December 23/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up
Romans 15/01-33: "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says,“ Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand. ”This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.
But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ. I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Question: "Should Christians celebrate Christmas?"
Answer: The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Christmas should be celebrated in Christian homes. But what does the Bible say? Does the Bible give clear direction as to whether Christmas is a holiday to be celebrated by Christians?
First, let’s look at the reasons why some Christians do not celebrate Christmas. One argument against Christmas is that the traditions surrounding the holiday have origins in paganism. Searching for reliable information on this topic is difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. Bells, candles, holly, and yuletide/yule decorations are mentioned in the history of pagan worship, but the use of such in one’s home certainly does not indicate a return to paganism. While there are definitely pagan roots to some traditions, there are many more traditions associated with the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of the Savior of the world in Bethlehem. Bells are played to ring out the joyous news, candles are lit to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world (John 1:4-9), a star is placed on the top of a Christmas tree to remember the Star of Bethlehem, and gifts are exchanged to remind us of the gifts of the Magi to Jesus, the greatest gift of God to mankind.
Another argument against Christmas, especially having a Christmas tree, is that the Bible forbids bringing trees into our homes and decorating them. The passage often cited is Jeremiah 10:1-16, but this passage refers to cutting down trees, chiseling the wood to make an idol, and then decorating the idol with silver and gold for the purpose of bowing down before it to worship it (see also Isaiah 44:9-18). The passage in Jeremiah cannot be taken out of its context and used to make a legitimate argument against Christmas trees.
Christians who choose to ignore Christmas point to the fact that the Bible doesn’t give us the date of Christ’s birth, which is certainly true. December 25 may not be even close to the time Jesus was born, and arguments on both sides are legion, some relating to climate in Israel, the practices of shepherds in winter, and the dates of Roman census-taking. None of these points are without a certain amount of conjecture, which brings us back to the fact that the Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. Some see this as proof positive that God didn’t want us to celebrate the birth, while others see the Bible’s silence on the issue as tacit approval.
Some Christians say that since the world celebrates Christmas—although it is becoming more and more politically correct to refer to it as “the holidays”—Christians should avoid it. But that is the same argument made by false religions that deny Christ altogether, as well as cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny His deity. Those Christians who do celebrate Christmas often see the occasion as an opportunity to proclaim Christ as “the reason for the season” among the nations and to those trapped in false religions.
As we have seen, there is no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Christmas. At the same time, there is no biblical mandate to celebrate it, either. In the end, of course, whether or not to celebrate Christmas is a personal decision. Whatever Christians decide to do regarding Christmas, their views should not be used as a club with which to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honor inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. As in all things, we seek wisdom from Him who gives it liberally to all who ask (James 1:5) and accept one another in Christian love and grace, regardless of our views on Christmas.
Recommended Resource: The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/17
Middle East Christians aren't ornaments/Dr.Walid Phares DC/Face Book/December 22/17
The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria/Michael Herzog/The Washington Institute/December 2017
Serious setback for Israel on Golan border. Syria and Hizballah bisect Beit Jinn enclave/Debka File/December 22/ 2017
How Trump can repair the damage from Obama’s narcoterror fail/Jonathan Schanzer/New York Post/December 22/2017
My Worst Columns/Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times/December 22/2017
Congress Demands Clarity on Qatar/Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/December 22/17
Corruption: Mideast’s Political Gangrene/Amir Taheri/ASharq Al Awsat/December 22/17
"Court Jihad": How the French Justice System Assists Islamists/Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/December 22/2017

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 22-23/17
Middle East Christians aren't ornaments
Aoun lauds U.N. Jerusalem vote
Majdalani to Asharq Al-Awsat: No Rupture with Lebanese Forces
Hariri Points to Imminent Major Political Agreement
Lebanon Conducts First-Ever Census of Palestinian Refugees
State Security Arrests Two on Links With Armed Groups
Hariri: This is the Best Time to Invest in Lebanon
Report: Lebanon Tourism Anticipates Better European Arrivals in 2018
Guterres Extends STL Mandate for Another Three Years
Bassil Presents Draft Law Extending Registration Deadline for Lebanese Expats Vote
Aoun deems U.N resolution on Jerusalem testimony to Palestinian cause
Rahi meets Streeda Geagea in Bkirki
Aoun receives Stouh Beirut Association: Caring for persons with special needs duty
Geagea, Foucher tackle current developments
State Security apprehends Syrian in Arsal for links to Nusra
Finance Ministry: Airport customs seizes 31 kg of cocaine hidden in baggage of Venezuelan passenger
Mashnouq presides over extraordinary meeting of Internal Security Council
Rebecca Dykes' Family: We thank Lebanese authorities, instructing judge for pursuing inquiries into Becky's death'
Army Commander inspects military units in Akkar, Ras Balbek and Arsal
Army Commander, Graziano tackle bilateral military relations
The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria/
Serious setback for Israel on Golan border. Syria and Hizballah bisect Beit Jinn enclave

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 22-23/17
Canada condemns ballistic missile launched toward Saudi Arabia
UN Security Council Unanimously Adopts New North Korea Sanctions
2 Palestinians Killed in Gaza during Protests against Trump’s Jerusalem Decision
De Mistura in Moscow to 'Conform' Damascus' Stance
Abbas Meets Macron: US No Longer Honest Mediator in Peace Process
Sochi-Hosted Syrian Congress of National Dialogue Set for End of January
Australia to End Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria
Iraqi President Sponsors Direct Dialogue between Baghdad, Erbil
Catalan Separatists Deal Blow to Madrid
US Has 'Marginalized Itself' in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Says Macron
Abbas Says Palestinians Won't Accept any US Peace Plan
Major Powers Sramble to Agree on Syria Peace Plan

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 22-23/17
Middle East Christians aren't ornaments
Dr.Walid Phares DC/Face Book/December 22/17
Middle East Christians aren't ornaments we get out of the boxes to watch them and lament their fate during the holidays. They are real people and many among them are persecuted and targeted all year long, not just at Christmas or on Sundays. They need real geopolitical solutions as communities, including returning refugees home, not just momentary acts of charity, literary speeches or elite columns. They need legislation, diplomatic engagements, economic aid and also integration in the new architecture of the region, along with the new moderate Muslim political actors. That would be their best Christmas celebration.

Aoun lauds U.N. Jerusalem vote
The Daily Star/Dec. 23, 2017/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Friday welcomed the U.N. General Assembly’s decision on Jerusalem, describing it as a triumph for the Palestinian cause. “The U.N. resolution on Jerusalem is a victory for what is right and a testimony to the [Palestinian] cause,” he wrote in a tweet. Thursday, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the motion to reject United States President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv after several years. The resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority of 128 countries approving it, 35 abstaining, and 9 countries – including the U.S. and Israel – voting against it. “We should uphold these legitimate, international resolutions and not take unilateral measures that contradict them,” Aoun said in denouncing the U.S. move, which sparked protests across the region. Lebanon has seen near-daily protests since Trump made the announcement on Dec. 6.

Majdalani to Asharq Al-Awsat: No Rupture with Lebanese Forces
Beirut - Wajhi Al-Aridi/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Member of the “Future Movement” parliamentary bloc, MP Atef Majdalani said on Thursday that the dissociation policy has turned into a national issue that should be defended by all the Lebanese,” adding that the visit of Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader, Qais al-Khazali to southern Lebanon damages the country and violates its sovereignty. “The dissociation policy is not a mere internal accord between the political forces, but a national issue that should be defended by all the Lebanese who care about protecting their country from the hot spots burning near us,” Majdalani told Asharq Al-Awsat. The deputy added that any violation of this policy would turn into an uncalculated adventure. “Then, Prime Minister Saad Hariri will not be the only one to object those violations, but all the state, on top of which is President Michel Aoun,” he said. Commenting on the visit of al-Khazali to southern Lebanon this month, Majdalani said that such actions “distort the image of the state, because they show that the legitimate authority in Lebanon is weak. And whether the timing of the visit was set deliberately or not, the measures taken by the Lebanese authorities, through the recommendations of Aoun and Hariri, reflect the unity of the political authority in facing any violations.”The deputy denied that the Future Movement’s relationship with its ally, the Lebanese Forces, was heading towards escalation and rupture following the latest disputes. Majdalani admitted that relations between the two allies passed through a cloud. “But, what is certain is that the two sides agree on the strategic and national views, including the dissociation policy that allowed the government of Hariri to remain,” he stated. The deputy added: “The upcoming days will reveal that the conclusions of some parties in this regard were not true.”According to Majdalani, it was still too early to speak about electoral alliances.

Hariri Points to Imminent Major Political Agreement
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri pointed to a very wide political agreement that would improve the situation in the country, saying that the only way to move forward was to have the majority of Lebanon’s political components within the government. During a meeting on Thursday with a delegation from Beirut’s associations and social organizations, Hariri said: “There is a major disagreement over regional affairs with some parties in the country, such as Hezbollah. But this does not mean that we are unable to establish a dialogue for the benefit of the country, to secure electricity, water, communications, hospitals, the environment or waste disposal.”The Lebanese premier stressed that the most important factor for the development of the economy was political and security stability. He underlined in this regard the need to commit to the policy of dissociation from regional conflicts “in words and deeds, because Lebanon is no longer able to tolerate to have problems with its friends and brothers, whether in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf.”“We want the best relations with the Kingdom because it has never deceived Lebanon. We will continue this process and I assure you that relations with the Kingdom will be at their best,” he added. Hariri commented on the US president’s decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it “unfair to the peace process and to the rights of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and Christians.”“The Lebanese state condemns and rejects this decision,” he affirmed.
The Lebanese premier went on to say: “Today, for the first time in years, we see that the Palestinian issue has returned to the forefront, and there is an international, Arab, Islamic and Christian consensus to reject the American decision.”

Lebanon Conducts First-Ever Census of Palestinian Refugees
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/17/More than 174,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, authorities announced Thursday, in the first-ever census of its kind for a country where demographics have long been a sensitive subject. The census was carried out by the government's Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in 12 Palestinian camps as well as 156 informal "gatherings" across the country. The result of 174,422 Palestinian refugees is much lower than previous estimates of up to 500,000. Palestinians began taking refuge in Lebanon with the creation of Israel in 1948, setting up camps that have since transformed into bustling, urban districts. But their presence has long been a controversial in Lebanon, with many blaming it for the eruption of the bitter war that ravaged the country between 1975 and 1990. Lebanon has not carried out a census of its own citizens since 1932, making the 2017 count even more remarkable. It sheds light on the living conditions of 174,422 Palestinian refugees, as well as another 18,601 Palestinians who fled the neighboring conflict in Syria to camps in Lebanon. It found the population split evenly between men and women, but nearly half of the total are 24 or younger. Around 7.2 percent are illiterate, but an impressive 93.6 percent of children aged between three to 13 were enrolled in schools. Around 18 percent of the workforce is unemployed. Lebanon's Palestinian camps suffer serious problems, with varying degrees of poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure. Announcing the results, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanon had a "duty" towards Palestinians. "Over the past decades, the social and humanitarian problems faced by Palestinian refugees have accumulated, and the reality in the camps has become tragic on all levels," Hariri said at the Grand Serail. But he insisted Lebanon would, under no circumstances, accept their naturalization.Palestinian officials have also consistently rejected permanent resettlement in Lebanon because of their longstanding demand that those who fled or were forced out of their homes with the creation of Israel be granted the right of return. The census result is much lower than the 469,331 people registered in Lebanon with the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency. "UNRWA does not have a headcount of Palestinian refugees who are currently residing in Lebanon. What we have as an agency are official registration records for the number of registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon," spokeswoman Huda Samra told AFP. "If someone registered with UNRWA in Lebanon decided to live outside Lebanon, they don't notify us," she said.

State Security Arrests Two on Links With Armed Groups
Naharnet/December 22/17/South Lebanon police arrested two Syrian nationals in the southern towns of Hasbaya and Nabatieh on charges of collaborating with terror armed groups in Syria, the National News Agency reported on Friday. The General Directorate of State Security in Nabatieh had closely monitored the suspects to find that they have been contacting with jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance and al-Nusra Front in addition to more armed groups in Syria's Beit Jinn and Maghar al-Mir, NNA said. The suspects confessed during interrogations to have smuggled several individuals, including a Lebanese radical to Beit Jinn, NNA said. They said they had provided the terror groups in Beit Jinn and Maghar al-Mir with raw materials and military and medical supplies.

Hariri: This is the Best Time to Invest in Lebanon
Naharnet/December 22/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Thursday that “this is the best time to invest in Lebanon,” after the Lebanese showed “wisdom” during the November political crisis.“This is the best time to invest in Lebanon because, thanks to this political stability and security in our country, we have been able to establish that the country is capable of confronting crises in a wise manner,” Hariri said during a discussion with the participants in the Global Business Summit, organized by Endeavor Lebanon and LIFE at the Four Seasons Hotel. He added that the government's goal is to ensure that the fiscal deficit will not increase from 2017 to 2018, and that the country will be able to meet all financial challenges next year. “Over the course of this year, we achieved many things. People did not believe at first and thought that this consensus could explode at any time. But it enabled us to overcome a very difficult situation in a wise way,” Hariri said. As for Lebanon's ties with Arab Gulf countries, the premier said: “I think the Gulf has a problem with one political party and not with the whole of Lebanon. The Gulf is not going to take steps against all of Lebanon.”“I assure you that we have the best relationship with Saudi Arabia and very good relationship with the UAE and most of the Gulf,” he added. “We will make sure that our disassociation policy will satisfy everyone and not only Lebanon,” Hariri reassured.

Report: Lebanon Tourism Anticipates Better European Arrivals in 2018
Naharnet/December 22/17/Before the political crisis following the, now-reversed resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, tourism sectors in Lebanon expected to achieve occupancy rates during the holiday season much larger than the current rates. However, they believe the activity is better than last year, as inspired by Tourism Minister Avedis Kedanian's projects who announced that “2018 is the year of tourism in Lebanon.”Kedanian told al-Joumhouria daily on Friday that the “bookings during the current holiday season are very acceptable due to the political crisis that Lebanon experienced during the past month,” adding that “hotel reservations during the holidays belong to Lebanese expatriates and to visitors from Europe.”The number of European tourists in the second half of this year, “indicate a 15 percent increase compared to 2016,” he said. Adding, that the number of tourists during November, when the country experienced a major political crisis, “rose by 1 percent compared to November last year, contrary to what was expected.”The number of French tourists during the month “rose 19.10 percent, Germans 13.15 percent, Britons 6.23 percent and Italians 23.79 percent,” he noted. Kedanian noted that the number of tourist arrivals to Lebanon until November 2017 reached 1.715 million visitors. “We have exceeded the total number of arrivals during 2016, which amounted to 1.688 million visitors." "By the beginning of 2018, Lebanon will receive groups of tour operators from Europe and conference organizers at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism, to explore tourism on the ground,” he said. He noted that convention tourism will activate tourist traffic in the winter, which will provide functional movement throughout the year. Kedanian also said the number of European tourists will grow more in 2018, “because Lebanon has become part of the tourist package program for the year 2018 in the travel and tourism companies in Germany, France and Britain.” He concluded saying that “2018 is the year of tourism in Lebanon. We will witness remarkable development in tourism. We are trying to open up new markets in parallel with the Arab and Gulf markets, regardless of the political problems and the embargo imposed on Lebanon. We are also counting on opening the land border between Syria and Jordan, which will allow Lebanon to re-attract large numbers of Jordanian tourists. "

Guterres Extends STL Mandate for Another Three Years
Naharnet/December 22/17/U.N. chief Antonio Guterres has extended the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for a period of three years starting March 1. In a tweet, the STL welcomed Guterres' decision and thanked the U.N. for "its commitment to support the STL's work in the fight against impunity for major crimes, in order to bring those responsible to justice."The STL was created in 2007 to try those responsible for the 2005 assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri. It has indicted five Hizbullah operatives in the case and an in-absentia trial is underway.

Bassil Presents Draft Law Extending Registration Deadline for Lebanese Expats Vote
Naharnet/December 22/17/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Friday said he submitted a draft law to extend the deadline for Lebanese expats to register their names in order to vote in the country’s' parliamentary elections slated in May 2018. “I have presented a draft law to the government asking for the extension of the deadline set for Lebanese expats to register for the parliamentary polls,” he said on Twitter. The Minister said the “previous experiment” was successful and there is still time “plus, tens of Lebanese wish to register and cast their votes. We are ready for that. Anyone wishes to prevent them?” he asked. In November, Bassil said that more than 85,000 Lebanese expatriates registered to vote from abroad in the elections. The “first-time mechanism” allows expats to submit the required documents online which are forwarded to the Interior Ministry for validation.

Aoun deems U.N resolution on Jerusalem testimony to Palestinian cause
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - President of the Republic Michel Aoun on Friday hailed the U.N. General Assembly's resolution on Quds, describing it as a "triumph for rights and testimony to the Palestinian cause."The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to reject the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the motion approved with 128 votes in favor, nine against, while 35 countries abstained. President Aoun underlined the need to uphold the legitimate international resolutions and to avoid any unilateral measures inconsistent with them. On the other hand, Aoun met with the Italian Army Chief-of-Staff, former UNIFIL Commander in Lebanon, General Claudio Graziano, in the presence of Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Massimo Marotti. Aoun expressed appreciation of the role played by the Italian contingent operating within UNIFIL in south Lebanon, heaping praise on "the performance of the Italian peacekeepers and their relationship with the people there." General Graziano affirmed that supporting Lebanon is a priority for Italy, especially in terms of preserving its pluralism. Graziano also stressed Italy's support for the Lebanese army and military, as well as its commitment to continue to participate in UNIFIL in compliance with Resolution 1701 mandate and in the bilateral military mission that oversees training courses for the Republican Guard. On the other hand, Aoun met with the head of the French-Lebanese Friendship Society in the French National Assembly MP Loic Kervran, in the presence of MP Simon Abi Ramia. Talks touched on the Lebanese-French relations.

Rahi meets UAE Ambassador in Bkirki

Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi met on Friday at Bkirki with UAE Ambassador to Lebanon, Hamad Saeed Al-Shamsi.

Aoun receives Stouh Beirut Association: Caring for persons with special needs duty
Fri 22 Dec 2017 /NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, on Friday categorically emphasized that caring for people with special needs is a duty for all the Lebanese, indicating that disability should not be a reason for discrimination between one person or another. President Aoun's fresh stance came during his reception at the Baabda palace with a delegation of "Stouh Beirut" Association, led by media figure Dalia Dagher, in the presence of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese, Metropolitan Edward Daher, and the 14-year old youngster Shadi Kalostian, who suffers a rare genetic defect since birth. Kalostian has shown earlier a desire to meet President Aoun, who immediately took the initiative to make his wish come true. Speaking about the purpose of the visit, Dagher said that "the Association is organizing tomorrow [Saturday] Telethon 2017 via OTV Channel on the occasion of the festive season, aimed at addressing and lending a hand to highly rare humanitarian cases."

Geagea, Foucher tackle current developments
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Friday met at Meerab residence with French Ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on most recent political developments in Lebanon and the broad region.  Ireland's Prime Minister visits UNIFIL headquarter in Naqoura. Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Irish Prime Minister Leo Eric Varadkar on Friday visited UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura and the main base of his Country's contingent operating within UNIFIL in the southern town of Tairi. Upon arrival, Premier Varadkar was greeted by UNIFIL General Commander Michael Beary. The Irish PM laid a wreath on the memorial statue to commemorate more than 300 UNIFIL peacekeepers- 47 of whom were from Ireland- who had fallen in duty in southern Lebanon. Major General Beary briefed Varadkar and his accompanying delegation on UNIFIL's decisive work with the concerned sides which resulted in 11 years of unprecedented calm and stability in southern Lebanon. Later, Premier Varadkar visited the base of his country's contingent operating within UNIFIL in the town of Tairi.

State Security apprehends Syrian in Arsal for links to Nusra
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - A State Security patrol arrested the Syrian, identified as Zaki S., in the town of Arsal for links to the terrorist Nusra Front. After interrogation, the detained Syrian admitted that he belongs to the Nusra Front and has participated in the fighting in Syria's Kalamoun.
He also admitted that he has carried out terrorist acts in the town of Arsal. The detained Syrian was referred to the concerned judiciary.

Finance Ministry: Airport customs seizes 31 kg of cocaine hidden in baggage of Venezuelan passenger
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Finance Ministry issued the following statement: "As a result of strict measures by the Customs Authority and its general directorate, and based on the instructions of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, the Rafic Hariri International Airport Customs seized 31 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside the luggage of an elderly Venezuelan passenger coming From Venezuela via Paris." Minister Khalil has given instructions earlier for strict measures especially over the holidays.

Mashnouq presides over extraordinary meeting of Internal Security Council
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Interior and Municipalities Minister Nuhad Mashnouq Friday stressed the need to intensify security measures over the holiday to maintain order in the various Lebanese territories and to enhance the safety of citizens. Minister Mashnouq also called on the civil defense and fire brigades to remain geared up during the festive season. Mashnouq presided over the extraordinary meeting of the Central Internal Security Council, at the Interior Ministry, attended by senior security officers.

Rebecca Dykes' Family: We thank Lebanese authorities, instructing judge for pursuing inquiries into Becky's death
Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Attorney Antoine Abou Dib issued the following statement: "As the representative of Philip Dykes, the father of the late Rebecca Dykes, I bring to your attention a message from the Dykes family on the occasion of their departure from Lebanon, today, with the body of Rebecca.
The past week has been the most difficult of our lives, but we would like to extend our thanks to the Lebanese authorities, and the instructing judge, for the diligence and care they have shown in pursuing their inquiries into Becky's death. We were glad to know from our lawyer that the instructing judge took particular care to guarantee the defendant's rights, ensuring that he can speak freely about what happened in a court of law. We have taken comfort from the support that we have received from the Lebanese people, among whom Becky was proud to work. We would like to reiterate our request for continued respect for our privacy as we grieve as a family."

Army Commander inspects military units in Akkar, Ras Balbek and Arsal

Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on Friday inspected the first and second land border regiments in Akkar and Ras Baalbek and the 9th Infantry Brigade in Arsal region, to have firsthand look at the field measures to control the border and maintain the security of border towns and villages. General Aoun congratulated the military servicemen on the festive season, hailing their efforts and sacrifices to protect the borders and prevent infiltration and smuggling operations." The Army Commander stressed that the security stability in the country is better than ever, due to the defeat of the terrorist organizations on the eastern border, and the daily achievements of the army in dismantling terrorist cells and the arrest of those previously involved in terrorist acts which targeted the army and citizens. General Aoun underlined the army's full readiness and capability to face any external or internal threat.

Army Commander, Graziano tackle bilateral military relations

Fri 22 Dec 2017/NNA - Army Commander Joseph Aoun on Friday met at his Yarzeh office with the Chief of the Italian Defense General Staff, General Claudio Graziano, in the presence of Italian Ambassador to Lebanon, Massimo Marotti, and Embassy Military Attaché. Talks reportedly touched on the general situation and the bilateral relations between the armies of both countries. Talks also dwelt on the mission of the Italian contingent operating within UNIFIL in Lebanon.

The Growing Risk of an Israel-Iran Confrontation in Syria/مايكل هرزوك: ازدياد أخطار المواجهة الإسرائيلية-الإيرانية في سوريا
Michael Herzog/The Washington Institute/December 2017
Click here to read the article in PDF formate
The push by Iran to fill the void created by the defeat of the Islamic State looms large in Israel’s strategic landscape. If the current trajectory persists, these two determined regional actors could increasingly face each other in Syria and eventually slide into confrontation. Tehran seeks to create an enduring military presence in Syria that it can turn into a front with Israel by sponsoring permanent proxy forces such as a "Syrian Hezbollah," building a Mediterranean naval base, and establishing indigenous industries for accurate rockets. This is part of a broader strategic move to consolidate a contiguous sphere of direct influence—a "land corridor" that stretches through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Whereas Israel views such moves as a long-term strategic threat, the United States and Russia appear reluctant to confront Iran in Syria. So Israel is expanding—and increasingly acting on—its redlines in this theater.
In this timely Policy Note, Michael Herzog assesses the range of current risks and makes the compelling case that an Iran deeply entrenched in Syria will foreclose any hopes of future stability in the country.
Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, is the Israel-based Milton Fine International Fellow of The Washington Institute. He previously served as head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division and as senior military aide and advisor and chief of staff to four Israeli ministers of defense.

Serious setback for Israel on Golan border. Syria and Hizballah bisect Beit Jinn enclave انتكاسة لإسرائيل في الجولان:الجيش السوري وحزب الله يسيطرون على بلدة بيت جن
Debka File/December 22/ 2017
Syrian and Hizballah forces have seized a key village in the strategic Beit Jinn enclave north of Israeli Golan, just 4km from IDF Hermon positions.
The village of Mahar Al-Mir was captured in two days of fighting ending Friday, Dec. 22. Mostly populated by Syrian Druzes, the village was held until now by Syrian rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Syria and Hizballah claim that this group was sustained by arms and logistic support from Israel. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, by capturing the village, the Syrian-Hizballah force has managed to split the rebel forces into two parts, each of them effectively under siege.
Israel has repeatedly sent out warnings that Hizballah would not be permitted to come near its Golan border, yet the IDF did not raise a finger to save Mahar Al-Mir. Since its fall, the rebel chiefs offered to retreat from the enclave without a fight. This development, our military sources stress, would bring Syrian and Hizballah troops right up to the Syrian-Israel borderline running through the Hermon foothills up to northern Golan.
Syria and Izbal Hizballah intend using the fall of Beit Jinn and the rebel forces’ retreat as a fulcrum for rooting out the influence Israel maintains among the rebel groups holding the Quneitra region of Syrian Golan. In negotiations taking place on Friday, the Syrians and Hizballah informed the rebel leaders that their safe retreat was contingent on their surrender of members who liaised with the IDF, according to a list presented them. If they refused, the battle would continue until Syrian and Hizballah troops wiped out every last fighter cornered in the divided village.
The fate of Syrian rebels who collaborated with the IDF does not bear thinking of if they are turned over to the two armies. If this happens, the rebel groups holding Quneitra would lose all trust in Israel after counting on the IDF for protection.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 22-23/17
Canada condemns ballistic missile launched toward Saudi Arabia
December 21, 2017 - Ottawa, Ontario - Global Affairs Canada
Global Affairs Canada today issued the following statement:
“Canada strongly condemns the ballistic missile launched on Tuesday by Yemeni Houthi rebels toward Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. We are deeply concerned that Saudi civilians were put at risk.
“Canada calls for the respect of international law and the resumption of peace negotiations in Yemen.”

UN Security Council Unanimously Adopts New North Korea Sanctions
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted on Friday new sanctions on North Korea over its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test. The resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and demands the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 12 months. The US-drafted resolution would also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year. The United States has been calling on China to limit its oil supply to its neighbor and ally.
Friday’s move could have a significant impact on the isolated country’s struggling economy, said analysts. The resolution passed by a vote of 15 to 0, said Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations. Japan holds the presidency of the Security Council this month. North Korea on November 29 said it successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile in a “breakthrough” that puts the US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons whose warheads could withstand re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. Tensions have been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which it pursues in defiance of years of Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House. In November, North Korea called for a halt to what it called “brutal sanctions,” saying a previous round imposed after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3 constituted genocide. US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution but have proposed new, tougher sanctions to ratchet up pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan, and says its weapons programs are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. On Friday, a spokesperson for North Korea’s foreign ministry called US President Donald Trump’s recently released national security strategy the latest American policy seeking to “stifle our country and turn the entire Korean peninsula” into an outpost of American hegemony. He said Trump was seeking “total subordination of the whole world”. Speaking before the Security Council vote, analysts said the new sanctions could have a major effect on the North’s economy. “If they were enforced, the cap on oil would be devastating for North Korea’s haulage industry, for North Koreans who use generators at home or for productive activities, and for (state-owned enterprises) that do the same,” said Peter Ward, a columnist for NK News, a website that tracks North Korea. The forced repatriation of foreign workers would also cut off vital sources of foreign currency and investment not only for the government but also for North Korea’s emerging market economy, he said. “If such sanctions were enforced, they would thus impede and endanger North Korea’s economic development.”Asked about the effects of sanctions before these latest proposals were announced, Michael Kirby, who led a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, said cutting off fuel imports would be “a very serious step”. “Cutting off oil, petroleum supplies, would obviously have a very big impact on the ordinary population,” he said. China, which supplies most of North Korea’s oil, has backed successive rounds of UN sanctions but had resisted past US calls to cut off supplies to its neighbor.

2 Palestinians Killed in Gaza during Protests against Trump’s Jerusalem Decision
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops on Friday during protests in Gaza against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a health official said. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said a 24-year-old and a 29-year-old were killed by live fire in clashes along the border with Israel. Another 45 Palestinians were wounded, he said, half of them shot with live ammunition and the rest with rubber bullets. Others were overcome by tear gas. A UN General Assembly resolution passed on Thursday, rejecting Trump’s December 6 Jerusalem declaration, did little to calm Palestinian anger over his reversal of decades-old US policy on the contested holy city. Instead, thousands of Palestinian protesters, many of them throwing rocks, confronted Israeli security forces along the Gaza border fence, in all of occupied West Bank’s seven cities and in East Jerusalem. In Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, smoke from burning tires billowed in the street, just two days before Christmas celebrations.In a statement, the Israeli military said some 2,000 Palestinians had faced off against the troops at the Gaza border fence. It said the crowd threw stones and rolled burning tires at soldiers, who responded with “riot dispersal” measures and “fired live rounds selectively towards main instigators”. Palestinian health officials said at least one Palestinian suffered a live bullet wound in the West Bank and some 30 protesters were hit by rubber bullets. The military, putting the number of demonstrators at about 1,700 and the injured at six, said troops faced firebombs, rocks and burning tires. Protests have been held daily since Trump’s announcement. On Thursday, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution calling for the United States to drop recognition of Jerusalem, a city revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians, as Israel’s capital. Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally. Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled. Nine countries voted against the UN resolution and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote. Friday’s deaths in Gaza raised to 10 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire since December 6, Palestinian health officials said. Dozens of protesters have been wounded. Amnesty International on Friday called on Israeli authorities to stop using “excessive force”. “The fact that live ammunition has been used during protests in Gaza and the West Bank is particularly shocking,” it said. In the run-up to the UN vote, Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the resolution. His warning appeared to have some impact, with more countries abstaining and rejecting the document than usually associated with Palestinian-related resolutions. But most of the European Union, Israel’s biggest trading partner, and countries such as Greece, Cyprus and India, with which Netanyahu has pursued closer relations and economic ties, backed the resolution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on a visit to Paris urged France and Europe to play a stronger role in peace efforts, insisting he'll no longer accept any US plans for Mideast peace because of the Trump's position on Jerusalem. The US is "no longer an honest mediator in the peace process,” he added after meeting President Emmanuel Macron.

De Mistura in Moscow to 'Conform' Damascus' Stance
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura held on Thursday talks with Russia’s Foreign and Defense ministers Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu in Moscow in an attempt to convince the Russian side to “conform” Damascus’ position, after the eighth round of the Geneva talks last week revealed the Syrian regime delegation’s “retreat” from its previous stands. Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that head of the Damascus delegation to the Geneva peace talks, Bashar Jaafari demanded that “his country be completely cleared from terrorists before discussing the files of the constitution and the elections.”De Mistura's visit to Moscow on Thursday coincided with the Astana meetings held in the presence of representatives from Russia, Turkey and Iran, in addition to representatives from both the Syrian regime and the opposition. Talks about issues related to a political settlement in Syria prevailed over the meeting. Speaking in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, ahead of the new round of Syrian peace talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev said delegation of the three countries have discussed preparing the ground for the Syrian People's Congress expected in Sochi. He said that the delegations discussed all sides of the Congress, including the date for the congress and the list of delegates. The US Defense Department accused Russia Thursday of intentionally violating an agreement meant to avoid military accidents in the skies over Syria after two US F-22 fighter jets intercepted last week two Russian Su-25 attack jets and fired warning flares after the Russian aircraft flew east of the Euphrates River. “Russia is failing to genuinely deconflict airspace in Syria. Some of these incidents are not mistakes,” Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White told CNN.

Abbas Meets Macron: US No Longer Honest Mediator in Peace Process
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed on Friday a possible role for the United States in a future peace process in wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Speaking during a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, he declared: “The United States are no longer an honest mediator in the peace process, we will not accept any plan put forward by the United States.”The United States has “disqualified” itself from the Middle East peace process due to its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he added. Abbas also condemned a threat by Trump to cut off financial aid to countries that voted at the United Nations against the Washington’s decision on Jerusalem. He stressed that Saudi Arabia has “never hesitated in supporting us and it refuses to interfere in our internal affairs.”Abbas had held talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday. King Salman informed Abbas that Riyadh will never accept a solution to the Palestinian crisis that does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. On Thursday, more than 120 countries defied Trump and voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the US to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Macron reiterated on Friday that France remained committed to a “two-state” solution, namely one in which Israel and Palestine peacefully coexist side-by-side with one another.
Macron added that France would recognize a Palestinian state “at the right time”, and not under pressure.

Sochi-Hosted Syrian Congress of National Dialogue Set for End of January
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Russia, Iran and Turkey announced on Friday that a Syrian congress of national dialogue will be held in the Russian city of Sochi on January 29-30. The United Nations meanwhile urged them to support the struggling Geneva peace process. Moscow, Tehran and Ankara announced the date in a joint statement after talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, which also involved the Damascus government and some opposition groups. But the trio has yet to agree a list of participants - Turkey has earlier objected to the presence of the main Syrian Kurdish group - and confirm their participation. Some rebels said they had not yet made up their mind. UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who also attended the Astana talks, said that Russia’s plan to convene the congress should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the UN-led Geneva talks on ending the war in Syria.
Opposition groups present at the talks sided with him. “As for the Sochi conference…the United Nations assesses any (such) initiative through its role and its help in achieving peace,” the rebel delegation said. “We told the Russians that Sochi will not be an alternative to Geneva, and we want to end the misery of the Syrian people and let humanitarian aid in,” Ahmed Tohme, the head of the delegation, said in the statement.

Australia to End Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria
Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017/Australian warplanes will end their air strikes against ISIS terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, Defense Minister Marise Payne announced Friday, with the country's six hornet jets heading home after a three-year mission. The decision follows ISIS losing its two main hubs, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Payne said Canberra had decided to scale back its mission after consultations with coalition allies following more than 2,700 sorties. "The battlefield success against ISIS means our own Operation OKRA has now reached a natural transition point and our strike aircraft will begin returning home early in the New Year," she told a media conference. "Since October 2014, our Hornet pilots and support personnel have made a significant contribution in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and I commend all the personnel who have contributed over this period for their dedication, skill and professionalism."Based in the Middle East, Australia's Air Task Group consists of six F/A-18 Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, and a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker and Transport plane. While the hornets are returning, the Wedgetail and the refueling plane will continue to support coalition operations and around 380 personnel will stay to train Iraqi forces. The United States first sent warplanes in August 2014 to carry out strikes against ISIS. A coalition was formed soon after with the support of around 60 nations, although only a handful such as Australia, Britain and France have played a significant military role.

Iraqi President Sponsors Direct Dialogue between Baghdad, Erbil

Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/2017//Dialogue between Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will be held early next year and sponsored by a UN third-party, according to MP Majid Shankali of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). MP Shankali stressed that the Iraqi President Fuad Masum is exerting all efforts to find a way out of the current crisis between Baghdad and Erbil, especially after Kurdistan government announced it respected the Iraqi constitution. Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani stressed KRG’s commitment to negotiations with Baghdad within the framework of the constitution. Speaking during an interview on Thursday, Barzani indicated: "We stressed that the Kurdistan Region wants its problems with Baghdad to be resolved within the framework of the Iraqi constitution." The PM stated that the dialogue is supported internationally especially Germany and France who were in contact with each other, which he visited recently. "Chancellor Merkel stressed that they want to jointly support talks and to resolve Erbil-Baghdad issues," added Barzani. MP Shankali told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the dialogue will begin at the beginning of next year and under the auspices of an international representative of the United Nations, given that both parties have lost confidence in one another. He pointed out: "It is urgent for a binding dialogue between Iraq and Kurdistan sponsored by a third party in order to establish all things clearly and explicitly to prevent the repetition of previous crises, especially since the two parties have already signed more than one agreement, but haven't committed to any." Shankali explained that it is obvious Prime Minister Haider Abadi is under international pressure, especially by the United States, as well as Germany and France, so it is now up to him if he wants be prime minister of all Iraq. When asked what is required of Abadi, Shankali said that the government should pay the salaries of Kurdistan to avoid escalating the crisis in the region and reaching other areas. Abadi earlier indicated that officials are auditing the salaries of the region's employees to ensure there aren't any fake ones, however, Shankali believes this is an excuse because no official delegation arrived at Erbil. Sherwan al-Waeli, presidential adviser for security policy, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the president's request for dialogue is based on his constitutional responsibilities and his keenness on the importance of stabilizing the situation all over Iraq. He added that the President held several meetings and dialogues over the past period with all parties for in order to conduct a productive dialogue. Waeli added that the President proposed the formation of a quadripartite committee for dialogue, which will be sponsored by the Presidency, the Prime Minister, the Speaker, and government of the Kurdistan, in order to determine how the talks will be conducted and what issues to discuss. "The current situation in Kurdistan can't afford any delay, and things must be resolved in accordance with the constitution, which everyone announced their committment to," he concluded.

Catalan Separatists Deal Blow to Madrid
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/17/ With their leaders in exile or jail, Catalan separatists scrambled Friday to reap the benefits of defeating Spain's central government in a divisive regional election. Madrid had called Thursday's vote after secessionists declared independence on October 27, amid Spain's worst political crisis since democracy was reinstated following dictator Franco's death in 1975. The vote was widely seen as a moment of truth on the independence question, a hugely divisive issue for the wealthy northern region, that has rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.
But with the secessionists maintaining their parliamentary majority, the move to call snap polls appeared to backfire against Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had sacked the regional government and dissolved its parliament.
Still, in a clear indicator of the gulf over independence afflicting Catalan society, anti-secessionist centrist party Ciudadanos won the biggest individual result with 37 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament. Unless the three pro-independence lists fail to clinch a deal to work together in the coming months, however, they will govern Catalonia with 70 seats -- two less than their previous tally. "This is a result which no one can dispute," deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium. "The Spanish state was defeated. Rajoy and his allies lost," he told reporters.
- 'Biggest loser is Rajoy' -Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list secured the best result of the three separatist groupings. "The biggest loser of election night was the People's Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which obtained only three seats," said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. How the independence camp will rule remains a mystery, however -- and should its leaders fail to put their house in order, Catalans may even have to return to the polls. "It is unclear whether Puigdemont will be able to be re-appointed... as he will be arrested if he comes back to Spain," Barroso said. "As a result, the investiture process will be far from straightforward, and the risk of new elections in 2018 remains high," he added.
"The investiture of a new first minister is likely to be a protracted and noisy process," he said. Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium and tried to rally international support for the separatist cause, faces charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds in Spain. Other independence leaders, including Puigdemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras, are behind bars pending trial.
In a news conference in Brussels on Friday, Puigdemont said he was ready to hold talks with Rajoy outside of Spain. Rajoy had yet to respond early Friday afternoon. He has repeatedly said there can be no talks unless separatists abandon their independence drive. So far the EU has backed Rajoy, saying it supports constitutional order, and that it is an internal matter for Spain.
The European Commission stressed its stance remained the same regardless of the result of the vote.
- 'Sit down and talk' -Ciudadanos's candidate Ines Arrimadas saw the glass half-full for the anti-independence side. The fragmented vote result shows Spain and the world "that here in Catalonia there has never been a secessionist majority", she told reporters. One pro-independence voter, 50-year-old marketing specialist Francesc Portella, said of Thursday's result: "The message to Spain is, sit down and talk."Rajoy may speak in the afternoon after a meeting of his party, which saw its number of seats in the Catalan parliament slashed from 11 to just three. Pablo Casado of Rajoy's PP party warned the separatists that "whatever new government rules the region, (the separatists) know the consequences for breaking the law." Crucially, however, the pro-independence camp is not expected to attempt another breakaway from Spain but rather try to enter into negotiations with Madrid. For all the talk that the separatist cause had been legitimised, analysts predict a softening around the edges of the independence bid. The Catalan business elite, some of whose members have close links with Puigdemont's party, "know that they have to give a fresh boost to tourism and the economy", sociologist Narciso Michavila told AFP.
At stake in the crisis is the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,100 companies -- including the largest banks, utilities and insurers -- move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

US Has 'Marginalized Itself' in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Says Macron
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/17/French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that the United States had "marginalized itself" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. "The Americans have marginalised themselves and I am trying to not do the same thing," Macron told a joint press conference with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas during which he also ruled out recognising a Palestinian state in the short term.

Abbas Says Palestinians Won't Accept any US Peace Plan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/17/Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Friday that his people would "no longer accept" any peace plan proposed by the United States following Washington's decision to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Trump administration has been preparing a plan in secret which is expected to be presented to the two sides in 2018. "The United States has proven to be a dishonest mediator in the peace process and we will no longer accept any plan from the United States," Abbas said after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. He also hit out at efforts by the US to intimidate countries ahead of a vote at the UN on Thursday which saw 128 countries condemn Washington's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. "I hope that the others will learn the lesson and understand that you cannot impose solutions by using money and trying to buy off countries," he added. US Ambassador Nikki Haley, noting that Washington made "generous contributions" to the United Nations, had warned that the vote would affect "how Americans... look at countries who disrespect us in the UN." Macron repeated his earlier condemnations of the US decision on Jerusalem, but he also ruled out recognising Palestine as a state unilaterally which France has mooted previously. "The Americans have marginalised themselves and I am trying to not do the same thing," Macron told the joint press conference with Abbas. He added: "The solution will be built around two states so inevitably there will be a moment in the process when there is recognition. I want to do it at a moment that will help build peace on the ground." Macron has also ruled out launching a fresh French peace initiative in the short term, saying he is waiting to see what happens with the American effort which Abbas rejected on Friday. The 40-year-old French leader has stepped up his meetings with leaders from the Middle East in recent weeks, hosting Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris less than a fortnight ago. Jordanian King Abdullah II visited on Thursday, the day before Abbas' arrival. Macron said he would visit the Palestinian territories in 2018. "I have committed myself very clearly to doing everything" to further the peace process, Macron said. Abbas praised Macron's efforts as a mediator. "We have trust in you. We respect the efforts made by you and we count heavily on your efforts," he said.

Major Powers Sramble to Agree on Syria Peace Plan
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/17/Key powerbrokers were scrambling Friday over plans to speed up a political settlement in Syria, with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura joining a second day of talks after negotiations in Moscow. A new round of peace talks backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey began in the Kazakh capital Astana on Thursday in an attempt to revive a hobbled peace process. The second day of the talks coincides with the anniversary of a devastating and strategically crucial victory by Syrian forces in Aleppo, the country's second-largest city and once a rebel stronghold, after a blistering Russian-backed offensive. The Kremlin is hoping to convert its game-changing military intervention in Syria into a political settlement on its terms, and wants to bring together regime officials and the opposition for a "peace congress" at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Kremlin's chief negotiator Aleksandr Lavrentyev said Thursday that "quite a lot of time" at the talks had been spent on Moscow's proposal for a "Congress of National Dialogue", and the issue is likely to feature high on the agenda Friday as well. The plenary session was scheduled to begin at around 1000 GMT, the Kazakh foreign ministry said. But while both Russian officials and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have spoken enthusiastically of the plan, rebel delegates are wary and the UN has yet to endorse the plan. De Mistura, who held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday, had said that negotiations over a political settlement should proceed "one step at a time".He acknowledged that the most recent round of talks chaired by the UN in Geneva this month -- the eighth -- "was not a good meeting" as tensions between government and rebel delegations boiled over. The Syrian government's top negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari, strongly criticised de Mistura after he called for new elections in the war-torn country. Syria's opposition said Thursday that it was more important "than ever before" that Russia push Assad's government towards a political settlement. - Focus on detainees -Syria's government and opposition forces are locked in discussions over the reinforcement of the ceasefire, especially in the so-called de-escalation zones, as well as the lifting of sieges on all towns and villages and the delivery of assistance to those in need. But the opposition said Friday that the "most important issue for us is the detainee issue.""We need to reach an agreement on detainees, which will be the essential core of this round," Ahmad Tohmeh, head of the rebel delegation, told Turkish officials, according to a statement. Since the start of Syria's war in 2011, several diplomatic attempts to halt the conflict have stumbled, mainly over Assad's future. A fragile ceasefire brokered at the end of last year by Moscow and Ankara has been bolstered somewhat by the negotiations in Astana, where the most recent rounds of talks have focussed on implementing four de-escalation zones to stem fighting between government and rebel forces. But both Damascus and the rebel factions have regularly accused one another of violating the ceasefire the zones were intended to bolster. The Astana talks have run in parallel to the negotiations taking place in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations, but both sets of negotiations did not bear much fruit.
Representatives of the opposition have expressed fears the Sochi congress being promoted by Moscow could prove a distraction from the UN negotiations. Since the victory over Aleppo, Damascus has consolidated control over much of the country, wresting territory from extremist factions not party to the truce, particularly the Islamic State Group. The war in Syria has left more than 340,000 people dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/17
How Trump can repair the damage from Obama’s narcoterror fail

Jonathan Schanzer/New York Post/December 22/2017
The Obama White House systematically dismantled a top-secret government initiative called Project Cassandra, which was designed to target Hezbollah’s $1 billion in annual drug proceeds. The gripping story, by Politico’s Josh Meyer, lays bare the details of the Lebanese terrorist group’s cocaine and crime schemes, and suggests Obama allowed the activities to continue so as to not upset Iran, Hezbollah’s patron, amidst nuclear negotiations. Put aside for a moment that Obama may have provided a glide path to a terror group’s drug activities so he could pursue a deeply flawed nuclear deal that only paused Iran’s march to the bomb, yet yielded this state sponsor of terrorism some $150 billion. We’re now faced with the urgent challenge of trying to rebuild a government bureaucracy that was gutted.
Here’s what needs to happen.
First, President Trump has yet to choose a new chief for the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is an urgent need. And as my colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi noted last month in The Hill, the new pick must appreciate “the growing convergence between transnational organized crime and terrorist groups like Hezbollah.”Once the right person is in place, we need to revitalize the agency. Yes, that means more money and jumpstarting the interagency task force that fights narco-terrorism abroad. But perhaps more important, we need to clarify the DEA’s mission. This crucial component of the bureaucracy needs to focus less on domestic gangs (let law enforcement do that) and get back to the business of fighting our drug wars abroad — where they can actually be won. From there, the Treasury Department needs to swing into action. Hezbollah is already sanctioned under our terrorism program. But it must be named as a Transnational Criminal Organization and slapped with a Kingpin Act designation. This will give our economic-warfare fighters additional tools to target the group for its drug and other criminal enterprises. There’s also a role for the State Department. For years, our diplomats have ignored the severity of the problem of Hezbollah’s global drug smuggling for fear of upsetting our Latin American allies, such as Brazil and Paraguay. State needs to get these and other countries on board to tackle their homegrown narco-terrorism problem.
Foggy Bottom also needs to lean on our European partners to stop perpetuating the fiction that there’s a “political arm” of Hezbollah distinct from its “military arm.”
We’ve long known that the leadership of Hezbollah is an integrated one. And that leadership has chosen to pursue narcotics as a means to fund its terrorist operations, as well as its political activities in Lebanon. And now, as Meyer’s piece makes clear, Hezbollah’s cocaine trafficking extends into Europe. This should be a wake-up call.
Congress can also get involved. The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act, which passed the Senate and House, is bipartisan legislation that could enable the United States to target Hezbollah front companies and assets in ways that could more effectively target the terror group’s drug trade. The two chambers must reconcile the bills and pass the final version in 2018. Congress is also mulling legislation that would unmask the owners of shell companies (also known as beneficial ownership). This could help to target Hezbollah’s narco network, as well.
Finally, Congress needs to hold hearings. For the better part of a decade, the US government played down the size and scope of Hezbollah’s drug trade (it could be $4 billion or $5 billion annually according to some estimates). This was either due to gross incompetence or deliberate obfuscation. Congress needs to know which. Congress also needs to know who exactly undermined Project Cassandra, and to have them explain why. If this was all designed to pave the way for the nuclear deal, there must be ramifications. Exposing Americans to Hezbollah’s cocaine traffic hardly seems like a good tradeoff.
But our first priority is getting the DEA back into the game. The popular Netflix series “Narcos” showed America what our drug fighters and hard-working bureaucrats can do with the backing of the federal government. A future season that depicts the agency’s successful battle against Hezbollah’s drug cartel sounds binge-worthy to me.
**Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism-finance analyst for the US Department of the Treasury, is senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JSchanzer.

My Worst Columns
Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times/December 22/2017
We journalists like to boast about how many clicks our stories get, or how our columns go viral. Fair enough, but today let me show off my clunkers.
These are pieces I wrote that nobody read. Well, not nobody. I read them. My mother did. And that’s about it. These weren’t necessarily my actual worst columns — that’s just a clickbait headline — but they were among my worst read. These had an audience that was about 3 percent that of my best-read columns, and one troubling conclusion evident from a cursory look at my most-read and least-read columns is this: Trump sells, and overseas news doesn’t.
I’m not allowed to give raw numbers, which are proprietary, but I can say that on average my columns about President Trump had readership more than twice that of my columns about foreign topics. The news industry, especially television networks, understands that anything about Trump draws an audience, while pieces about overseas crises involve an unfortunate trifecta: They are expensive to cover, sometimes dangerous to report, and often do poorly with audiences. I’m grateful to my editors for letting me spend their money on these global stories, and to my readers for sticking with me as I cover them.
And now, without further ado … here are some of my worst-read columns of 2017!
Kevin Cooper is on death row in California, but even a federal judge argues that he is probably innocent and was framed by police. He’s black; if he were white, this travesty would be much less likely. Governor Jerry Brown should review the case.
One gauge of how China has become more repressive was its brutal treatment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo as he was dying. He was one of the people I admired most, and I wrote him this open letter; I don’t know if he was allowed to see it before he passed away. His brave widow, Liu Xia, remains in detention.
This was a video, not a column, looking at the disgraceful policy of sending Central American refugees back to risk death. I focused on a 14-year-old Honduran girl, Elena, who was forced into a relationship with a gang member when she was only 11. Elena personifies why refugees deserve protection.
Lots of people doubt whether humanitarian aid works. Fair enough; some doesn’t. But an inspiring example of how aid can be transformative involves a common deformity called clubfoot, in which one or both feet are turned upward. In Liberia on my win-a-trip journey, I show how it can be easily fixed — preventing a child from ending up disabled and unable to go to school or hold a job. I called it “witnessing miracles.”
President Trump has attempted to starve diplomacy while feeding the military, and in this column I argue that this is myopic and dangerous. Many of our threats can best be addressed, cheaply, by diplomacy and education, and I argue that the biggest security threat of all in recent years was Ebola — and we can’t bomb Ebola.
My annual holiday giving guide also didn’t get much traction. It offered creative ideas for much better gifts than another tie or scarf — instead, how about deworming a child?
As noted, the common thread of these poorly read columns was, disconcertingly, a spotlight on injustice or humanitarian needs, and my Trump-related columns received incomparably greater readership. But I don’t entirely despair, for my two best-read columns of 2017 were about child marriage in America and about religious hypocrisy in opposing Obamacare, and both of those also have a social justice element.
Thanks to all of you for reading my columns in 2017 — well, most of my columns, even if you did leave a few to my mom and me — and let’s hope for a calm and peaceful 2018 that gives columnists nothing to rage about.

Congress Demands Clarity on Qatar
Josh Rogin/The Washington Post/December 22/17
In July, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Doha and signed an agreement with the Qatari foreign minister to work together to combat terrorism financing. At the time, it was a clear sign from the State Department that even in the midst of a feud among the allies in the Gulf, US-Qatar relations remained on track.
Six months later, members of Congress in both parties are calling that agreement into question, mainly because it has been held by the State Department in secret. And in a twist, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has become the administration’s chief defender of the US-Qatar Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), even though she disagrees with Tillerson on how to deal with Qatar overall.
The lack of transparency is fueling lawmakers’ demands the Trump administration get tougher with Qatar about combating terrorism financing, placing both Tillerson and Haley in the uncomfortable position of defending Qatari progress — with no details to share.
“The American people have a right to know what steps Qatar’s government is taking to deter” the terrorism of Islamic groups, lawmakers led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote in a letter to Tillerson on Dec. 14. “The decision to classify the document while publicly praising Qatar’s progress toward upholding its contents makes it impossible for the public to judge Qatar’s compliance.”
After four months of requests, the State Department allowed lawmakers to view the MOU once last month, but only for a few hours in the Special Compartmentalized Information Facility inside the office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). The lawmakers stated the document does not appear to contain classified or sensitive information.
One lawmaker who saw the MOU told me there were no classified markings on the document at all, meaning the MOU may not actually be classified even though congressmen are not permitted to possess it.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J) viewed the MOU and said his concern was not just about its secrecy. The document doesn’t specify what happens to Qatar if it doesn’t make progress on combating terrorism financing, he said.
“I want to see more concrete steps on how the administration plans to enforce it,” he said. “There weren’t enough specifics and teeth. … Treasury hasn’t been aggressive enough.”
A State Department spokesman told me the MOU can’t be released because it contains classified information about foreign governments and intelligence operations. The document is a nonbinding political memorandum of understanding and does not include legally binding enforcement mechanisms but does contain political commitments by Qatar, the spokesman said.
Tillerson negotiated the memo with Qatar after Saudia Arabia launched a diplomatic and economic boycott of its neighbor, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. President Trump initially supported Saudi claims that Qatar was funding terrorist groups. Tillerson and the State Department have tried unsuccessfully so far, to broker a settlement.
Haley vigorously defended the US-Qatar MOU in a Dec. 7 letter to Congress.
“While progress is encouraging, we must demand more,” Haley wrote. “No country, including Qatar, should be allowed to support any terrorist entity without consequences.”
Haley was responding to congressional calls for her to clarify her positions on Qatar and Hamas after she stepped into controversy over the issue in October.
In her Dec. 7 letter, Haley affirmed that the United States does not condone support for any part of Hamas and does not draw any distinction between support for Hamas’ political and military wings, although the Qatari government does.
A US official at the United Nations speaking on background told me that the controversy over Haley’s written answer was the result of botched staff work rather than a reversal of policy by Haley. But the official acknowledged that while Haley is supportive of the MOU, she disagrees with Tillerson on how tough to be on Qatar overall.
Tillerson is trying to maintain the role of honest broker in the current Gulf crisis. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis agrees with this approach. Haley, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump all favor leaning harder on Qatar and encouraging the Saudis to do the same.
The confusion about the MOU and the confusion about the US administration’s Qatar policy all stem from that basic disconnect at the top of the administration. The administration’s Qatar policy suffers from not only a lack of transparency but also, more importantly, a lack of cohesion.

Corruption: Mideast’s Political Gangrene
Amir Taheri/ASharq Al Awsat/December 22/17
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987
Following the strict measures taken recently by the Saudi government against dozens of prominent figures, the issue of corruption has moved to the center of public attention in several other regional countries notably Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be sure, corruption has always been a major cause of concern in those nations, in fact, throughout the Middle East. Usually, however, it is sotto voce style people talk of corruption in high places, treating it as “one of those things”, something like drought or a locust attack about which nothing could be done. What the Saudi move has shown in a dramatic way is that given the will there is always a way to confront corruption.
In Afghanistan where billions of dollars in foreign aid seem to have evaporated leaving behind a shadow fainter than the smile of the Cheshire Cat, the government has at long last accepted that corruption does exist. A committee led by Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (Zamariani) is supposed to delve into the matter and tell the world how bad the situation is. This may lead nowhere. However, the fact that the government admits there is corruption, in itself, is welcome.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has also declared “war on corruption” as the second phase in his “war on terror”. Again, alone can do is to wait and see what all that means.
The situation in Iran is quite different. There, people even in official organs of government publicly admit that corruption is all pervasive but so far at least, offer no way of dealing with it.
Hardly a day passes without some revelation about embezzlement, bribery, and racketeering by prominent figures of the regime making the rounds in political circles. Parliament member Mahmoud Sadeqi, for example, told an open session last week that corruption in Iran had now gone beyond discernible limits and become “systemic”. “Corruption is no longer in just a few places or in this or that power,” he said. “It is everywhere in the executive, the judiciary and even in the legislative organ.”
Even parliamentarians are not allowed to check he accounts of the Majlis itself to find out what has been done with the budget allocated.
Another parliament member Hamid Reza Haj-Baba’i, has exposed what amounts to new budgeting technique, or shall we say trick, to mask cases of “systemic corruption”. The technique consists of replacing line-item allocations with bulk allocations that give individual officials or group of officials carte blanche to spend the money the way they see fit.
The technique is applied to the military budget which has increased by 42 per cent of which nearly half is allocated to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). Once the treasury has disbursed the sums involved it would be up to the IRGC itself to decide how to spend the booty.
The same technique is used for spending government subsidies which in the new budget are allocated to each province but put under the discretion of the local governor and the Friday Prayer Leader, the mull appointed by the “Supreme Guide”. The two gentlemen could subsidize whatever and whomever they like, something that no Satrap in ancient Persia could dream of.
Also using the same technique the new budget puts control of sums that Iran spends on “exporting” its revolution beyond the reach of the treasury, the Majlis or even the pantomime house that pretends to be Foreign Ministry.
The money goes to the Quds (Jerusalem) Corps with its commander General Qassem Soleimani deciding how to exercise his largesse.
The Treasury would no longer know the size of the salary allocated to Hassan Nasrallah who runs the Lebanese branch of “Hezbollah” under Gen. Soleimani’s leadership.
The scheme has angered some even within the Iranian branch of “Hezbollah.” Mansur Nazari, a prominent “Hezbollah” figure, has denounced what he regards as “murky dealings”, presumably because the Iranian branch of the pan-Khomeinist movement, is not allowed the same privileges.
Corruption, however, goes deeper and farther in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani’s new budget allocated almost $300 million to 30 private businesses supposed to propagate the Khomeinist brand of Islam. This almost 30 per cent more than what the same budget allocates as subsidies to the universities which are expected to raise their money by charging fees or attracting private donations. Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, a Tehran university professor close to Rouhani, sees this as an “anomaly.”
“People should be asked whether they want to spend so much on such things, more than they spend on protecting the environment, for example,” he says.
With almost half a million mullahs, Iran has more priests per head of population than Buddhist Tibet had Lamas before China annexed it.
In the past three years some 40 senior officials, including five bankers of the highest ranks, have fled Iran after siphoning off vast sums of money. For some reason, most have ended up in Canada. Tehran has started proceedings of extradition against only one of them, encouraging rumors that the fugitives are on money laundering missions for top figures in the regime.
“The new budget institutionalizes corruption,” says Mehrdad Vadi’i, an economics analyst. “It is a recipe for legal plundering of the country.”
The Islamic Chief Justice Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli is still to explain how he ended up having 46 personal bank accounts which amassed almost $500 million in just four years. His statement that the accounts in question are somehow linked to the judiciary and have no personal aspect has been met with derision even by many inside the regime itself.
At other levels, Rouhani’s bother Hussein Fereidun was arrested and charged with influence peddling and illegal use of public resources, including lobbying to obtain banking licenses for associates. He is also accused of registering in his name some 10 million square meters of prime land in Kish and other islands close to the Strait of Hormuz, a charge that he denies.
Add to all that the fact, publicly stated by the Interior Ministry, that the IRGC maintains 25 jetties in a number of ports through which it can import and export whatever it likes without the government knowing about it.
Meanwhile the self-made billionaire Babak Zanjani, in jail for shady dealings on oil deals, has revealed that he helped the Khomeini family build a portfolio of $8 billion in Dubai.
According to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi, the new head of the Expediency Council, Iranian fat cats - mostly mullahs and their security associates - have more than $700 billion invested abroad.
In other words the mullahs have enough to retire. And, this is the recommendation of Ayatollah Ali Mussavi Ardebili. “The clergy should leave the executive branch and attend to their proper role,” he said in a speech last week.
The key problem in Iran and, perhaps, elsewhere in the Muslim World is, perhaps, not a separation of mosque and state but a separation of business and politics.

"Court Jihad": How the French Justice System Assists Islamists
Yves Mamou/Gatestone Institute/December 22/2017
In France, all the circumlocutions for the word "terrorist" appear to have the same goal: to deny that Islamist terrorism is a coordinated movement and that Islamist warriors are mainly French citizens engaged in a war against their own country.
If you deny that terrorism is a war, you also logically have to deny that terrorists are supported, sheltered, transported and financed by a grey zone of supposedly peaceful French citizens.
In France today, the result of the denial of war is the "anti-racism" movement. Anyone who dares to question Islam or Islamism in its relation to violence and terrorism risks being hauled into court and tried as a "racist."
When members of a small French far-right nationalist group, Génération Identitaire, occupied a mosque under construction in Poitiers in 2012 and said they were celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Poitiers (732 AD), in which Charles Martel defeated the army of the Ummayad Caliphate, thereby routing the Arab invasion of France, the prosecutor of the Republic of France launched an immediate investigation for "incitement to racial hatred." Five of the activists were arrested, indicted, and this month, sentenced to one-year suspended prison sentences. The court sentenced four of them to deprivation of their civic rights (such as the right to vote in elections) for the next five years. In addition, the Génération Identitaire organization had to pay a fine of 10,000 euros, and the four activists had to pay a fine of 24,000 euros to the organization "Muslims of France" ("Musulmans de France"), which is the owner of the mosque and the legal representative in France of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement. If the fine is not paid, the activists will go to jail.
The lawyer for Génération Identitaire, Frederic Pichon, said he was "flabbergasted by the severity of the sentence" and that the decision was "political". "I cannot help comparing it with the incredible impunity that... Femen received when it burst into the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris," he said.
Pichon was referring to a 2013 incident, in which members of the feminist group Femen had burst topless into Notre Dame Cathedral, were accused of damaging a bell, and in 2015, were acquitted by the Paris court of appeals. Two of the security officers who drove the perpetrators received fines.
Members of the French nationalist group Génération Identitaire chant on the roof of a mosque (then under construction) in Poitiers, France, on October 20, 2012.
The heavy sentence against far-right activists of the Génération Identitaire, however, should not have come as a surprise. The French judicial system is simply applying a policy which claims that the new enemy of the society is not Islamism, but the traditional fascism of the extreme right. This policy, elaborated by the Ministry of Justice and applied by prosecutors, is based on two assumptions. The first is that -- despite the fact that since 2012 more than 250 people have been murdered in France by Islamic terrorism -- there is supposedly no Islamist war against France or any other non-Muslim country. Islamists killers are presumably only "lone wolves" or "mentally ill". The second assumption is that if there is no Islamist war against non-Muslims, all critics of Islam and Islamism are not exercising freedom of speech but expressing racism.
The denial of an Islamist war was established in the judiciary by Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira in 2012, under the socialist president François Hollande. Taubira staffed her ministerial office with a significant number of members of the Syndicat de la Magistrature, an Islamo-leftist union of judges.
To get an idea of what the Syndicat de la Magistrature (SM) is, its general secretary, Laurence Blisson, told the communist paper l'Humanité in 2015, after the terrorist attack against the satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo: "We are facing extremely serious criminal acts, but we are not facing a war..." Blisson was also very active in public meetings, siding with Islamist figures such as the activist grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood, Tariq Ramadan, and the founder of the Collectif contre l'islamophobie ("Collective against Islamophobia," CCIF), Marwan Muhammad.
Under Taubira, François Molins, the prosecutor of Paris, became the backbone of the fight against terrorists and the Denier-of-War-in-Chief. Molins showed great lexical inventiveness in finding different definitions each time for the same acts of terrorism: killers became "isolated and troubled"; "lone wolves"; "mentally unbalanced" or "radicalized at the last minute". One Islamist terrorist became a "neophyte". All these circumlocutions appear to have the same goal: to deny that Islamist terrorism is a coordinated movement and that Islamist warriors are mainly French citizens engaged in a war against their own country.
If you deny that terrorism is a war, you also logically have to deny that terrorists are supported, sheltered, transported and financed by a grey zone of supposedly peaceful French citizens.
The case of Jawad Bendaoud illustrates the mindset of denial of war. Bendaoud was arrested because in one of his apartments, he had sheltered two members of the Islamist cell that had committed the terrorist attacks of November 2015 at the Bataclan Theater, several cafés and the Stade de France stadium, in which more than 130 people were murdered. At first, Bendaoud, prosecuted by Molins's department of justice, was accused of being "associated with terrorist criminals for the preparation of one or more crimes to harm people". Three months later, however, when public anger calmed down, Bendaoud's crime of "terrorism" was downgraded to just "concealment of wrongdoers". Under the first charge, Bendaoud risked 20 years in prison; under the second, only three.
Another Islamist, Kobili Traore, who murdered an elderly Jew, Sarah Halimi, in spring of 2017, was immediately sent to a psychiatric hospital. For the Paris prosecutor, this Islamist was neither an Islamist nor anti-Semitic. He was regarded as just a poor, mentally-ill killer. Only a report by experts, and public pressure from the Jewish media, moved the Paris prosecutor to reconsider the charges. Sarah Halimi's murderer will now be brought to court and charged with an "anti-Semitic offense".
In France today, the result of the denial of war is the "anti-racism" movement. Anyone who dares to question Islam or Islamism in its relation to violence and terrorism risks being hauled into court and tried as a "racist."
Before 2012, the French judiciary considered "racism" a difficult matter. Most of the time, police precincts were reluctant to register a complaint on any matter related to "racism." They found the entire concept of racism ethereal and seemingly did not want to waste time on a matter where proof is so difficult to demonstrate. Even when a precinct registered a complaint, the file was never delivered to the prosecutor. If a complaint of racism was finally transmitted to prosecutor's office, it was most often carefully kept at the bottom of the pile of complaints.
In 2012, the Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, changed all that. She ordered all prosecutors to hire a "discrimination attaché", an investigative magistrate specializing in cases related to racism. She also ordered all prosecutors to work closely with "anti-racist" organizations, which means they had to get close to the Muslim "anti-Islamophobia" organizations. In January 2015, in the wake of Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Taubira ordered all prosecutors in France to pay special attention to all expressions of racism in the country. Her intentions were undoubtedly good, but since then, any kind of criticism or protest against Islam or Islamists immediately comes under suspicion of "racism". The government, possibly afraid of a civil war, began to fight anti-Islamic "hate speech".
As a consequence, a "court jihad" of trials began in France, not only against the far-right, but also against journalists, writers, academics, secular Muslims, and anyone else accused of being a "racist" if he expressed a fear of Islamism, justified or not. Spread by a constellation of Muslim organizations allied to powerful (non-Muslim) "anti-racist" associations, "jihad by court" has brought to trial people who exercised their right to freedom of speech. Many prosecutors have exceeded what was necessary to prevent abuse and the circumvention of the freedom of speech.
It will be now be interesting to see how the courts will treat two Islamists who, in mid-November 2017, penetrated the Carmel de Verdun monastery in eastern France, where nuns were celebrating Vespers. The Islamists has shouted and sung Koranic suras in Arabic, and had "encouraged" the nuns to convert to Islam. "If you do not convert to Islam," they said, "you will go to hell". On the Golden Book of the Carmel, the monastery's visitors book, they wrote "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest"). The two men were later arrested by the police. Their trial is expected in April 2018. Officially they are charged for "psychological violence" and could face up to three years in prison and a fine up to 45,000 euros.
*Yves Mamou, author and journalist, based in France, worked for two decades as a journalist for Le Monde. He is finishing a book about "Collaborators and Useful Idiots of Islamism in France," to be published in 2018.
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