December 26/17
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Merry Christmas
From the LCCC, I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the New Year with the blessings of Jesus bring justice and tranquility to our beloved Lebanon and peace of mind to our people all over the world.
Yours Truly
Eias Bejjani

Bible Quotations
Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
Philippians02/12-30/:"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky  as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.  I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,  because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me

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 25-26/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day/Elias Bejjani/From the 2015 Archive
Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia/ ANNE BARNARD and MARIA ABI-HABIB/The New York Times /December 25/17
A tribute to the Lebanese national resistance/Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/December 25/ 2017
2017 Passes as Fast as a Tweet/Ghassan Charbel/ Asharq Al-Awsat/December 25/2017
Social Media, Not Phones, Get Kids Addicted/Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/December 25/2017
France's Macron Submits to the Arab World/A Gentle Christmas Day Word of Caution/Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/December 25/2017
The year a rogue regime went from bad to worse/Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 25/2017
Mideast needs two-state solution, Pope says in Christmas message/Arab News/December 26/ 2017

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on December 25-26/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day
Al-Rahi: Lebanon Can't Bear Elimination of Any Component, Restriction of Freedoms
Aoun Says Officers Decree Lawful, Dismisses Concerns on Freedoms
Kanaan: Christian Alliance, Reconciliation Won't Collapse
Rifi: FPM, Bassil Responsible for Theft of $26 Billion
Saudi Daily Says Three 'Hizbullah Experts' Killed in Yemen
Unilateral governance doesn't work: Al-Rahi
Aoun talks feud with Berri ahead of Christmas mass
Audi presides over Christmas Mass: To immunize Lebanon against divisions, aggression
Geagea and his wife attend Christmas Mass in Bsharre
Army is watchful and will allow no one to tamper with stability, says Sarraf
Syrian arrested for belonging to Daesh
President Aoun: Judicial work must be respected
Riachi from Bkirki: Christian reconciliation was accomplished to stay
Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia
A tribute to the Lebanese national resistance

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 25-26/17
Pope Laments 'Winds of War' Blowing around the World
Russia Bars Navalny Presidential Bid
6 Dead in IS-Claimed Suicide Attack near Afghan Spy Agency
Saudi ministry reveals details related to recovery of slain Shiite judge’s body
Saudi interior ministry: Kingdom facing terrorists with links to Iran
Leaked Hezbollah, Iran documents reveal collapse of Houthis
Syrian-Iranian Backed Forces Advance In Border Area Near Northern Israel
Guatemala Announces it Will Move its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
At Least 5 Killed in ISIS Attack in Kabul
Russia on Sochi's Outputs: Constitutional Committee Approved by Assad
Bahrain Sentences to Death, Jails Terrorists for Attempting to Assassinate Defense Force Commander
Peru President Pardons Former Authoritarian Leader, Sparking Protests
Iranian Judiciary Insists on Pursuing Ahmadinejad

Latest Lebanese Related News published on December 25-26/17
Prayers & Wishes On The Christmas Holy Day
Elias Bejjani/From the 2015 Archive
Thinking of the great fatherhood love that Almighty God carries for us helps in appreciating and understanding the actual meanings of Christmas.
God for the sake of our salvation and freedom from the original sin, He sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to be incarnated, live on earth like each one of us, endure all kinds of torture, pain, humiliation and to be crucified.
Jesus made us His own and called us to carry His holy message and preach it.
Hand in hand with all those who believe in righteousness and in the ultimate prevalence of good over evil, let us ask Jesus Christ, the incarnated God, to grant peace and stability to the whole world, and to shower all the oppressed with the graces of faith, perseverance, patience, and to bestow them the power of endurance to face the hardships inflicted on them by Evil of Axis, the Syrian-Iranian occupation..
As far as oppressed Lebanon, and despite all the sufferings, the majority of our faithful and patriotic people will always hold on to the hope of Lebanon’s resurrection and to its eventual mere liberation from occupation, traitors and all evil.
History always repeats itself, and victory shall inevitably be for those Lebanese who courageously and faithfully carry Lebanon’s torch of freedom, dignity, and human rights, as has always been for the past 7,000 years.
All wishes to everyone of you, in occupied Lebanon, and in the Diaspora, to enjoy with your beloved ones a holy and glorious Christmas, and a very Happy New year.
Our great happiness as patriotic Lebanese will reach its prime when, and only when, our beloved Lebanon, home and land of our great fathers and ancestors reclaims its confiscated independence, redeems its marginalized sovereignty, restores its oppressed freedoms, and regains its hijacked free decision-making process.
Our joy and happiness in celebrating Christmas will be at peak the day:
When hundreds of our country’s arbitrarily held detainees are released from the fascist Syrian jails and horrible detention centers, where they have been deprived for many years of all their basic human rights.
When our free and patriotic comrades, individuals, leaders and dignitaries are no longer prisoners of conscience inside Lebanon, and not exposed to intimidation, fear, terrorism and assassinations
When our exiled people from South Lebanon who are taking refugee in Israel are welcomed back in Lebanon, officially and publicly with open arms.
When Lebanon’s fertile fields are again green, ploughed, sowed, guarded and harvested by our men and women.
When our factories are re-opened, productive, and run only by Lebanese hands.
When our borders are patrolled solely by the Lebanese army and security forces,
When all militias, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, are disarmed and dismantled,
When the law of the land and the legitimate authority of a sovereign Lebanese people are fully and independently applied and enforced on all Lebanon’s soil.
When conscientious and patriotic Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected freely by the people who deserve MPs who, in turn, understand that they have the obligation and the privilege to represent the people’s hopes, aspirations and wishes.
When Lebanon’s markets are open for the country’s products with no foreign hegemony or unfair and arbitrary competition.
When Lebanon’s judiciary is fair, unbiased and non-politicized, and when the judiciary and judges fully respect the constitution and abide by the law of the land and the Charter of Human Rights.
When Lebanese identity is honored and hailed by all the Lebanese communities, and is placed above all other political, regional, ethnic and religious affiliations.
Then, and only then, we can rest our case for the struggle.
Let us all pray that the birth of Our Lord Jesus will coincide this year with the re-birth of a new Lebanon that is free, independent and sovereign.
On the Holy Christmas Day, Let us pray for Peace, tranquility, Love, Forgiveness and prosperity all over the world .
Best wishes for A Merry Christmas .

Al-Rahi: Lebanon Can't Bear Elimination of Any Component, Restriction of Freedoms
Naharnet/December 25/17/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Monday warned against “the elimination of any component” while stressing that Lebanon should not restrict public freedoms. “Lebanon cannot bear the monopolization of power and posts, the elimination of any of its components, or the restriction of the public freedoms that are enshrined in the Constitution, topped by the freedoms of opinion and belief and consequently the freedoms of press, publishing and expression,” al-Rahi said in his Christmas Day sermon in Bkirki. “These freedoms must be regulated according to their laws and codes of ethics, seeing as diversity and freedom are twins that represent the joy of the Lebanese,” the patriarch added. His remarks come amid concerns that there are attempts to “isolate” certain political parties, such as the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party. They also come amid an outcry over the judiciary’s summoning of prominent talk show host Marcel Ghanem.

Aoun Says Officers Decree Lawful, Dismisses Concerns on Freedoms
Naharnet/December 25/17/President Michel Aoun on Monday noted that a decree that has sparked a row with Speaker Nabih Berri is “lawful,” asking those who have reservations to “go to the judiciary.” “Granting one-year seniority to the officers is lawful and those who have reservations should go to the judiciary,” Aoun said during an exchange with reporters in Bkirki, where he attended Christmas Day Mass.
“The officer training course was legitimate and it was stopped due to political spite. The seniority that was given to them is rightful and it only required my signature and that of the premier,” the president added. Berri has decried that the decree should have also carried the signature of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. Ain el-Tineh sources have also warned that the decree would tip sectarian balance in favor of Christians in the army’s highest echelons. Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement argue that the decree did not require the finance minister’s signature because it “does not create a financial burden,” a point that Berri and his aides have argued against. The officers in question were undergoing their first year of officer training at the Military Academy when Syrian forces ousted Aoun’s military government from Baabda in 1990. They were suspended until 1993 before they resumed their officer training course as second-year cadets. Separately, Aoun played down concerns about press freedom after prominent talk show host Marcel Ghanem was summoned to appear before a judge. “Marcel Ghanem has been summoned to testify… How many journalists are in prison? The judiciary and its work must be respected,” the president added.

Kanaan: Christian Alliance, Reconciliation Won't Collapse
Naharnet/December 25/17/Change and Reform bloc secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan has stressed that the reconciliation agreement between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces “will not collapse.”“A lot of people are trying to break the Christian alliance. They are the ones who will break. This alliance will not collapse and the reconciliation will not come to an end,” Kanaan emphasized. LF leader Samir Geagea has recently announced that the LF-FPM agreement does not stand for blind applause for FPM chief Jebran Bassil’s actions, after the latter accused the LF of violating the terms of the 2016 Maarab agreement. “An agreement means partnership and does not mean one party being at the disposal of the other,” Geagea said in an interview with al-Markazia news agency. “Supporting the presidential tenure does not mean that one party, specifically Minister Bassil, would have the right to outline all policies as the other party claps for him and applauds him,” the LF leader explained.

Rifi: FPM, Bassil Responsible for Theft of $26 Billion
Naharnet/December 25/17/Former justice minister Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi on Monday accused Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and the Free Patriotic Movement of being “responsible for the theft of $26 billion.”“The spoiled child and wonderkid Minister Jebran Bassil is boasting and acting as if he’s done us a favor by inaugurating an electrical substation in Tripoli which took seven years in the making although it should have only taken seven months,” Rifi said. “I tell Jebran Bassil, ‘Your party has assumed the responsibility of the ministry of energy and electricity for more than 12 years now and the deficit has exceeded $26 billion because of the FPM,’” the ex-minister charged. “This is the money of our children and we will hold you accountable like (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman did (with Saudi figures accused of corruption), so that we return the funds to the Lebanese treasury,” Rifi vowed. He added: “These billions are going to the pockets of electricity mafias. Today Lebanon needs 4,000 megawatts which do not cost more than $4 billion. Where is financial accountability? You say that you will sue us if we accuse you of corruption and I dare you to meet us in court.”
“The FPM and Jebran Bassil are responsible for the theft of $26 billion and after the elections we will demand the prosecution of the corrupts,” Rifi went on to say.

Saudi Daily Says Three 'Hizbullah Experts' Killed in Yemen
Naharnet/December 25/17/Three Hizbullah military experts have been killed in a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen, a Saudi daily reported on Monday.
Al-Riyadh newspaper said the strike targeted a house near the Grand Mosque in the Haradh area, which lies in the Hajjah Governorate that borders Saudi Arabia.
“One of the experts was part of the (Huthi) militias’ communications unit while the two others worked in the domain of explosives and the planting of mines, especially sea mines and the rigging of boats used by the militias on the western coast,” al-Riyadh said. “The bodies of the three Lebanese were transferred to Sanaa while the bodies of seven members of the Huthi militias were placed in the al-Thawra Hospital in Hajjah,” the newspaper added. Saudi officials had previously accused Hizbullah of offering missile expertise to the rebels, claims denied by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The accusations followed the firing of a ballistic missile from Yemen at the Saudi capital last month. Hizbullah has recently endorsed a government statement affirming that Lebanese parties would refrain from interfering in regional conflicts. The statement was part of an agreement under which Prime Minister Saad Hariri rescinded a resignation announced from Riyadh.

Unilateral governance doesn't work: Al-Rahi
The Daily Star/Dec. 25, 2017/BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Monday praised President Michel Aoun’s achievements during the first year of his term, while warning that decisions in the country should not be made unilaterally. In a sermon during a Christmas mass held in Bkirki and attended by Aoun, Rai thanked the president for what has been accomplished, saying it was the result of wise choices. "Major achievements [have been made] that, until now, had been postponed year after year, negatively impacting the public good. Every achievement is good news for the Lebanese," Rai said, addressing a crowd of politicians and military figures. The Lebanese people are eagerly awaiting unity and all political parties must work for the common good, Rai added. "Governance in Lebanon cannot be based on unilateral action or aim to eliminate one of the country’s components."He also spoke of the importance of “public freedoms,” particularly that of the press, but added that this freedom “should be based on ethical and professional regulations." He touched on poverty in the country, saying that many Lebanese cannot meet their basic needs and that they are turning to the state for support. Rai also called on the government to assist in paying teacher's salaries.He turned to the impact of refugees on Lebanon, saying that he was hopeful that Syrian and Iraqi refugees would be able to return to their countries and land, "Where they preserve their cultures and reduce the burden on Lebanon and the Lebanese."
As for the decision made by United States’ President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Rai said that "we are with the Palestinian people pained by Trump's decision. He challenged the world's will as if he wanted to erase the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution."

Aoun talks feud with Berri ahead of Christmas mass
The Daily Star/December 25, 2017 |
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Monday said that those who took issue with a recent decree promoting a number of Lebanese Army officers can go to the judiciary over the matter. Aoun's comments are the latest in a feud with Speaker Nabih Berri over the signing of the controversial decree promoting a number of Army officers who served under Aoun in the late 1980s when he was Army commander. Although Berri opposed the decree, it was signed by both Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a key political aide to Berri, did not sign the decree. "This decree was a right. ... We tried to give [these officers] at least half of what they have a right to," Aoun told reporters between meeting with Patriarch Beshara Rai and participating in the Christmas mass held at Bkirki. "Let them [those who oppose the decree] resort to the judiciary. I would be more than happy if the judiciary breaks my word," Aoun said, adding that there was no need for the decree to be circulated or signed by Khalil. "There is no financial burden from the decree for the finance minister to need to sign it. The president was also asked about possible tension with Berri over a draft law presented by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil - who also heads the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun - to extend expat voters registration for next year's Parliamentary elections until Feb. 15. "This issue can be resolved in the Cabinet. There is a committee [working on the elections]," Aoun replied. Media reports have suggested that Berri was against any extension. Aoun also touched on recent protests over what activists have cited as increased repression of freedom of speech and media censorship. "Have you seen any journalists in prison?" Aoun replied to a reporters question. He was then asked about the controversy surrounding LBCI TV host Marcel Ghanem, now facing charges of contempt and obstruction of justice for criticizing both the judiciary and the justice minister on his weekly talk show “Kalam Ennas." "There is a judicial process [that is taking place] and the judiciary and its work should be respected," Aoun said.
In his statement before taking questions, Aoun congratulated the Lebanese on the occasion of the holidays, saying that he looks forward to the next year. The president said that he was satisfied with what has been accomplished, asking those who have objections to point them out to be discussed.
The annual mass was headed by Rai and brought together many of the country's politicians and military figures.

Audi presides over Christmas Mass: To immunize Lebanon against divisions, aggression
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - Beirut Metropolitan Bishop Elias Audi called Monday for immunizing Lebanon against divisions, aggression, quotas and deals. Audi's words came as he presided over Christmas Mass at St. George Cathedral in Ashrafieh. "God has given us a beautiful homeland, but we have not realized its importance nor did we preserve it as it should be," Audi said, noting that Lebanon is a nation for all its sons regardless of their sects and affiliations. "We are all called upon to exert relentless efforts to rebuild a free and independent Lebanon, characterized by its democracy and far from narrow interests," he asserted. Bishop Audi concluded his sermon by stressing that "Lebanon must regain its role as the capital of culture, peace, tolerance, dialogue and liberty...freedom of expression, justice, rejection of violence and extremism, respect for diversity, modernism and creativity."

Geagea and his wife attend Christmas Mass in Bsharre
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces Party Chief Samir Geagea and his wife, MP Strida Geagea, joined a crowd of believers in celebrating Christmas Mass at midnight on Sunday at Mar Saba Cathedral in Bsharre. Following the Mass service, they received well-wishers at the Cathedral Hall.

Army is watchful and will allow no one to tamper with stability, says Sarraf
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - National Defense Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf stressed Monday that strict measures have been adopted by the Army and all security forces to cope with the holidays, ensuring a calm, safe and peaceful festive season for all the Lebanese. "The Army maintains a state of watchful alert and will not permit any attempt to tamper with stability and security in the country," asserted Sarraf, speaking before a delegation from Akkar region who visited him to express Christmas greetings. "While we are celebrating the holiday season in our homes and with our families, our soldiers are safeguarding our borders and preserving security in border towns and villages," Sarraf said, praising the sacrifices of army and security officers and soldiers for the sake of Lebanon. "The new year will witness more achievements for the military institution," the Defense Minister added reassuringly, hoping that "the decree of officers promotions will be signed" while stressing that "every worthy person will be recognized."

Syrian arrested for belonging to Daesh
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - State Security branch in Hermel arrested Monday at dawn Syrian national, Ahmed al-Rahil, as he was on his way from Hermel to the Bekaa, on charges of belonging to Daesh terrorist organization, NNA correspondent in Baalbek reported. The arrested, who entered Lebanon illegally from his Syrian town of al-Tabaqa in al-Raqqa, confessed during interrogation to being the legitimate official of Daesh organization, NNA correspondent added.

President Aoun: Judicial work must be respected
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, stressed Monday that everyone should respect the work of the judiciary. Touching on the issue of public liberties in the country, President Aoun questioned, "How many journalists are in prison? Where are the journalists who were referred to justice for freedom? How many journalists were sentenced?" In this context, Aoun stated that "Journalist Marcel Ghanem was summoned to testify," adding, "Even a member of parliament can be summoned to testify without prejudicing his immunity."The President's words came following his 20-minute closed meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi ahead of Christmas Mass in Bkirki this morning, with talks bordering hour issues. Responding to reporters' questions on expatriates' participation in the upcoming legislative elections, the President disclosed that "voting of expatriates is being addressed in the government by both the Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministers, who are members of the ministerial committee [tasked with the implementation of the electoral law.]" Commenting on the recent rift over the signing of a decree promoting a number of army officers, Aoun deemed that "granting one year seniority and rank to officers is a righteous demand, and any objection to this matter should be referred to the judiciary." The President added that the decree promoting officers requires both his and Prime Minister Saad Hariri's signatures.

Riachi from Bkirki: Christian reconciliation was accomplished to stay
Mon 25 Dec 2017/NNA - Minister of Information, Melhem Riachi, deemed Monday that the Christian-Christian reconciliation was achieved to stay. "The Christian-Christian reconciliation that was manifested in the Mearab agreement is ongoing and is intended to last," Riachi said during a chat with journalists in Bkirki today. Commenting on the Lebanese Forces Party's presence in Lebanon's political life, Minister Riachi asserted that "no one can dismiss or cancel the Lebanese Forces." As for the expected meeting between Geagea-Hariri, Riachi said, "everything is suitable at its right time."

Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia
نيويورك تايمز تكشف تفاصيل جديدة حول احتجاز الحريري في الرياض/الحريري كان ممنوعاً من رؤية زوجته وأولاده/الحريري أمضى الأمسية بعد خطابه مع ولي العهد محمد بن سلمان في الصحراء/جرى تهديد الحريري بتهم فساد
By ANNE BARNARD and MARIA ABI-HABIBDEC/The New York Times /December 25/17
Saad Hariri arriving at Beirut’s international airport last month, weeks after announcing his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister in Saudi Arabia. Credit Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, was summoned at 8:30 a.m. to the Saudi royal offices — unseemly early, by the kingdom’s standards — on the second day of a visit that was already far from what he had expected.
Mr. Hariri, long an ally of the Saudis, dressed that morning in jeans and a T-shirt, thinking he was going camping in the desert with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
But instead he was stripped of his cellphones, separated from all but one of his usual cluster of bodyguards, and shoved and insulted by Saudi security officers. Then came the ultimate indignity: He was handed a prewritten resignation speech and forced to read it on Saudi television.
This, it seemed, was the real reason he had been beckoned to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a day earlier: to resign under pressure and publicly blame Iran, as if he were an employee and not a sovereign leader. Before going on TV, he was not even allowed to go to the house he owns there; he had to ask guards to bring him a suit.
As bizarre as the episode was, it was just one chapter in the story of Prince Mohammed, the ambitious young heir apparent determined to shake up the power structure not just of his own country but of the entire region. At home, he has jailed hundreds of fellow princes and businessmen in what he casts as an anticorruption drive. Abroad, he has waged war in Yemen and confronted Qatar.
The day Mr. Hariri was ordered to report to Riyadh, he was just a pawn in the crown prince’s overall battle: to rein in the regional ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s longtime rival, Iran.
A poster of Mr. Hariri in Lebanon during his absence. Many Lebanese believed he was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will. Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times
This is the back story of Mr. Hariri’s long, strange sojourn in Saudi Arabia last month, as revealed in behind-the-scenes accounts from a dozen Western, Lebanese and regional officials and associates of Mr. Hariri.
Bold Moves Backfire
After delivering his speech, as his bewildered aides tried in vain to reach him from Beirut, Mr. Hariri did, indeed, eventually spend the evening in the desert with the crown prince, one senior Lebanese official said.
It was a surreal counterpoint to a series of events unfolding that day and into the night that set the entire Middle East on edge: a missile fired at Riyadh, the hundreds of Saudi princes and businessmen arrested, and Lebanon left stunned and confused.
Prince Mohammed had already launched a war in neighboring Yemen against Iran-aligned rebels, and gotten bogged down. He had blockaded Qatar, only to push the gulf country closer to Iran.
Now, he was looking to take out the prime minister of another country, one who was deemed not sufficiently obedient to his Saudi patrons. The prince intended to send a message: It was time to stop Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite organization that is Lebanon’s most influential political actor, from growing still stronger.
The prime minister’s monthlong saga was another example of a brash new leader trying to change the way Saudi Arabia has worked for years, but finding that action often results in unintended consequences, especially in such a complicated region. Now, Mr. Hariri remains in office with new popularity, and Hezbollah is stronger than before.
Hezbollah guests and representatives at a rally in a suburb of Beirut in June. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed — arguably clumsy — tactics alienated even staunch allies like the United States, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and much of Mr. Hariri’s Lebanese Sunni party. Saudi Arabia may yet clinch some modest concessions from Lebanon, officials and analysts say, but ones perhaps not worth the diplomatic storm.
The officials who described the saga were granted anonymity to speak freely about events that were highly secret and, for Mr. Hariri, deeply troubling and embarrassing. Some gaps in the story remain, given the intense pressure to keep quiet and the fact that no one person is privy to all the details — except, perhaps, Mr. Hariri, who rescinded his resignation immediately after an international diplomatic scramble brought him safely home.
Mr. Hariri did not respond to multiple requests for comment; he has said publicly that he acted freely and wants to put the Riyadh episode behind him. A senior Saudi official said in a statement only that Mr. Hariri was “treated with the utmost respect,” resigned of his own accord, and remains an “honored friend” with the kingdom’s support.
The Saudi moves that started on Nov. 4 came in rapid-fire succession. In the space of little more than a day, the Saudis extracted Mr. Hariri’s resignation; accused Iran and Lebanon of an act of war after Yemeni rebels fired a missile at Riyadh; and rounded up the princes and businessmen on opaque corruption charges. A week later, they ordered Saudi citizens to evacuate Lebanon.
The burst of contentious actions sent war tremors across the region.
With anxieties running high, Lebanese officials worked to head off what they feared was a long-range plan by Saudi Arabia to destabilize Lebanon’s volatile Palestinian refugee camps. There were even concerns in Beirut that Saudi Arabia or its Lebanese allies were seeking to form an anti-Hezbollah militia in the camps or elsewhere, two senior Lebanese officials and several Western diplomats said. No such plots came to fruition, and the Saudi official said none were even considered.
Western and Arab officials say they are still puzzling over what the Saudis hoped to accomplish with all this intrigue. Several do not rule out the possibility that they aimed to foment internal unrest in Lebanon, or even war.
Mr. Hariri meeting with the Saudi minister for gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, in Beirut in August. Credit Dalati Nohra/Government of Lebanon
What is clear, they say, is that Saudi Arabia sought to instigate a broad realignment of Lebanese politics to reduce Hezbollah’s power by forcing the collapse of Mr. Hariri’s coalition government, which includes Hezbollah and its allies.
But crafting the nimble and activist foreign policy that Prince Mohammed wants requires “a depth of understanding of political dynamics in other countries and an investment in diplomatic ties that can’t be created overnight,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
“The competition for power and influence in today’s Middle East has changed significantly,“ he said, “and the Saudis are playing catch-up, with very mixed results.”
This risks miscalculations and escalations in a region rived by wars and tensions, he said.
Pressure Points
Trouble had been brewing for years between Mr. Hariri and the Saudis.
Like his father, Rafik, before him, Mr. Hariri owed his political career and considerable family fortune to Saudi backing. But the Saudis grumbled that Mr. Hariri’s government was giving too much sway to Hezbollah, which is both a political party and a militant group not answerable to the state.
Mr. Hariri visited Riyadh in late October, and believed he had made the Saudis understand his need to compromise with Hezbollah to avoid political deadlock, officials said. Back in Beirut, to placate the Saudis, he asked Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, through intermediaries, to tone down his blistering speeches against Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen and Prince Mohammed personally.
The main market in Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, in 2014. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
That same week, a Saudi minister known as a firebrand on Iran, Thamer al-Sabhan, warned Lebanon of “astonishing” developments on the horizon and accused Hezbollah of making war on Saudi Arabia.
On Nov. 3, Mr. Hariri met with a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, who then praised Iran’s cooperation with Lebanon. That may have been the last straw for the Saudis.
Within hours, Mr. Hariri received a message from the Saudi king — Come now — ahead of a meeting that had been scheduled days later, a senior Lebanese official said. A well-connected Lebanese analyst, Johnny Munayyer, said the prime minister was invited to spend a day in the desert with the prince.
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But when he landed in Riyadh, Saudi officials took Mr. Hariri to his house and told him to wait — not for the king, but for the prince. He waited, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. No one came.
The next morning, he was summoned to meet the prince. There was no customary royal convoy, so Mr. Hariri took his own car. And instead of meeting the prince, officials said, he was manhandled by Saudi officials.
Lebanese officials described the long hours between the arrival and the resignation as a “black box.” They said they were reluctant to press Mr. Hariri for details. When asked, one of them said, Mr. Hariri just looked down at the table and said it was worse than they knew.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, at a reception in Riyadh last month. Credit Saudi Press Agency
Saudi Arabia had many pressure points to use against Mr. Hariri. It could threaten to expel the 250,000 or so Lebanese workers in Saudi Arabia, damaging Lebanon’s economy. And since Mr. Hariri is a dual Saudi citizen, with extensive business dealings in a country where kickbacks are endemic, they could threaten him personally. An Arab diplomat said Mr. Hariri was threatened with corruption charges.
The prime minister was handed a resignation speech to read, which he did at 2:30 p.m. from a room an official said was down the hall from the prince’s office. The text blamed Hezbollah and claimed his life was in danger; it used words that associates said did not sound like him.
Hours later, the Saudi authorities began their corruption roundups, detaining two of Mr. Hariri’s former business partners, a reminder of his own vulnerability.
Unrealistic Expectations
In Lebanon, Western diplomats and Lebanese officials said, the Saudis expected the resignation would be taken at face value and bring about a mass outpouring of popular support from Hezbollah’s opponents. Instead, Lebanon reacted with mass suspicion. No one took to the streets. And Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, refused to accept the resignation unless Mr. Hariri delivered it in person.
After disappearing for hours, Mr. Hariri made his first known call to Mr. Aoun, who realized that the prime minister was not speaking freely. Lebanese officials began making the rounds to puzzled Western diplomats with an unusual message: We have reason to believe our prime minister has been detained.
Mr. Hariri, the officials said, was eventually placed with Saudi guards in a guesthouse on his own property, forbidden to see his wife and children. Within days, several Western ambassadors visited him there. They came away with conflicting impressions of how free he was. There were two Saudi guards in the room, officials said, and when the diplomats asked if the guards could leave, Mr. Hariri said no, they could stay.
Mr. Hariri back home in Beirut last month. He rescinded his resignation announcement after leaving Saudi Arabia. Credit Jamal Saidi/Reuters
Lebanon’s internal intelligence chief, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, put it this way to envoys who could not quite believe a leader could be forced by foreign officials to resign, a senior official said: “It’s simple: I could bring two soldiers and put you on TV saying you hate your country.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi prince, apparently undaunted by international concerns, summoned yet another leader, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and issued instructions on Palestinian politics. Officials differ on what Mr. Abbas was told in Riyadh. But Lebanese officials were alarmed. They dispatched General Ibrahim and a Palestinian envoy to Amman, Jordan, to debrief Mr. Abbas, three senior Lebanese officials said.
Concerns were high for several reasons. The Saudi recommendations to Mr. Abbas could destabilize the fractious Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, a senior Lebanese official said. Separately, a Lebanese ally of the Saudis had urged jihadist factions in one Palestinian camp to form a “Sunni resistance” militia to counter Hezbollah — an idea so dangerous that the jihadists themselves refused, Lebanese and Palestinian officials and a Western diplomat said.
The Saudis and Mr. Abbas’s spokesman denied the accounts.
On a visit to Washington soon after Mr. Hariri’s televised resignation, Mr. Sabhan, the Saudi minister of gulf affairs, got a withering reception, Western and Arab officials said, from David M. Satterfield, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. He demanded that Mr. Sabhan explain why Riyadh was destabilizing Lebanon.
Intense diplomacy followed by France, the United States, Egypt and other countries, producing a deal that allowed Mr. Hariri to leave Saudi Arabia.
But Prince Mohammed sent him home with a task: to get Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Yemen, Lebanese officials and Western and Arab diplomats involved in the deal said. That demand proved, the Western and Arab diplomats said, that the prince was not well-informed on Yemen, sometimes called “Riyadh’s Vietnam.” Hezbollah, a Western diplomat said, had only about 50 fighters in Yemen, with Iran playing a much larger role in training and aiding the Houthi insurgents there.
To end the war in Yemen, a Lebanese official said, Beirut is “the wrong P.O. box.”
Riyadh did get something out of the turmoil. Lebanese officials are seeking a deal with Hezbollah that could include toning down Hezbollah’s anti-Saudi rhetoric — as Mr. Hariri requested even before the Riyadh episode — and shuttering a pro-Houthi television station in Beirut.
It remains unclear if Mr. Hariri can deliver enough to placate Riyadh. Mr. Nasrallah’s speeches have omitted critiques of Prince Mohammed lately, and on Wednesday, he called for peace talks in Yemen, a major step.
Then again, on Tuesday, Yemen’s Houthis fired another missile at Riyadh.
Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin from Paris, Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Nour Youssef from Cairo, David M. Halbfinger and Rami Nazzal from Ramallah, the West Bank, and Gardiner Harris from Washington.
**A version of this article appears in print on December 25, 2017, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Lebanon’s Premier Fell, Then Found His Footing. Order Reprints| Today's Paper

A tribute to the Lebanese national resistance
Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/December 25/ 2017
If you think that these words are directed to the terrorist faction organization Hezbollah in Lebanon, do not read the rest of the article.
Because these words are directed to national and honorable opinions and exceptional stances defending freedom by those who have paid the price with their health, nerves, dignity and sometimes life, to keep the voice of free opinion and truth heard.
There is a clear conflict in Lebanon today, but it has been a cumulative struggle in the hands of tyrannical regimes including the Syrian regime, which once occupied Lebanon and practiced terrorism by acting through Hezbollah. There is a systematic campaign today against free, independent, bold and different opinions.
In the campaign to suppress opinion, different methods are used to attack well-known people and to exhaust them by establishing judicial proceedings on the pretext that what they have said is “very strange”. Important people, such as Kamel Marwa and Salim al-Lawzi, have been killed by tyrants who have besieged Lebanon’s regimes and politicians.
There were those, such as Gebran Tueni and Samir Kassir, who struggled for the right to have freedom of speech and who met the same fate. May Chidiac is also in the forefront of those leading the honorable national resistance in Lebanon.
Lebanon is a country where books have been confiscated, films have been banned and Fairuz’s music banned in universities and where national dignitaries are fighting the last battle of steadfastness
Honor and dignity
Today, the battle is taking place with honor and dignity by people like Marcel Ghanem, Nadim Koteich, Giselle Khoury, Dina Makhlof, Ali El Amin, Hazem El Amin, Ali Hamada, Okab Sakr, Paula Yacoubian and others against the terrorist tyrants who know no language or dialogue except the elimination of those who disagree with them.
Lebanon is a country where books have been confiscated, films have been banned and Fairuz’s music banned in universities and where national dignitaries are fighting the last battle of steadfastness.
They are the guardians of Lebanon’s mission of freedom, art, speech and creativity without loyalty to anyone, without subordination to anyone, without reference to anyone and with no flag except that of Lebanon fluttering over them.
They are like a forgotten community, because it is the true Lebanese community that has lost its voice when confronted with those who stole the country under false slogans, destroyed the relations of its community and broke the walls of trust that existed in Lebanon’s relations with its Arab brethren.
They are the only honest national resistance. We owe them great respect, appreciation and gratitude.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 25-26/17
Pope Laments 'Winds of War' Blowing around the World
Agence France Presse/Associated Press/Naharnet/December 25/17/Lamenting "the winds of war" blowing around the world, Pope Francis in his traditional Christmas message on Monday called for a two-state solution to find peace in the Middle East and prayed that confrontation can be overcome on the Korean Peninsula.The pope took particular aim at areas of global tension where President Donald Trump is playing a critical role. Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital has ignited fresh violence in the Middle East, while confrontation with North Korea over its nuclear tests has escalated tensions in Asia. "The winds of war are blowing in our world and an outdated model of development continues to produce human, societal and environmental decline," the pope said in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and to the world") Christmas message and blessing from the central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square. As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the pope depicted suffering reflected "in the faces of little children," citing war and other tensions in the Middle East and Africa. He asked for peace for Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and prayed "that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders."Francis also prayed for an end to confrontation on the Korean Peninsula and that "mutual trust may increase."The Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to survey suffering in the world and press for solutions. Francis urged that "our hearts not be closed" as the inns of Bethlehem were to Mary and Joseph before Jesus' birth. The pontiff lamented that Syria remains "marked by war," that Iraq has been "wounded and torn" by fighting over the last 15 years and that ongoing conflict in Yemen "has been largely forgotten." Recalling his recent trip to Bangladesh and Myanmar, the pope urged the international community to work "to ensure that the dignity of the minority groups present in the region is adequately protected."The pontiff also recalled children who risk their lives at the hands of human traffickers to migrate to safer lands, who suffer because their parents don't have work or who are forced into labor themselves, sometimes fighting as child soldiers.

Russia Bars Navalny Presidential Bid
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 25/17/Russia's Central Election Commission on Monday unanimously rejected top opposition figure Alexei Navalny's bid to run against President Vladimir Putin next year, leading him to urge a boycott of the polls. The commission voted 12 to zero in barring Navalny from the presidential election, citing a controversial embezzlement conviction for which he received a five year suspended sentence. Navalny's crime qualifies as "serious" and therefore rids the individual of the right to stand for president," said commission member Boris Ebzeyev ahead of the vote, urging the body to bar him from running. The decision prompted the 41-year-old protest leader -- who maintains that the court case against him was fabricated for political reasons -- to call for a boycott of the election. "We are declaring a strike by voters. We will ask everyone to boycott these elections. We will not recognize the result," Navalny told journalists. He said he would still appeal the commission's decision. Navalny held rallies across Russia Sunday, with more than 15,000 people endorsing his candidacy. He submitted his nomination on Sunday evening and expressed suspicion when the commission announced they would make the decision as quickly as the next day. In a video published after the decision, Navalny said that offices he set up for his presidential campaign will now turn into a network for the electoral strike. "To go to polling stations now is impossible and indecent," he said."The main goal of the Kremlin will now be to falsify election turnout," he said, urging people who want to go to the polling station count the people attending instead of casting a ballot.
'Electoral strikes'
Navalny, who has campaigned across Russia in recent months, argued earlier in front of the commission that his conviction was lifted in the European Court of Human Rights, and that banning him from participation would make March's election illegitimate. "I proved in court that my case was fabricated," Navalny said, urging the commission to make a decision that would be fair and independent. "I assure you, a huge amount of people will not go to this election, would actively boycott this election" and hold "electoral strikes."In a passionate speech he accused the commission of barring true opposition figures while allowing candidates who are not interested in fighting corruption or in conducting real campaigns. In a heated exchange, commission chair Ella Panfilova told Navalny it is not in her power to lift his conviction, further accusing the protest leader of "zombifying young people". "You are young, you have everything ahead of you," she finally told Navalny. Previously he was told he would not be able to run before 2028. Navalny, who has built a sizeable campaign through his blog and YouTube on an anti-corruption platform, has called several mass rallies across Russia this year which saw an unusually high number of young people participate. Navalny was first sentenced in 2013 on the embezzlement charges, which accused him of defrauding the Kirov regional budget of about $270,000. The European Court of Human Rights last year quashed the ruling, saying it was unfair, and Russia's Supreme Court ordered a retrial. The retrial in a Russian court however gave Navalny the exact same sentence as before, using almost identical wording as the 2013 decision.

6 Dead in IS-Claimed Suicide Attack near Afghan Spy Agency
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 25/17/A suicide bomber killed six civilians in an attack near an Afghan intelligence agency compound in Kabul Monday in the latest assault claimed by the Islamic State group in the capital. The attacker struck as workers were arriving at the offices of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), a week after militants stormed an NDS training centre in Kabul. Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP six civilians in a car were killed when the attacker blew himself up. "Six people were martyred and three others were wounded," Danish said. "They were hit when they were passing the area in their Toyota sedan vehicle. We still do not know the target of the attack but it happened on the main road."The health ministry confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at one. An AFP reporter at the blast site said the attack happened outside the main entrance to an NDS compound. Security forces have swarmed into the area, closing off the main road leading to the building. Ambulances were seen leaving the scene, apparently taking casualties to hospitals in the city. "Our initial information shows a blast took place near an intelligence headquarters in Shash Darak neighbourhood of Kabul," deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP. The Islamic State claimed the attack in a statement via their Amaq propaganda arm. It was the latest claimed assault by the Middle Eastern jihadist group in Kabul, which in recent months has become one of the deadliest places in the war-torn country for civilians. Security in the city has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb ripped through the diplomatic quarter, killing some 150 people and wounding around 400 others -- mostly civilians. IS has expanded its presence in Afghanistan since it first appeared in the region in 2015. It has scaled up its attacks in Kabul, including on security installations and the country's Shiite minority. Last week's attack on the intelligence training centre triggered an intense hours-long gunbattle which killed the two militants in an assault that was also claimed by IS. The resurgent Taliban are also stepping up assaults on security installations. On Friday, in an attack claimed by the Taliban, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed Humvee into a police compound in the southern province of Kandahar, killing at least six officers and destroying a building. Afghan forces, already hard-hit by desertions and corruption, have seen casualties soar to what a U.S. watchdog has described as "shockingly high" levels since NATO forces officially ended their combat mission in 2014 and began a training and support role. Morale has been further eroded by long-running fears that the militants have insider help -- everything from infiltrators in the ranks to corrupt Afghan forces selling equipment to the Taliban.

Saudi ministry reveals details related to recovery of slain Shiite judge’s body
Al Arabiya/December 25/2017/The Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed on Monday that Shiite judge Mohammed Al-Jirani was slain by his kidnappers and revealed details related to his body's recovery. A ministry spokesman said that officials had information that Zaki Mohammed al-Farj and his brother Salman, who is among the wanted men in Saudi Arabia’s list of 23 terrorists, were among those involved in kidnapping of Jirani, killing him and hiding his body in the remote area of Salehia in Awamiya in Qatif, last year. Based on this data, security forces arrested Zaki. Salman, however, opened fire on security forces when they besieged his house. Security officer Khaled al-Sammatti was martyred during the shootout and Salman was killed. Security forces then searched the entire deserted area which is more than 2 square kilometers and found the site where Jirani’s body was buried. The body was decomposed but DNA confirmed it belonged to Jirani. Medical examination showed Jirani was shot in the chest. Preliminary investigation showed that Jirani’s kidnappers beat him up, then shot him and buried him.The interior ministry added that it will continue to combat these terror-related crimes and called on anyone who has any information about the others involved in the crime and contact the relevant authorities.Those involved in the crime are said to be Mohammed Hussein Ali al-Ammar, Maytham Ali Mohammed al-Qodeihi and Ali Bilal Saud al-Hamad.

Saudi interior ministry: Kingdom facing terrorists with links to Iran
Al Arabiya/December 25/2017/Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry spokesman has said that the kingdom is currently facing terrorist groups with ties to Iran. Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said on Monday that terrorists involved in the murder of a judge in the Department of Endowments in the eastern province of Qatif province, Mohammed al-Jirani, were tied to Iran. “Terrorism sponsors avoid leaving the evidence of their involvement to not be condemned internationally, however they form proxy groups to conduct terrorism operations that are supported and financed by them like the Houthi Militias in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Gen. al-Turki said.“We were able to expel the terrorist elements from al-Masawara neighborhood in the town of Awamiya in Qatif province,” he said. He also confirmed the death of wanted terrorist Salman al-Faraj, one of the kidnappers of al-Jirani, as well as the arrest of his half-brother, Zaki al-Faraj. In his statement he said that a number of terrorists participated in the kidnapping of the judge Jirani, who was taken to an abandoned farm in Awamiyah and killed. He said that the kingdom provides all resources available for the security services to exercise their functions in tracking terrorists.

Leaked Hezbollah, Iran documents reveal collapse of Houthis
Al Arabiya/December 25/2017/A number of secret field and military study documents prepared by the Jihadi Office of the Houthi militia under the supervision of Iranian experts and Hezbollah revealed cracks in the ranks of the Houthis. The military intelligence unit of the Yemeni armed forces on Sunday revealed some of the documents, which they said were obtained from “special sources in the militia’s leadership”. The documents were analyzed in complete secrecy, and were circulated within limited respective departments. Part of the documents, publicized by the Yemeni armed forces' press center, revealed a state of collapse in the militia’s frontlines, more importantly on the military and security fronts in various areas in Yemen.
Houthi combat trainers dead
The study that was created on August 22nd, 2017 also revealed that the militia has suffered great losses in their combat fighter training units. The document added that most of the trainers were killed on battlefronts around Yemen, making the militia in strong need to train more fighters. The documents also revealed significant human losses on battlefronts which the militia is trying to keep secret. However, the document said that the losses are easily thousands of militiamen on fronts including Bihan and Naham. The document also mentioned treason and infiltrations within the ranks of the militia. Their field commanders have mostly been killed or wounded, as well as reports of mismanagement in various aspects. Civilians have been placed in leadership posts with no qualifications and a maximum Secondary level education, the documents also said. The study pointed out that these results are due to unorganized management and “excessive complacency” by the militia’s leadership in handling what the study called “infiltrations and betrayals”. The study also mentioned the militia’s weakness in acquiring information about the movements of the legitimate forces. The documents also included minutes of meetings of the Houthi field leaders with the Houthi’s leading figure, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, warning him of complacency in developing necessary and quick solutions to avoid a major collapse. They pointed out during the meeting their need to militarize civilians who live close to Houthi military sites.

Syrian-Iranian Backed Forces Advance In Border Area Near Northern Israel
Jerusalem Post/December 25/17
Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan.
AMMAN - Syrian army forces backed by Iranian-backed militias pushed deeper into the last rebel-held enclave near a strategic border area with Israel and Lebanon in a new expansion of Tehran's influence in the war-torn country. The army and the Shi'ite forces advanced east and south of the Sunni-rebel held bastion of Beit Jin backed by some of the heaviest aerial bombing and heavy artillery shelling since a major assault began over two months ago to seize the area, rebels said. The Syrian army said it had encircled the village of Mughr al Meer at the foothills of Mount Hermon as troops moved towards Beit Jin amid fierce clashes. The enclave is the last rebel bastion left in the south west of Damascus known as the Western Ghouta that had since last year fallen under government control after months of heavy bombing on civilian areas and years of siege tactics that forced rebels to surrender.
A western intelligence source confirmed rebel reports that Iranian-backed militias including the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah Shi'ite group were playing a major role in the ongoing battles. "The Iranian backed militias are trying to consolidate their sphere of influence all the way from southwest of Damascus to the Israeli border," said Suhaib al Ruhail, an official from the Liwa al Furqan rebel group that operates in the area. Worried by Iran's expanding influence in Syria after the defeat of Islamic State, Israel has in the last few weeks stepped up its strikes against suspected Iranian targets inside Syria. Early this month an Israeli strike on a base near Kiswah, south of Damascus was widely believed to be an Iranian military compound, according to a Western intelligence source . Israel has been lobbying both big powers to deny Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi‘ite militias any permanent bases in Syria, and to keep them away from the Golan, as they gain ground while helping Damascus beat back Sunni-led rebels. The southwest of Syria is part of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria agreed last July between Russia and Washington, the first such understanding between the two powers. The area has not seen Russian bombing unlike other ceasefire areas in Syria. Diplomatic sources say several thousand Shi'ite fighters who have been amassing from outside the Quneitra province are pitted against hundreds of Islamist and mainstream Free Syria Army (FSA) rebels closing ranks under the banner of Itihad Quwt Jabal al Sheikh "Union of fighters of Jabal al Sheikh". They are mainly drawn from local fighters from the area. With the army and Iranian backed offensive widening, the rebels have called on youths to enlist as mosque imams in Beit Jin called on people to take up arms and fight the army. Rebels still have a sizeable presence in central and southern Quneitra, in the Syrian Golan Heights.Western diplomatic sources say the crushing of the Sunni rebel presence in areas they have been in since 2013 will allow Lebanon's Hezbollah to open another secure arms supply line from its border in southern Lebanon into Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Iran has had a growing presence in the country, deploying thousands of Shi'ite fighters who have fought against both mainstream Sunni rebel groups and more militant groups.

Guatemala Announces it Will Move its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced on Monday that his country will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. His move comes days after he voiced before the United Nations General Assembly his government’s support for Washington’s move to recognize the city as the capital of Israel. Guatemala was only one out of nine countries that voted in favor of the US decision. The General Assembly had overwhelmingly adopted a non-binding resolution denouncing US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. In a post on his official Facebook account Sunday, Morales said that after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to instruct Guatemala's foreign ministry to move the embassy. The resolution passed by the General Assembly declared the US action on Jerusalem "null and void." The 128-9 vote was a victory for Palestinians, but fell short of the total they had predicted. Thirty-five nations abstained and 21 stayed away from the vote.

At Least 5 Killed in ISIS Attack in Kabul
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/At least five people were killed on Monday in a suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul. The ISIS terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack on a compound of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency in Kabul. In Kabul, security officials said the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber who approached the agency’s entrance on foot before blowing himself up. All the casualties reported were of civilian passersby. Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said at least five people had been killed and two wounded. Official put the death toll at six. Danish added that the exact target of the attack was unclear. "The bomber was on foot and detonated his suicide vest on the main road," he said. The blast comes a week after the group claimed an attack on a training facility of the same agency, the National Directorate for Security, in Kabul that ended when the attackers were killed before causing significant casualties. In a statement issued through the group’s Amaq news agency, ISIS said it was also behind Monday’s attack. ISIS’ local affiliate, which first appeared in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan in early 2015, has become increasingly active and has claimed several recent suicide attacks in Kabul. It has frequently fought Taliban militants and has been heavily targeted by US air strikes and Special Forces operations in its main stronghold in Nangarhar province.

Russia on Sochi's Outputs: Constitutional Committee Approved by Assad
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/Russia decided on the outcomes of the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in Sochi at the end of next month and its relation with the Geneva negotiations. The participants agree to form the Constitutional Committee in Sochi with the possibility of holding the first meeting of the committee members under with an international support in Geneva. However, Russia insists on Bashar al-Assad signing the decree of establishing the Constitutional Committee. Ever since "Syrian dialogue" had been discussed, the location had been issue whether to hold it at Russian base in Hameim or Damascus International Airport. In addition, the dialogue's sponsor changed from the Russian Defense Ministry to a partnership with the Russian Foreign Ministry. However, two things remain the same for Russia: the legitimacy of Syria and the largest political and popular participants, and the international legitimacy with the participation of the United Nations and linking the outcome of the conference to the Geneva process and Resolution 2254. As for the "first legitimacy", Moscow expanded the circle of invited candidates from 1,000 to 1,500 and 2,000 politicians, deputies, local council members, political parties, unions and representatives of military factions included in the "reduction of escalation" and "reconciliations" agreements. In the light of the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the intelligence services in Moscow and Ankara will work to approve the list of invitees so that the Turkish side will ensure that there is no representation or indirect representation of the Kurdish National Union and People's Protection Unit, which Ankara considers part of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). This indicates that the relationship between "People Protection Units" is limited by Moscow to military and war on terrorism, which was manifested in the formation of a joint operations room in war against ISIS in Deir Ez-Zour. The administration of US President Donald Trump has declared that its military presence and its five bases east of the Euphrates River in northeast Syria are linked to a "political achievement" in the Geneva negotiations. Trump also signed an executive resolution to provide about $400 million to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces, which angered Erdogan, especially that Trump promised earlier this month not to supply the forces with weapons and the withdrawal of heavy weapons after Raqqa had been cleansed from ISIS.
Currently, there are two tracks: the first is the Russia-backed Geneva course, and the second is the path of Astana-Sochi, which is being conducted with a Russian, Turkish, and Iranian "guarantee" to discuss military matters, de-escalation all the way to Sochi's political aspect. UN Envoy Stephane de Mistura is currently under considerable pressure from Russia to attend Sochi.  Few days ago, he met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow conditioning his attendance with achieving progress in Geneva talks and the process initiation of constitutional reform. Moscow will "pressure" Damascus to negotiate with the High Negotiation Committee on the constitution, elections, and the 12 principles on Syria's future. However, according to information, Russia took its decision to announce "Constitutional Committee" at the Syrian dialogue in Sochi and form a higher council of the conference. Russian officials reiterated that it is important for Assad to sign a decree on forming the "Committee" with Moscow's approval to leave the members choice of either form a new constitution or amending the current constitution of 2012. Damascus delegation insisted on the "Constitutional Committee", which can include 21 members, and the "constitutional reform" process should be done through the legislative committee of the current parliament based on the 2012 Constitution. The delegation also wanted to prepare for early parliamentary elections as of next year and not wait for the preassigned a date in 2020. It also insisted on a second round of Sochi talks in Damascus while holding the majority of the Constitutional Committee. In order to persuade de Mistura to attend Sochi Conference, Moscow supported the idea of holding the first meeting of the Constitutional Commission in Geneva and discuss President Putin's suggestion to adopt a new constitution in preparation for parliamentary and presidential elections under international supervision under Resolution 2254. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US informed the Russian side of two conditions: one session of Sochi Conference and support for Geneva process. To test Moscow's intentions and influence on Damascus and Tehran, de Mistura called for a ninth round of Geneva negotiations on January 21, a week before Sochi conference, hoping that the Damascus delegation would enter into serious negotiations on the constitution. Notably, Geneva's date will coincide with a Russian-Turkish-Iranian meeting to "screen" the list of guests to the Russian resort. High Negotiation Committee entered a heated debate at a meeting of its members in Riyadh to take a political decision whether to attend Sochi meetings or not, especially after Moscow stipulated that the participants in the conference should accept Assad, meaning the opposition would have recant its statement of last month which said that Assad should leave upon the beginning of the transition phase.

Bahrain Sentences to Death, Jails Terrorists for Attempting to Assassinate Defense Force Commander
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/The Military High Court issued on Monday its ruling in the case of 18 members of a terrorist cell, ten of whom appeared in custody and eight were fugitives in Bahrain or abroad in Iran and Iraq, reported the Bahrain News Agency (BNA).
The defendants were accused with forming a terrorist cell, attempting to assassinate the Defense Force Commander-in-Chief and committing other terrorist crimes. The court convicted and sentenced the six defendants to death, 15 years years in jail and the revocation of their Bahraini nationality. They are Mubarak Adel Mubarak Mahanna (Soldier), Fadhel Al Sayed Abbas Hassan Radhi, Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi Hussain, Mohammed Abdulhassan Ahmed Al Metghawi, Murtada Majeed Ramadan Alawi (Al Sindi) and Habeeb Abdullah Hassan Ali (Al Jamri).
The court also convicted and sentenced seven defendants to seven years in jail and stripped them of their Bahraini nationality. They are Mohammed Abdulhassan Saleh Al Shehabi, Mohammed Abdulwahid Mohammed Al Najjar, Hussain Mohammed Ahmed Shehab, Mohammed Yousef Marhoon Al Ajmi, Hussain Ali Mohsen Baddaw, Sayed Mohammed Qassim Mohammed and Ali Jaffar Hassan Al Rayes. The court acquitted five defendants: Ali Ahmed Khalifa Salman (Al Karbabadi), Hussain Essam Hussain Al Durazi, Muntazhir Fawzi Abdulkareem Mahdi, Rami Ahmed Ali Al Aryash and Mohamed Abdullah Ebrahim Abbas. All the judicial sureties were granted by the Military Judiciary in compliance with the 2002 Criminal Procedures Law and the 2002 Military Judiciary Law, including access to defense lawyers. The defendants have the right to challenge the ruling of the court of first instance at the Military Appeals High Court and the Military Court of Cassation according to the provisions of the law. Representatives of human rights institutions and societies and media and several relatives of the defendants attended the court session.

Peru President Pardons Former Authoritarian Leader, Sparking Protests
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s decision to pardon former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori sparked clashes as protested the move as a crude political deal. At least two ministers in Kuczynski’s cabinet who objected to the pardon, issued late on Sunday, told him they wanted to resign, and Kuczynski might reshuffle the cabinet as early as this week, a government source said. Two ruling party lawmakers quit his party as his political group planned next steps. The decision clears Fujimori of convictions for human rights crimes and graft when his right-wing government was in power from 1990 to 2000, and could define Kuczynski’s legacy and rewrite political alliances. Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker who vowed as a candidate not to pardon Fujimori, based his decision on a medical review that found Fujimori suffered from “a progressive, degenerative and incurable disease”, according to a statement from the president’s office. Peruvian law provides that no person convicted of murder or kidnapping can receive a presidential pardon except in the case of a terminal illness. Three previous requests from Fujimori for pardons since 2013 were rejected after doctors said he did not suffer from incurable illness or severe mental disorder. Fujimori filed a request seeking a medical pardon more than a year ago, citing deteriorating health. He has said on his Twitter account that he suffers from arrhythmia, for which he has been hospitalized several times this year. He remained at a clinic Sunday night where he was taken from prison a day earlier after suffering a drop in blood pressure. Many in Peru saw the pardon as part of a quid pro quo. Three days earlier, Fujimori’s loyalists - led by his lawmaker son Kenji - unexpectedly saved Kuczynski from a vote in Congress that nearly removed him from office. In a video Kenji shared on social media, a gray-haired Fujimori, connected to tubes in hospital, was seen smiling after reading Kuczynski’s announcement of the pardon on a cellphone with Kenji.
“To save his own skin he cut a deal with Fujimori’s supporters to infamously pardon a corrupt killer,” said Veronika Mendoza, a leftist leader who competed against Kuczynski in last year’s presidential election. Kuczynski’s center-right government has repeatedly denied that a pardon for Fujimori was part of political negotiations. Fujimori is a deeply divisive figure in Peru. While many consider him a corrupt dictator, others credit him with ending an economic crisis and bloody leftist insurgency when in power. “He’s the best president Peru ever had,” said Maria Luisa Cuculiza, a friend and former minister of Fujimori, adding that he no longer had any political ambitions. “He doesn’t want to return to politics. He just wants to be a good grandfather,” Cuculiza told Reuters by telephone. Police fired teargas at scores of Fujimori’s opponents in downtown Lima, who waved pictures of the victims of a bloody counterinsurgency campaign during his term. Officers in riot gear stood guard at Kuczynski’s house in the capital’s San Isidro financial district as protesters called for the march to make its way there. Fujimori’s family and supporters cheered the pardon as a long-overdue vindication for a misunderstood hero. But the pardon was a blow to the relatives of victims, prosecutors and human rights activists who helped put Fujimori behind bars in a lengthy judicial process that earned Peru global plaudits for fighting impunity.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on this Twitter account that the pardon "was a vulgar political negotiation in exchange for Kuczynski's stay in power." Amnesty International demanded that Kuczynski "clarify the doubts about the lack of transparency and respect for due process." Kuczynski, “you’ve betrayed justice, democracy and victims. History will never forgive you,” said Indira Huilca, a leftist lawmaker whose union leader father was shot dead in 1992 in what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights deemed an extrajudicial killing. Kuczynski, who like Fujimori is 79, ran for office to cap a prestigious career in finance and public administration. The pardon might also prompt one of the biggest political realignments in Peru since Fujimori fled to his parents’ homeland of Japan in 2000 as a corruption scandal brought his decade in power to an end. Fujimori was extradited back to Peru in 2007. He was first convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the killings of 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy, during his administration. He was later drew four more convictions, the most serious one charging him with knowledge of the existence of death squads financed with public money that killed civilians accused of being Shining Path members. A former university president and mathematics professor, Fujimori was a political outsider when he emerged from obscurity to win Peru's 1990 presidential election over writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Peru was being ravaged by runaway inflation and guerrilla violence when he took office. He quickly rebuilt the economy with mass privatizations of state industries. Defeating the fanatical Shining Path rebels took longer but his fight won him broad-based support. His presidency collapsed just as dramatically as his rise to power. After briefly shutting down Congress and putting himself into a third term, Fujimori fled the country in disgrace in 2000 after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents' homeland, and famously sent in his resignation by fax. Five years later, he stunned supporters and enemies alike when he flew to neighboring Chile, where he was arrested and extradited to Peru. Fujimori's goal was run for Peru's presidency again in 2006, but instead he went to trial and was convicted of abuse of power. His eldest daughter, Keiko, leads the opposition party Popular Force that controls Congress, while Kenji has courted ties with Kuczynski’s government as he challenges his sister’s past decade of leadership of their father’s populist following.

Iranian Judiciary Insists on Pursuing Ahmadinejad
Asharq Al-Awsat/Monday, 25 December, 2017/Iranian judiciary insists pursuing former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who faces charges of corruption. Judicial spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei rejected Friday prayers' leader proposal for arbitration between between the judiciary and Ahmadinejad, following days of exchanged accusations between the two sides through the media.Last week, Ahmadinejad launched unprecedented criticism of Iran's judiciary, particularly the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani. Larijani, according to Ahmadinejad, is a “greedy, land-grabbing tyrant” and a totally “unjust” figure who should immediately resign as chief-justice, otherwise the whole ruling system would collapse. The judiciary was among the institutions highly criticized by President Hassan Rouhani who accused it of blocking his government's efforts in fighting corruption, however tensions between the two subsided after Rouhani’s second presidential term. The dispute between the judiciary and Ahmadinejad peaked after the judiciary summoned a number of Ahmadinejad's aides and advisers over the past three months and charged them with various charges including corruption and propaganda against the regime.
Ahmadinejad's group denied the charges, accusing the judiciary of politicizing the issues, settling personal disagreement between Speaker Ali Larijani and head of the judiciary Sadeq Larijani on one side and Ahmadinejad on the other. Earlier, Iran’s Guardian Council rejected Ahmadinejad's request and his assistant Hamid Baghaei for the presidential election. On Sunday, Mohseni-Ejei said that the justice system is determined to face criminals, referring to Ahmadinejad's criticisms, Mohseni-Ejei said that "the hype" will not prevent the legal course from being followed, justifying the delay in facing Ahmadinejad's behavior with "wisdom" without giving further details. "Some say we should refer these to medical jurisprudence to determine their mental capabilities. If we are to refer someone to medical jurisprudence, we will do it," he added.
Mohseni-Ejei also commented on Friday prayers' leader proposal Mohammad Emami Kashani for the formation of an arbitration committee to discuss the issues raised by Ahmadinejad against the judiciary, saying that nothing like that has been discussed. Regarding holding a public trial for Ahmadinejad, Mohseni-Ejei said that public and non-public trials have their own conditions and the court hadn’t been formed yet, describing it as a “secondary issue.” Last month, Ahmadinejad sent an open letter to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei demanding that his judicial file be referred to the former president of Iran's judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Over the past two weeks, the former president posted two recordings on his website criticizing Iran's justice system. Judges considered Ahmadinejad's behavior an attempt to evade legal accountability, but Ejei denied that Ahmadinejad's use of recordings could prevent prosecution on charges of spreading lies. Meanwhile, "Bahar News" website stated on Sunday that the Iranian security and judicial authorities summoned dozens of Ahmadinejad's supporters to the Prosecutor. The website noted that over the past few weeks, the Iranian judiciary has issued arrest orders to dozens of Ahmadinejad's supporters, adding that they are "held in solitary confinement." The website claimed that a number of detainees were briefed on a list of 188 Ahmadinejad supporters in social networks. The authorities ordered the suspension of their mobile phone calls or their bank accounts, the website added.
On the other hand, Ejei quoted the Iranian Prosecutor Hossein Ali Montazeri that the judiciary is following the involvement of some government officials in the smuggling of goods, hoping the announcement of the results of the investigation will not be delayed. On Wednesday, Montazeri revealed the involvement of some Iranian officials and members of their families in the smuggling of goods. The amount of smuggled goods is estimated between $15 billion and $25 billion annually, Iranian media reported in January 2017. Officials say the illegal merchandise reached about $25 billion, however the Iran's Central Task Force to Combat Smuggling of Commodities and Currency says the rate has reached $12.5 billion dollars during Rouhani’s residency. In August, parliament speaker Ali Larijani said smuggling decreased from $25 billion to $12 billions. In addition, the speaker indicated last week that Iran’s economy faces 38 challenges, ruling out a growth’s possibility over the upcoming year. Larijani reiterated that the budget is not enough to run the country, adding that the country’s income comes from oil revenues and taxes and barely reaches $70 billion.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 25-26/17
2017 Passes as Fast as a Tweet
Ghassan Charbel/ Asharq Al-Awsat/December 25/2017
The year is bleeding its final days. A tumultuous year that is preparing to throw itself off the cliff of time. The world in the new year will not be like the world of the previous one. This is normal. Each year has its own flavor, color, highlights and tragedies. This world has laws that govern it and it differs from the will of scholars, desires of journalists and dreams of poets.
In the final days, one tends to count losses and gains. The businessman takes to the numbers that have cluttered his computer or smartphone. He learns from mistakes or blows and prepares for the new round and opportunities. The employee surveys the situation in his workplace. If it is failing, then he will fail with it. Gone are the days of being assured. The days of relaxing in offices waiting for retirement. A fast, changing and turbulent world. At the end of the year, figures are a like a sword. Numbers do not have mercy.
The story of the journalist is different. He works in the field of others and not his own. He reports news, events and analyses. The most he can do is be a reliable witness in reporting the news. It is a profession that is deeply connected to developments and surprises, not the will of those who practice it. I can almost say that it is a bad profession. The professional journalist is a good spy. If he visits a city, he investigates the deepest of its pains. If he meets a politician, he has the urge to make him sit for a long interrogation. In a cafe in a strange town, he writes down what he overhears from nearby tables. The only solace this spy has is that his report will be relayed to the reader – this hard to please dictator.
The year is breathing its last breath. The roundup is different from one country to the other. Above all else, it was the year of Donald Trump. He reared his head at the beginning of the year, leaving his mark on the rest of its days. A handful of his words on Twitter could force the world to hold its breath. They could worry a region. Strike fear among a ruler. He likes excitement. The American president comes from a different ilk. A president with a different style. When the Americans choose a president, you have to live with him. You have to get used to the storms that he creates. Whether you like him or not, he is the heavyweight boxer in the ring. He is the chief commander of the most powerful army in history. He is at the head of the world’s top economy. You must take his interests into consideration when you are considering your own. America was always a major power and a major problem.
It was the year of Vladimir Putin. He announced the end of his Syria “trip” by declaring a victory against terrorism. He showed skill in reaping the rewards of his adventures and reaping the rewards of the sacrifices of others. He now heads confidently towards elections. He has a deep desire to earn the title of peacemaker in Syria. The Syrian opposition paid a heavy price of his pursuit to settle scores with ISIS, the opposition and the West in the Syrian arena.
It was also the year of the Chinese president. The National Congress of the Communist Party was his golden opportunity. He garnered unprecedented support that consolidated his leadership and thought. This was a feat that was not even achieved by Deng Xiaoping, the man who had the courage to open the widow after Mao Zedong’s influence remained in China even from beyond the grave. Mao is still in his mausoleum, but China has adopted ideas that are different from his image and old teachings that he compiled in his Red Book. The only thing that remains is the Communist Party, which is still the only party and means for power, stability and continuity.
Europe also did not have a normal year. The German elections showed the signs of old age of the brave chancellor’s leadership. Theresa May’s year was never easy. The Brexit negotiations with the European Union were arduous and costly. The Britons took the decision to abandon the European train without looking at the long-term consequences. In France, a 40-year-old president sits in Charles de Gaulle’s office, trying to lead his country to the future and preserve its important role, despite his modest means and weakness before American superiority and the Asian rise. Terrorism punished Europe that had opened its doors wide to the waves of refugees. The far-right exploited the opportunity to play on fears of Europe losing its identity. Some groups grew tired of nationalist attire and Catalonia clung on to its dream of jumping off the Spanish train.
The year was that of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In line with the approach of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the young prince launched a reform plan based on a vision that is no less important than the significant decision to open the window to the future in a society where youths make up the overwhelming majority. In a few months, he led the Saudi society towards the battle for development, building a future and reducing dependence on oil. The battle is backed by numbers. The Saudi youth believed in their ability to shape their future and the future of their country. The results of this battle are not limited to Saudi Arabia alone because the success in targeting terrorism and uprooting extremism will definitely leave their marks on several countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Haidar al-Abadi. A lucky man. The world decided to close the ISIS chapter and allowed him to achieve a victory that increased his chances of winning the next elections. He can simply say that the army that had collapsed during the term of his predecessor and rival Nouri al-Maliki had during his term achieved victory. He also managed to “discipline the Kurds”, which was also a great dream of Maliki’s. Abadi also supported the Popular Mobilization Forces, while at the same time calling for limiting the possession of arms to the state.
The passing year will throw itself in the pit of time. The Arab world bids farewell to it, hoping that the next will be less painful. The Arab wants what any normal human being on this planet wants. He wants a normal state with serious institutions. A state that is not being eaten away by corruption or militias. A state that leads a battle for development, modernizes education and bolsters values of progress, openness and accepting the other. It is time to escape failure and abandon dark thoughts. We will not drown in despair despite the misery in refugee camps and war-torn countries. We want to believe that this long slide downhill will stop at some point. The Arab deserves life similar to others on the planet.
The tumultuous year passed us by as fast as a tweet. My, how the world has changed.

Social Media, Not Phones, Get Kids Addicted
Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg/December 25/2017
I'm a recovering smartphone addict, so you might expect me to welcome the French government's decision to ban the devices in primary and middle schools.
Actually, I don't: The problem is the software, not the phones themselves.
At best, banning smartphones would require kids to learn antiquated skills, something they arguably do too much of in school already. The modern phone is a sound recorder, a camera, an atlas, a notebook and the only device on which one can listen to pretty much any music on demand. Depriving kids of such a useful tool would be pointlessly cruel, just as taking away adults' smartphones at work would be.
Granted, a lot of research suggests that smartphone use adversely affects productivity. So the trick is to keep the advantages -- the ability to collaborate with colleagues on the move, the instant access to data -- and minimize the pointless distractions.
So what's the biggest time hog on the smart phone? According to Comscore's 2017 Mobile App Report, adults spend more than half their total screen time in the five most-used apps, and tend to select Facebook as their "most essential." That makes it likely the most addictive substance in the app world.
Facebook has been pushing back against the idea that spending time on social media is inevitably bad for you. In a recent post, Director of Research David Ginsberg and research scientist Moira Burke posited that "engaging" -- leaving comments, sharing content and exchanging messages, as opposed to idly scrolling through a feed -- can make people feel better. Yet aside from suggesting a self-serving cure (do more stuff on Facebook!), their argument ignores the nature of addiction. Addicts often feel great when they have an ample supply of the desired substance. Consider the 10 million interactions attracted by one of this year's most viral Facebook posts, a video titled "This Guy Just Sang Whitney Houston Live You've Never Heard." All that engagement might have given people a dopamine boost, but the time would almost certainly have been better spent doing almost anything else, except perhaps heroin.
What really matters isn't whether Facebook makes people feel good, but whether they're wasting time on shallow relationships and unproductive pursuits. The social network's scientists profess to know little about this: "We know that people are concerned about how technology affects our attention spans and relationships, as well as how it affects children in the long run," Ginsberg and Burke wrote. "We agree these are critically important questions, and we all have a lot more to learn." Which means we're left to make judgments based on personal experience rather than big data.
When I was an active Facebook user, I would get birthday greetings from about 600 people. I wasted hours pasting in "thank you" as I struggled to remember who some of them were. This year, I stopped posting, leaving comments or even clicking "like." I closed my timeline, so people could send greetings only by commenting on an old post or sending me a message. Fewer than 100 people did -- still about 90 more than actually cared about my birthday. My life was unchanged. The dozen people who mattered would call or write even if Mark Zuckerberg had never started Facebook.
A few months ago, I largely stopped arguing with people on Twitter (though there have been a couple of relapses, which I deeply regret). Instead, I suggested that people drop me an email so we could really hash things out. Hardly anyone did. People didn't really want to interact, to have a substantive discussion. Most just wanted to feel good about themselves at my expense. Twitter makes that easy; true human interaction is harder.
These examples explain why I'm done with the social networks, except for some light work-related use. When I scroll through my feeds for a strictly limited time, I think of myself as a plainclothes cop cautiously sipping a beer in a joint full of drunks. Images like that are helpful in kicking my addiction.
What, then, should France do? They're considering requiring parental approval for kids under the age of 16 to open a social-network or messenger account, but that won't work too well: Teens would hate it and the networks would be complicit. Regulators probably can't address addictive software as they have, say, tobacco. Users will have to kick their own habits and prevent their kids from developing similar ones.
Kids under the age of 8 spend almost half their screen time -- more than an hour a day -- on mobile devices, according to the nonprofit group Common Sense Media. The poorer their family, the more time they waste playing games and watching YouTube videos on a tablet or hand-me-down phone. It's easy to imagine how this happens: Struggling parents have less time to devote to their kids, and they'll take any opportunity to keep them quiet. Few consider that they're administering a "gateway drug" that'll likely set off a social media addiction.
Adults can reclaim their lives by getting off social networks, turning off all notifications and perhaps installing an app that limits screen time -- but not by throwing away the phone, which can still be useful in myriad ways. The same applies to kids. By all means, give them a phone -- they'll end up owning one sooner or later, anyway. But determine which apps can be on it and lock access to the rest. Even trying to hack your defenses will be a more productive pastime than watching dumb videos and sending emoji back and forth.

France's Macron Submits to the Arab World/A Gentle Christmas Day Word of Caution
Giulio Meotti/Gatestone Institute/December 25/2017
The tragic dead end of French fake "secularism" is that it allows public expressions of the Islamic religion in France, but prohibits the Christian ones.
Far from defending the Judeo-Christian values ​​on which France, the West and Europe itself was founded -- such as individual liberties, freedom of expression, separation of the church from the state and the judiciary, and equal justice under the law -- President Macron recently launched an apology for Islam before Arab-Muslim dignitaries.
The balance of Macron's recent frenetic trips to the Arab world: lavish contracts, apologetic words to Islamists, repentance of the French colonial past and silence on anti-Semitism and radical Islam. Meanwhile, in France, authorities were busy dismantling its Judeo-Christian heritage.
Macron's special envoy for heritage, Stéphane Bern, proposed charging a fee to enter French cathedrals and churches -- as if they were museums.
In Abu Dhabi, members of the victorious Israeli judo team were recently made to mount the winners' podium without their own anthem and flag. A few days later, French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Abu Dhabi, where he denounced as liars those who say that "that Islam is built by destroying the other monotheisms". Macron did not raise an eyebrow about the anti-Semitism and racism displayed by the Emirati authorities. Macron merely praised Islam in a country that punishes with death those Muslims who convert to Christianity or profess atheism.
At the French naval base in Abu Dhabi on November 8-9, addressing some businessmen, Macron insisted on the importance of the alliance with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an "essential partner with whom we share the same vision of the region and obvious common interests". Such effusion seems more than the usual language of diplomacy. Macron is now showing a strategic empathy and commitment to the Arab-Islamic world. Is this statement a prelude to submission?
Far from defending the Judeo-Christian values ​​on which France, the West and Europe itself was founded -- such as individual liberties, freedom of expression, separation of the church from the state and the judiciary, and equal justice under the law -- Macron in the last few weeks launched an apology for Islam before Arab-Muslim dignitaries.
On December 7, Macron went to Qatar; next year, he will visit Iran on a trip that will make him the first French president to visit the Islamic Republic since 1971. In Doha, Macron and Qatar signed contracts worth about 12 billion euros ($14 billion). And there, in a country which openly promoted anti-Semitism in its book fair, Macron repeated that he disapproved of US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
A few days later, at the United Nations, Macron's ambassador voted with the Arab and Islamic regimes; it was a crude betrayal of Europe's only democratic ally in the Middle East: Israel. In a single week, France voted twice to support Arab-sponsored resolutions against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, first at the UN Security Council then at its General Assembly. As Israel's Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren said: "The UN denies Israel's bonds with Jerusalem". Macron's bonds with the Arab Islamic world, however, seem extremely strong.
This month alone, France voted twice in the United Nations to support Arab-sponsored resolutions against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Pictured: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the UN General Assembly in New York, on September 19, 2017.
Back in Paris, Macron welcomed Jordan's King Abdullah II to the presidential palace and praised Amman's role as the "guardian" of the holy sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah's goal, however, is something else. As he openly says, he wants to prevent the "Judaization of Jerusalem" -- which means fighting Israeli sovereignty over the holy city.
During his recent trip to Algeria, Macron, France's first head of state born after the Algerian War, called France's 132-year rule of Algeria "a crime against humanity". The French president had no words of pride for anything the French had done or left behind in Algeria. In an apparent gesture of reconciliation, Macron said that he was "ready" to return to Algeria the skulls of Algerian fighters killed in the 1850s by the French army, which are currently displayed at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris.
This, then, was the balance of Macron's recent frenetic trips to the Arab world: lavish contracts, apologetic words to Islamists, repentance of the French colonial past and silence on anti-Semitism and radical Islam.
Meanwhile, in France, authorities were busy dismantling its Judeo-Christian heritage. A superior court recently ordered the removal of a cross from a statue of the Pope John Paul II in a town in Brittany, because the cross supposedly breached rules on secularism. The Conseil d'État, France's top administrative court, evidently decided that the cross violated a 1905 law imposing the separation of church and state. After that, the same Conseil d'État ordered a Nativity scene in the municipal hall of the town of Béziers to be torn down. Then, Macron's special envoy for heritage, Stéphane Bern, proposed charging a fee to enter French cathedrals and churches -- as if they were museums.
A few days later, however, France's Macron displayed all the double-standards and empty rhetoric of this "secularism". The French authorities allowed Muslims in the Paris suburb of Clichy La Garenne to a hold a mass prayer on the street. That is why 100 French politicians and administrators took to the streets of Paris to protest against these prayers. "Public space cannot be taken over in this way", said Valérie Pécresse, president of the Paris regional council.
That is exactly the tragic dead end of French fake "secularism": it allows public expressions of the Islamic religion in France, but prohibits the Christian ones.
In Paris, Saudi Arabia, a major focus of Macron's foreign policy, is busy these days sponsoring "cultural initiatives". Saudi Arabia has been involved in the renovation of the Institute of the Arab World, located in Paris. Jack Lang, the institute's director, unveiled a plaque of gratitude to Saudi Arabia for the gift of five million euros that the kingdom made to the institute.
Then an unusual event took place in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the most important site to French Catholics. Beneath its immense vaults, a small group of men in traditional Saudi clothes viewed the sculptures there. The delegation was led by Mohammed al-Issa, Secretary General of the World Islamic League, appointed about a year ago as the head of this organization, based in Mecca and devoted to the promotion of Islam throughout the world. As the newspaper La Croix noted:
"Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative Muslim countries in the world. No religion other than Islam is recognized there. Clergy other than Muslims do not have the right to practice there and the construction of places of worship other than mosques is prohibited".
So, Christian French authorities are opening their holiest sites to Islamists -- as they do to everyone. These Saudis, however, prohibit others from practicing their faith in Saudi Arabia. This is "French suicide", as Éric Zemmour warns in his most famous book, Le suicide français.
The Saudi crown prince just bought Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Salvator Mundi," for a record $450 million at auction last month. Then, the United Arab Emirates tweeted that the painting "is coming to the Louvre Abu Dhabi", recently opened by Macron. What else of its heritage will Europe now sell?
**Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The year a rogue regime went from bad to worse
/النظام الإيراني المارق الذي تحول من سيء إلى أسوأ

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Arab News/December 25/2017
Supporters of the Iran regime argued that the 2017 re-election of Hassan Rouhani as president, the continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal, the continuing relaxation of sanctions, and increased trade and political rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, would all make Tehran a more constructive and rational regional actor in 2017.
This argument centers on the notion that appeasement of Tehran would empower and embolden Iran’s “moderate” forces. However, concrete evidence and last year’s history of the regime reveals a different story. Let us divide Iran’s actions, behavior and policies in 2017 into three main categories — domestic, regional and international.
Inside Iran, reports from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are alarming. The Iranian regime heavily suppressed and oppressed any opposition movements, women, human rights defenders and political activists. Ironically, the rule of the “moderates” in the presidential office had the effect of empowering the judiciary, the Basij paramilitary volunteers, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which together are mainly responsible for domestic oppression.
The Iranian authorities targeted religious minorities such as Christians and Sunnis, and ethnic minorities including the Kurds and Arabs of Khuzestan. The number of executions rose to a world record. Additionally, Iran is still the world’s leading executioner of children.
In the past 12 months Iran has expanded its influence through hard power and military adventurism, broken international law, oppressed its own people and inflated regional tensions.
Regionally speaking, the Iranian regime relied on the use of hard power rather than diplomacy and soft power. The regime expanded its influence in the region through several platforms including the IRGC and its elite branch, the Quds Force, which operates in foreign territories, as well as through funding, arming and supporting various militias and terrorist-designated groups. In Yemen, Iran increased its weaponry and financial assistance to the Houthis, to such a level that the Houthis were able to fire ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. In Iraq, Tehran further empowered the Popular Mobilization Forces, a conglomerate of Shiite militias that serve Tehran’s interests, and made it an integral part of Baghdad’s political system. In Syria, Tehran began publicly boasting about its forces on the ground and its ability to maintain the Assad regime in power.
The revelations in files found in Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan and released by the CIA, proving links between Al-Qaeda and Iranian regime, showed that Tehran supports any terrorist group with which it shares common interests.
Tehran’s pursuit of regional domination further radicalized, militarized and intensified tensions and conflicts in the region, for example in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In addition, it widened the gap between the Arab states and Iran.
On the international stage, and concerning international law, Iran fired more than 12 ballistic missiles, including one targeting another sovereign state, Syria. These were in direct violation of the UN resolution that ratified the nuclear deal, and which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
Tehran exploited the enhanced legitimacy derived from the nuclear agreement and trade agreements with European governments. It showed no sign of being committed to respecting international law; its ballistic missile activities and development program actually increased.
Iran also committed several violations of the nuclear agreement itself. According to German intelligence, it made several attempts to acquire nuclear technology. It surpassed the heavy water limits several times. Tehran did not grant full access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, specifically to the Parchin military site. There are strong indications that Tehran continues its nuclear proliferation in secret locations at Parchin.
Iran’s imprisonment and arrests of foreign citizens continued to rise. The IRGC became more empowered in the Gulf, making dangerous maneuvers and harassing navy ships from other nations. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and its generals continued to preach and ignite anti-Americanism and anti-Western sentiments.
In a nutshell, in 2017 the Iranian regime expanded its influence through hard power and military adventurism. Tehran continued to violate international law, suppress people domestically and inflate tensions in the region. Tehran exploited its enhanced legitimacy to achieve its regional hegemonic ambitions.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business.
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Mideast needs two-state solution, Pope says in Christmas message
Arab News/December 26/ 2017
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis used his traditional Christmas address on Monday to call for peace in Jerusalem and highlight the plight of children scarred by conflict. Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pope’s fifth “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) message.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders. “May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by goodwill to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles, the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pope said. He also mentioned other global flashpoints such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela, and said the “winds of war are blowing in our world. Let us pray that confrontation may be overcome on the Korean Peninsula and that mutual trust may increase in the interest of the world as a whole,” the 81-year-old said. Earlier, celebrating midnight mass in Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, attacked the wars that “the Herods of today fight every day to become greater, to occupy more space.” In a criticism of the US recognition this month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the archbishop said: “Jerusalem is a city of peace, but there is no peace if someone is excluded. Jerusalem should include, not exclude.” Meanwhile, both Christians and Muslims throughout the Middle East celebrated the day. In the central Syrian city of Homs, there was great fanfare for the first time in years after the end of battles between regime and opposition forces — with processions, shows for children and even decorations among the ruins. In Iraq, too, this year marked a positive turning point for the Christian community in the northern city of Mosul.
Muslims in Pakistan not only took part in Christmas festivities, but also hosted celebrations for their Christian friends and neighbors. Throughout the country, Christian residential areas were bedecked with Christmas trees, stars and baubles. The bazaars in major cities, adorned with festive wreaths, were buzzing with last-minute shoppers. Pakistan civil and military leaders extended greetings to the Christian community, and said the day underscored the teachings of patience, tolerance and kindness.