism/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
The French elections have produced few surprises yet, but what of round 2/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 24/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 24-25/17
Hezbollah Fundraising Underscores its Financial Crisis
Lebanese Army Pounds IS Posts in Bekaa Outskirts amid Helicopter Raids
Aoun Says Proposed Anti-Hizbullah U.S. Bill to 'Harm Lebanon, Lebanese'
Report: Hariri to Introduce Electoral Law Format Similar to 2013 Initiative
Gemayel Blasts Govt. over Electoral Law, Constitution, Sovereignty
Hizbullah Says Its Fighters Bombed IS Positions in Ras Baalbek
PSP Delegation Holds Electoral Law Talks with Hariri
Social Affairs Contractual Employees Protest Program Termination
Arms Maker, IS Militant Referred to Judiciary
Abi Khalil: U.S. Team in Beirut Soon to Mediate Maritime Dispute with Israel
Palestinian Security Clash with Drug Dealers in Beddawi Camp
Lebanon clerics order 'scandalous' Coca-Cola ads to be replaced

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 24-25/17
WHouse calls all US Senators for NKorea briefing
U.S.-Backed Forces Enter Major IS-Held Syria Town Tabqa
Al-Qaida Leader Tells Fighters to Prepare for Long Syria War
US Treasury sanctions Syria officials over sarin attack
Trump Urges 'Stronger Sanctions' on N. Korea's 'Nuclear, Ballistic Missile Programs'
Saudi FM: No basis for media speculation over Saudi-Egypt ties
Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold Riyadh summit to strengthen ties
Symposium] What Conservative Historians Are Saying about Trump's First 100 Days
Palestinian Leader on Hunger Strike Sees Health Decline
Israel Charges Teenager Accused of U.S. Bomb Threats
Palestinian Stabs Israeli Guard, Arrested
Increased Security Measures on the Eve of Iran Regime's Presidential Election
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Clerical Regime: Presence in Iraq, Syria Is the Regime's Security Shield
Arizona Official Congress Passed a Resolution to List the IRGC as a Terrorist Group
Iran's Ridiculous Presidential Election Debates Scene

Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 24-25/17
Hezbollah Fundraising Underscores its Financial Crisis/جمع التبرعات عند حزب الله يؤكد على أزمته المالية

David Daoud &Yaya Fanusie/Cipher/April 24/17
Hezbollah is ramping up its grassroots fundraising efforts with an intensive online outreach campaign aimed at making its revenue streams more resistant to U.S. pressure. The campaign indicates that Hezbollah – likely on advice from Iran – is seeking more financial autonomy from its Iranian patrons as they struggle under the weight of U.S. sanctions and the costs of military interventions abroad.
Tehran provides Hezbollah with approximately $200 million annually, but the group has never depended exclusively on Iranian support. Early after the group’s establishment in 1983, it created the Islamic Resistance Support Association (IRSA) – the official fundraising arm of Hezbollah’s military activities – to raise money domestically. Over the last few decades, the IRSA has distributed propaganda to win over the Lebanese population – particularly the country’s Shiites – and enlist their support in financing the group through fundraisers and charitable donations.
One annual IRSA fundraiser, the Equip a Mujahid Campaign, raises money to buy military gear for Hezbollah fighters. The latest installment of this fundraiser, which ran from February to early March of this year, was more aggressive than in the past and was accompanied by an extensive media campaign. According to the Lebanese press, prior to this year’s Equip a Mujahid Campaign, the last time that Hezbollah publicly appealed to the Lebanese populous to fund its military activities was four years ago, when the group first became openly involved in the Syrian civil war.
As part of the recent IRSA campaign, billboards bearing Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s face and urging followers to contribute funds sprang up throughout Lebanon’s predominantly Shiite areas. The campaign appealed to religious sensibilities to get its followers to donate, using slogans like “financial jihad is a [religious] obligation,” and quoting sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad encouraging followers to ensure warriors are properly equipped.
The IRSA’s message was simple: contributing is a religious duty and acts as a substitute for carrying arms oneself. In addition to bringing in money, IRSA’s messaging intended to reinforce solidarity between Hezbollah and its Shiite base, which has been feeling the brunt of the casualties of war in neighboring Syria. As IRSA officials have said, giving makes the donors feel as though they are participating in Hezbollah’s fight just as much as its foot soldiers.
But Hezbollah was not content appealing only to Shiites. Its most recent campaign included videos of Sunni, Druze, and Catholic clergymen endorsing the money drive and urging their co-religionists to donate.
The campaign appeared on various Hezbollah media outlets, and pointed potential donors from Lebanon and abroad to IRSA’s phone numbers for details on contributing. For the first time, Hezbollah used social media to spread word of its Equip a Mujahid campaign, complete with slick graphics, a dedicated Facebook and Twitter hashtag, and videos overlaid with dramatic music.
The campaign could not have come at a more urgent time for Hezbollah, as recent reports confirm that the group is experiencing a financial crisis. Iran’s expenditures on its direct and proxy regional interventions – particularly in Syria, but also in Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain – are likely straining Tehran’s budget. Additionally, with the new U.S. Administration’s stated eagerness to impose additional sanctions on Iran, Hezbollah appears to be taking overall preemptive action to become more autonomous and ensure its survivability. Just days before Hezbollah launched this year’s Equip a Mujahid fundraising campaign, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on an Iranian government financier of the group. Thus, the campaign may indicate the success of these U.S. financial sanctions in hindering Iran’s ability to deliver funds to its Lebanese proxy.
Beyond feeling the squeeze of Tehran’s financial responsibilities, congressional passage of the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) in December 2015 has also hindered the group’s revenue streams. In mid-2016, Nasrallah defiantly said that the measures put in place by Congress would not affect his group financially. “Hezbollah’s budget, its salaries, expenses, and its food, drink, and weapons and missiles [are funded by] the Islamic Republic of Iran. As long as there is money in Iran, then we’ll have money,” Nasrallah said. Despite the banking sanctions, Hezbollah’s chief reaffirmed that Tehran’s funding would still reach his group, “just as the rockets with which we threaten Israel reach us, and no law is capable of preventing that.”
Yet this year’s campaign belied Nasrallah’s statements. Indeed, the group has described the banking sector’s compliance with the U.S. law as a “war of annihilation,” and even detonated a bomb outside of a major bank in Beirut last year as a warning. Nonetheless, it does not appear that Lebanese banks have eased their pressure on the organization. This is hindering Hezbollah’s Iranian cash-flow, leading it to turn domestically with the Equip a Mujahid campaign to fund military gear such as rifles, ammunition, uniforms, and canteens – the same types of supplies that Nasrallah had said Iran would cover. According to IRSA’s campaign, this gear costs $1,000 per fighter annually.
Finally, Hezbollah is now entering its sixth year of involvement in the Syrian civil war, with no end in sight. Paying the salaries of the 6,000 to 8,000 fighters it has in Syria – estimated at $500 to $1,200 monthly per fighter– and caring for the families of the 1,500 fighters killed and 5,000 wounded in that war are straining the organization’s purse strings.
Hezbollah’s recent fundraising efforts show the benefits of U.S. financial pressure on the group – pressure that policymakers should continue. Analysts should watch carefully, however, as Hezbollah’s shift to direct, online, and grassroots fundraising will require more creative strategies to interdict.
**David Daoud is an Arabic-language research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to joining FDD, he worked as an advisor on the Middle East on Capitol Hill. Previously, David was a research associate on terrorist groups at the Potomac Institute, a law clerk at the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association, and an intern at UNIFIL headquarters in South Lebanon. David holds a BS in Government and History as well as a JD with a concentration on International Law and the Laws of...
**The Coauthor is Yaya Fanusie
Yaya J. Fanusie is the director of analysis for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance (CSIF). Yaya spent seven years as both an economic and counterterrorism analyst in the CIA, where he regularly briefed White House-level policy makers, U.S. military personnel, and federal law enforcement. In 2008, he personally briefed President George W. Bush on terrorism threats, and in 2009, he spent three months in Afghanistan providing analytic support to...

Lebanese Army Pounds IS Posts in Bekaa Outskirts amid Helicopter Raids
Naharnet/April 24/17/The Lebanese army launched major operations Monday evening in the outskirts of the Bekaa border towns of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa, state-run National News Agency reported. “It is firing heavy artillery and multiple rockets launchers at the posts of the militants after detecting suspicious movements,” NNA said. “Helicopters are hovering heavily over the area and the sounds of shelling are being heard clearly in the northern Bekaa region,” the agency added. Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) said army helicopters fired several missiles at IS posts in Ras Baalbek's outskirts. Al-Mayadeen television meanwhile reported that the army had destroyed a large IS post between the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and the outskirts of al-Qaa. “More than 20 IS leaders and members were killed and wounded in Lebanese army air raids on Ras Baalbek's outskirts,” it added. Earlier in the day, Hizbullah had attacked IS posts in Ras Baalbek's outskirts, killing and wounding several militants, Hizbullah's al-Manar TV said. Jihadist militants from the IS and the rival Fateh al-Sham Front are entrenched in rugged mountains along the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Lebanese army regularly shells their positions while Hizbullah and the Syrian army have engaged in clashes with them on the Syrian side of the border. The two groups overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in 2014 and engaged in deadly battles with the Lebanese army for several days. The retreating militants abducted around 35 troops and policemen of whom four have been executed and nine remain in captivity.

Aoun Says Proposed Anti-Hizbullah U.S. Bill to 'Harm Lebanon, Lebanese'

Naharnet/April 24/17/President Michel Aoun warned Monday that a new anti-Hizbullah sanctions bill that the U.S. Congress is mulling would “greatly harm Lebanon and its people.”“The draft law that is being prepared in Congress to slap new financial sanctions on Lebanese parties, institutions and individuals will greatly harm Lebanon and its people,” Aoun told a delegation from the American Task Force for Lebanon, an organization that “unites Americans of Lebanese heritage to promote a secure, stable, free and sovereign Lebanon.”Media reports said a Lebanese delegation is conducting contacts abroad in a bid to tone down the U.S. bill. According to reports, the proposed law might for the first time target AMAL Movement, Hizbullah's key Shiite ally. Other reports said the bill might target several other allies of Hizbullah.

Report: Hariri to Introduce Electoral Law Format Similar to 2013 Initiative
Naharnet/April 24/17/Lebanon's political parties rally to put a new format for a voting system that will govern May's parliamentary polls before the term of the current parliament ends on June 20. In that regard, “Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to suggest a format that he previously presented in 2013 from Paris when parties in Lebanon were divided over an electoral law at the time before the parliament extended its term,” al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. “Hariri's proposal is much more than an electoral law,” said the daily, “it goes beyond that to the application of the Taef accord which is based on the establishment of a senate while the parliament would be elected based on a proportional representation system.”Shall an agreement on a senate fail to be reached within a specific period of time, “the elections will then be held based on the sectarian qualification law in the first stage and then based on the proportional system in the second,” it added. In 2013, Hariri called for a small-district law for the parliamentary elections and for the establishment of a senate representing all religions and sects as stipulated by the Taef agreement. According to information obtained by the daily, Hariri is now marketing his proposal with various political parties ahead of May 15 deadline. Efforts to find a new law have picked up steam lately after President Michel Aoun on April 12 suspended the parliament for one month -to avoid another term extension- paving way for Lebanon's parties to deliberate a law that meets approval of all.
Before Aoun decided to invoke his constitutional powers and suspend the parliament, Lebanon's deputies were set to vote to postpone national elections and extend their term for a third time since 2013. Several draft law proposals to replace the current 1960 majoritarian law have failed so far.
On Sunday, the Progressive Socialist Party announced a format that is said to be followed by another by Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri.

Gemayel Blasts Govt. over Electoral Law, Constitution, Sovereignty
Naharnet/April 24/17/Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel on Monday lashed out at the Cabinet for failing to convene for two weeks now, while accusing it of violating the constitution regarding the electoral law and sovereignty. “The Cabinet has not convened since two weeks, as if the situation is excellent or as if we're in Switzerland,” said Gemayel at a press conference. He reminded that “only two weeks remain of the grace period that was given by the president for the approval of an electoral law.”“We also remind you of the social and economic situation and we're heading to an all-out economic collapse amid the huge deficit. Doesn't this deserve the convention of the Cabinet?” Gemayel added. “Another important issue is the violation of (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1701, which you had pledged to respect in the ministerial Policy Statement. The violation happened in coordination with the Lebanese state, so how do you condemn the violation after the state oversaw it?” Gemayel went on to say, referring to Hizbullah's announcement that it had “coordinated” its latest border tour for reporters with the Lebanese army and U.N. forces. He reminded the government parties that they cannot “dodge their responsibilities” after having “committed themselves to the issue of elections, respect for sovereignty, and the state budget.” “From our position in the opposition, we will continue to expose the mistakes that are being committed and we will not allow the ruling class to mislead the Lebanese,” Gemayel vowed. He added: “The country can rise should you implement the law and abide by the constitution, which stipulates sovereignty over all territory, the drafting of an electoral law and respect for the deadlines.” “Consuming the deadlines and keeping the 1960 (electoral) law mean that there is a conspiracy against the Lebanese that should be punished by prison,” Gemayel said. “Had there been a tax on lying, we would have funded the new wage scale,” he went on to say.

Hizbullah Says Its Fighters Bombed IS Positions in Ras Baalbek
Naharnet/April 24/17/Hizbullah fighters have reportedly launched an attack against Islamic State positions entrenched in the outskirts of the border town of Ras Baalbek, killing and wounding several, Hizbullah's al-Manar said in a tweet on Friday. “Fighters of the Resistance have targeted with missiles the positions of the Islamic State group in Choabat al-Khabieh on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek,” said al-Manar. “Several IS militants were killed and others were injured,” it added. Militants from the al-Qaida-linked, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Islamic State group are entrenched in rugged mountains along the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Lebanese army regularly shells their positions while Hizbullah and the Syrian army have engaged in clashes with them on the Syrian side of the border. The two groups overran the northeastern border town of Arsal in 2014 and engaged in deadly battles with the Lebanese army for several days. The retreating militants abducted around 35 troops and policemen of whom four have been executed and nine remain in captivity.

PSP Delegation Holds Electoral Law Talks with Hariri
Naharnet/April 24/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri met Monday evening at the Center House with a delegation from the Progressive Socialist Party, Hariri's office said. The delegation comprised Taymur Jumblat, Minister Ayman Shuqeir and the MPs Ghazi Aridi and Wael Abu Faour and the meeting was held in the presence of Nader Hariri, the premier's adviser, the office added. The meeting tackled “the ongoing contacts with the various parties to devise a new draft electoral law,” it said. “The delegation explained the content of the draft law that has been proposed by the party in this regard.”The PSP had on Saturday proposed a hybrid electoral law that mixes the proportional representation and winner-takes-all systems in an equal manner across 26 districts.

Social Affairs Contractual Employees Protest Program Termination
Naharnet/April 24/17/Contractual employees at the Social Affairs Ministry blocked the entrance to the ministry on Monday protesting Minister Pierre Bou Assi's decision to end a program they were hired to work on. Social Affairs Minister Bou Assi said in a press conference on Monday: “We can't carry on with the population monitoring program because it was destined to end in 2016.”“After a comprehensive reappraisal of the program, we realized that it wouldn't be able to do the service for which it was established because its duration has expired and is no longer valid,” said Khoury. “When I arrived at the Ministry I had examined the program of the contractual employees and realized that it ends in 2016,” said the minister, who assured that his step comes out of “keenness to preserve public funds.”As soon as the Minister made his statement, the contractual employees who were assigned on the so-called population monitoring program for displaced Syrians in Lebanon, blocked the entrance to the Ministry's headquarters. The employees demanded a contract extension until December, and threatened to shut down the offices of the ministry in the entire Lebanese regions. “Ending this program will leave 400 individuals unemployed, what shall we do?” one of the campaigners said.The protesters later formed a delegation of 13 members and met with the Minister. They said: “The Minster has stressed that his decision is irrevocable,” and added, that Bou Assi has expressed readiness for incorporating the employees in other new projects.

Arms Maker, IS Militant Referred to Judiciary
Naharnet/April 24/17/The army on Monday referred to the judiciary a man accused of manufacturing weapons and another accused of belonging to the terrorist Islamic State group. “Mustafa Mohammed Suleiman was referred to the relevant judicial authorities for manufacturing and repairing artillery and assault weapons for terrorist groups,” an army statement said. Jaafar Mohammed al-Moussa was meanwhile referred to the judiciary on charges of “belonging to a cell affiliated with the terrorist IS group, planning to target a Lebanese army post in the Wadi Khaled region, and drug abuse and trade.”

Abi Khalil: U.S. Team in Beirut Soon to Mediate Maritime Dispute with Israel
Naharnet/April 24/17/Washington will soon send a delegation to Beirut to resume discussions over the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil has revealed. In an interview with the Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal magazine, Abi Khalil said he met during his recent visit to the U.S. with the newly-appointed special envoy, who told him that there is an inclination to renew the efforts that had been launched by the previous U.S. administration. The Lebanese government approved the long-awaited offshore oil and gas exploration decrees on January 4, describing them as its first achievement. The key decrees pave the way for oil and gas extraction off Lebanon's coast, after more than two years of political deadlock had stymied previous efforts. Lebanon's successive governments, beset by infighting and corruption, made only marginal progress toward that goal. Lebanon and Israel are bickering over a zone that consists of about 854 square kilometers and suspected energy reserves that could generate billions of dollars. Lebanon has been slow to exploit its maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all much more advanced in drilling for oil and gas. In March 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated a mean of 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 34.5 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes the territorial waters of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Cyprus.
Lebanese officials have continuously warned that Israel's exploration of new offshore gas fields near Lebanese territorial waters means Israel is siphoning some of Lebanon's crude oil. Lebanon argues that a maritime map it submitted to the U.N. is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949, an agreement which is not contested by Israel.

Palestinian Security Clash with Drug Dealers in Beddawi Camp
Naharnet/April 24/17/Armed clashes have erupted on Monday at dawn at al-Beddawi Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon between drug dealers and the Palestinian security forces, the National News Agency reported. The clashes started between a group of drug dealers and it soon escalated into heavy gunfire and grenade explosions, NNA said. The joint security Palestinian committees responded to the clash by firing at them, which aggravated into an exchange of fire between the two wounding one dealer and damaging tens of vehicles and stores, it added. Palestinian security managed to arrest four of the dealers one of whom was identified by his nickname as al-Tablouj. Another two gang members, Mohammed A. and S.S. , and others have fled to an unknown destination. Schools at the camp were closed for the day, and so did the UNRWA which informed its staff of the closure because of the security situation. The Palestinian factions and the security committee held an urgent meeting Monday morning and decided to hand in the four detainees to the Lebanese army.

Lebanon clerics order 'scandalous' Coca-Cola ads to be replaced
The New Arab/April 24/17/A religious committee in northern Lebanon has demanded that local authorities take action against the display of "scandalous" advertising billboards in Tripoli. The Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon this month ordered Tripoli's municipality to remove several offensive Coca-Cola ads from the streets of the conservative Sunni majority city. The billboards were taken down out of "respect for the common morals of people" the association said in a statement on Saturday. It posted an image on social media of the ads - which featured a topless man and a swimsuit-wearing woman embracing on the beach - being torn down. Raid Hlaihel, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, told local media that the large outdoor ads were "indecent and immoral". "It was disrespectfully placed outside a mosque. If we could have removed them ourselves we wouldn't have hesitated so we took legal action and asked the municipality to take it down," Hlaihel said. "As summer is approaching we ask companies to not exploit women's bodies to sell their products and to respect our values… some of these images I haven't seen in Europe before."The Association of Muslim Scholars has made headlines in the past for making controversial decisions such as banning Muslims from taking part in non-Islamic religious ceremonies.This order came about after a video went viral showing Muslim girls singing at Christmas mass. It has also been accused of having close ties to extremists movements after it mediated between the Lebanese army and jihadi groups. Many Lebanese have taken to social media to comment on the decision to take down the advertisement. "We will not be silent about Tripoli being expelled from Lebanese society," TV journalist Dima Sadek said on Twitter. Professor at Lebanese University, Rouba Dalati, said: "Coca-Cola thanks you for the free marketing".

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 24-25/17
WHouse calls all US Senators for NKorea briefing
DEBKAfile Special Report April 24, 2017/In view of escalating threats from North Korea, all 100 US senators were invited to the White House Wednesday for a rare classified briefing on the crisis from the administration’s top security chiefs: Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and Chairman of the US chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. Vice President Mike Pence has interrupted his Asian trip to attend. The briefing is set for 1900 hours GMT. President Donald Trump, who spoke Sunday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable. It’s a big problem, has been for decades and we must finally solve it.” As North Korea prepares to mark the 85th anniversary on Tuesday of the founding of its Korean People's Army – a possible date for the regime to test military hardware – its official website warned Monday that Pyongyang will “wipe out” the United States if Washington starts a war on the peninsula. US commercial satellite images have indicated increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site, while Kim has said that the country’s preparation for an ICBM launch is in its “final stage.” Earlier, Pyonyang threatened to sink the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier which is leading a strike group toward the Korean peninsula along with two Japanese destroyers.Xi told Trump that China strongly opposed North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and hoped “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation.” This drew an angry response from North Korean media: The state-owned KCNA news agency suggested Beijing was “dancing to the tune of others” and warned China of “catastrophic consequences”.

U.S.-Backed Forces Enter Major IS-Held Syria Town Tabqa

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 24/17/The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces penetrated the Islamic State group's bastion of Tabqa in northern Syria on Monday, overrunning territory in the town's south, a monitor said. "The SDF entered Tabqa for the first time after besieging it from all sides," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "They seized control of several points in the town's south and were advancing on its western edges," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. In an online statement, the SDF said it had captured IS-held positions in west Tabqa, including a roundabout, and part of a southern district. "There are now clearing operations in the liberated positions," the SDF said. Tabqa and the nearby major dam of the same name are considered key prizes in a broader offensive for Raqa, the de facto Syrian capital of IS' self-proclaimed "caliphate", 55 kilometers (34 miles) to the east. IS is under pressure on several fronts, with government forces attacking it elsewhere in Syria and a U.S.-backed offensive targeting its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. The SDF launched its campaign for Raqa in November and has since captured most of the surrounding province.

Al-Qaida Leader Tells Fighters to Prepare for Long Syria War
Associated Press/Naharnet/April 24/17/Al-Qaida's leader has urged his followers and all militants in Syria to unite ranks and prepare for protracted jihad, or holy war. Ayman al-Zawahri tells the jihadis to remain steadfast and change tactics to a guerrilla war. His remarks came in an audio message released on Monday by al-Qaida's media arm As-Sahab. Al-Zawahri says an "international satanic alliance" will never accept Islam's rule in Syria. He says the war isn't an exclusively nationalist Syrian cause but a campaign by the entire Muslim nation that seeks to establish divine rule. Al-Qaida's Syria branch — formerly the Nusra Front but now known as the Fatah al-Sham Front — has come under increasing attack from the U.S.-led coalition in recent months and some of its most senior leaders have been killed in airstrikes.

US Treasury sanctions Syria officials over sarin attack
Al Arabiya and news agencies Monday, 24 April 2017/The US government imposed “sweeping sanctions” on Syrian officials in response to what the United States says was a sarin gas attack on civilians earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced Monday. The Treasury ordered a freeze on all assets in the United States belonging to 271 employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), and blocked any American person or business from dealing with them. The SSRC was responsible for producing the chemical weapons Washington believes were used in the attack and the means to deliver them, the statement said. “There is no doubt that the Donald Trump administration policies on the Middle East differs drastically from the previous Obama administration,”Al Arabiya News Channel’s Washington Bureau Chief Nadia Bilbassy reported. “Insiders in Washington are aware that Trump’s officials are less tolerant of Syrian officials getting away with killing Syrian civilians, especially with chemical weapons, and today’s sanctions are an example of that,” Bilbassy added.
‘Sending a strong message’
A suspected chemical attack left 87 dead, including many children, in rebel-held territory in Idlib province on April 4, with the West accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of being responsible. “These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons.” Treasury already had imposed sanctions against 18 Syrian officials in January, and Mnuchin said the administration “will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.”The United States also fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield on April 7 in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

Trump Urges 'Stronger Sanctions' on N. Korea's 'Nuclear, Ballistic Missile Programs'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 24/17/The U.N. Security Council has to be ready to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday, calling the status quo "unacceptable.""This is a real threat to the world," Trump said while hosting U.N. Security Council ambassadors at the White House. "North Korea is a big world problem. And it's a problem we have to finally solve." "The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs," he said. The comments are sure to once again ratchet up tensions. North Korea is pushing on with its ballistic missile program, believed to be preparing a sixth nuclear weapons test, and has detained a U.S. citizen -- the third to be held in the country. At the same time, the United States has ordered an aircraft carrier strike group to the western Pacific, near North Korea. The group is due to arrive by the end of April. The Pentagon said its leaders and other top officials will give a classified briefing on North Korea to U.S. senators on Wednesday at the White House, rather than the usual secure rooms at the Capitol. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is heading back to Washington after visits to Asia and Australia, with North Korea headlining talks. Trump has intimated he is willing to ramp up U.S. military pressure on North Korea while simultaneously encouraging China to use its influence on its ally, while rejecting bilateral diplomacy with Pyongyang. "People have put blindfolds on for decades and now it's time to solve the problem," he said. The U.S. leader spoke about North Korea in telephone conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday and with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, the White House said. In the call with Xi, "the two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a White House statement said.

Saudi FM: No basis for media speculation over Saudi-Egypt ties
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Monday, 24 April 2017/Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir denied all media speculation recently voiced about Egyptian-Saudi relations and said ties between Cairo and Riyadh are only getting stronger. “Recent media outlets’ reports voicing speculation about Saudi-Egyptian relations are completely baseless. The two countries have a historical and a strategic relationship, and we expect these ties to get even stronger,” Jubeir said following his meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Riyadh. Jubeir said the meeting addressed the situation in the region, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, adding that they both think it’s important to find solutions especially that Egypt and Riyadh agree on the same “visions and orientations.”He also voiced the importance of coordination between the two countries to achieve the best possible results and serve the interest of the two brotherly countries’ people and of the Arab and Islamic region. Meanwhile, Shoukry reiterated the significance of strong coordination between the two countries. “I had the chance to hold a long round of talks with (Jubeir). We voiced the importance of unified work and strong coordination and we agreed on holding frequent meetings and talks to formulate stances that serve both countries’ interests,” Shoukry added. The Egyptian FM also said it’s important that Egypt and Saudi Arabia work together to serve Arab national security as it’s a joint responsibility. “We must not be negligent regarding it. We must stand as one in terms of Arab national security, just like the case is regarding other affairs,” Shoukry added.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt hold Riyadh summit to strengthen ties
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Sunday, 23 April 2017/Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz held at the Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on Sunday a formal session of talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. During the meeting, both leaders reviewed the close relations between their countries, as well as the latest developments in the region. King Salman had invited the Egyptian president to visit the kingdom at the Arab Summit held in Jordan last month. King Salman received him at the King Salman Airbase. Among those who were present at the airbase to receive the Egyptian president were Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar, Minister of State and Cabinet member Essam bin Saad, Saudi Ambassador to Egypt Ahmad Qattan and Egyptian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Nasser Hamdi. 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.

Symposium] What Conservative Historians Are Saying about Trump's First 100 Days
Daniel Pipes/Apr 23, 2017
Cross-posted from History News Network
Donald Trump's first 100 days have seen the appointment and termination of decorated general Michael Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the eclipse of former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon, a steady decline in the relationship with Russia, the bombing of Syria, a failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, and two failed attempts to impose a ban on certain groups of immigrants. This wasn't exactly what Trump promised. On the plus side he succeeded in appointing a religious conservative to the Supreme Court, fulfilling his commitment to evangelicals, while issuing executive orders that many conservatives approved. We wondered what conservative historians make of Trump's debut. Here's what they [Larry Schweikart, Daniel Pipes, Victor Davis Hanson, Paul Gottfried, Brad Birzer, and Robert Merry] told us.
Donald Trump as president hardly differs from Trump as candidate: a blowhard who insouciantly breaks with customs and laws, delighting his fans and infuriating the rest of the world, sometimes getting it right but more often proving ineffectually amateurish. The great question is whether he will learn from his many mistakes and turn into a more conventional, respectable, and intelligent president – or whether he will continue in the same mold through the whole four-year period. I am pessimistic. However, if he is egregious enough and Republican members of Congress sick enough of him, we could well have a President Pence. In my field, the Middle East, the new administration has strikingly ignored Trump's campaign assertions about such matters as the Iran Deal, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and staying out of Syria's civil war. This makes prediction of its future steps particularly difficult.

Palestinian Leader on Hunger Strike Sees Health Decline
Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti's health has declined seriously over the past week after he joined a hunger strike with more than 1,000 other prisoners in Israel, an NGO said Monday. Barghouti, 57 and serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada, is refusing medical treatment, according to Amani Sarahneh of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club NGO. He told AFP this was causing his health to decline seriously. The hunger strike began on April 17, with those taking part ingesting only water and salt. They have issued demands ranging from better medical care to phone access.
Asked about Barghouti, however, an Israeli Prisons Service spokesman said that "no decline in his health condition has been observed." "If Barghouti feels bad, all he has to do is eat," the spokesman told AFP. According to the NGO, authorities at the Jalame prison, where Barghouti was transferred and placed in solitary confinement after the strike began, have pressured him to accept medical treatment and also urged other prisoners to try to convince him. Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offenses and alleged crimes. Around 500 are being held under Israel's system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge. Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale. Barghouti is popular among Palestinians, with polls suggesting he could win the Palestinian presidency. While many Palestinians view him as a hero, Israelis point to the bloody suicide attacks of the second intifada of 2000-2005 and his role in the uprising. He was convicted of attacks that killed five people, though declined to defend himself and did not recognize the court's legitimacy. For Palestinians, the prisons have become a stark symbol of Israel's occupation. Some 850,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated since the start of Israel's occupation 50 years ago, Palestinian leaders say. Palestinian leaders have denounced Israel's refusal to negotiate with the hunger strikers, warning of a "new intifada" if any of them die. Demonstrations have been held in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip to support the prisoners, occasionally resulting in clashes with Israeli forces, though they have been limited in number. A Palestinian former minister, Hamas member Wasfi Kabha, released on the fourth day of the hunger strike, said on Facebook that Barghouti had told him "the strike aims to achieve more humane, fairer and more dignified prison conditions."

Israel Charges Teenager Accused of U.S. Bomb Threats
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 24/17/Prosecutors charged an Israeli-American teenager on Monday with making more than 2,000 threats against Jewish institutions, airlines, police stations and even a professional basketball team's plane, Israel's justice ministry said. The charges follow a wave of bomb threats to Jewish institutions in the United States that helped spread fears over whether anti-Semitism was rising in the country. A justice ministry statement said that the 18-year-old from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon was also charged with extortion, money laundering, assaulting a police officer, drug trafficking and possessing pedophile pornography. Among the threats he is accused of making was one against a plane flying the Boston Celtics U.S. basketball team to a game and another against Delaware state senator Ernesto Lopez. He is also suspected of making a hoax bomb call to Delta Airlines in February 2015 which led to an emergency landing, and another against an Israeli El Al flight over Switzerland. The statement said Swiss and French warplanes were scrambled to escort the El Al plane and to shoot it down if it became evident that it would crash on Swiss soil.The teenager is accused of being behind similar threats in New Zealand and Australia. He was arrested on March 23 following an investigation that included the FBI and police forces from other countries. His identity is under a court gag order in Israel, but the U.S. Justice Department has named him as Michael Kadar.
Trial in Israel
He was charged in the United States on Friday with making threatening calls to Jewish community centers in Florida, conveying false information to police dispatch in Georgia and cyberstalking, the Justice Department said. While the U.S. and Israel have an extradition treaty, a justice ministry official told AFP on Monday that he would be tried in the Jewish state. "He committed offenses not only in the United States but also in a dozen other countries which have actively cooperated in the investigation," he said. His motives are so far unknown, although his lawyers say he may not have been responsible for his actions as he has a brain tumor and suffers from autism. He was a minor at the time of some of the offenses, allegedly committed online and by phone. A wave of bomb threats to American Jewish institutions since the start of the year helped spread fears of a surge in hate crimes and anti-Semitic acts in the United States. Some have said that the rise of Donald Trump as U.S. president encouraged the extreme right and emboldened hate groups. The arrest of a Jewish teenager over many of the threats has complicated the debate, however. Among the charges filed against the teen in a Tel Aviv court on Monday was making "threats and intimidation against more than 2,000 institutions worldwide: airports, airlines, police stations and others". "In several cases, planes made emergency landings and flights were canceled. In other cases, Jewish schools and institutions were evacuated and security forces were deployed in large numbers," the statement said.

Palestinian Stabs Israeli Guard, Arrested
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 24/17/A Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli guard at a key crossing between the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem on Monday before being arrested, the police said. A police statement said Asia Kaabneh, a 39-year-old mother of nine from the West Bank, stabbed a guard at the Qalandia checkpoint, injuring her lightly. The guard was taken to hospital while Kaabneh was arrested by other guards. A separate statement from the Shin Bet Israeli domestic security service said Kaabneh had admitted under interrogation to planning the attack after her husband threatened to divorce her. A wave of unrest which erupted in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 261 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP count. Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.
Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.The violence has greatly subsided in recent months.

Increased Security Measures on the Eve of Iran Regime's Presidential Election
NCRI/ Monday, 24 April 2017/Pointing to ‘300 thousand police forces’ being on alert, Iranian regime’s chief of police announced Saturday April 22 that the cyber police is monitoring all Telegram channels during the elections and that the slightest violations will be dealt with. According to state-run Mehr news agency on April 22, Iranian regime’s police chief ‘Hossein Ashtari’ announced the news while speaking among correspondents about police priorities for regime’s 12th presidential election show. Ashtari then warned over holding any kind of gathering, saying “gatherings should have authorization, and police will deal with any gathering held without permit.”He added that “the cyber police will monitor all (Telegram) channels and will deal with violators.”Regardless of practicality of monitoring ‘all’ Telegram channels, Ashtari’s warning comes at a time when ‘Hossein Nejat’, deputy chief of Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence office, has recently criticized Hassan Rouhani, acknowledging that Telegram voice calling service has been blocked because “we could control nothing” otherwise. Nejat’s remarks in favor of blocking Telegram voice calling service was made a few days after the service was blocked in Iran.
The newly added voice service of the popular Telegram app was blocked by court order on Friday April 21, two days after being launched. Iranian regime’s head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani had recently called on regime’s judicial and security officials to act in coordination with the country’s prosecutor-general to deal with demonstrations or ‘turbulences’, as regime’s officials put it, during the elections.

Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Clerical Regime: Presence in Iraq, Syria Is the Regime's Security Shield
NCRI/ Monday, 24 April 2017/Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the clerical regime’s Armed Forces, once again acknowledged that the criminal intervention and the massacre of defenceless people of Syria and Iraq was the clerical regime's security shield. In his message to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Revolutionary Guards, he said: "Iranian Revolutionary Guards … with the support and cooperation of Islamic Resistance in Syria and Iraq have set themselves as ‘the security shield’ of the Iranian people and the whole Islamic Ummah (nation). Bagheri stressed: “The Revolutionary Guards...with Khamenei’s guidance” has boasted "the deterrence power" and "the defense power" of the clerical regime to the world beyond “Iran’s geography”. He added: As Khomeini said, "If the IRGC did not exist, the country would not have existed” (State-run media April 23, 2017). By “the country”, Khomeini and Khamenei mean the religious fascism ruling Iran. Khamenei had said earlier if we did not stop the enemy in Syria "we had to stop them in Tehran, Fars, Isfahan and Khorasan" (State run news media Januray 6, 2017). Open acknowledgment of the highest ranking Iranian military officials clearly shows that as long as this regime is in power, its intervention in the whole region including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen Lebanon and Bahrain will continue. This doubles the need to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization and to evict the regime and the IRGC from the region. *Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran/April 23, 2017

Arizona Official Congress Passed a Resolution to List the IRGC as a Terrorist Group
NCRI/ Monday, 24 April 2017/The Arizona House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to list the Iran regimes Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group. The representatives noted in the resolution that they considered the IRGC as the main source of international terrorism and they enumerated examples of crimes committed by them against the Iranian people, as well as their terrorist acts throughout the region. Therefore, they stressed the need to condemn these crimes and to list the IRGC as a terrorist group. At the meeting held in the Arizona Congress, the Chair of the Democrats in Arizona House of Representatives, Rebecca Rios introduced the resolution and stated that the IRGC has been exporting terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East for more than 30 years. After that, the text of the resolution was read. According to the resolution, in 1984 the U.S. Department of State has called the Iran regime a state sponsor of terrorism. The Iran regime is in fact the most involved government in supporting terrorism, since the IRGC has always provided the terrorist groups and militias of the Middle East and Central Asia with financial support, materials, and logistic supplies.The resolution also refers to the crimes committed by the IRGC in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Iran's missile tests in defiance of the Security Council's resolutions. It also states that the IRGC is involved in the ongoing massacre of the Syrians and it supports the Assad regime incessantly. They intend to protect a regime that is responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of Syrians. The resolution also refers to the direct role of the IRGC in internal repression and "serial murder," stating that according to the NCRI, this group has established at least 144 terrorist training centers in Tehran and other cities in February 2017. The foreigners receive terrorist training in these centers before going to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other regions. According to the resolution, the U.S. is responsible for the continuing violations of human rights committed by the IRGC in Iran, including the illegal arrests, torture, detaining, and executions against the international standards and the violation of a fair trial. The Representatives of the Arizona Congress in their resolution pointed out some gross violations of human rights by the Iran regime, which were also listed in the report of the U.S. Department of State, including the growing wave of executions, arbitrary killings, long-term solitary confinements, and severe beatings of prisoners. The resolution passed by Arizona Congress at the end noted the threats made by the IRGC for establishing security in the region and the world. The representatives stipulated that the Arizona House of Representatives would pass the following clause: The resolution condemns the IRGC and the Iran regime for their efforts in supporting and financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and other parts of the world. We call on the U.S. government to publicly condemn such actions and to list the IRGC as the terrorist organization because of its support for terrorism.

Iran's Ridiculous Presidential Election Debates Scene
NCRI/ Monday, 24 April 2017/ The regime’s election campaign commission at the Interior Ministry made a decision during a meeting with representatives of the judiciary to ban live debates of the presidential candidates. The decision was met with a reaction and response from Khamenei’s faction, including Abdul Ali Askar, chairman of the Iranian regime’s state broadcasting services. After the announcement of the election campaign commission's decision on April 21st, Askar said, "Despite the insistence of the national media for live broadcast candidates debates, the election campaign commission, at a meeting chaired by the Interior Minister, unfortunately rejected the proposal and approved a recorded debate yesterday.” Another member of Khamenei’s faction and a Member of Parliament, Ahmad Salak said while attacking Rouhani on April 22nd, “Those people who are afraid of a live debate, they do certainly have some difficulties with their acts and they do not have the appropriate responses for people’s problems. They should be afraid of live debates.”A former member of parliament from Khamenei’s faction, Masoud Mir-Kazemi, also called the removal of a live debate of the candidates as a soft dictatorship by the executive branch. Alireza Zakani, a disqualified candidate from Khamenei’s faction, said regarding banning of live debate, "Unfortunately, given the secrecy and lack of transparency of the executive branch in past 4 years, we must mark this as another discriminatory act brought on the major and minor candidates.” Khamenei’s faction media showcased similar reactions. For example, State run Evening Site wrote, "Holding no debates, means civil rights are nothing. The fear of knowing the facts of 4 years of detrimental political and economic conditions by the people led the executive branch elected election campaign commission to place it in an air bobble!” The regime’s parliament Site Mazand wrote, “In your opinion, what is the charm of recorded debate to a live one? Why are some opposed to live broadcasting?”
Similar reactions are seen in many of the media outlets of Khamenei’s faction. For example, the IRGC News Agency (known as Fars) wrote on April 22nd, “They don’t want to place Rouhani in a responsive position, but not live broadcasting the debates is a civil rights violation.” Tadbir, a state controlled site, has written, “What is the meaning of canceling a live debate? What are they really fearful of? They were qualified by the Guardian Council! If these individuals are so trustworthy that could become the head of the executive branch, why should it be fearsome for them to talk? If they don’t have the qualifications for talking straight with the public, how did they became qualified to run a country?”It is interesting that this decision was apparently taken by both factions, along with the judiciary representatives, out of fear of opening a gap at the top of the system and fear of another uprising. It is now not only protested by Khamenei’s faction, but also Hassan Rouhani, whose contested election campaign commission made this decision. He said in his remarks in Shiraz on April 31st, "I am a supporter of most free debates in a way that people can better understand all the facts, a man should speak without any stuttering, be able to criticize, and express their points of view.” His rival factions have immediately seized upon his contradictions to undermine him. Mehdi Mohammadi, from Khamenei’s faction, wrote immediately in his telegram, "Mr. Rouhani has apparently not understood what will happen on May 20. It is an election and he is a candidate. He has ordered his representatives in the election campaign commission to kill the debates and then in Shiraz he preaches that he is a pro-live debate. It is just an insult to the intelligence of the nation.”
Mohsen Rezai, secretary of the regime’s Expediency Council and former IRGC commander, on his own site as Tabnak uncovered and pointed out that in the decision-making meeting, representatives of both factions were present and admitted that ban of live debate was a joint decision due to fear of uprising. Now both factions are trying to save face and shifting the blame onto others. The above mentioned site wrote, “ A meeting took place at the Interior Ministry headed by the minister deciding on recorded debates instead of live ones……Now, all are playing the game of - who was and wasn’t - blaming each other and protesting the decision. The Rouhani faction is now claiming that rival faction supporters were more involved in that meeting and Khamenei’s factions are saying that the opposition to the live broadcasting of debates was to the benefit of Rouhani’s faction.”In reality, both rival factions are so afraid of an uprising that they decided to ban live broadcasting of the debates and at the same time, they need to undermine each other. As a result, such a ridiculous drama is created.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 24-25/17
How New is the New Hamas Charter?
Denis MacEoin/Gatestone Institute/April 24/17
The Arab states that reject Israel today forget that they themselves would not exist without the Mandate system – a point seldom if ever acknowledged in public forums where the legitimacy of Israel is debated.
If there is any Palestinian desire for a two-state solution, it is questionable: according to current maps of "Palestine," and the New Hamas Charter, it is supposed to be on its neighbouring state, Israel; not next to it. The wish of Palestinian leaders to have a Palestinian state is never realized solely due to the unending rejection of their Jewish neighbour.
Article 19 of the New Charter repeats that there will never be peace so long as Israel still exists. It declares: "We do not leave any part of the Palestinians' land, under any circumstances, conditions or pressure, as long as the occupation remains. Hamas refuses any alternative which is not the whole liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea."
Anyone with a serious interest in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be familiar with the oft-cited Charter (or Covenant [mithaq]) of the terrorist group currently ruling the Gaza Strip, Hamas. The Charter (in Arabic here) was published on 18 August 1988. Its proper title is "The Charter/Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement 'Hamas' Palestine", Hamas being an acronym for "the Islamic Resistance Movement".
This April, the Lebanese news site al-Mayadeen leaked a draft version of a much-revised version of the 1988 Charter, due to be released "in the coming days". The anti-Israel website Mondoweiss subsequently provided an English translation of the draft, made by someone from the Ayda refugee camp in the West Bank. So far, I have been unable to find the Arabic text of the draft online, even though it has been discussed many times in the wider Arabic media. We shall turn to it later, but it is obviously sensible to look first at the 1988 version as a basis of comparison. And even before that, we need to see how the Hamas Covenant differed from, and resembled, the PLO Covenants of 1964 and 1968.
The full title of the movement is crucial to an understanding of the document and its aims. Hamas had been founded in 1987 as an intransigent extension of the Palestinian Mujamma linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and was explicitly hardline and neo-Salafi in its religious orientation. This was in conspicuous contrast to its rival Palestinian movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded by the Arab League in 1964 as an overtly secular and nationalist entity. The two PLO National Covenants of 1964 and 1968 exclude religion as a basis for the anti-Israel struggle.[1]
But in those versions, that secular nationalism takes two distinct forms. The 1964 PLO Charter is based on the concept of pan-Arabism as inspired by the Arab League and Egypt's president at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Palestinians are simply Arabs among millions of Arabs, and their struggle for liberation was carried out with little emphasis on the creation of a Palestinian state. This view changed, however, after 1967, when the Six-Day War showed the powerlessness of the Arab states to resolve the Palestinian issue. When Egypt and Jordan attacked Israel (Egypt's closing the Strait of Tiran was a legitimate casus belli, cause for war), Israel repelled them and ended up sitting on land -- Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, Judaea and Samaria -- which it immediately offered to return in exchange for recognition and peace. That offer was rejected in a matter of weeks at the Khartoum Conference.
During and after the "peace process" and the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the Palestinian leadership promised that it would delete the most offensive and anti-peace clauses of the 1968 Charter. Many years later, nothing has been done, and the existing Charter remains unchanged.
Nationalism is not an Islamic concept. Even pan-Arabism falls outside the remit of Islamic ideology and practice. Almost from the beginning, Islam has been predicated on the idea of a global community (the umma), which embraces all Muslims and Islamic regions, allegedly since the beginning of time, with a promise of eventual Islamic control over the Earth. According to a sound tradition in the canonical collection by al-Bukhari, among the five things given to Muhammad that had not been given to any previous prophet was that, "Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind."[2] In another version, he is recorded as saying: "I have been sent to all mankind and the line of prophets is closed with me."[3]
This sense of global scale has characterized the Islamic world from its beginning in the form of empires. These started with the Umayyads (661-750) and ended with the Ottomans (1299-1922). The long history of Islamic imperialism had two imperishable effects: it prevented the development of nation-state polity and imposed the theory of religious rule. Self-identification for imperial citizens functioned only through the family, clan, tribe, village or town or city; or according to religious affiliations of various kinds. Everywhere, the only true citizens were orthodox Muslims; subjugated minorities such as Jews and Christians were kept strictly as inferiors, with a separate set of harsh laws and a special tax, the jizya, to pay for "protection".
This legacy of Islamic dominance, of jihad as a legitimate and regular policy towards non-Muslim Europe, African regions, Central Asia and India, combined with the illegitimacy and unacceptability of Jewish, Christian or secular rule over Islamic territory, has left a deep mark on the Palestinian sense of identity. Formerly subjects of the Ottoman Empire in Syria, almost overnight in the 1920s the Arab Palestinians found themselves adrift in a sea of international rules and regulations concerning territory and national identity. This was the never-acknowledged pivot around which the growing conflict with the Jewish Palestinians revolved -- and still revolves.
The emergence of various nationalisms in the Islamic world since the early twentieth century (such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Syria) owes little or nothing to traditional Islam and much, if not everything, to the impact of the West, where nationalism first developed. Some Muslim states (such as Iran, Morocco or Egypt) have always had a sense of territorial identity, but most have been provinces of imperial systems. When the League of Nations set up three Class A mandates for Syria/Lebanon, Palestine/Transjordan, and Mesopotamia (Iraq), it created five nations out of two provinces. The Arab states that reject Israel today forget that they themselves would not exist without the Mandate system – a point seldom if ever acknowledged in public forums where the legitimacy of Israel is debated.
Palestinian nationalism is, therefore, an extension of the wider Arab nationalisms created out of the mandates, both in terms of the Palestinian Kingdom of Jordan and the long-postponed future state of Palestine. If there is any Palestinian desire for a two-state solution, it is questionable: according to current maps of "Palestine," and the New Hamas Charter, it is supposed to be on its neighbouring state, Israel; not next to it. The wish of Palestinian leaders to have a Palestinian state is never realized solely due to the unending rejection of their Jewish neighbour.
So long as the PLO dominated the political landscapes of the West Bank and Gaza, an eventual shift, through reasonable political compromise presumably from both sides, to a two-state solution, remained the only game in town. The secular-nationalist position of the Palestinians offered some hope of political normalization and the publication of a new Covenant. That changed in 1987 with the emergence of a major rival to the secular-nationalist position in the form of a new resistance organization, Hamas, founded shortly after the start of the First Intifada. Hamas is an acronym for harakat al-muqawama al-islamiyya ("Islamic Resistance Movement"). One year later, in 1988, Hamas made waves when it released its own Charter, an uncompromising document that took the PLO commitment to the abolition of Israel into deeper and little-charted waters, including the elimination of all Jews everywhere.
While both Hamas and the PLO/Fatah dreamed -- and still dream -- of a single Palestinian nation to replace Israel and its surrounding disputed territories, they differed in one major respect: the Hamas nation of Palestine would be an Islamic state, governed by Islamic values and shari'a law. Things had changed regionally since the two PLO Covenants were made public.[4]
The Middle East and the Islamic world in general were experiencing a shift: from Western-influenced political values based on modern states ruled by man-made law and based on secular governments whether democratic (as in Lebanon) or dictatorial (as in Syria) towards a return to and intensification of traditional Islamic theories of governance, made and governed solely by Allah (God, although their qualities are quite different, if not opposite).
Some form of Salafi Islam had existed from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, together with the financial windfall from oil and the rise of jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda, brought violent radicalism to the fore, not only in the Shi'i world, but across Sunni countries from Egypt to Afghanistan.
Hamas had started life through connections with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which, although fundamentalist in orientation, originally was not particularly violent. Hamas, however, clearly engaged with the broadening current of anti-Western terrorism justified by jihad, a current that culminated later in the emergence of the Islamic State.
Hamas's 1988 Charter reflects this. It notes more than once that Palestinian nationalism should be religious in nature and quite distinct from other secular forms of national expression:
"Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed... If other nationalist movements are connected with materialistic, human or regional causes, nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement has all these elements as well as the more important elements that give it soul and life. It is connected to the source of spirit and the granter of life, hoisting in the sky of the homeland the heavenly banner that joins earth and heaven with a strong bond." (1988 Charter, Article 12)
"Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight." (1988 Charter, Article 13)
Notably, other parts of the 1988 Hamas Charter resemble the 1968 PLO Covenant. For example, in Article 13, we read:
"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." (1988 Charter, Article 13)
This comes very close to the PLO's secular use of "armed struggle" (al-kifah al-musalah):
"Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it" (1968 PLO Charter, Article 9).
And the use of "jihad" by Hamas comes even closer to the PLO's "Commando action" (al-'amal al-fida'i), literally "self-sacrificial action". (1988 Charter, Article 10). Fida'i is from the same Arabic root that gives us fida'iyin (Fedayeen).
Hizbullah, Israel's greatest military threat in Lebanon, is, like Hamas, a revolutionary religious organization inspired by the Shi'i clerical regime that has been ruling Iran since 1979. Although Hamas is a Sunni entity, it has been as happy to accept arms and money from the Islamic Republic as Iran has been delighted to give them. This is of major significance. The assault on Israel is only part of what we see now as an international religious undertaking, one that incorporates the Iranian regime, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, the Islamic State in the Middle East and Europe, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and dozens of Islamic actors from ideological movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan's Jama'at-i Islami to outright terrorists such as the Taliban in Afghanistan or Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Hamas, then, is far from being alone. While it may have ideological differences that make it hard to form a unity coalition with Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank, it is clearly open to alliances with Iran, Hizbullah, and whatever remains of the Islamic State in Sinai, Libya or elsewhere.
Armed Hamas militiamen on parade with a mock rocket in Gaza. (Image source: i24 News video screenshot)
However, the announcement of a new Charter this year, along with its supposedly reformed content, has suggested to some that Hamas may be about to enter a new phase. But is this so? Even a cursory glance will show that it is not.
The truth is that the new Charter, though vaunted as a major shift for the group, is, in reality, little more than a public-relations exercise. Hamas leaders have got smart, but have not changed their spots.
The most obvious change lies in the wording concerning Jews and Israelis. Whereas the Charter Mark I of 1988 contained numerous examples of pure anti-Semitism, singling Jews out as repellent enemies of God and calling for their wholesale destruction, it has finally dawned on the leadership that racist, anti-Semitic and genocidal words do not fare well in many Western states, even in ones with an anti-Zionist agenda.
The result is now a presumed distinction between Jews and Zionists/Israelis. Thus, we read:
"Hamas differentiates between Jews as people of the holy book, and Judaism as a religion and the occupation and the Zionist Project as something separate, and it sees that the conflict is with the Zionist Project not with the Jewish people because of their religion. And Hamas does not have a conflict with the Jews because they are Jews, but Hamas has a conflict with the Zionists, occupiers and aggressors." (New Charter 2017, Article 15)
However, this article follows one that is quite different:
"The Zionist Project is a racist, aggressive and separatist project based on violating others' rights and is against Palestine's people and its vision for freedom, liberation, sovereignty and the return of the refugees. And the Israeli state is the tool of this project and its foundation." (New Charter 2017, Article 13)
Needless to say, it is alleged that Hamas cannot possibly be anti-Semitic -- evidently trying to block out the 3,000 years of documented history that took place before World War II:
"Hamas sees that the Jewish problem and the "anti-semitism" and the injustice against the Jewish people is a phenomenon related to European history, not to the history of Arabs and Muslims or their heritage." (New Charter 2017, Article 16)
This is, of course, mere bluster that ignores the fact that outright anti-Semitism is to be found in the Qur'an, the Sacred Traditions (ahadith), shari'a law regarding the treatment of Jews and Christians as dhimmi inferiors to Muslims, or the countless persecutions and pogroms carried out against Jews in Muslim countries.[5]
In Article 16 of the New Charter, propaganda dominates the narrative and distracts us from Hamas's underlying commitment to traditional Islamic thinking about Jews and Judaism.
The difference between Hamas's unchanged jihad ideology and the image it now wants to project may be found in Articles 8 and 9 of the New Charter:
"8. Hamas understands Islam in all its details, and it is appropriate for all places and times in its neutral spirituality, and Hamas believes that it is the religion of peace and forgiveness, and under its shadow all different religious followers live safe and in safety. As well as it believes that Palestine was and will stay as an example of coexistence, forgiveness and civilian innovation." (New Charter 2017, Article 8)
"9. Hamas believes that the message of Islam came with morals of justice, truth, dignity and freedom, and is against injustice in all its shapes, and criminalizes the criminals whatever their sex, color, religion or nationality are. Islam is against all shapes of religious extremism, sectarian extremism and ethnic extremism, and it is the religion that teaches its followers to fight against the tyranny and help weak people and it teaches its followers to sacrifice their time, money and themselves in the defense of their dignity, land, people and holy places." (New Charter 2017, Article 9)
Here, we see in a fuller form the same connectivity to religion that characterized the first Charter.
Despite the claim that Islam is "the religion of peace and forgiveness, and under its shadow all different religious followers live safe and in safety", it soon becomes clear that Hamas's intentions towards Israel and the rest of the non-Muslim world have not changed in the least. First, the New Charter declares the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, and the 1947 UN partition resolution to be "illegal from the beginning" (New Charter 2017, Article 17), meaning that there can be little room for manoeuver about Israel's right to exist. That is driven home in the next article:
"We do not recognize the Zionist state. All shapes of occupation, settlements, Judaization and the forgery of truth are illegal. These rights do not dissolve with time." (New Charter 2017, Article 18)
And that is followed by a return to the jihad doctrine:
"Hamas confirms that no peace in Palestine should be agreed on, based on injustice to the Palestinians or their land. Any arrangements based on that will not lead to peace, and the resistance and Jihad will remain as a legal right, a project and an honor for all our nations' people." (New Charter 2017, Article 21)
Article 19 of the New Charter repeats that there will never be peace so long as Israel still exists. It declares:
"We do not leave any part of the Palestinian's land, under any circumstances, conditions or pressure, as long as the occupation remains. Hamas refuses any alternative which is not the whole liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea." (New Charter 2017, Article 19)
The New Charter is mere window-dressing; even a casual reading of it should show that the new Hamas is the old Hamas wearing a different face to try to disguise the true intransigence and hatred that have always characterized it.
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, where he writes about Islam, Israel, Left-wing and Christian anti-Semitism and the Middle East.
[1] For the Arabic originals see here and here
[2] Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah, in Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 7, Number 331
[3] Narrated Abu Hurayra, Sahih Muslim 4:1062
[4] A short but scholarly comparison of the three charters by Philipp Holtmann is available here.
[5] See Andrew Bostom (ed.), The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Sacred History, reprinted 2008.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

China Deploys Floating Nuclear Power Plant to South China Sea
Debalina Ghoshal/Gatestone Institute/April 24/17
A nuclear power plant on the sea would ensure a continuous supply of water as coolant -- a necessity for any reactor.
China's motive for building the nuclear reactors is clear: to exert its dominance and influence throughout the area.
In April 2016, reports began coming in that China has plans to build floating nuclear power plants in the South China Sea. A floating nuclear power plant consists of one or more nuclear reactors, located on a platform at sea. China apparently plans to "speed up the commercial development" of the South China Sea and views the nuclear power plants as part of that plan. [1]
Final assembly of the reactor is reported to start in coastal city of Huludao, in Liaoning province, and will be built by Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co Ltd, a unit of China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC).[2]
China's 2016 nuclear plan, a component of the China's 13th five-year plan, is evidently to complete 58 nuclear reactors by 2020 and build another 100 gigawatt-sized reactors by 2030. These would make China the largest nuclear power producer in the world. China's floating nuclear reactor initiative seems to be a component of this nuclear plan.
Reasons for such reactors
China's stated reasons for venturing into such technologies include providing an inexpensive source of electricity and fresh water for both military and economic gains, as well as ensuring China's strategic dominance in the South China Sea. Nuclear power plants could not only provide cheap electricity to defense facilities but also to desalination plants. Normally, the defense facilities such as airports and harbors depend on oil or coal for power generation. A nuclear power plant on the sea would ensure a continuous supply of water as coolant -- a necessity for any reactor.
A 60 MWe reactor is said to be beneficial for supplying electricity, heat and desalination, and could be used on islands and on coastal areas or for offshore oil and gas exploration.
A scale-model of a Russian floating nuclear power plant. (Image source: Felix/Flickr)
A common theme in the narrative about floating nuclear power plants is that they would provide energy and freshwater to the disputed Spratly Islands and also to China's artificial islands in the South China Sea, such as Woody Island. Beijing, however, is entangled in territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam, to name a few in the region.
China is already building man-made islands in the South China Sea by shifting sediment from the sea floor to the reefs. It is also building ports, airstrips and radar facilities. In 2016, reports also stated that China has deployed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles in the Woody Island, close to the Paracel Islands. in South China Sea. China has also deployed a HQ-9 and shorter ranged HQ-6 air defence system at the Paracel Islands.
At the Hainan base, China operates guided missile-destroyers: Yinchuan, Hefei, Kunming, and the Changsha. The DF-21D "carrier killer" anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is also an added asset for China.
China has, as well, unilaterally established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and stated that it had the right to establish similar zones in the South China Sea.
As China flexes its muscles in the South China Sea, building a floating nuclear reactor is yet another step toward strengthening this regional dominance.
All these man-made islands have limited amounts of fresh water. A key part of aircraft maintenance to avoid corrosion when operating in a salt water environment is washing the planes down with fresh water or chemical solvents. While desalination is an option, nuclear energy might facilitate that. China already has experience in nuclear desalination, with China General Nuclear Power commissioning a sea-water desalination plant that uses waste heat to provide cooling water at the Hongyanhe project at Dalian, in Liaoning province.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that there are 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the seabed. Geopolitical and energy security analyst Jeremy Maxie writes:
"Most of the gas in the SCS is located in offshore deep-water fields (defined as 400-1,200 meters) that is more technologically challenging and costly to develop than shallow-water or onshore fields. In order to monetize any potential deep-water gas discoveries, subsea pipelines would need to be built to onshore processing facilities."
This plan that may or may not be politically conceivable. Maritime nuclear floating reactors would apparently provide an advantage for offshore gas exploration.
The South China Sea is crucial for states vying to gain influence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, as well as for maritime commerce. The South China Sea is also rich in hydrocarbons and fish in a region where the staple diet is fish.
In addition, with proven oil reserves, the South China Sea would yield 130 billion barrels of oil, according to Chinese estimates. Moreover, 80 percent of the China's energy requirements pass through the Malacca Strait into the South China Sea; China is therefore largely dependent on the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, a circumstance termed by then-Chinese President Hu Jintao as the "Malacca Dilemma."
Building nuclear reactors in the South China Sea would enable Beijing to exert its assertiveness at every turn.
Constructing such reactors in a region prone to typhoons is, as can be imagined, hazardous, resulting in accidents and meltdowns. Radioactive waste would spread to neighboring countries and cause catastrophic damage to sea-currents as well as maritime flora and fauna. Moreover, the capacity of maritime reactors to produce power is far less than for land-based reactors. China's motive for building the nuclear reactors, however, is clear: to exert its dominance and influence throughout the area.
Debalina Ghoshal is a Research Fellow specializing in nuclear and missile issues at the Centre for Human Security Studies, Hyderabad, India.
[1] The China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) is to build the nuclear power plants in cooperation with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). This reactor ACPR50S is a 60MWe reactor based on the 100MWe China National Nuclear Corporation's ACPR100S MR.
[2] The Bohai Company convened to discuss possible location and relevant viability issues pertaining to the construction of the reactor with the Liaoning Provincial Economy and Informatization Commission, Huludao Municipal Economy and Informatization Commission, CSIC's nuclear safety department's safety inspection team and Wuhan Second Institute of Ship Design-Institute 719 under the CSIC.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Assad's unproved allegations about Jordan
Raed Omari/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
Once again, Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad has pointed an accusing finger at Jordan, claiming that the security-concerned kingdom is planning to deploy troops in his war-torn country. Assad made his allegations in an interview Friday with Russia's news website Sputnik during which he accused Jordan of coordinating its military deployment plans with the Washington. Assad was very brief in his allegations on Jordan only saying: "We have such information, but anyway Jordan was part of the American plan since the beginning of the war in Syria." Amman's response to Assad was brief as well with the government spokesperson Mohammad al-Momani who dismissed the claims of the embattled president's as "baseless" and reiterating Jordan's push for a political solution to Syria's six-year-old conflict.Jordan's official position on Syria has mostly remained unchanged advocating a political solution to the ongoing war there
The story ended calmly at this stage with no escalation of rhetoric from Amman on Damascus simply because Jordan is used to such accusations from Assad and his officials. Since the early beginning of Syria's ongoing conflict, Damascus has been always accusing Amman of sending fighters and arms to rebels in southern Syria; not only to the Free Syrian Army but, strangely enough, to the Nusra Front and other extremist groups. But I really wonder here: Would the military situation in southern Syria be as it is now if Jordan, in cooperation with the U.S., had really opened its almost 400 kilometers borders with Syria as Damascus always claims?
Jordan’s stand
Assad told Sputnik news that Damascus has "intelligence information" on Jordan's plans to deploy troops in Syria but what was put as a secret report by the Damascus ruler has been in fact the subject of much speculation and analysis in international press after king Abdullah's meeting with President Trump and UK Theresa May's visit to Amman earlier this month. Several news agencies and political analysts have touched upon the possibility of Jordan changing its neutral position and its 'delicate balancing' of the international dynamics of the Syrian conflict with some of them even expecting Amman to send troops to southern Syria. But Jordan's official position on Syria has mostly remained unchanged advocating a political solution to the ongoing war there. Amman, a strategic Washington's ally, has even kept communication channels with Moscow and was the only Arab country attending the Astana talks. Amman's position on Syria has also been described as "vague" and, at times, "pragmatic" by key regional and international players, especially members of the anti-Assad camp but concerns of security spillover from Syria coupled with political, economic and demographic troubles have all obliged Jordan to remain cautious supporting neither the regime nor the opposition. However, Jordan has grown daring on Syria placing security as its first and foremost priority mainly after the emergence of ISIS and its affiliates and considering that the ISIS-affiliate Khalid bin Walid Army has secured a strong foothold inside the Syrian territory just few kilometers from its northern and eastern borders. It is never a secret that most of the Jordanian army is stationed on the northern and eastern border line with the war-torn Syria and Iraq all to prevent ISIS from penetrating southward and westward into Jordan, especially after the bloody attacks of the ultra-radical groups on the Jordanian border guards last summer.Jordan, which is an active member in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, has launched a number of airstrikes unilaterally against the militant group's posts inside Syria with its army vowing to attack "terrorist" targets whenever and wherever they are.
The Rubkan camp
Jordan's major concern now is the Rukban refugee camp for displaced Syrians in its northeast borders with Syria. According to the Jordanian army, ISIS has more than 2000 agents inside the camp which has become home to around 80,000 refugees since the outbreak of the conflict. Following the ISIS-claimed suicide car bombing attack that killed six Jordanian troops in June 2016, Jordan designated its border areas with Syria as "closed military zones" and sealed the Rukban border crossing. Participating in a media tour to northeast borders with Syria just five kilometers from the Rukban camp, I have been told by the Jordanian border guards' commander that the makeshift camp and no man's land between Jordan and Syria are "full of ISIS members, mostly from Raqqa, awaiting the go-ahead from their leaders to attack Jordan." Journalists were also told that the Khalid bin Walid Army is active in the massive desert areas between Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
The talk nowadays, although still not publicly announced, is about Jordan supporting or creating the so-called 'Jaysh al-Ashaer' (the tribes' army) inside Syria to fight ISIS and protect the Rukban makeshift camp that has grown from 368 shelters to 8,295 this month, according to Amnesty.
With the absence of protection for the Rukban camp by the Syrian regime or the opposition thus leaving the huge facility vulnerable to ISIS's penetration and exploitation, the least expected from Jordan is to take precautionary measures to prevent the group from expanding in the camp that is becoming a real nightmare for Jordan. This concern is no secret at all and it was expressed by Jordan's Joint Chiefs-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat during an interview with the BBC Arabic in December last year when he raised the alarm of possible sleeper ISIS cells among hundreds of thousands who came from Raqqa, and are currently living in refugee settlements close to the Kingdom’s borders, such as Rakban. "The ISIS-affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin Al Waleed group, near the Golan Heights, is very close to the Jordanian border, and it has tanks, armoured vehicles and other weapons that would reach the Jordanian side," Freihat said, stressing readiness to deal with any threat.
To make the long story short, Jordan's position in Syria is still advocating a political solution to its ongoing war but, in case of security spillovers or any ISIS's threats, Jordan, I think, will act swiftly and daringly and will not wait for international peace conferences on Syria to convene.

Chinese diplomacy amid the US-North Korea standoff
Talmiz Ahmad/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
The last two weeks have seen an increasingly shrill rhetoric from North Korea, provocative tests of missiles, and US and South Korean military manoeuvres. The latter have evoked harsher North Korean warnings: its state media have threatened to deliver “the most ruthless blow” if there is “even the smallest provocation” from the United States, and that the United States and South Korea could be “completely destroyed in an instant" if North Korea were to launch a pre-emptive strike.
The US, meanwhile, has conducted missile defence drills with the South Korean and Japanese navies, sent its newest F-35 stealth fighters to train in South Korea, flown B-1 bombers to South Korea, and commenced “Max Thunder,” billed as the second-largest military flying exercise between US and South Korean forces. The Pentagon has also dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group to the Korean Peninsula. The British tabloid, Sunday Express, has spoken of an imminent World War III.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, the last in September last year. It also has conducted numerous medium- and long-range missile tests since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.
While China is pursuing a balanced approach between the US and North Korea, China’s interests differ from those of the US in crucial areas. In the context of North Korea, Chinese media generally portrays the US as an aggressive, militarist and interfering force
Sino-US cooperation
It is in this fraught background that Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Washington on 6-7 April. China is North Korea’s principal ally, accounts for 90 percent of its trade and is the main source of the country’s food and energy. In spite of Trump’s anti-China remarks during the election campaign, the most interesting outcome of this interaction was China’s support for the US vis-à-vis North Korea.
On 17 April, the State Department said that China had sent the Trump administration “positive signals” that it would increase economic sanctions to pressure North Korea to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and missiles. Later, a day after North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister said Pyongyang would test missiles weekly and use nuclear weapons if threatened, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing was “gravely concerned” about North Korea's recent nuclear and missile activities. In the same press conference, spokesman Lu Kang praised recent US statements on the North Korean issue: “American officials did make some positive and constructive remarks... such as using whatever peaceful means possible to resolve the (Korean) Peninsula nuclear issue.”
Given the close economic ties between North Korea and China, US military officials have said Beijing is critical to solving the situation, with President Donald Trump recently commending Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts to curb Pyongyang’s activities.
The latter have included reducing fuel sales to North Korea. This has evoked some harsh words from Pyongyang, including the warning that China “should get itself ready to face the catastrophic consequences to its relations with the DPRK.”
China’s strategic concerns
While China is pursuing a balanced approach between the US and North Korea, China’s interests differ from those of the US in crucial areas. In the context of North Korea, Chinese media generally portrays the US as an aggressive, militarist and interfering force. China on its part is chary of efforts to pressurise the North Korean regime militarily, being concerned about the unpredictable North Korean retaliation should the regime in Pyongyang fear collapse, the attendant region wide political turmoil and an influx of refugees into China itself.
China also views negatively the possible reunification of the Koreas under a South Korean government that is closely allied to the United States, since that would expand US influence at its borders. More immediately, China sees with great disfavour the increasing US military’s presence in South Korea, specifically the US decision to deploy elements of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, missile defence system. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said THAAD is “not a simple technical issue, but an out-and-out strategic one”. Countering a powerful missile defence system means more advanced Chinese missiles, with more aggressive deployment.
The security affairs commentator Ian Armstrong has pointed out that China is not so much concerned about the interception capabilities of THAAD, but another major THAAD component — the AN/TPY-2 radar, which identifies and communicates the location of missile targets to the interceptor.
Though the US and South Korea have repeatedly stated that THAAD will be directed only at North Korean missiles, the Chinese know that THAAD’s radar can be easily switched into a long-range mode that would give the US an early warning of Chinese missile launches.
Chinese commentators see this as evidence of US reluctance to work with China on promoting regional stability and see no alternative to pursuing their own missile programmes to counter the US’s strategic advantage in the region. The latter could include hypersonic glide vehicles and multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). MIRVs are difficult to detect and would thus effectively counter the strategic advantages provided by THAAD. China is also expected to accelerate the development of its hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), which can bypass THAAD’s interception capabilities. Observers expect China to deploy its HGVs between 2920-2025, though this programme could get speeded up to meet the threat from THAAD. North Korea will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday, 25 April, and has marked important events in the past by launching missiles or conducting nuclear tests.
As the USS Carl Vinson speeds toward the region and US officials have warned that “all options are on the table”, there are fears that North Korea might use this day for its sixth nuclear test.

The practice of social McCarthyism
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
There is an electronic army out there that has plenty of free time and attacks its rivals in such a provocative manner. There is a case of unprecedented chauvinism, categorization and McCarthyism.
When an incident occurs, dozens of questions are made demanding a stance on every subject no matter how irrelevant it is to your interests and responsibilities. What’s dangerous is that this extent of complaints affects social peace and creates hostilities. Not only that, but these complaints also do not hold any scientific value or make intellectual contributions, and they do not have any positive political effects. Twitter continuously examines others. Some therefore categorize themselves as the role model whom others must follow. This, however, implies recommending oneself and such claims oppose the values and concepts of Sharia (Islamic law).
What’s more important is for people to abandon the inevitability of expression in every single hashtag. Life is much more than a hashtag, there is beauty in so much more.

The French elections have produced few surprises yet, but what of round 2?
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 24/17
Despite last minute jitters over a late surge by far-left candidate Lean-Luc Melenchon, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen were the frontrunners. At the end of the first vote the pair held significant leads over the initial four key contenders in presidential race.
With so much at stake, what can we expect from Macron or Le Pen? This will have consequences far beyond France. Like Brexit in the UK or Trump in the US, one of the big questions after the second and final vote, will likely focus on who is appointed to the winning candidate’s team. Campaigning for the second round in the French election will start in earnest, with behind the scenes manoeuvring by both camps as the seek support for their candidacies.
If Macron wins, then the Socialists have indicated they will support whoever he chooses to appoint as prime minister, but only under certain conditions. Macron will also seek support from the centre-right. But the shift from Les Republicains could be much smaller than the Socialist defections. The center-right is structurally and historically the majority party in France, and they will want to protect their position, if they are to win the next legislative elections, even under a Macron presidency. And so with no absolute majority for Macron in the National Assembly, there would be a need to seek support from within the reformist wing of the Socialist Party, the UDI, and the left wing of the Republicans.
Taking a different path
But Macron could take a different path in choosing his Prime Minister. He could select a PM with a high political profile, someone experienced and knowledgeable of the political in-fights of parliament. Names being floated include Richard Ferrand, current defense minister Yves Le Drian, and Gerard Collomb. The new President could also flip the table and appoint a woman with a political profile, perhaps Laurence Parisot, Liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard, or IMF President Christine Lagarde, who has not given up on her political ambitions in France.
There are serious concerns in French political circles that a victory for the National Front’s Le Pen, could be followed by a period of civil unrest
Macron could appoint a PM who combines the two qualities, while also being little known. That would point to Bariza Khiari, a woman and a senator since 2004, who has the advantage of knowing the parliamentary mechanism, without being widely known to the general public, and who would also tick an interesting diversity box.
Political insiders expect Macron to tap a slate of experienced people for other key government posts. This would start with Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist who has contributed to Macron’s program, and is expected to get an economic ministry. Spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, who may be appointed minister of health, and Laurence Haïm, who could get spokesman of the government or the ministry of culture. Macron will also draw from a number of young local administrators with hands-on government experience who have enthusiastically supported his campaign.
There are serious concerns in French political circles that a victory for the National Front’s Le Pen, could be followed by a period of civil unrest. It is feared there could be clashes between her supporters and her opponents, on the streets of Paris following the first round results. It’s also feared she could use that unrest to consolidate authority by drawing on wide presidential powers provided in the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.
In the event of major disturbances, which the National Front could fuel during the run-up to parliamentary elections, the call to introduce Article 16 of the Constitution (relating to full powers) should not be ruled out. Full powers are typically limited to 30 days, but Le Pen’s opponents fear that could well be enough time to encourage a concerned electorate to spring an elections surprise, which is a very Putin or Erdogan-styled show of strength. With a platform that appeals to French nationalism: abandoning the Euro, a new referendum on EU membership, fighting “Islamic” extremism and tougher immigration controls, a future ‘President Le Pen’ would certainly require even more sweeping presidential powers .
If that doesn't give Le Pen a working majority, the second option for the National Front would be to conclude a government agreement with Les Republicains, which for now seems like a stretch given the differences in economic policy between the two parties.
Will Le Pen become more mainstream?
But it was apparent that in the presidential debate on April 4, Le Pen attempted a turn towards more mainstream economic policies. Probably already with an eye on fighting the second round, she proposed a reduction in taxation for small and medium-sized enterprises. Both Macron and Le Pen are now positioning themselves as champions of the forgotten fringes, as well as appealing to the centre, a hard act to follow under normal circumstances.
A blue-brown coalition supporting a right wing government would be put to the test from the outset with the first parliamentary votes – not least the vote on the budget. The scenario of a relative majority for the FN in the National Assembly, while difficult to envisage – given the widespread opposition throughout France, would lead to opponents sending plenty of candidates to the Assembly that are opposed to FN policies. For example, it is unlikely that even one of the 18 constituencies of Paris will go to the FN.
If Le Pen aims at luring more traditional Gaullist voters, she could decide to give the post of Prime Minister to a right-wing personality like Gérard Longuet, Philippe de Villiers, Thierry Mariani (who is also in the race for foreign minister) or Claude Guéant. Other hard-right personalities like Eric Ciotti, Guillaume Peltier, Geoffroy Didier, Henri Guaino, Nadine Morano or Lionnel Luca could also join the government team. Finally, a former adviser of Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson, could return to the Elysée or a ministry, along with cadres of the micro-party “Common Sense,” now close to François Fillon.
However, in the event of a small victory, and with a view to seeking unity within her party, Le Pen is expected to appoint a good number of more “mediocre,” extreme party loyalists. The Ministry of the Interior could be given to David Rachline or Steeve Briois, with the latter also in the race to be appointed Minister of Finance. The Justice Department would seem likely to go to Gilbert Collard. But his strained relations with a number of FN executives could work against him to the benefit of an experienced personality like Jacques Bompard, despite announcements to the contrary by Marine Le Pen.
For the Gulf countries, a Macron presidency would mean following the same French policies on Syria and the Middle East. But a Le Pen presidency would see France recalibrate some of its Middle East and global foreign policy relations. This would mean especially rebooting warmer relations with Russia - and rather paradoxically - also with the USA. President Trump is seemingly rooting for her, given Le Pen’s EU reformist agenda and vow to fight the “establishment” and globalization. On May 7, French voters will tell us which candidate they resonate with, and bring some modicum of centrist stability or another political earthquake in Europe .