February 22/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?

Saint Luke 12/13-21/:"Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’"

All who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned

Second Letter to the Thessalonians 02/01-12/:"As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 21-22/17
We, The Free Lebanese can’t accept Occupation, Subordination Or Dhimmitude/Elias Bejjani/February 21/17
Lebanese Christians and the illusion of Marine Le Pen/Diana Moukalled/Arab News/February 20/17
Veiled surprise: Lebanon, meet Le Pen/John Moody/Fox News/February 21/17
The Offer that Turns the Gaza Strip into Singapore/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/February 21/17
What is a Killer Imam Doing in Public Libraries in Canada/Saied Shoaaib/Gatestone Institute/February 21/17
The Syrian Regime's Ambivalence Towards President Trump/MEMRI/February 21/17
How did Iran read the rapid developments in the region/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Arab NATO versus the Iranian ‘Warsaw Pact’/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Why Trump continues to describe media as fake/Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
The only way to root out terrorism/Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
The UK is boasting an employment high, it’s not what it seems/Peter Harrison/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Khamenei In Speech At Iran's Sixth International Conference In Support Of Palestinian Intifada: Cancerous Tumor' Israel Must Be Cured In Several Phases/MEMRI/February 21/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 21-22/17
We, The Free Lebanese can’t accept Occupation, Subordination Or Dhimmitude
Important Congressional visit to Lebanon
Senator Corker meets senior Lebanese officials
Rationale behind Aoun’s pro-Hezbollah strategic stances
Lebanon: Marine Le Pen schedules visit with Maronite Patriarch
Geagea to Le Pen: Assad a Terrorist No Different than Islamic State
Le Pen in Beirut: Assad in Office Reassures France
Lebanese Christians and the illusion of Marine Le Pen
Le Pan Refuses Headscarf In Lebanon, Puts "Feminist" Swedish Government To Shame
Le Pen supports Assad, downplays nationality reform plans in Lebanon
Jumblat: Le Pen's Remarks an Insult to Lebanese and Syrian People
Veiled surprise: Lebanon, meet Le Pen
Berri Sounds Alarm over Vacuum at Parliament
Change and Reform Rejects 1960 Law Anew, Hints Aoun Won't Ink Polls Decree
Jumblat Delegation Meets Arslan, Says 'No One Can Eliminate Anyone'
Hamadeh, US Senator visit public Sabah School
Bassil, US Senator tackle current developments
Army thwarts smuggling operation in Arsal
Jumblatt on his meeting with Hollande: We pushed for holding parliamentary polls
Meraabi, Miles tackle refugee crisis
Hariri, US Senator hold talks
Hariri to economic bodies: Any new tax would take into consideration the interests of the citizens and the economic sectors
Berri from Tehran: Igniting War in the Middle East Starts, Ends in Palestine

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 21-22/17
Houston police chief: No injuries amid gunfire reports at Texas Medical Center
Saudi King receives US Senator John McCain
Iran summons Turkish envoy over comments by president
Iranian delegation to visit Riyadh to discuss hajj pilgrimage rift
Palestinians slam Israel soldier sentence, call it ‘green light’ for crimes
Israeli Court to Sentence Soldier for Killing Palestinian
Iran's Leader Calls Israel a 'Fake' Nation, 'Dirty Chapter'
Syrian opposition slams Assad’s ‘bloody message’
UN alarmed by upsurge in Syria fighting
We will stay in Iraq for a while longer, says US defense secretary
ISIS-linked group expands foothold in southern Syria near Israel and Jordan
Syrian girl rescued from under the ashes
CIA-backed aid for Syrian rebels frozen after extremist attack
Iraqi military says troops consolidate gains south of Mosul
Turkish military: 44 ISIS militants killed in north Syria
Bahrain arrests 20 terror suspects, including four women
Saudi-UAE Coordination Council Retreat kicks off in Abu Dhabi
Almost 1.4 million children face ‘imminent death:’ UN agency
Red Crescent: 74 bodies of migrants wash ashore in Libya
Several dead as plane crashes into mall in Australia
Trump names H.R. McMaster as national security adviser
Trump's Russia scandal takes an unexpected turn

Links From Jihad Watch Site for on February 21-22/17
Le Pen refuses to wear headscarf, walks out of meeting with Grand Mufti
Toronto JDL filing hate crimes complaint against mosque that called for killing Jews
Robert Spencer in PJ Media: Trump Is Completely Right About the Crisis in Sweden
North Carolina Muslim charged with threatening non-Muslims, had AK-47 and ammo
Michigan: Mega-mosque being forced on Christian refugee community
Haley: “United States is determined to stand up to the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias”
Iranian dissidents demand investigation into Islamic regime’s secret U.S. lobbying network
NSA McMaster: Islamic State uses “perverted interpretation of religion”
Muslim from UK blows himself up outside Mosul for the Islamic State
Glazov Gang: Trump and the Rape of Sweden
Establishment media lies yet again about Robert Spencer and the jihad threat
Moderate” Malaysia: Tens of thousands rally to support adoption of Islamic penal code

Links From Christian Today Site for  February 21-22/17
Rift Deepens In Syriac Orthodox Church Over Quran Row
Archbishop Of Canterbury Warns Of Crisis In South Sudan As Millions Face Starvation
New Study Shows How UK Christian Festivals Are Still Male Dominated
Muslims Send Their Children To Christian Schools To Prepare For 'Life In Modern Britain'
Franklin Graham: Fake News Was Around In Jesus' Time
Lion Hudson Christian Publisher Confirms It Is Filing For Administraton
Pope Blasts Politicians For 'Populist Rhetoric' And 'Self-Centredness' Over Migrants
GAFCON Issues New Calls For Rebellion Against Archbishop Of Canterbury
Christian Vlogger Accuses Facebook Of 'Muzzling' Her For Saying Bible Condemns Homosexuality
Conservative Christian 'Boy Scouts' Group Gets Massive Response After Transgender Ruling
Apprentice Star In Trump Cabinet Has Her Final Sermon Protested In LA
Trump Criticism Costs Southern Baptists Dear As Megachurch Withholds Funds

Walking Where Jesus Walked: New Pilgrim Way Opens In Jerusalem
The World Will End In 2017, Declares Fundamentalist Christian Website

Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 21-22/17
We, The Free Lebanese can’t accept Occupation, Subordination Or Dhimmitude
Elias Bejjani/February 21/17
When we proclaim loudly who we are, we don't brag or boast. No, we do not do this at all. But with simple faith and self confidence we say proudly who we are. We say to the forces of evil that are occupying our country and oppressing our people that no matter what, sooner or later, they will be forced to leave Lebanon in disgrace. Defeat and humiliation is the fate of all occupiers who have found that Lebanon and its people cannot be enslaved. The Syrians, Iranians and their proxy militias like Hezbollah, who are at the present time taking Lebanon hostage, ought to learn from history and foresee their ultimate fate.
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians (5-6), described the believer’s role by saying: “A little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise.” This is exactly the divine responsibility of the patriotic Lebanese people who believe in the 10452 km square concept, honor the distinguished Lebanese identity, are proud of the rich Lebanese culture, affiliate spiritually to Lebanon’s 7000 year history, and are deeply rooted to the holiness of the Lebanese soil.
They have to be like the blessed dough. They have to strengthen the faith of their people, support them in their agony, and be witnesses for the truth with integrity, devotion and endurance. Saint Paul also said to the Corinthians: “If my aim was only to satisfy the people, I would not have been Jesse’s servant, we don’t speak to please the people, but to please Almighty God.”
We are the patriotic Lebanese who carry Lebanon’s torch and its Cross at the same time. We are the ones who are witnessing for the truth, defending our beloved country and fighting for its sovereignty, independence, and unique identity. Our quest is to provide freedom for our people and secure their right to choose their leaders and officials without oppression or persecution.
We the Free Lebanese all over the world have decided with solid faith to carry Lebanon’s Cross with perseverance, courage and devotion till the day Lebanon is fully liberated. Sadly, at the present time, Lebanon is still an occupied country. Its freedom and decision-making are confiscated and held hostage by the Iranian-armed terrorist militia Hezbollah. The militia holds power over Lebanon by force using corruption, crime and terror.
Against all odds, we have decided to walk the path of struggle and resistance regardless of material gain or loss. We have decided to walk “Lebanon’s Calvary road” and endure all the pain and the humiliation needed to reach the salvific end.
Our civilized and peaceful struggle is not a choice but a fate. It is a divine price that we have to pay for the gift of being born Lebanese, and for the Godly grace that we were molded of Lebanese holy soil and its blessed water. Our quest for liberation is derived from a set of solid national convictions inherited from our great ancestors who created the nation of Lebanon through hard work and remarkable devotion in all through 7000 years of martyrdom.
We are the sons of the great Lebanon, the land of the holy cedars, We are the sons of the nation of civilization, science, culture, We are the sons of the Phoenicians, who gave the world its first Alphabet, We are the sons of the Phoenicians who taught the whole world the science of navigation and the art of trade, We are the sons of the Phoenician King Aheram, whose architects and craftsmen of Tyre built the great temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, We are the sons of the great Phoenician Hannibal, the mightiest military leader, We are the sons of Sheik Bashir, Al-Bustani, Kadmous, Zaynon, Europe, and Malek, We are the sons of the 10452 km square Lebanon.
Because of all of the above and because of who we are it is a sin for us under any given circumstances, no matter what the sacrifices are, to compromise on any of our holy convictions or national beliefs. We say to those who advise us every now and then to be pragmatic and to accept the imposed occupational status quo: "NO, NO, NO."
Your advice simply means enslavement, submission and surrender to the devil. It is a ticket for tyrants and occupiers to control the whole world based on the Darwinist principle of survival of the strongest.
We patriotic Lebanese can’t accept the occupation of our country. No matter who is the occupier, be it the Syrian, Iranians or others, we will resist with all means available to reclaim our freedom and independence. We are fully aware that the process is hard and requires a great deal of sacrifice, but we have no other choice for this is our fate.
We can’t accept the subordination and Dhimmitude principles and give away our history, culture, identity and pride. We can’t accept ignorance, treason and collaboration, and we can’t accept going back to the stone ages.
Our understanding of patriotism is completely different than that advocated by those of other faiths in Lebanon who will for ultimate victory have been weakened. Lebanon for us for means the full understanding of obligations and commitments, and the responsibility to take a courageous stance for our nationhood.
Those who preach enslavement should remember that if Jesus Christ had accepted the painful reality imposed on him by the Pharisees, and had abandoned his heavenly mission, that there would have been no Christianity. If black people had accepted the horrible reality of being slaves, they would not have won their battle and become free. If General DeGaulle had accepted the reality of the Nazi occupation of his country, France would have not been liberated.
Succumbing to evil powers to save one’s physical body leaves one void of faith, hope or aspirations and destroys the soul. It is a conduct based on tangible, visible facts removed from those intangible, spiritual realities. The concept of succumbing to a foreign enemy has no place in nationalism because it is synonymous with surrender. Martyrdom knows nothing of temporary material gains and loses, because the struggle for freedom and liberty is metaphysical and eternal.
Freedom is a gift from Almighty God. He created man in His image and distinguished him from other creatures with remarkable intellectual faculties including emotions, conscience, judgment and creativity. Once man loses these faculties, he loses his human-divine nature.
Any Lebanese who accepts the reality of the occupation of his country and declines resisting and fighting the occupiers does not deserve the privilege of being Lebanese. We ask those who preach ‘subordination to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran’ to strengthen their weakened Lebanese faith and fight fiercely to change the imposed satanic reality on their country of Lebanon.
Free we were born, free we shall die. Lebanese we were born, and Lebanese we shall remain till the Day of the Lord.
Long Live Free Lebanon!

Important Congressional visit to Lebanon

W Phares DC/February 21/17/Senator Corker, once a candidate to be US Secretary of State is the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His visit to Lebanon is basically to get clarifications from the Government's leaders about their position on a variety of subjects related to the country and the region. What he is being told will be addressed in his committee and later on with the Administration. What he is being told is not what it is going to actually happen but will impact what is going to be decided. More to come.

Senator Corker meets senior Lebanese officials
The Daily Star/February 21/17/BEIRUT: U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tuesday kicked off a tour of senior Lebanese officials during a visit to Lebanon. Corker met with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, where the Lebanese president stressed his keenness to continue the cooperation between Lebanon and the United States "in a manner that helps maintain Lebanon's stability," a statement issued by Aoun's office said. He also said he hoped that the U.S. aid to the Lebanese Army would continue, "particularly when there's no balance between Lebanon's military capabilities and the militaries of neighboring countries."The statement added that talks focused on the local and regional developments. The U.S. senator arrived on an official visit to Lebanon from Iraq's Irbil Monday night. Corker also met with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil for talks that focused on the latest developments in the region, a statement issued by the Bassil’s press office said. The senator held talks with Marada Movement chief Sleiman Frangieh as well.

Rationale behind Aoun’s pro-Hezbollah strategic stances
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/February 21/17/BEIRUT: Throughout last week President Michel Aoun has been very vocal in his support of Lebanon’s right to resist Israeli aggressions, a ministerial source close to the president revealed to The Daily Star Monday the six reasons behind Aoun’s positions: The general atmosphere of tension following Israeli threats: The president’s statement coincided with the presence of a general atmosphere of tension following Israeli threats and multifaceted reports emanating from Tel Aviv. The intimidations appeared across the media landscape in Israel and throughout Israeli statements at the United Nations Security Council, in addition to the emergence of a number of indicators that point toward a seemingly escalatory approach Israel is now applying toward Lebanon. The contents of a letter sent by Israeli Ambassador to U.N. Danny Danon to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: A letter was sent by Danon after Aoun had made remarks pertaining to Lebanon’s right to adequately respond to any Israeli aggression. The contents of the letter claimed that Lebanon was not fulfilling its requirements under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.
The resolution brought an end to the 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon. It called for an end to hostilities, the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south and the establishment of a weapons-free zone south of the Litani River.
The source said that Aoun was infuriated that the letter was allotted the weight of an official U.N. document, especially since Israel refuses to apply 1701, despite more than 11 years since it was signed.
Israel’s violations across the Blue Line continue and it violates Lebanon’s sovereignty, both via air and land, on a near continuous basis at a time when Lebanon has remained steadfast in its commitment to the resolution.
Strategic deterrence: Aoun also believes that Israel now understands that Lebanon is not what is once was. It is no longer the weak country of the past, and retains deterrence capabilities. Hezbollah’s military performance during the 2006 war raised problems that Israel has so far failed to address.
It remains unable to achieve any of its strategic objectives if it is to wage war in Lebanon as airstrikes could only take it so far, while Hezbollah’s increased capabilities ensure that any marginal gains Israel would achieve would only come at a heavy price.
The president was acting within his prerogative: The president in Lebanon is first and foremost the guardian of the Constitution. As such, throughout his statements he was acting within the responsibilities and prerogatives granted to his office through the Constitution, the highest law in the land.
His stance can then be read as a confirmation to the international community that Lebanon retains strategic considerations that it would not so easily relinquish. Neither would the president back down from any occasion to defend and confirm such strategic necessities, lest they be taken lightly.
How the Lebanese-Israeli issue is framed: The way the conflict is being framed in the international community also guided Aoun’s decision. The president is committed to understanding the issue through statements he had previously made: that is of an Israeli aggressor continuously violating Lebanese sovereignty with impunity. Aoun’s automatic response would then be to call for the liberation of his land and would not tolerate framing Lebanon’s struggle with Israel but as a national force attempting to expel a foreign occupier.
It was a message: Aoun’s speech was an internal message to draw the international community’s position toward Israeli aggression. It remains as it was before he was elected to the presidency. Aoun will not deny any country’s attempt to liberate occupied soil, especially Lebanon, and especially in light of near daily Israeli aggressions on its territories that receive little to no criticism from the international community.
Aoun’s personal beliefs: The speech was issued following the president’s own convictions and beliefs. What happened the past week was an example of the president’s personality being translated into his style of governance.

Lebanon: Marine Le Pen schedules visit with Maronite Patriarch
ICN/February 20, 2017/Marine Le Pen, France's far-right National Front leader and presidential candidate is currently on a 48-hour visit to the Lebanon. She has already been received by President Michel Aoun in the Presidential Palace in Babda. The agenda for her short trip includes meetings with Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Rai, Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri and politician Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces. In her talk with President Aoun, Lebanese media report that Marine Le Pen said she saw the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism as a context for collaboration between Lebanon and France. She is said to have highlighted the need for more decisive international support to help institutions and the Lebanese population to cope with the emergency of refugees from Syria and Iraq. According to UNHCR there are now more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria in the Lebanon. The country has also taken in 447,957 refugees from Palestine, and smaller numbers from Sudan and Iraq. If she becomes the President of France, Marine Le Pen has pledged to reconnect official diplomatic relations with President Assad and will reopen the French embassy in Damascus.

Geagea to Le Pen: Assad a Terrorist No Different than Islamic State
Naharnet/February 21/17/Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea received on Tuesday visiting France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Maarab, where he stressed that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a terrorist no different than the Islamic State terror group. “I took my time to explain to Le Pen the unclear images that reach the West and that we are all against terrorism which has no religion. Based on the aforesaid, Bashar Assad is one of the biggest terrorists in Syria and the region,” said Geagea after the meeting. “One can’t forget the military operations he conducted over tens of years. One can't forget the terror acts he carried out. He can't stay in Syria, so (we say) no to the Islamists and no to Bashar,” he stressed, adding that the issue was discussed at length with Le Pen. On the first day of her two-day visit, Le Pen, head of the anti-immigration National Front, called Assad “the most reassuring solution for France" and said the best way to protect minority Christians is to "eradicate" the Islamic State group preying on them — not turn them into refugees. She said she told Prime Minister Saad Hariri that there is "no viable and workable solution" to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and IS.
Le Pen has made known her pro-Assad position in the past, but it took on extra weight in the context of her high-profile foreign visit. Her stance represents a major divergence from official French policy and that of Hariri, who is allied with Saudi Arabia against the Syrian leader. Discussions in Maarab have also highlighted the Lebanese-French ties, Geagea said: “Relations with France have always been good and we look forward to make them better in the future.”

Le Pen in Beirut: Assad in Office Reassures France
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 21/17
Beirut – France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Monday that there was “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Syrian Regime President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.
Assad represented the “lesser evil,” Le Pen told Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, according to comments released by his office after talks in Beirut.
“There is no viable and plausible solution other than this binary choice, which is Bashar al-Assad on one hand and ISIS on the other hand,” she said.
“Assad is obviously a much more reassuring solution today for France than the ISIS,” she added.
A statement released by Hariri’s press office said that the premier told the French presidential candidate that “Muslims were the first victims of terrorism … that in fact has no religion,” adding that “moderate Muslims, who are the vast majority, are the first targets of extremist terrorism because they are in fact the first bulwark against extremism.”
Le Pen began on Monday an official visit to Beirut, where she also met with President Michel Aoun. Talks with Aoun touched on the Syrian refugee crisis and the need to join forces to fight extremism, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported.
The French presidential candidate called for cooperation among “vigilant” countries, adding: “Lebanon and France, due to their common history, should become the cornerstone in the struggle against this radicalism.” Commenting on the Syrian refugee crisis, she said: “It is significant that this crisis cannot continue due to its grave repercussions that impact the economy, health systems and other aspects.”She also hoped she would be able to receive Aoun in Paris on an official visit if she gets elected. “It would be a great honor,” she said.
During the meeting, Aoun said he hoped that the future would bring the people of Lebanon and France closer.
Le Pen arrived in Beirut on Sunday night accompanied by MP Gilbert Collard, her chief of staff Nicolas Lesage and her political adviser Omar Harfouch.
Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

Lebanese Christians and the illusion of Marine Le Pen
Diana Moukalled/Arab News/February 20/17
There was a refreshing feeling among Lebanese Christians upon the visit to Beirut of the right-wing candidate for the French presidency, Marine Le Pen. Spiritual and political leaders flocked to meet her, and media and social networking sites welcomed the rising star of the right-wing in France, who wants to stop immigration, exit the euro, tax companies that employ foreigners, and revoke the citizenship of French people with dual nationality.
Le Pen landed in Beirut after Western capitals were reserved about welcoming her, particularly given her populist agenda based on anti-globalization and conservative socioeconomic policies.
“We have a special feeling toward Lebanon,” said Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, founder of the right-wing National Front party. He has spoken of “ideological and political parallels with Lebanese Christians,” saying the National Front has close ties with them from the time of Lebanon’s civil war.
It seems this visit by a French presidential candidate will not be the last, although Lebanon does not have more than 20,000 citizens and residents who are eligible to vote in France. Yet such a visit is important to the French right-wing as it is a suitable introduction to Middle East Christians and radical Islam, topics that became popular after last year’s bloody attacks in France.
None of the right-wing leaders can identify a policy to protect the Orient’s Christians, or protect anyone for that matter. They excel at rushing to exploit the issue of minorities for domestic reasons only.
Lebanon carries an added value as the best place to discuss the Syrian crisis and Syrian refugees, particularly as Le Pen’s views on refugees chime with those of President Michel Aoun, who is against receiving refugees and wants to force them to return to their country. Is Le Pen teaching Lebanese officials how to deal with foreigners in their own country? As if Lebanon, with its history of tightening policies against refugees, needs such lessons.
While Lebanon has more than 1 million Syrian refugees and over half a million Palestinian refugees, a part of Lebanese society does not need Le Pen to have xenophobic ideas, as they are strongly exercised by officials who were able to impose curfews on workers and refugees at night and prevent them from working in certain professions. These are only some examples of hostile political rhetoric.
Lebanese, happy with the visit of Le Pen or any Western right-wing leader, do not want to admit that none of these leaders can identify a policy to protect the Orient’s Christians, or protect anyone for that matter. They excel at rushing to exploit the issue of minorities for domestic reasons only, and Le Pen is at the forefront of that. Reviewing the experiences of the right-wing, which is expanding in Europe and the US, shows the failure of these ideas.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.

Le Pan Refuses Headscarf In Lebanon, Puts "Feminist" Swedish Government To Shame

Vincent van den Born/Gatestone Europe/ February 21, 2017 /Candidate for the French presidency and leader of Front National (FN) Marine Le Pen visited Lebanon, her first visit to a foreign head of state since 2011, with Angela Merkel refusing to meet her. During a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, she told him that there is “no viable and workable solution” in Syria, besides choosing between President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State. “I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic one. It appears that Bashar al-Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.” During her visit, Le Pen also managed to put the Swedish government to shame. After meeting Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister al-Hariri, she had been scheduled to meet Lebanon’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian. Although the cleric’s press office indicated that Le Pen’s aides had been informed beforehand that a headscarf was required for the meeting, they still said they were “surprised” by her reaction. Le Pen flatly refused: “I met the grand mufti of Al-Azhar, and the highest Sunni authority didn’t have this requirement, but it doesn’t matter. You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up.”Not one of the news agencies that thus far reported on Le Pen’s visit has neglected to call her ‘right-wing’. Not one has called her ‘feminist’. Le Pen did what the Swedish ‘feminist’ government refused to do; she did not bow to Islamist demands to cover up. Who is the true feminist here?

Le Pen supports Assad, downplays nationality reform plans in Lebanon
By BBC Tuesday, 21 February 2017/French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has downplayed her plans to suppress double nationality during an interview with privately-owned Lebanese daily L’Orient Le Jour on 20 February. Le Pen, who has arrived in Beirut for a 48-hour visit, softened her stance on double nationality rules during the interview, saying that no decision had been made yet over the retroactivity of legislation that would ban French citizens from holding a second nationality. “In principle, one can truly only have one nationality,” Le Pen said, but she did not exclude the possibility of some exceptions “through bilateral agreements with some countries”. Le Pen told L’Orient Le Jour that she was considering to reestablish diplomatic ties with the Syrian government, to reopen the French Embassy in Damascus and to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On the same day, Lebanese President Michel Aoun became the first foreign head of state to host Le Pen. She also met Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. During a 30 minute news conference after her meeting with Aoun, Le Pen said that “Lebanon and France, who share common history, must be the pillars of the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism”. She also highlighted the cost of the Syrian refugee crisis for Lebanon and “the weight of taking charge of an exceptional number of refugees for the economy and the health system”. She lauded Aoun’s “courageous path, for many years” but told Lebanese media that she had “some differences which could be linked to the geographic location of our two countries” with premier Hariri. “Each of us - naturally, we are both patriots - defends the interests of his country,” Le Pen added. Hariri’s office published a statement after the visit warning of “conflating terrorism and Islam”. Le Pen met the Lebanese minister of foreign affairs Jibran Bassil, several MPs and is due to meet the grand Mufti, Christian politician Samir Jaaja (leader of the Lebanese Forces party) and the Maronite Patriarch.

Jumblat: Le Pen's Remarks an Insult to Lebanese and Syrian People
Naharnet/February 21/17/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat criticized on Tuesday statements made by visiting French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen which he dubbed as “insulting.”“Marine Le Pen's statements in Lebanon are inappropriate and are considered an insult to both the Syrian and Lebanese people,” said Jumblat in a tweet. The MP did not elaborate any further. Le Pen announced from Beirut that Syrian President Bashar Assad is “a much more reassuring solution for France” than the jihadist Islamic State group. Le Pen arrived in Lebanon on Sunday. She held meetings with senior Lebanese officials on Monday, and is scheduled to continue meetings with other figures on Tuesday.

Veiled surprise: Lebanon, meet Le Pen
John Moody/Fox News/February 21/17
Sometimes, it’s not what’s in your head, but on it -- or rather not on it – that gets you remembered. France’s populist candidate for President, Marine Le Pen, just had such a moment. She’s feeling good about it.
Le Pen, who is running for her country’s top job on the right-wing National Front ticket, was in Lebanon this week to meet that country’s president. She also had a session scheduled with the country’s top Sunni Muslim cleric.
Her talk with President Michel Aoun, who is Christian, went well enough, according to most press reports. But when it came time to meet with Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, the French candidate was told that women were required to don headscarves before entering the presence of the religious leader.
Le Pen refused, and after a few awkward moments between her staff and the sheikh’s, abruptly called off the audience and left. “I consider the headscarf a symbol of a woman’s submission,” she said afterward. “I will not put on the veil.”
Whether Le Pen was truly surprised by the dust-up, or playing to her audience at home is an open question. She insists that her team informed the mufti’s staff the night before that she would show up bare-headed. Derian’s camp says she had agreed to don the veil.
Le Pen, who is leading in presidential polls before April’s first round of national elections, has long called for limits on immigrants coming to France – many of whom are Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa. Her dramatic, attention-getting play in Beirut may not convince centrist French voters who are wary of her hardline positions, but it is certain to galvanize her core supporters.
Le Pen’s timing could not have been better. On the same day that she snubbed the Muslim mufti, police arrested three suspects in southern France for plotting what they called “an imminent terror attack.” That headline, juxtaposed with Le Pen’s face-down of a Muslim grandee, will reinforce her warning that France already has too many immigrants.
The Lebanon incident was covered quite differently by various news organizations. The Associated Press included this quote from Le Pen, referring to herself in the third person: “I note that when Marine Le Pen refuses to don the headscarf, it is criticized, but when Michelle Obama refused to do it in Saudi Arabia, it was considered admirable.”Al Jazeera, which is funded by the ruling family of Qatar, was less generous. “This was a trap and a set-up because she wanted to send a message to her own voters and supporters that she somehow refused to respect the local customs in a Muslim-majority country,” its online report noted. Note to Al Jazeera: you got it right, but for the wrong reason.
Le Pen has the same ability to sense the voters’ mood in her country as a long-shot candidate in the United States named Trump demonstrated last year on his way to the White House. That she is being criticized for taking a strong stand is only further evidence of the media’s double-standard toward conservative politicians. Indeed, America’s former first lady, Michelle Obama, was credited with making “a bold political statement” when she declined the veil during her husband’s visit to the kingdom in 2015. Another former first lady, Laura Bush, also appeared with then-King Abdullah without head covering in 2006.
The Catholic Church used to request that women shroud their heads when they met with the Pope, but that custom has nearly faded from Vatican protocol. Hillary Clinton, when she was first lady, met Saint Pope John Paul II, her hair free to blow in the wind.
Bellwether thinks Le Pen smelled an opportunity to demonstrate strength and embrace Western values, and took it. She might not be popular in part of Lebanon, but her actions there shouted: “Vive La France!”John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Vatican correspondent and Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books, including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."

Berri Sounds Alarm over Vacuum at Parliament
Naharnet/February 21/17/Efforts of various political parties have failed so far to agree on a new electoral law that will govern the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled in May, which has raised fears of vacuum at the parliament. Speaker Nabih Berri sounded the alarm on Tuesday and stressed: “The country must not be driven towards vacuum, it is unacceptable, vacuum implies that the country is no more. The constitution has stipulated that Lebanon is a democratic republic with a parliamentary system. When the parliament falls and enters into vacuum, what will be left of the republic?”“Everything happening around us is dangerous. Uncalculated steps will push our efforts down the drain,” Berri said from Tehran, where he takes part in the 6th conference for supporting the Palestinian people. Berri's comments come in light of a deadline, February 21, to sign a decree calling the electoral bodies to begin preparations for the parliamentary polls. President Michel Aoun refused to sign the decree since it would mean running the elections based on the 1960 law. Aoun has reiterated rejection to staging the polls under the current 1960 majoritarian law, or the extension of the parliament's term. He declared that he prefers vacuum over holding the polls under the 1960.But, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq has recently signed the decree ordering preparations for the upcoming polls, which Berri assured is part of the interior minister's duties.
He said: “The responsibility of the interior minister requires him to implement his duties. If he were to refrain from signing the decree calling the electoral bodies to start preparations for the polls under the current electoral law, he and the Prime minister will (by law) be held accountable.
“Signing the decree by PM Saad Hariri does not mean it would be directed against the President,” he pointed out, “but the president is also right because pushing the need to find a new law stems from his willingness to encourage political parties to approve a new law.”
The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. While al-Mustaqbal Movement has rejected that the electoral law be fully based on proportional representation, arguing that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat has totally rejected proportional representation, even within a hybrid law, warning that it would “marginalize” the minority Druze community. Hizbullah, Mustaqbal, AMAL Movement, the FPM and the Lebanese Forces are meanwhile discussing several formats of a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system. Separately, the MP touched on cabinet discussions on the state's annual budget, he refused having it “financed at the citizens' expense. We cannot give the people with one hand and take away with the other.”

Change and Reform Rejects 1960 Law Anew, Hints Aoun Won't Ink Polls Decree
Naharnet/February 21/17/The Change and Reform parliamentary bloc on Tuesday reiterated its rejection of the controversial 1960 electoral law, noting that it violates the 1989 Taef Accord, while hinting that President Michel Aoun will not sign a decree calling for parliamentary elections in May 2017.
“The president has taken a stance that conforms with the constitution, seeing as everyone has acknowledged that the current electoral law breaches the National Pact and the stipulations of the Lebanese constitution that was endorsed in Taef,” bloc secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan announced after a weekly meeting in Rabieh. “Is the president supposed to accept this situation? Is he supposed to breach his oath of office under the excuse that there is a decree calling for elections under this futile electoral law?” Kanaan asked. “The president is supposed to urge the political forces to perform their duties and respect the constitution and the national partnership that was stipulated by the Taef Accord. The bloc today is very keen on the Taef Accord and on passing a new electoral law,” Kanaan added. And noting that Change and Reform has showed openness to all the electoral law formats that have been proposed, the MP said anyone seeking to tailor the electoral law to fit their interests would be breaching the constitution and the National Pact. The bloc “categorically supports President Michel Aoun's stance that calls on all blocs to shoulder their responsibilities and employ this debate to reach a solution rather than exchange blame,” Kanaan said. “We reject the 1960 law and extension, and the 1960 law is itself an extension seeing as it would extend the state of decay, non-democracy and constitution violation,” the lawmaker went on to say. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own mandate twice.hile al-Mustaqbal Movement has rejected that the electoral law be fully based on the proportional representation system, arguing that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds, Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat has totally rejected proportional representation, even within a hybrid law, warning that it would “marginalize” the minority Druze community. The political parties are meanwhile discussing several formats of a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Jumblat Delegation Meets Arslan, Says 'No One Can Eliminate Anyone'
Naharnet/February 21/17/A joint delegation from the Progressive Socialist Party and the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc held talks Tuesday in Khalde with Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan. “We come to this dear house regardless of the circumstances and no matter what the political issues at hand might be. We are at our house and there is a common will to reach solutions to the all the political issues,” MP Ghazi Aridi said after the meeting. “There is an key role for Mir Talal in this essential partnership,” Aridi added. “We and Mir Talal, and any rational person and everyone who wants the country's interest, agree on basic principles such as diversity, pluralism, reconciliation, partnership, unified standards and correct representation,” he went on to say. He reiterated that “no one can eliminate or bypass anyone” in the country. “There is what resembles consensus in the country on the need to have an electoral law that enjoys everyone's approval. We support this orientation and despite the pressing deadlines, we have plenty of time to reach a consensual law,” Aridi noted. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own mandate twice. While al-Mustaqbal Movement has rejected that the electoral law be fully based on the proportional representation system, arguing that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds, Jumblat has totally rejected proportional representation, even within a hybrid law, warning that it would “marginalize” the minority Druze community. The political parties are meanwhile discussing several formats of a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Hamadeh, US Senator visit public Sabah School
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - National Education and Higher Education Minister, Marwan Hamadeh, and US Senator, Bob Corker, paid an inspection visit on Tuesday to the Public Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah School in Beirut, in the presence of the Director of US Agency for International Development, Anne Patterson. The Public Al Sabah School offers afternoon teaching schedule for the displaced Syrian students. Minister Hamadeh explained in detail to Senator Corker the number of displaced students and Lebanon's intention to accommodate about a one hundred thousand pupils in the next academic year in general education and non-formal vocational and technical education. Hamadeh announced a decision to accept the registration of all displaced students, even those who do not have identification papers until their safe return to their homeland.
Hamadeh and Corker toured the various classes and departments of the School, and met with the students and listened to their comments.

Bassil, US Senator tackle current developments
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Gebran Bassil, met on Tuesday at Villa Boustros with Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Senate, US Senator Robert Corker, in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, with talks reportedly touching on most recent developments in the broad region. Minister Bassil also received the credentials of ambassadors of Finland, Sultanate of Oman and Morocco, in preparation to be presented later to President of the Republic General Michel Aoun.

Army thwarts smuggling operation in Arsal
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - The Lebanese army foiled on Tuesday night a smuggling operation of a Syrian in Arsal, NNA field reporter said. In details, a Lebanese was apprehended on Tuesday while he was carrying out the smuggling operation in Arsal. The detainees were handed over to the concerned authorities.

Jumblatt on his meeting with Hollande: We pushed for holding parliamentary polls
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - PSP leader, Deputy Walid Jumblatt, said that "I stressed with French President, François Hollande, the need to hold the parliamentary polls in Lebanon, maintain stability and accomplish the Saudi-French deal." Jumblatt told "France 24 Arabic" channel that he has opposed the proportional representation as it is useless in light of sectarian system, "but I submitted a draft to Speaker Nabih Berri that includes a compromise and we will discuss it when he returns from Iran."On the other hand, the MP asserted that the Lebanese arena was fortified as the Lebanese have agreed to organize controversy. "Dialogue alone fortifies the Lebanese scene," he concluded.

Meraabi, Miles tackle refugee crisis
Tue 21 Feb 2017 /NNA - State Minister for Refugees' Affairs, Moeen Meraabi, met on Tuesday at his ministerial office with Australian Ambassador to Lebanon, Glenn Miles, in the presence of Embassy Humanitarian Affairs Official, whereby they discussed the latest in the issue of Syrian refugee crisis and its repercussions on the Lebanese society. Minister Maraabi pointed out during the meeting that the aids provided to the Lebanese host communities as insufficient, given the lack of infrastructure, water and sanitation, as well as poor medical and educational services in the areas of displacement. Meraabi also warned of a situation that is on the brink of explosion, which could result in serious repercussions entailing the international community as a whole. The Minister thanked the Australian state for its donations in support of Lebanon in the face of the displacement crisis, and called for "more support in terms of financing infrastructure construction."

Hariri, US Senator hold talks
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, met on Tuesday night at the Center House with US Senator, Bob Corker, and in the presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard.Both sides tackled the latest developments in Lebanon and the region as well as international developments and bilateral ties between both countries.

Hariri to economic bodies: Any new tax would take into consideration the interests of the citizens and the economic sectors
Tue 21 Feb 2017/NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri said that approving the draft state budget is an essential goal for the government, and hoped the budget discussion will be completed during the successive meetings held by the cabinet for this purpose.
He said, addressing a delegation from the economic bodies headed by former Minister Adnan Kassar: "A lot is being said in the media about a package of taxes and fees to be imposed on the citizens, particularly those with limited income, and on some sectors, including the banking sector. I want to clarify once and for all that discussions regarding the issue of new taxes and fees are moving positively in the cabinet, and take into consideration the balance between the citizens' interests, the interest of the economic sectors and ensuring additional resources to finance the budget."
He added: "Everyone knows that the economic situation is witnessing a state of flounder. And the aim is not to impose new taxes and fees but to hold a practical discussion to define the taxes and fees that should be applied, that have the least impact on the economic growth and on the low-income class and that secure the necessary revenues to the treasury."Hariri said: "The discussions in the cabinet are open and aim to find a balance between the needs of the private sector, of the citizens and of the state. On the other hand, there is a package of incentives to stimulate the private sector that we are seeking to include in the draft state budget."Hariri said that approving the ranks and salaries scale is being studied by the cabinet, and in case it is approved, it should be linked to administrative reforms and ensuring financial resources to finance them. Without these reforms and the commitment to implement them, the ranks and salaries scale cannot be approved because it is not possible to increase salaries and wages without improving productivity in the public sector and activating public administration.
As for increasing the electricity tariff, Hariri said: "I personally believe that it is not permissible to increase the tariff before increasing and improving electricity hours."
He concluded: "We are developing a new plan to deal with the issue of displaced Syrians, and we plan to benefit from the international support for this issue by developing the infrastructure used by the Syrian displaced especially the roads, schools, universities, hospitals, electricity and water sectors".For his part, Kassar said: "Our visit to Premier Hariri comes in the context of the continuous consultation on all national issues. We discussed the economic situation in light of the cabinet's discussion of the 2017 draft budget and the government's directives.
We praised the dynamism and vitality of the work of the government headed by Premier Saad Hariri and its keenness to pay due attention to the economic and socio-economic files and to the security situation. The cabinet is also eager to approve a new budget after the absence of any budget since 2005 and this is a positive indicator of the determination of the government and the new term to resolve the issue of settlement accounts.
This also shows that the concerned authorities are determined to control and rationalize spending, and improve the collection of public revenues according to defined objectives and priorities that would stimulate growth and correct the state finances.
Our meeting with Premier Hariri was very good. He expressed his willingness to continue the discussions and we have full confidence that he will take the necessary steps and he has our full support. Premier Hariri showed understanding of the concerns of the economic bodies regarding new taxes to finance the budget deficit, which would lead to further strain the national economy, which is already suffering from sharp recession because of the crises that the country experienced since the beginning of the presidential vacuum and that continues due to the absence of foreign investments. The delegation told the prime minister that the first step to finance the budget deficit would be to stop the rampant wastage in the state's institutions, improve tax collection and end the increased squander in public institutions. All this would be essential to the reform that has become urgent in light of the growing corruption."

Berri from Tehran: Igniting War in the Middle East Starts, Ends in Palestine
Naharnet/February 21/17/Speaker Nabih Berri extended appreciation for Iran for “supporting Lebanon in facing the Israeli occupation and its solidarity with the Army, people and the Resistance,” the National News Agency reported on Tuesday. Berri spoke from Tehran where he delivered a speech at the opening of the sixth conference in support of Palestine Intifada. He thanked “Iran for its support and help for Lebanon to face the Israeli occupation and its solidarity with the Army, people and Resistance to free all our land and oblige Israel to commit to (UN) Resolution 1701,” added NNA. He stressed that none of the Israelis want a political solution, pointing out to the daily occupational practices. He called upon the world “to realize that starting war in the Middle East begins and ends in Palestine.”Berri noted that moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Al-Quds encourages Israel to take more pre-emptive decisions, calling for "Arab-Islamic preparedness to respond by closing (our) embassies in Washington,” in retaliation. “It is due time for us to get together and achieve justice for the Palestinians." Berri praised Iran's role in favor of Palestine and its people, pointing out that "they target Tehran just because it supports Palestine."
UK Announces £2.5M Investment in Lebanon's Knowledge Economy
Naharnet/February 21/17/British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter on Tuesday announced £2.5 million ($3.2 million) towards a new International Research Center (IRC) in Lebanon, the British Embassy said in a statement. Shorter was speaking live at the ArabNet Beirut conference, held under the patronage of President Michel Aoun. The International Research Center will act as “the bridge between the abundant knowledge capability in Lebanese universities and the global tech industry, partnered with GREAT British Universities,” the Embassy said. “It aims to position Lebanon as the Middle East’s R&D hub, acting as a catalyst for economic growth, stability and job creation and a gateway between east and west,” it added.The IRC will serve as a portal for multinational and local companies of all sizes to undertake research and develop new solutions in these areas through a collaborative environment where commercial gain can be achieved for all.
Its first project, a collaboration between the Lebanese University and the Geneva-based CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics, amongst others, is already underway.
The collaboration aims to produce the world’s first Fiber Optic Sensors System designed to measure parameters such as temperature, humidity, concentration of pesticides, fertilizers and enzymes in the soil of cultivated fields. This will empowers farmers by allowing irrigation that will result in water saving and increased crop yield, and cut the cost of watering farmer’s fields from $500 per hectare to under $80 per hectare.“The Tech Hub is not about taking the most talented to global markets. It is about bringing global markets to them. It is about returning Lebanon to being the gateway to the MENA region, a bridge between East and West as it always was. Lebanon’s people are its most coveted resource,” Ambassador Shorter said.
“This partnership, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, is about harnessing the potential of that resource. This partnership is about creating 25,000 jobs in Lebanon by 2025. The UK is not just supporting Lebanon’s security and stability, but it’s leading the way in investing in Lebanon’s prosperity too,” he added. Former telecom minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, the Chairman of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, said “Lebanon’s real strength is in its brain power, reflected in its world-class education and its stellar diaspora.”“The hub’s R&D center will bridge Lebanon’s academic strengths and knowledge capabilities with the global industry. Retaining our best talents is a game changer for our economy. Investing in our talents will harness their enormous potential to turn Lebanon into a globally recognized innovation hub all while creating jobs for our youth,” Sehnaoui added.
He noted that from the very beginning of the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub under two years ago, the British Embassy Beirut “has been closely involved, providing the expertise, matched talents and helped Lebanese entrepreneurs expand their footprint in global markets through London and the British ecosystem.”“With new technological approaches to traditional sectors we can find innovative solutions to help bring people out of poverty, create a more inclusive society, and enable economic growth,” the ex-minister added. The International Research Center is a key recommendation of the recent flagship report by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, which outlines a plan to create 25,000 jobs by 2025.
The report’s findings followed the examination of Lebanon’s knowledge economy, mapping its strengths and weaknesses, assessing global trends, and comparing its ecosystem development experiences with countries of a similar profile.
The UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH) is a joint initiative by Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s Central Bank, and the UK government through the British Embassy in Beirut. It aims to support the growth of the knowledge economy in Lebanon through the development of tech companies in the country and create opportunities for the brightest Lebanese talent to access international markets.
More information can be found at:

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 21-22/17
Houston police chief: No injuries amid gunfire reports at Texas Medical Center

The Associated Press Wednesday, 22 February /17/The police chief in Houston says no one has been found injured and there's no evidence of a shooting amid reports of gunfire inside the hospital at the Texas Medical Center. Chief Art Acevedo says his officers were making a second search of Ben Taub Hospital, one of the city's major trauma centers. Police began receiving reports of gunfire shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday. Dozens of officers and SWAT team members are at the hospital. Television images from helicopters showed dozens of employees leaving the hospital, some of them attending to patients who appeared to have been evacuated on gurneys or in wheelchairs. The hospital has nearly 500 beds and its trauma center treats more than 100,000 emergency patients each year.

Saudi King receives US Senator John McCain
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud received at al-Yamamah Palace on Tuesday a member of the United States Senate, Senator John McCain. During the meeting, they reviewed the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Other senior officials were also attending the meeting, including Minister of State Dr. Musaed bin Mohammed al-Aiban, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, and Charge’ D’Affaires at the United States Embassy to Saudi Arabia, Christopher Henzel.

Iran summons Turkish envoy over comments by president
By Reuters Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran on over comments made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Tayyip Erdogan accusing the Islamic Republic of destabilizing the region. Tehran and Ankara support opposite sides in the conflict in Syria with mostly Shi’ite Iran backing the government of President Bashar Assad while Turkey, which is majority Sunni, has backed elements of the Syrian opposition. In Iraq, commanders of the predominantly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Units, many of whom are trained and funded by Iran, have been highly critical of Turkey's military presence there. On Sunday, Cavusoglu told delegates at a security conference in Munich, “Iran wants to turn Syria and Iraq into Shi’ite,” according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. Cavusoglu also said Turkey was against any sectarianism in the Middle East and had called on Iran to stop threatening the region's stability and security. “We will be patient with their positions,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Monday in reference to the comments made in Munich, according to the Mehr News agency. “But there is a certain cap for our patience.”The Turkish foreign ministry responded by saying Iran should “revise its regional policies and take constructive steps, rather than criticizing countries that voice criticism of Iran”.But Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus had earlier in the day struck a more conciliatory tone, downplaying any reports of tension.“Iran and Turkey are friendly nations. There can be differences in views from time to time, but there can’t be animosity because of comments,” he told reporters during a news conference after a cabinet meeting. “Even if our political differences with Iran emerge, these shouldn’t be blown out of proportion,” he said.

Iranian delegation to visit Riyadh to discuss hajj pilgrimage rift
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi has told a press conference that “an Iranian delegation will visit Saudi capital of Riyadh this week to discuss prospects of hajj pilgrimage with Saudi officials; the visit is by an official invitation by Saudi sides,” according to Mehr news. This follows a rift between both countries after Iran said last year that its pilgrims would not attend the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had criticized Saudi Arabia over how it runs the hajj after a crush in 2015 that killed hundreds of pilgrims, and suggested Muslim countries think about ending Riyadh's control of the annual pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia accused Iran of seeking to politicize the pilgrimage, saying in turn that Iran was compromising safety with its actions.

Palestinians slam Israel soldier sentence, call it ‘green light’ for crimes
AFP, Hebron Tuesday, 21 February 2017/The sentencing of an Israeli soldier to 18 months for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant is a “green light” for the military’s “crimes,” a Palestinian government spokesman said Tuesday. “The Palestinian government views this light ruling against the murderer soldier as a green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes,” spokesman Tarek Rishmawi told AFP shortly after an Israeli military court sentenced Elor Azaria for the killing of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the occupied West Bank in March 2016. ‘Farce’The family of the Palestinian killed reacted angrily to his sentencing, labelling the trial a “farce”.Amnesty International said the sentence given to Elor Azaria, 21, for shooting dead Abdul Fatah al-Sharif in the southern West Bank was too light, while Human Rights Watch warned against proposals to pardon him. Sharif was shot dead in March 2016 while lying on the ground, several minutes after he and another Palestinian had allegedly stabbed a soldier in the city of Hebron. An Israeli military court found Azaria guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him on Tuesday. “A year and a half is a farce,” Sharif’s father Yusri said. “It is only a mock trial to silence people and the families.”“If one of us (a Palestinian) killed an animal they would have sentenced him for only God knows how long.”Magdalena Mughrabi from Amnesty International said in a statement that Azaria’s conviction a month ago had “offered a glimmer of hope for accountability for unlawful killings by Israeli forces”.“(But) the 18-month sentence for Elor Azaria does not reflect the gravity of the offence.”Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, called the conviction an “important message about reining in excessive use of force.”She warned, however, that pardoning him, as many ministers in Israel’s right-wing government have proposed, would “encourage impunity”.

Israeli Court to Sentence Soldier for Killing Palestinian
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 21/17/An Israeli military court on Tuesday sentenced a soldier to 18 months in prison for shooting dead an injured Palestinian assailant. Judge Maya Heller handed down the sentence a month after Elor Azaria, 21, was found guilty of manslaughter for killing Abdul Fatah al-Sharif as he lay on the ground in the southern occupied West Bank in March last year. Prosecutors had demanded a three to five year sentence but the panel of three judges decided such a punishment would be too severe. Heller said they had taken into account mitigating factors including the "harm suffered by his family" and the fact he was in "hostile territory" when the shooting occurred. She added, however, that he had not expressed remorse for his actions. The March 2016 shooting in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron was caught on video by a rights group and spread widely online. It showed Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another Palestinian after stabbing and wounding a soldier, according to the army. Azaria then shoots him again in the head without any apparent provocation. He has already spent 10 months in detention at an Israeli military base and it was not immediately clear if Tuesday's sentence includes time served.

Iran's Leader Calls Israel a 'Fake' Nation, 'Dirty Chapter'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 21/17/Iran's supreme leader has used the podium of a pro-Palestinian gathering in Tehran to call Israel a "fake" nation and a "dirty chapter" of history. The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday are some of his most vitriolic against the Jewish state, Iran's archenemy. Khamenei says Israel was created by bringing Jews from other parts of the world to the Mideast region to settle in the land of the Palestinians. He says that the creation of Israel is "one of the dirty chapters of history that will be closed, with the grace of God." Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, urged all Muslims to support the Palestinians and "resistance" movements — a reference to anti-Israeli militant groups such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Syrian opposition slams Assad’s ‘bloody message’
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/The Bashar al-Assad regime is sending a “bloody” message ahead of the Geneva talks by intensifying attacks against the opposition-controlled areas, Syrian opposition’s Higher Negotiations Council (HNC) said. According to the HNC, Assad’s regime forces have neither honored the agreed ceasefire nor respected outcome of the recent negotiations that took place in the Uzbekistani capital of Astana. The Russian side, whose diplomats mediated the Astana talks, could not influence Assad into respecting the ceasefire, the HNC added. The HNC described Assad’s acts as attempting to abort any political resolution to the Syrian conflict, adding that the opposition will strongly respond to Assad forces’ escalation.

UN alarmed by upsurge in Syria fighting
By AFP Tuesday, 21 February 2017/The United Nations on Monday expressed alarm over escalating fighting in the Damascus area as the world body prepared to launch a new round of peace talks. UN officials have received reports of civilian deaths and injuries from shelling in Qabun, Barzeh, Tishreen and western Harasta districts of the city, said UN spokesman Farhan Haq. “The UN is alarmed by the intensification of fighting in the Damascus area in recent days,” said Haq. Over 100,000 civilians in need live in those neighborhoods which have seen an upsurge in fighting since Saturday, he added. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Geneva awaiting the arrival of delegations to peace talks set to begin on Thursday. The UN spokesman indicated that there were still questions concerning the delegations. “We do expect clarifications on who precisely will be coming over,” he said. The talks in Switzerland will be the fourth round of UN-hosted peace negotiations and follows meetings between Russia, Iran and Turkey aimed at shoring up a ceasefire. The nearly six-year war in Syria has killed more than 310,000 people and displaced millions.

We will stay in Iraq for a while longer, says US defense secretary
The Associated Press, Baghdad Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday he believes US forces will be in Iraq and in the fight against ISIS militants for a while, despite some rocky times between the two nations. Speaking at the end of a day of meetings in Baghdad with military commanders and Iraqi political leaders, Mattis said he is open to any request from his military commanders to aid the battle to retake Mosul and launch a major battle to oust IS from the base of its so-called caliphate in Raqqa, Syria. He would not provide details. Despite President Donald Trump's past threats to take Iraq's oil and his attempt to impose a travel ban that includes Iraqi citizens, Mattis said his meetings with Iraqi leaders underscored the partnership the US has with the Iraqis. He said there's no doubt that "the Iraqi people, the Iraqi military and the Iraqi political leadership recognize what they're up against and the value of the coalition and the partnership, in particular with the United States."
His optimistic words come on the heels of his earlier declaration that the U.S. does not intend to seize Iraqi oil, distancing himself from comments made by President Donald Trump that has rattled Iraq's leaders. Trump's oil threat and his inclusion of Iraq in the administration's travel ban have roiled the nation and spurred local lawmakers to pressure al-Abadi to reduce cooperation with Washington. "I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do that in the future," Mattis told reporters traveling with him. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil." Trump brought up the prospect during the campaign, and he mentioned it again late last month during a visit to the CIA. He told the gathering there that, "To the victor belong the spoils," and added, "maybe you'll have another chance" to take the oil.
Despite those tensions, Mattis and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, described an enduring partnership between the US and Iraq. "I imagine we'll be in this fight for a while and we'll stand by each other," Mattis said.
Townsend, who was standing by Mattis, declined to say how long the US will stay in Iraq. But, he said, "I don't anticipate that we'll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul." He added, "I think that the government of Iraq realizes their very complex fight, and they're going to need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul." Townsend also acknowledged that US forces are now operating closer and deeper into the fight with Iraq units as the battle to retake western Mosul entered its second day.
He said the change began in recent months during the successful fight to take back eastern Mosul, and is now happening more often. US special operations forces have been working with the Iraqis, offering advice and assistance but initially they were only at the headquarters' level.
More recently they have been moving closer to the battlefront, working with brigade, battalion and sometimes smaller units. But they are generally with command and control units, not in combat on the front lines. "We embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation," Townsend said.
Mattis' unannounced one-day stop in Iraq was his first as Pentagon chief and the first visit to the warzone by a senior member of the Trump administration. It comes as Mattis and his military leaders are nearing the end of a 30-day review of the Islamic State fight. He must send Trump a strategy to accelerate the battle in the next seven days.
Senior US military officers said Monday that the fight in the more urban, heavily populated areas of western Mosul will require more precision airstrikes and probably smaller bombs that can take out a building or group of militants and leave surroundings intact.
Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the top Air Force commander in the Middle East, said troops responsible for calling in airstrikes are closer to the fight and can move forward with Iraqi units. They also have greater authority now to speak directly to pilots in the aircraft overhead, allowing them to launch strikes more quickly, he said. Military leaders, said Harrigian, realized they could be more responsive now because the troops have built up trust with their Iraqi partners. While Mattis and Townsend wouldn't talk about any future changes or accelerants in the war fight, various military options have been discussed in recent months. Among them: putting more troops in Iraq and Syria and boosting military aid to Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition. More specifically, officials have talked about expanding efforts to train, advise and enable local Iraqi and Syrian forces, increasing intelligence and surveillance, and allowing US troops to move forward more frequently with Iraqi soldiers nearer the front lines. The Pentagon also would like more freedom to make daily decisions about how it fights the enemy. Current and former US officials discussed the likely options on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk publicly. In Syria, a possible option would be to send more US forces, including combat troops, there as the Raqqa fight heats up. Another move would be to provide heavy weapons and vehicles to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, and boost training. They have been the most effective force against IS in northern and eastern Syria, but the proposal is sensitive. Turkey, a key U.S. and NATO ally, considers the group a terrorist organization.

ISIS-linked group expands foothold in southern Syria near Israel and Jordan
Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Reuters Amman Tuesday, 21 February 2017/ISIS-linked Syrian militant groups on Monday launched a surprise attack on moderate rebels in southwestern Syria near the Golan Heights near where the Jordanian and Israeli borders converge, seizing several villages and a large town, rebels and witnesses said. Rebels said the militants were able to extend their area of control in territory that forms a natural barrier between Syria and Israel where the Yarmouk River flows after they overran the towns of Tseel, Sahem al Golan, Adwan and Tel Jamoua. "In a surprise attack ISIS made an attack on positions held by the Free Syrian Army FSA groups which no one expected to happen so fast," said Colonel Ismail Ayoub, a Syrian opposition army defector. The militants launched a wide-scale dawn attack from their enclave where they are entrenched in the towns of Jamla, Ain Zakar Nafaa and al Shajra, deploying dozens of armored vehicles and several tanks to overrun nearby towns aided by sleeper cells among locals who helped the attackers, two rebel sources said. The militants were later driven out of at least two villages - Jileen and Heet - after a counteroffensive by Southern Front groups, an alliance of FSA factions that coordinates operations from a joint command center in Jordan, said Abu Yahya, a rebel official in the Jabhat Thwar Surya faction. It includes groups that have received some support from foreign states including Gulf Arab governments. The Sunni hardline militants are members of the so-called Khalid Ibn Al Walid Army, a grouping set up last year from a merger of two main militant factions who are believed to have pledged allegiance to ISIS and now control the strip of territory southeast of the Golan Heights. Jordanian army units stationed along the border were put in a state of heightened readiness, a Jordanian security source said, and residents in the area said sounds of mortars were heard clearly from the fighting across the border. A rebel official told Reuters that several FSA rebel groups were expected to get fresh supplies of arms from Jordan in the next few weeks to beef up their defenses against the ultra-hardline Sunni radicals. Earlier this month the Jordanian air force said it conducted air strikes against the militants in the area, destroying an ammunition depot, a car bomb factory and barracks.
Militants had reportedly executed several people in Tseel, the largest town that fell into militants' hands on Monday and which has been a haven for tens of thousands of displaced peoples. Tseel and most of the area captured by the militants had until early last year been in their hands until an alliance of FSA groups and rival Islamist groups wrested control and then managed to lay siege on their territorial enclave. The ultra-hardline militants' offensive came as heavy fighting between rebels and the Syrian army entered its second week in Deraa city, nearly 40 km (25 miles) east of the Yarmouk Valley, in the first such surge of violence in over a year and a half. The timing of the ISIS-affiliated group's offensive has prompted accusations they had exploited the preoccupation of the FSA rebels in ongoing battles with the Syrian army. Rebel advances in a strategic district held by the army have prompted Russia to wage an intensive bombing campaign of rebel-held parts of the southern city for the first time since Moscow's major intervention in September 2015. The capture of Manshiya district would put the remaining government-held part of the city within firing range of the rebels and thwart repeated army attempts to rupture supply lines linking rebel-held areas to the east and west of the city.

Syrian girl rescued from under the ashes
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/A dramatic video has emerged from Syria, in which a little girl is rescued from under the ashes amid the fighting in the Damascus suburb of Tishreen. In the video, the girl’s mother is desperately seeking help from members of the civil defense, who eventually allocate the girl’s whereabouts. Defense members managed had to dig her out in order to rescue the girl who defied death, after she had her head buried under the debris of her destructed home.

CIA-backed aid for Syrian rebels frozen after extremist attack
Reuters, Beirut/Amman/Washington Tuesday, 21 February 2017/CIA-coordinated military aid for rebels in northwest Syria has been frozen since they came under major extremist attack last month, rebel sources said, raising doubts about foreign support key to their war against President Bashar al-Assad. Rebel officials said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the militant assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into extremist militant hands. They said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary. The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to extremist attacks and has nothing to do with US President Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in January, two US officials familiar with the CIA-led program said. The freeze reflects the troubles facing Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels in the almost in the almost six-year-old revolt against Assad, who now appears militarily unassailable in his core western region largely thanks to direct intervention on his side by Russia and Iran. “The reality is that you have changes in the area, and these changes inevitably have repercussions,” said an official with one of the affected FSA rebel groups. He said no military assistance could “enter at present until matters are organized. There is a new arrangement but nothing has crystallized yet.” The CIA declined comment on the reported freeze in support. A Qatari official said his government had nothing to say on the matter. Turkish officials said only they could not discuss “operational details.”Reuters confirmed the freeze with officials from five of the FSA groups that have been recipients of financial and military support from the so-called “MOM operations room.” It was also confirmed by two other senior FSA figures briefed on the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity given the covert nature of the CIA-backed program and the sensitivity of the subject. Several rebels believed the aid halt was temporary, with new arrangements expected, but there was no clarity yet. Confirming the freeze, two senior FSA sources said donor states were aiming to send the aid to one, unified fighting force - a coherence that has eluded rebels throughout Syria’s civil war. One of the FSA officials said he did not expect the rebels to be abandoned as they represent the best hope for blocking a further expansion of extremist influence in Syria, and to fight back against the growing role of Iran there.

Iraqi military says troops consolidate gains south of Mosul
The Associated Press, Iraq Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Iraqi forces were consolidating their gains south of Mosul on Tuesday ahead of moving into the city’s ISIS-held western half, a military spokesperson said, as civilians fled along the front line to government-controlled areas. The remarks came on the third day of what is expected to be the definitive push to rout the ISIS group from Iraq’s second-largest city. The spokesman of the Joint Military Operation Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, told The Associated Press that nearly 123 square kilometers - about 47 square miles - have been taken south of Mosul since the new push started on Sunday. The troops now fully control the strategical hill of Abu Saif overlooking the Mosul airport as well as the Hamam al-Alil intersection on the main highway into the city, Rasool said. Elite Iraqi forces have moved to join the regular army and the security forces on the ground, he added, but would not say what the next steps would entail.

Turkish military: 44 ISIS militants killed in north Syria
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Turkish forces and the US-led coalition have killed at least 44 ISIS extremists in northern Syria in the last 24 hours, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported. Land and air forces have stuck 109 ISIS targets, including shelters, as part of Operation Euphrates Shield. The Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield began in late August to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.

Bahrain arrests 20 terror suspects, including four women
Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Bahrain has arrested 20 terror suspects accused of plotting attacks in the small island Gulf kingdom. One of those captured on Tuesday was involved in the murder of police officer Lt. Hisham Hassan Mohammed al-Hamadi on Jan. 29.
The arrests of the hidden cell came on the heels of recent security operations that saw three fugitives fleeing for Iran killed when they opened fire on coastguard personnel on Feb. 9. At least two of those arrested were found to have built secret facilities to build explosive devices while eight others were found to have received on arms and the use of explosives in Iraq and Iran. “As part of the search and investigation that led to the foiling of the fleeing fugitives via the sea to Iran on February 9, a number of terror cells that were about to carry out terrorist plots have been dismantled through a comprehensive security plan,” a spokesperson from Bahrain’s Ministry of Interio told Al Arabiya English. “Proactive operations were successfully carried out from Feb. 9 to 19, and 20 individuals who were wanted in security cases were arrested. Four women were among the arrestees and were charged with aiding and abetting fugitives,” the spokesperson added.

Saudi-UAE Coordination Council Retreat kicks off in Abu Dhabi
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 February 2017/A joint retreat between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is set to kick off in Abu Dhabi where over 150 government officials and a number of experts in the public and private sectors are also participating. The retreat is an initiative of the Saudi-UAE Coordination Council, set up and launched by Saudi Arabia's King Salman al-Saud, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The council will be co-chaired by UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, along with a number of ministers and officials from both countries. “The aim of the retreat is to activate the tasks of the Council as per an agreement signed between the states, establishing the Council as a model for cooperation and integration between nations, which reflects the two countries' determination to consolidate fraternal relations through cooperation in a wide range of fields to achieve common interests, and enhance the prospects of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States,” a statement from UAE’s WAM news agency read. “The retreat will take place in two stages, in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to discuss an agenda covering political issues, security, and economics,” the statement added.

Almost 1.4 million children face ‘imminent death:’ UN agency
The Associated Press, Johannesburg Tuesday, 21 February 2017/The United Nations children’s agency is warning that almost 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk of death” as famine threatens parts of South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. The UNICEF announcement comes a day after famine was declared in parts of Unity state in South Sudan, where civil war has raged since late 2013 and where severe inflation has made food unaffordable for many. UNICEF for months has warned about severe malnutrition in northeastern Nigeria, especially in areas that have been largely inaccessible because of the Boko Haram insurgency. The agency says nearly 500,000 children are expected to face severe malnutrition this year in Borno, Yobi and Adamawa states. The agency says Somalia also faces drought and in Yemen’s conflict, nearly half a million children have “severe acute malnutrition.”

Red Crescent: 74 bodies of migrants wash ashore in Libya

The Associated Press, Cairo Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Scores of bodies of African migrants washed ashore in Libya’s western city of Zawiya on the Mediterranean, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said Tuesday - the latest tragedy at sea after migrant deaths rose to record levels along the key smuggling route over the past months. At least 74 bodies were found in Zawiya, according to Red Crescent’s spokesman Mohammed al-Misrati, who feared an even higher death toll. He said that a torn rubber boat was found nearby and that he expected more bodies to surface as such boats usually carry up to 120 people. Al-Misrati told The Associated Press that the bodies were found on Monday morning and that the Red Crescent workers retrieved them between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.The aid agency posted on its Twitter account photographs of dozens of bodies in white and black body bags, lined up along the shore. Al-Misrati said the local authorities would take the bodies to a cemetery in the capital of Tripoli that is allocated for unidentified persons. Libyan coast guard spokesman Ayoub Gassim said over 500 migrants were rescued at sea on Friday and Saturday off the shore of the city of Sebratha, which is to the west of Zawiya. The migrants’ boats were 5-7 miles from the coast of Libya.

Several dead as plane crashes into mall in Australia
By Reuters Tuesday, 21 February 2017/Five people were killed on Tuesday when a small plane crashed in to the roof of a shopping mall after taking off from an airfield outside Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, police said. The twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air plane suffered engine failure and crashed into the mall near the end of the runway at Essendon Airport, Victoria state police assistant commissioner Stephen Leane told reporters in Melbourne. Witnesses told Australian Associated Press the plane exploded on impact. “There were five people on the aeroplane and it looks like nobody's survived the crash,” Leane said. The crash happened at around 9 a.m., about an hour before the mall was due to open and there were no fatalities other than those aboard the aircraft, he added. Sky News showed burning wreckage strewn across the mall's carpark and a thick column of black smoke rising from the crash site. Police did not release information about the identity of the casualties. The plane had been bound for King Island in Bass Strait between the mainland and the southern island state of Tasmania. A spokeswoman for Airservices Australia said flights in and out of Melbourne's main airport were unaffected. Essendon Airport, which is used mainly by light aircraft, remained closed.

Trump names H.R. McMaster as national security adviser
AFP Tuesday, 21 February 2017/United States President Donald Trump has named US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, taking over the post left vacant after Michael Flynn’s resignation. Trump called McMaster, a career Army officer and prominent expert on counterinsurgency warfare, a “man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.” “He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honored to have him,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida. He spoke sitting alongside McMaster, who was dressed in uniform. Trump said McMaster would work alongside acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg, a retired three-star general, in a “very, very special” collaboration. McMaster, who heads the Army Capabilities and Integration Center and is deputy commanding general of the Futures Center at US Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, previously directed a transparency task force in Afghanistan. He also held key roles in the Iraq War and Gulf War, and is known for his criticism of the US military’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Trump's Russia scandal takes an unexpected turn

By Steve Benen/MSNBC/February 21/17/
On Friday afternoon, FBI Director James Comey delivered a classified, hour-long briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Russia scandal, and soon after, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent "formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to the committee's investigation" into the controversy.We don't know much about how the briefing went -- committee members were tight-lipped following Comey's presentation -- though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted late Friday that he's "now very confident" that the committee will conduct "thorough bipartisan investigation" into Russia's "interference and influence."
Reading between the lines, this makes it sound as if the Republican-led panel is trying to knock down the idea that a special select committee is necessary to investigate the scandal without political interference.
A day later, Reuters reported that the FBI is pursuing "at least three separate probes" related to Russian intervention in American politics, "according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation." Two of three, according to the report, relate to alleged cyber-crimes, while the third is the ongoing counter-espionage probe.
And then yesterday, the New York Times moved the ball forward, though in an unexpected way.
A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.
Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The "Ukrainian lawmaker," in this case, is Andrii Artemenko, who's allied with Putin's government.
According to the Times' reporting, Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, claims he received a sealed envelope from Felix Sater, a controversial figure in Trump's orbit, and Cohen delivered the envelope to Michael Flynn before his resignation.
According to the Washington Post's reporting, however, Cohen had a different version of events: he met with the president at the White House, but never dropped off any documents.
The Times stands by its reporting. Why Cohen would tell two very different stories to two different newspapers is unclear.
To be sure, back-channel communications like these aren't illegal or even uncommon, but the broader context matters: people close to Trump have been quietly passing around a pro-Putin plan, which may yet be part of a White House blueprint to ease Russian sanctions, which may help explain Russia's illegal efforts to help put Trump in the White House.
Indeed, any story that further solidifies the connections between the U.S. president and his allies in Moscow is worth paying attention to.
Postscript: As the story continues to unfold, keep an eye on Felix Sater, a former FBI informant and a Soviet-born Trump associate who's worked for years to facilitate Trump business deals in Russia.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 21-22/17
The Offer that Turns the Gaza Strip into Singapore

Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/February 21/17
Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. The offer did not come from Hamas's allies in Iran and the Islamic world. The offer, to turn the impoverished Gaza Strip into "the Singapore of the Middle East," came from Israel.
"The Gazans must understand that Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last millimeter, is not the source of their suffering -- it is the Hamas leadership, which doesn't take their needs into consideration... The moment Hamas gives up its tunnels and rockets, we'll be the first to invest." — Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Hamas does not want a new "Singapore" in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. The welfare of the Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.
Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the unemployed poor Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in the jihad to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.
The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas has once again demonstrated its priorities: killing Jews. That clearly takes precedence over easing the plight of the two million Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip.
Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, the conditions of the Palestinians living there have gone from bad to worse. Crisis after crisis has hit those under the Hamas rule; electricity and water as well as lack of medicine and proper medical care are in dangerously short supply.
Disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have left the Gaza Strip dangerously short of fuel, resulting in massive power outages. Palestinians there consequently have had to resort to using wood for cooking and heating. Hamas, which has brought about three wars that wreaked havoc on its people, is unable to provide them with basic needs.
Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. It is to be noted that the offer did not come from Hamas's friends and allies in Iran and the Arab and Islamic world. Rather, the offer, which promises to turn the Gaza Strip, where most residents live in the poverty of "refugee camps," into "the Singapore of the Middle East," came from Israel.
Specifically, the offer was made by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposed building a seaport and an airport, as well as industrial zones that would help create 40,000 jobs in the Gaza Strip, if Hamas agreed to demilitarization and to dismantling the tunnels and rocket systems it has built up.
"The Gazans must understand that Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last millimeter, is not the source of their suffering -- it is the Hamas leadership, which doesn't take their needs into consideration," Lieberman said in a televised message to the residents of the Gaza Strip. "The moment Hamas gives up its tunnels and rockets, we'll be the first to invest."
Only Israel has ever made such an offer to Hamas. Such a plan would vastly improve the living conditions of the Gaza Strip population. All Hamas is required to do is abandon its weapons and plans to kill Jews, and return the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.
A seaport and an airport would place the Gaza Strip on the global map and open it to investors not only from Israel, but from many other countries as well. Arab and Islamic states, however, are unlikely to rush in to invest in Gaza because, by and large, they despise the Palestinians. One of these countries, Egypt, imposes strict travel restrictions on the Palestinians in Gaza by keeping the Rafah border crossing closed for most days of the year. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are considered personae non gratae in many Arab and Islamic countries. Why? Perhaps because they see them as a security threat. Or perhaps simply because they hate their Arab brothers.
Still, there is no shortage of investors in the West who, if given the opportunity and the proper political climate, would not hesitate to invest their money in the Gaza Strip.
Sadly for the residents of Gaza, none of this is going to happen. Their leaders in Hamas, some of whom have accumulated large fortunes and are living comfortable lives in oil-rich Gulf countries, are not interested in alleviating their people's misery. On the contrary; Hamas wants its people suffering, as bitter Palestinians are perfect candidates for recruitment to the jihad (holy war) against Israel, the Jews and the West.
Whither the future of Gaza: to be "the Singapore of the Middle East," or to more terrorism and war? Sadly, Hamas does not want a new "Singapore" in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.
But all of this takes some spin -- at which Hamas, like its rival, the Palestinian Authority, is masterful. Whatever goes wrong in their territories as a result of their failed policies, Israel is to blame.
Israel's latest offer to clean up the murderous mess that is now the Gaza Strip was rejected within hours of its delivery. One Hamas spokesman after the other made it clear that the Islamic movement is not interested in turning the Gaza Strip into "the Singapore of the Middle East," but rather wishes to maintain its current status as a base for jihad and the promotion of extremist ideology, anti-Semitism and anti-Western sentiments.
Why did Hamas reject an offer for a seaport, airport and tens of thousands of jobs for Palestinians? Because Hamas does not see its conflict with Israel as an economic issue. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.
"The Israeli offer is a silly one," explained Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim Al-Madhoun. "Hamas rejected it because Hamas does not wish to turn the case of liberating the land and Palestinians into an economic issue."
To clarify further: Hamas does not want a new "Singapore" in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the Middle East and ideally from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.
Strikingly, Hamas leaders openly admit all of this. "If we wanted to turn the Gaza Strip into Singapore, we could have achieved that with our own hands," declared senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar. He went on to say that Hamas is continuing to prepare for war with Israel in order to "liberate all of Palestine."
The "settlements," to them, are not Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem; they are Haifa, Jaffa (Tel Aviv), all of Jerusalem, all of Israel. Just look at any map of Palestine: the outline is identical to -- superimposed on -- Israel.
Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the poor unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in the jihad to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.
Palestinian leaders are experts at rejecting Israeli gestures and offers for peace. While Hamas continues to say "no" to ending the suffering of the people living under its thumb, the Palestinian Authority continues to reject various Israeli offers for peace. In the past two decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected the advances of all Israeli prime ministers who offered them concessions and compromise. Indeed, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority share a deadly determination to sacrifice as many Palestinians as possible in their war to destroy Israel.
**Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
© 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.

What is a Killer Imam Doing in Public Libraries in Canada?
Saied Shoaaib/Gatestone Institute/February 21/17
How is it possible that books that advocate violence and extremism meet the "selection criteria" of the Ottawa Public Library, but those that speak out against violence and extremism do not?
The presence of these Islamic books, and these books alone, in Canada's public libraries, without any others to contradict them, gives them legitimacy. They are seen to represent a certain form of Islam that the government of Canada and the City of Ottawa recognize.
This indicates that there is official support for the extremist and terrorist version of Islam, and at the same time no support for a humanist interpretation of Islam.
This surah [4:74] also indicates that if you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are in a state of war against your host country. If you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are living with the enemy.
If we are to reject this danger, it is important that libraries and other institutions have books that reject these Islamist views and confront their hatred, extremism and violence.
The Muslim Brotherhood classifies as one of their great intellectual leaders Imam Mohammed al-Ghazali (1917-1996). He famously decreed that the assassination of the Egyptian Muslim thinker, Farag Foda, was acceptable. In the views of al-Ghazali, Farag Foda was an apostate for defending secular values and human rights. Moreover, al-Ghazali went into an Egyptian court and defended the assassins: "Anyone who openly resisted the full imposition of Islamic law," he said, "was an apostate who should be killed either by the government or by devout individuals." He added: "There is no penalty in Islam to kill the apostate by yourself when the government fails to do so."
In public libraries across Canada (and elsewhere), the books of Imam al-Ghazali are available, along with others that incite hatred, violence and terror, by authors such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Imam Nawawi. There is not a single Arabic language book in a library that I have visited in Ottawa that attacks or criticizes terrorism and violence and hatred.
A copy of One Hundred Questions in Islam by Dr. Muhammad al-Ghazali, found in the Ottawa Public Library. The image at right shows the inside cover of the book, with the Ottawa Public Library Stamp.
The Significance
The Ottawa Public Library apparently prefers Arabic-language books of this extremist nature and rejects those that advocate resistance to extremism or advocates in favour of a modernist Islam.
As an experiment, I donated two books to the Ottawa Public Library. One book was titled The Demise of the State of Brotherhood, released in Egypt in January 2013. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood was the ruling party (FJP) in Egypt. This book addresses the seriousness of the political and religious project of the Muslim Brotherhood and how it worked to establish a religious and theocratic authoritarian state. This government in Egypt was, for the Muslim Brotherhood, a part of the larger effort to restore the Islamic caliphate project around the world.
The second book was entitled, The Sins of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It was released in 2010 and documented a dialogue conducted by the author with the former Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef (2006). It was in this dialogue that General Guide Akef made his famous statement "I don't give a damn about Egypt and these people in Egypt." Akef made it clear that his views on the Muslim Brotherhood and its project of recreating a caliphate took precedence over the needs and views of the people of Egypt. The book was threatened with legal action.
Several months after donating the two books to the Ottawa Public Library, there was no response. After inquiring further, they then told me that the books were not acceptable as they did not meet their "selection criteria." The exact statement from library employee was:
"I have contacted my colleagues at the acquisitions department about the books you donated to the library in the past. They no longer have them, which means that when they received them they didn't pass our selection criteria."
How is it possible that books that advocate violence and extremism meet the selection criteria of the Ottawa Public Library, but those that speak out against violence and extremism do not? Those who donated the other books appear to have been Islamists: they donated books that advocate the terrorist discourse. Yet the library selection committee approves of them.
Can Such Books Create Extremism and Terrorism?
The answer in the Islamist case is: Yes. Many books are available in bookstores and libraries which incite violence, such as Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, or books that promote the colonial period of the West. There are also non-Islamic religious books that incite hatred, but these no longer seem to lead others to kill.
Many governments and individuals have apologized for these past crimes. Germany, for example has apologized for the crimes of the Holocaust against the Jews (but not Austria, Hitler's birthplace); the Spanish government has apologized for the expulsion of Muslims from Andalusia, even though they are the descendants of the invading Arabs. (N.B. The Ottawa Public Library does have copies of Mein Kampf available, but it also has books on the Holocaust and a variety of history books on Word War Two.)
With modern extremist Islam, the situation is different. Its past, along with its ideas and bloody history, remain active today and act as an engine to drive reality. The prevailing Islamist culture has not gotten beyond its past: it does not spread a humanist interpretation of Islam or of the texts that are often used to spread hatred, extremism and terrorism. Today's Islamist Muslims have not apologized for the crimes their ancestors, committed when they invaded much of the rest of the world and formed colonial empires. The opposite is true: they seem very proud of this colonial era and frequently refer to the high-water marks of the empires as the "Golden Age of Islam."
ISIS, for example, wants directly to apply what is in the ancient texts and religious history: to restore the face of Islamist colonial empire. They literally apply the texts that incite violence, directly, without any modern re-interpretation. ISIS is the daughter of the traditional Islamic culture that is now found across the Sunni world.
The presence of these Islamic books, and these books alone, in Canada's public libraries, without any others to contradict them, gives them legitimacy. They are seen to represent a certain form of Islam that the government of Canada and the City of Ottawa recognize.
This indicates that there is official support for the extremist and terrorist version of Islam, and at the same time no support for a humanist interpretation of Islam.
Unfortunately, it seems that Canada and the West fight "terrorism" everywhere, but they do not close the factories of extremism and terrorism in their own countries. This view seems to exist not only in public libraries but also in the libraries of many of the mosques, the speeches of many imams, many Islamic schools and in other institutions controlled by the Islamists.[1]
Do the Ghazali Books Support Terrorism?
The Ottawa Public Library has, as noted above, many books by Muhammad al-Ghazali. His ideas are close to those of the Muslim Brotherhood and a lesson in how Muslim extremist and terrorist beliefs are created. Ghazaii, for instance, argues that a place can be considered a "home of peace" [Dar al Islam] when it is ruled by Muslims and the law of Allah and his messenger are applied to all. A place can be considered a "home of war" [Dar al Harb] if the place is inhabited by unbelievers of Islam or those who object to it.[2]
Ghazali also cites the Qur'an specifically saying:
"Let those fight in the cause of God who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of God, whether he is slain or victorious, soon we shall give him a great reward." -- Surah 4:74
This surah means that those who kill infidels, whether victorious or not, will get a great reward in Jana (paradise). This surah also indicates that if you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are in a state of war against your host country. If you are a Muslim living in a non-Muslim country, then you are living with the enemy.
Hatred of Canada and the West
Ghazali -- apparently forgetting that the Muslims invaded Persia, the Christian Byzantine Empire in Turkey, all of North Africa and the Middle East, Greece, Spain and most of eastern Europe -- claims that global colonization (by the West) is rooted on an ongoing deep hatred of Islam, and an enormous desire to destroy it. After weakening the Ottoman Turkish caliphate and having carved up its territory, the West gave it a fatal blow in the wake of the First World War, and wiped out the official presence of Islam in the international field. Ghazali writes on page 221 of One Hundred Questions About Islam that the laws that came out of Western colonialism were created to dominate the Islamic nation militarily and defeat it politically. He characterizes these laws as distorting the face of Islam, and having the goal of destroying the foundations of Islam.
So, a Muslim living in Canada who is exposed to these teachings is led to believe that he or she should hate their new home country. They are led to believe that they belong to another entity (an Islamist caliphate) and that it is their duty to build this caliphate on the ruins of Western civilization.
Most of the Arabic-language books on Islam in the West incite extremism and terrorism. If we are to reject this danger, it is important that libraries and other institutions have books that reject these Islamist views and confront their hatred, extremism and violence.
*Saied Shoaaib is a Muslim scholar based in Canada. He can be reached at:
[1] Lovers of Death, Islamist Extremism is our Mosques, Schools and Libraries.
[2] One Hundred question in Islam, Dr. Muhammad al-Ghazali, Page 349.
© 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 Syrian Regime's Ambivalence Towards President Trump
MEMRI/February 21/17
Based on statements by Syrian regime officials, chiefly President Bashar Al-Assad himself, and on articles in Syrian government and pro-government press, the regime's attitude towards U.S. President Donald Trump is characterized by ambivalence. On the one hand, regime officials have thus far expressed cautious optimism regarding the future of relations between the countries out of a desire to maintain good ties with a U.S. administration they see as different from its predecessor and more in line with Russia regarding the Syrian crisis. On the other hand, articles in the official Syrian press did not hold back their criticism of President Trump, particularly after his call to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria.[1]
This report will review the Syrian regime's position on the Trump administration, as can be gleaned from statements by Assad and articles in the Syrian government and pro-government press:
Assad Welcomes Trump Statements On Combating Terrorism, Calls Syrian Safe-Zone Plan Unrealistic
As said, Bashar Al-Assad's media statements regarding the new U.S. administration have thus far been characterized by cautious optimism deriving from Trump's statement that combating terrorism was his top priority. Assad saw this statement as American acceptance of his own view regarding the solution for the Syrian crisis and as a basis for possible collaboration between the Syrian regime and the U.S. in this field. Another potential source of optimism for the Syrian regime is what it sees as Trump's intention to restore his country's relations with Russia. Upon assuming office, Assad told Japanese TV: "I believe that the priorities that he [Trump] has set are very important. We hope and expect the next [U.S.] administration to be honest in implementing its statements regarding terrorism, which will benefit not only Syria [but also others], since terrorism today is not a Syrian problem but rather a Middle East and global problem. We hope [Trump] will be sincere in establishing a true coalition to combat terrorists in the region, which [should] obviously include Syria in the foremost position..."[2] In comments to the Belgian media, Assad even called Trump's remarks on this topic "promising": "Trump's statements during and after the campaign, that combating terrorists is his top priority, are promising. This has been our demand throughout the past six years. That is why I believe this is promising. But we must wait. It is still too early to expect anything practical. [The matter] might hinge on the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, which I think will have a positive effect on the entire world, including Syria."[3]
On a later occasion Assad said he would welcome the presence of U.S. forces in Syria if their goal would be to combat terrorism. He told Yahoo News: "If you [the U.S.] want to start genuinely... to do so [i.e. combat terrorism], it must be through the Syria government... We invited the Russians, and the Russians were genuine regarding this issue. If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome. Like any other country, we want to defeat and to fight the terrorists. Of course we can say that without hesitation."
Assad even expressed sympathy with President Trump's decision to bar entry into the U.S. to citizens of seven regional countries, including Syria, calling it a sovereign decision: "Every country has the right to put any regulations to enter their country. We can disagree and/or agree. But if you ask me as president, as [an] official in Syria and the Syrian state, my responsibility is not to go and ask any president to allow the Syrians to go there and to have refuge in that country. My responsibility is to restore stability in order to bring them back to Syria and find refuge in their [own] country. So I'm not going to discuss [whether] this is right or wrong. This is [an] American issue."[4] On a separate occasion, Assad said that Trump's executive order did not target the Syrian people, but rather terrorists "who could endanger the U.S." In fact, he defended the U.S. president, saying that the media uproar over his executive order did not stem from solidarity with Syrians but merely from a desire to attack Trump. At the same time, Assad clarified that he would not be able to formulate a position on Trump until he saw his policy on Syria, and stressed: "We must be cautious [in dealing with] any Western leader, because they can say one thing and do the exact opposite... They are not committed to anything, and they are pragmatic to the point of selling out their values. To be more accurate, they do not have any values..."[5]
While Assad did dismiss Trump's proposal to establish safe zones for refugees in Syria, calling it "unrealistic," he did so in a cautious diplomatic tone, especially compared to the Syrian regime's response, in 2014, to a similar proposal by Turkey to establish a safe zone in northern Syria.[6] About Trump's proposal Assad said: "People definitely do not require safe zones. A more sustainable and less expensive [solution] is to ensure stability rather than establish safe zones, which is an unrealistic idea." A statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry said, in a similar tone, that any attempt to establish safe zones for refugees without coordinating with Damascus would be "an unsafe action" and a violation of Syrian sovereignty.[7]
This same cautious optimism was apparent in some articles in the official Syrian press. Alongside calls to carefully examine Trump's moves and decisions, the articles expressed hope for a change in the American administration's policies. For instance, Tahsin Al-Halabi, a columnist for the daily Al-Watan, which is close to the regime, wrote: "Examining the main principles that the new U.S. President Donald Trump has announced objectively leads us to expect that, if he decides to implement them, we will witness the dawn of a new global American regime this year, which has different working principles than those of the previous global regime of Bush and Obama..."[8] Dr. Turki Saqr, a former Syrian foreign ministry official, wrote in the government daily Al-Ba'ath that Trump's policy was still unclear, but stressed with satisfaction that "his ascent to the White House throne caused fear and dread in many Western regimes as well as Saudi Arabia, which have [all] relied on the use of terrorist actions and on the destruction of countries and the spilling of their citizens' blood in order to realize their plans at the expense of the pain and disasters of [other] peoples."[9]
Articles In Official Syrian Press: Trump's Decisions Are Racist And Dangerous; He Is Escalating Conflicts
In contrast to Assad's cautious optimism, many articles in the Syrian government and pro-government press attacked the Trump administration, particularly the call to establish safe zones in Syria. The main argument against this plan was that the Trump administration is no different from those that came before it and is planning to take over regional resources, and might even be more dangerous than previous administrations since Trump makes decisions without comprehensively examining their consequences.
'Ali Qasim, editor-in-chief of the official Syrian daily Al-Thawra, wrote that President Trump "appears to hastily express many positions without understanding their consequences or being intimately familiar with their details. This is also true of his remarks regarding safe zones, which whetted the appetites of the instigators of terrorism and caused them to cheer... Obviously there is a massive difference in style between Trump and the administrations that came before him, but ultimately he will reorient himself and follow the same path, but in an even more preverse and dangerous manner than his predecessors..."[10]
Similarly, Al-Thawra columnist Muhriz Al-'Ali wrote: "The strategy of American presidents is uniform, even if their names and parties differ. It is a strategy based on hegemony, control, and the theft of the resources of [other] peoples. But every president has his own methods and tools to carry out this aggressive strategy. Regional peoples should heed the danger posed by these colonialist plans and steadfastly resist them in order to thwart them..."[11]
Another Al-Thawra columnist, Ahmed Hamada, claimed that "Trump's actions since entering the White House and his racist decisions are completely different from his previous statements and positions. Trump's actions in all fields indicate that he is carrying out the policy of the neocons and the so-called American 'Deep State', meaning those who represent the interests of large greedy corporations, financiers, and intelligence [agencies]."[12]
Al-Thawra columnist Fuad Al-Wadi wrote that the Syrian regime was very suspicious of the Trump administration: "Based on its previous experience, the Syrian state believes that Trump will be no different from his predecessors, [and will continue to believe so] until proven otherwise. Damascus has considered all his contradictory and unexpected [statements and moves], political and non-political, and put them on a list of possibilities providing wide scope for surprises that are in tandem with [Trump's] controversial character. The only thing we can expect is that he will soon reveal his [true] face and dash all the hopes created by his statements, positions and promises, which were only for the sake of the elections."[13]
U.S. Under Trump Is Cooperating With Syria's Enemies
According to many columnists in the Syrian government press, the Trump administration also resembles its predecessors in its hostility to the so-called "resistance axis," as evident from its statements about Syria's main rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and its attitude towards Iran, the Syrian regime's main strategic ally. Waddah 'Abd Rabbo, editor of the pro-regime daily Al-Watan, wrote that Trump is a businessman and "money is his only goal. To realize his economic campaign promises he is willing to make a deal even with the devil, as was revealed in his conversation with the Saudi king, whose only dream and desire are the destruction of the resistance axis and Iran..."[14]
Al-Thawra columnist 'Ali Nasrallah wrote: "Trump's statements regarding his intention to defeat terrorism are at odds with his readiness to continue defending the thrones of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates as long as they pay the required price. To defend the Gulf thrones is to defend the terrorist Wahhabi perception, that is, to ensure its continued existence and spread. In fact, it [means] explicitly siding with this perception, [a position] that has [always] existed but has now been renewed in a different form... It is a prelude to another round in the conflict that the U.S. instigated to divide and fragment the region, harm the resistance axis and destroy all its components..."[15]
Al-Thawra columnist Nasser Mundhir wrote: "It appears that the new occupant of the White House wishes to complicate matters vis-à-vis Syria's allies and to minimize their role in the upcoming negotiations in Geneva, so as to weaken the Syrian state and try to blackmail it. [His] goal is to achieve via diplomacy everything the array of aggression failed to achieve on the battlefield. The new American administration inherited the tools of terrorism from its predecessors, and it will instruct them as it pleases..."[16]
Trump's Decisions Are Racist, May Harm U.S. Interests
Columnists in the Syrian government press also warned that Trump's "impulsive" and "racist" moves, such as his decisions and statements vis-à-vis Syria and Iran, would escalate the situation and ultimately harm U.S. interests. Munir Al-Moussa, a columnist for Al-Thawra, wrote that the safe-zone idea was part of a new American plan that was "a replica of the Sykes-Pico [agreement]" and that Syria would "fight the new plans."[17] Al-Watan columnist Rif'at Al-Badawi stated that Trump's decisions and statements had exposed America's hostile strategy towards the Muslims world, and even thanked him for this: "We must thank the [new] U.S. president for proving that America's strategy is hostile towards the Muslim world, both Sunni and Shi'ite... Thank you, Donald Trump, for revealing the clear truth about the American-Zionist mentality and ideology that conspires against our Arab and Muslim countries."[18]
Al-Thawra columnist Muhriz Al-'Ali wrote that Trump "has [barely] taken up the reins of government, yet the racist policy of his administration has already begun to emerge. This administration has issued decisions and statements and expressed positions that cause considerable apprehension regarding its intentions – [intentions] that increase extremism, struggles, tensions, terror and the danger of new wars and conflicts breaking out in the region and worldwide. Trump's racism is evident from his decision to ban the citizens of seven regional countries, with the exception of a few minorities, from entering the U.S. This decision could offend the citizens of those countries, and give extremists and terrorists further excuses to endorse even more radical positions and harm U.S. interests. The U.S., [in turn], will use this to interfere in the affairs of the relevant countries under the pretext of fighting terror, and this will exacerbate the violence, the spread of terror and the bloodshed. Trump's decision regarding safe-zones in Syria sparked further fears... and confirmed that the [U.S.] administration seeks to interfere in Syria's internal affairs under the pretext of creating safe zones for the protection of civilians. These zones will become safe havens for terrorists and help to defend them rather than fight them..."[19]
In another article, Muhriz Al-'Ali wrote that Trump's threats to Iran "indicate that he has not learned the lesson of history" and warned that the "rash behavior" of the U.S. administration sparks fears that the situation may deteriorate badly. He called upon the "reasonable people in the world" to realize that "any ill-considered American adventure could plunge the region into a tragic war with implications for the security and stability of the [entire] world."[20]
[1] Several days after assuming office, President Trump said that he intended to establish safe zones in Syria for refugees as a substitute to them coming to the U.S. The president did not provide details on this plan, but he likely aims to establish demilitarized zones in Syrian border regions guarded by foreign elements, in order to prevent the flow of refugees out of the country and to facilitate the return of refugees from neighboring countries., January 27, 2017. It should be noted that a similar proposal for a refugee safe zone in northern Syria was made by Turkey in 2014.
[2] Al-Watan (Syria), January 22, 2017.
[3] SANA (Syria), February 7, 2017.
[4], February 10, 2017.
[5] SANA (Syria), February 16, 2017.
[6] The Syrian foreign ministry's response stated that the Turkish proposal provided all manner of assistance to terrorist organizations operating in Syria and that it constituted a "flagrant violation" of the UN charter and international law, adding that the international community must end Turkey's violations of international law. It stated further that the Syrian people is determined to protect its sovereignty and oppose all plots that target the integrity of its land, and that Syria would consult with its allies regarding the steps necessary to defend its sovereignty. SANA (Syria), October 15, 2014.
[7], January 30, 2017.
[8] Al-Watan (Syria), January 22, 2017.
[9] Al-Ba'ath (Syria), January 22, 2017.
[10] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 2, 2017.
[11] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 3, 2017.
[12] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 9, 2017.
[13] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 2, 2017.
[14] Al-Watan (Syria), February 7, 2017.
[15] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 8, 2017.
[16] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 8, 2017.
[17] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 12, 2017.
[18] Al-Watan (Syria), February 2, 2017.
[19] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 3, 2017.
[20] Al-Thawra (Syria), February 13, 2017.

How did Iran read the rapid developments in the region?
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Has Iran read the Gulf message which the Kuwaiti foreign minister carried well? What did Iran read into the American stance following Michael Flynn’s resignation? How did it read the Russian stance from the Astana conference? And most importantly how did it read the Israeli stance? Did it read it based on Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to maintain some of the points of the nuclear agreement which delays the rise of a nuclear Iranian state? Or did it read it through Israel’s oint of view of restraining Iran in terms of its support of Hamas and Hezbollah?
Let’s remember that the Iranian public rhetoric is only a part of Iranian policy and it does not reflect its real stance. Iran escalates this rhetoric, which is a negotiating tool, to satisfy the revolutionary audience, as it calls it. It uses it to negotiate but it does not signify the magnitude of concessions which Iran may make to maintain its regime and interests if it’s prepared to sit in negotiations, and it’s now in a situation where it’s forced to negotiate with Russia, America and Gulf countries.
But Iran read the Gulf message as weakness and responded by saying Gulf countries, and not Iran, “must seize this opportunity which may not be repeated”. Iran did not understand that the message was delivered according to the insistence of Gulf countries, which believe it’s necessary to give Iran a new chance to come to its senses and thus prevent an Iranian-American clash – the possibilities of which increase by the day - and this is not in the interest of the region as a whole.
Misreading the situation
Iran only sees developments from its own viewpoint and thinks that because it has the upper hand in the affairs Gulf countries wish to resolve, it has a strong negotiating position that weakens the Gulf stance. All Iran needs is to gain more time by neutralizing the Gulf stance via a series of long negotiating sessions, which it can use to alter reality as much as it can. Iran also views the different Gulf positions as a chance to divide its unity and shake its coherence. “Gulf countries and not Iran must seize the opportunity which may be their last” was the summary of the response Iranian President Hassan Rowhani carried to Muscat and Kuwait. This is the height of political blindness.
Iranian dailies considered Flynn’s resignation as a godly vendetta in their favor. This is a short-sighted analysis as the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation have nothing to do with the new American stance towards Iran but it’s related to American-Russian ties which none of the American parties dare be negligent about
And just like Iran misread the Gulf stance, it also failed to understand the American stance. Because when it heard the news that Michael Flynn, American President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, resigned, it cheered. It cheered especially at the fact that Flynn had officially warned Iran not to play with fire and not to test the new American president’s decisiveness. Iranian dailies considered Flynn’s resignation as a godly vendetta in their favor. This is a short-sighted analysis as the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation have nothing to do with the new American stance towards Iran but it’s related to American-Russian ties which none of the American parties dare be negligent about.
Iran, which was happy when Flynn was sacked, did not notice an entire team heading like a bulldozer towards it. This team will be strict towards Iran not out of love or hatred of Arab countries. It will adopt this approach based on its strategic and important interests as a majority of Republicans and the American military think they were threatened due to Barack Obama’s disastrous policy in the region. They believe the latter policy escalated terrorism and jeopardized international security and they agree that Iran has a major role in this escalation. And it’s now this category’s turn to put things back to normal.
Faces change but what about the stance?
When learning David Petraeus was one of the strongest candidates to replace Flynn, we must recall that Petraeus said the funds of the Iranian nuclear agreement were being used to fund the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. If we take into consideration that the American administration is looking into submitting a draft to categorize this Iranian official military institution as a terrorist organization, then we are before an unprecedented development in this American-Iranian confrontation.
Even with Flynn’s departure, US Secretary of Justice James Mattis is still there and he’s a staunch critic of the nuclear agreement and of Obama’s policy towards Iran. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo is known for his hostile stance against Iran and the nuclear deal and he once said on Twitter that he looked “forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
Pompeo won 66 votes in the Senate when Trump nominated him for his post. The nominee for this post only needs 50 percent + 1 of the votes to be confirmed.
Therefore, Iran is before a majority of American legislators and cabinet members who almost completely agree on being strict in its approach to Iran’s behavior in the region. This is the correct reading of the American stance which Iran must see.
What’s more important than that is to understand that if Israel favors keeping the nuclear agreement, it supports tightening sanctions on Iran to limit its support of organizations which it believes threaten its security.
If we put into consideration the Russians’ nervousness of Iran’s obstruction of the Astana meeting, and its insistence that Hezbollah does not exit Syria, then Iran is before an international consensus that agrees on the necessity to confront it. Therefore, this is a conviction that’s no longer limited to Gulf countries. Mechanisms may differ but they agree on the goal. This was the Gulf message which Iran did not read well.
*This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat on Feb. 21, 2017.

Arab NATO versus the Iranian ‘Warsaw Pact’
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Around 100 years of the region’s history is made up of changing camps and shifting alliances and what is being said about the idea of proposing an Arab quartet NATO will be another normal reaction against Iran’s active tripartite alliance.
It has been said that the Arab military alliance resembles the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was established in the wake of Soviet expansion. The NATO was the western military power, which confronted the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
How can Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan establish a joint military power to confront Iran’s expansion after it expanded its presence to Iraq and Syria and after its influence reached Lebanon and Yemen?
These four Arab countries have been allied for a long time now. All of them participate in the Yemen war in varying degrees. The UAE’s army has been fighting alongside the Saudi troops on the ground since the beginning while Jordan has strong military ties with all three countries. However, even with this cooperation, we cannot view this close relation as similar to the NATO in its concept and nature of commitments.
Political vacuum
In our region, there has been major political vacuum and imbalance in the regional military power, particularly during the past eight years. What worsened this imbalance is the decline of US’s commitments to the region and signing the nuclear deal with Iran. This deal represents reconciliation and the end of confrontation between the two countries.
This vacuum resulted in Iran’s expansion of its influence inside Iraq, engaging in a major military war in Syria and forming – for the first time ever – an army of militias, which it sent to Syria. Iran is also trying hard to keep the war ignited in Yemen by supporting the coup.
If the idea of an Arab NATO or Arab quartet cooperation becomes a reality, it will be made public and it will not be a secret project as recent reports have suggested
What is being said about the proposed Arab NATO cooperation with Israel is just perceptions that precede the alliance, which hasn’t been formed yet. Even if we assume this is true, the cooperation, if it remains a secret, will be limited and it will not be possible to count on it.
Israel is usually present in the region’s disputes even if its presence is limited and silent. It is present in Syria’s war, once shelling Hezbollah’s targets, another attacking ISIS groups, and it sometimes supplies different parties with information that helps them.
An Israeli expert said they were happy to see thousands of Hezbollah fighters get involved in the war in Syria as they hid underground when Israeli forces fought them in Lebanon and adopted guerrilla tactics but today they are playing the Israeli role in Syria.
An essential balance
If the idea of an Arab NATO or Arab quartet cooperation becomes a reality, it will be made public and it will not be a secret project as recent reports have suggested.
Military cooperation, under any umbrella, is a good idea and a necessary step especially if expanded beyond that. Establishing an alliance to confront Iran is an essential balance to respond to its military alliance that includes Iraq and Syria.
Iran also cooperates with Russia and the latter has a military base in Iran. The Russians strongly participate in the war in Syria alongside this Iranian alliance. Tehran has strengthened its alliance by bringing armed militias from Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries into Syria and they are fighting there under its banner.
Iranian forces, in the guise of “experts”, are fighting in Iraq and to some extent manage the conflict there. Therefore, establishing an Arab NATO, even if achieved, remains a natural reaction to Iran’s Warsaw pact.
**This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 21 2017.

Why Trump continues to describe media as fake
Mamdouh AlMuhaini/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
An unprecedented and fierce battle is raging between US President Donald Trump and the American media. This is in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s presidential terms, which were mostly smooth except for a few occasions. Former President George W. Bush was subjected to fierce criticism but it isn’t anywhere close to what we have already witnessed during Trump’s term.
Despite the feud between former President Richard Nixon and the media, the argument which we remember well between him and journalist Dan Rather, and which only lasted for few seconds, is considered polite when compared to today’s standards.
The scene is exceptional these days as it is difficult to have someone else like Trump. Even journalists who are skilled at embellishing words and are cautious while doing their jobs have lost their calm. When famous Journalist Thomas Freidman was asked about Trump’s character during an interview, he said Trump “lies as he breathes.”
Republican writer David Brooks analyzed Trump before he became president and said he was pathetic and suffers from loneliness and narcissism. After Trump won the elections, Brooks said Trump will not be president for more than a year. There are other countless articles that ask the same question: “How do we get rid of this nightmare?”
The fiery press conference
The last confrontation was during a fiery press conference that lasted for more than an hour and a half. It was a fierce confrontation during which Trump chose to engage after journalists said he was avoiding them. Trump did not hesitate to accuse the media of hating him and described it as fake news media.
During the conference, a journalist corrected Trump’s false information and exposed contradictory stances pertaining to his national security advisor, Michael Flynn. “The leaks are real but the news is fake,” he said.
Trump won the first round when all major dailies and famous television stations stood against him and announced he is unfit for the presidency. They resorted to all methods that could take him down. They published scandalous audio recordings of him, wrote fiery articles about his problems, published reports about his relations with women and bankruptcies and allocated entire pages to investigate his university, which had closed its doors.
One of these would have been enough to bring any politician’s luck to an end but Trump is not a traditional politician. He does not even view himself as a politician to begin with. As he describes himself as someone who has come from outside Washington’s corrupt institutions to clean them.
Trump has used the media’s intensified attacks against him to suggest an alliance between political and media corruption in Washington and New York against him
This was one of the smart approaches Trump adopted to respond to the fierce media attack, which favored Hillary Clinton, a product of these institutions, and to address the popular base that’s disgruntled with the elite. Trump has used the media’s intensified attacks against him to suggest an alliance between political and media corruption in Washington and New York against him.
He repeatedly said that – just like a simple person who does not have any calculations – he believes in speaking without any hesitation or fear of precautions set by media and political figures. It is certain that this approach has worked for Trump. Its proven by the fact that he is now in the White House while Hillary Clinton is walking in the woods and writing children stories.
A new phase
The tussle has entered into a new phase now. Its signs were clear during the speech Trump delivered at the inauguration. The message is clear: Trump will not back out. Some described his speech as populist and naive while others called it shallow and lacking in eloquence, which people got used to with Obama.
This may be true but it was a simple, smart and direct speech addressed to his audience who voted for him. It was a note of thanks to them at becoming president of the greatest country in the world. During the inauguration, he told the gathered masses: “We are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you, the people.” People chanted in joy. How does it matter then that CNN or the New York Times, believed to be the enemy, get angry afterwards?
But why does Trump continuously say it is a dishonest and fake news media? He repeats this in almost every Twitter message he writes. There’s a good reason he does that and he’s not foolish as we may think. The opposite is in fact true. Trump is adopting a successful strategy by repeating the same statements over and over again until it gets rooted in popular imagination.
He has done it before with candidate Jeb Bush and destroyed him during the presidential primaries describing him as “low energy”. The description just stuck to him. He called his other rival, Ted Cruz, “lying Ted” and repeated this until the idea crept into people’s mind. Trump is now doing this with the media, which he rightfully views as his first enemy and which publicly wants to bring him down. Through this approach, Trump is tarnishing the image of the media, which is clearly biased against him.
It will be difficult to believe what the media says about him even if it is true. Every time this “dishonest” and “fake news” media attacks Trump, it will add to his popularity and show him as the wronged party who is fighting to restore people’s stolen rights. Trump benefits the most from the media’s attack against him and it seems he is enjoying it. Every time he is insulted, he adds a popular point to his record.
When they asked Trump why he doesn’t stop using Twitter, he said he will when the media is fair to him. The message which Trump repeatedly succeeded at delivering is that he is fighting alone during conferences and speeches and on Twitter. Without the support of millions of his supporters, he will break down and Washington will go back to its old habits. This is a fierce battle and it is difficult for Trump to back down from it because it has proved to be a success.
It is also difficult for the media to back down from its stance because Trump is the star these days and following up on his news increases his popularity. It is true that subscriptions have increased and more people are reading dailies despite Trump’s statements that these dailies are a failure.
After his election, there has been a resurgence in the media and we now gaze at television channels and search for the most recent statements and leaks. The media will not stop attacking Trump because it will not settle until it achieves its wishes of seeing Trump outside the White House and perhaps in prison.
*This article is also available in Arabic.

The only way to root out terrorism
Mohammed Al Shaikh/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
The ongoing political struggle in Iraq between Sadrists and the Dawa Party is a Shiite-Shiite struggle. It is between two Islamized and politicized groups belonging to the same sect.
Vested interests and the dire need to maintain influence have made each claim that it is the true representative of the sect while its rival is corrupt and portrays Islam negatively. If the Sunnis engage in this political argument, the struggle will worsen and those involved will simply adopt a more sectarian approach.
This is where the seeds of violence, rivalries, murder, bloodshed and strife are sown. Therefore, it is not at all possible to root out the causes behind terrorism unless Muslims agree to separate religion from the muddle of politics and clerics agree to stay away from the swamps of political disputes.
This cannot be achieved unless by following the principle “religion is for God and the homeland is for all”. The principle was applied in the West after wars and religious and sectarian disputes had crushed them. This continues to be the basic pillar of co-existence among them despite the differences of faiths, sects and ethnicities. Their history is full of sectarian divides and disputes, just like the Arabs of today.
I am certain that we can eliminate terrorism only by eliminating its causes. The most important step is to prevent religion, or more accurately, sects from interfering in politics.
It is not at all possible to root out the causes behind terrorism unless Muslims agree to separate religion from the muddle of politics and clerics agree to stay away from the swamps of political disputes
The common factor
When looking at the Sunnis, take Muslim Brotherhood, its byproduct of Sururism, al-Qaeda, ISIS and its branches as an example. Compare them with the Shiite Dawa Party, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sadrists, Popular Mobilization Forces and Houthis in Yemen. We will realize that the common factor among all these is that they employ religion to serve political ends.
Each category claims they are the only true Muslims and that the others have gone astray. Ask yourselves objectively – How do we resolve this clash and end fighting? There is only one solution and it is peaceful coexistence irrespective of religious or sectarian differences.
I am all ears if anyone has another solution. One must feel free to suggest and the only condition is that it should satisfy all Islamic parties and sects and completely root out terrorism.
The basic principle
I firmly believe that there is no other solution. Other people have sought and tried and reached the same conclusion after blood has been shed and the rights and dignities have been violated. Cities after cities have been destroyed in the process. In the end, this was the only solution they found so they agreed on it and considered it made it one of their basic principles.
I know there are parties that benefit from acts of terrorism. They claim that they are against terrorism but when you call for eliminating its causes, they attack you. If you propose a solution, they use the most hideous words to describe you.
They know that they will be the first to lose if religion is separated from politics. They are fighting this solution just like priests in Europe fought during dark medieval ages.
*This article is also available in Arabic.

The UK is boasting an employment high, it’s not what it seems
Peter Harrison/Al Arabiya/February 21/17
Recent news from the UK tells us that the country’s unemployment level is at an 11-year low and employment is at an all-time high.
This is of course great news, but let’s pause for a moment before we get too excited and delve a bit deeper. According to a report in The Independent the amount of people working on zero hour contracts has soared recently.
A zero-hour contract is an agreement between an employer and a worker, with no guarantee of minimum working hours or regular pay.
Those employed on such contracts do not enjoy a regular wage or basic employee’s rights. And the UK economy does not benefit as much from their employment - or from those who are self-employed - as less tax and national insurance is paid by these two groups of workers in the UK - I’ll try to explain later why that matters.
Apparently the most recent records show that in excess of three million people work in insecure jobs, that’s 10 percent of the current UK work force - and that’s up from 2.4 million in 2011.
And that gap is likely to leave a massive hole in the public purse as the population gets older and more people are retired than working, placing an even heavier burden on society and pushing the British welfare system to the very limits - I for one have no clue how I’m going to afford to live.
The UK seems to be approaching a situation so dire that I’m not sure anyone really knows how big a problem it will actually be - because a lot of us will hit retirement at the same time – and who’s going to look after us?
No significant earnings growth
With the sudden rise in firms like Uber there has been a significant increase in the number of people taken out of unemployment in the UK - but not guaranteed a regular wage.
It’s also worth mentioning that growth in weekly earnings in the UK has remained at about 2 to 4 percent since mid-to-late 2004 except for a few occasions where this grew to between 4 and 6 percent until it plummeted in 2009 to -2 percent according to some economists.
Now I’m not an economist by any stretch of the imagination, but in my limited understanding the recent headlines heralding an 11-year dip in unemployment and an all-time high in employment are misleading to say the least.
What does this all mean? Good question… No matter how irritating they might well be - the millennials and those that came after - Generation ‘Z’ - seem to be looking toward a ticking time bomb and it wasn’t one of their own making.
By all accounts those old enough to work are earning some seriously low wages - including graduates, who, incidentally, also have the worse debts ever experienced by British graduates.
In November, the Huffington Post UK quoted Paul Johnson, the Institute for Fiscal Studies director, who said people in the UK were in the “worst situation for people’s pay since the end of the Second World War - or possibly longer”.
He said: “Overall real average earnings are forecast to rise by less than 5 percent between now and 2021. That means they will be 3.7 percent lower in 2021 than was projected in March”.
But what about the state pension?
I don’t know what I am going to do in the future with regards to retirement and truth be known, I’m genuinely quite worried.
But wait - in the UK there’s a pension system I hear you say - yes there is - at the moment. But being a member of the Generation X/Baby Boomers age group - we are about to pose the biggest strain on the UK economy that has been seen in my lifetime (and possibly during my parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes too).
And that is why the shortfall in funds being paid into the UK’s public purse now is such a problem. The UK seems to be approaching a situation so dire that I’m not sure anyone really knows how big a problem it will actually be - because a lot of us will hit retirement at the same time – and who’s going to look after us?
I am also worried for my nieces and nephews who will be faced with mounting debts whether as a result of going to university, or an increasingly broad gap between the cost of living and wages.
It’s not all doom and gloom - the current situation - including the advancement of technology - has led to a move of people going into start-ups. I certainly know a lot more people who work on a freelance or self-employed basis, now than I can recall having been the case before.
And those people who are employed on this basis do seem to enjoy the flexibility and freedoms that it provides them with. But it is certainly not a form of employment that suits everyone.
There’s a problem in the UK that needs to be fixed, otherwise I fear it will continue going round in eternal circles. The 1980s was a big time for small businesses and people going freelance, so was the dot-com era and now with the so-called Gig economy where people are working on short-term contracts or have become self-employed. They were all very different times with one common denominator – the public purse grew increasingly thin.
Someone I know, who recently moved back to the UK, told me they believed the country felt prosperous right now - I wish they were right. But with housing, pensions, earnings and secure jobs all in a state of disarray (yes there’s an ongoing housing crisis there too) I fear the recent jubilation over record employment levels is little more than a smoke screen hiding the reality.

Khamenei In Speech At Iran's Sixth International Conference In Support Of Palestinian Intifada: 'We [Stand] With Every Group That Is Steadfast On This Path [Of Resistance]'; 'Cancerous Tumor' Israel Must Be Cured In Several Phases
MEMRI/February 21/17
On February 21, 2017, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei opened the Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada. According to the Iranian organizers, the conferees include representatives from 80 countries, as well as from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Many Iranian regime officials are set to address the conference, among them Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, who is presiding over the conference, and Iranian President Hassan Rohani.
In his opening remarks, Khamenei said that the Palestinian people had been "driven away from their home and their country and that another group of people from remote areas in the world are brought there in order to replace that nation. It has never been witnessed that a real entity is ignored and that a fake entity takes its place... But this [i.e. Israel] is another dirty page in history which will be closed, with the permission and assistance of Allah the Exalted."
He said that the "cancerous tumor" – i.e. Israel – "has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster." He added that the cure for this tumor must also include several phases, which he stressed were all violent Palestinian intifadas against Israel, and the wars against Israel that involved Hizbullah in Lebanon and Palestinian factions in Gaza. He added that thanks to the "resistance" and to Hizbullah, the fight against the Zionist enemy, which once fell solely to the Palestinians, is now on the correct path.
Khamenei outlined the two Palestinian paradigms for dealing with Israel – resistance and compromise – arguing that resistance was the only effective way to actualize the Palestinian goals. Stressing that the Palestinian identity and symbols must be preserved, he added that these ensure that "the illegitimate entity of the Zionist regime" will be unable to grow stronger, which is why heroic resistance must be lionized. Although the resistance is yet to attain its ultimate goal of fully liberating Palestine, he said, it has succeeded in keeping the Palestinian issue alive.
Khamenei also said that liberating South Lebanon and Gaza were two crucial phases on the road to liberating Palestine. He praised the military wings of several Palestinian groups, including the PIJ's Al-Quds Brigades, Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades, Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the PFLP's Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades.
He also called for assisting the resistance movements, stating that Iran's aid to these groups is directly tied to their level of commitment to the principle of resistance (i.e. the destruction of Israel). He noted in particular that the West Bank is in need of aid for the resistance, and called to channel Palestinian internal conflict and differences of opinion to a mechanism that pressures "the enemy" and helps bolster the goal of national unity as a basis for jihad.
He concluded by saying that if any one group lays down the banner of resistance, another will immediately spring up to take its place.
It should be noted that before beginning his speech, Khamenei noted that February 21 is the "martyrdom anniversary of Malcolm X, an American Muslim leader" and asked all conferees to pray "for the soul of this martyr."
Following is the full text of Khamenei's speech, as published in English on his official website. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.[1]
"Supreme Leader's Address to the Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada
"Before I begin my speech, I would like to remind the audience that today is the martyrdom anniversary of Malcolm X, an American Muslim leader. I would like to request all attendees to please recite Sura Fatiha and Sura Tawhid for the soul of this martyr.
"In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful:
"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and Allah's peace and greetings be upon the Master of All Peoples, Muhammad al-Mustafa, and upon his immaculate household and chosen companions.
"Allah the All-Wise said in the Manifest Book [The Holy Koran]: 'So be not weary, nor fall into despair for you shall have the upper hand if you are believers' [The Holy Koran, 3:139]. And says the Mightiest of Speakers: 'Be not weary crying for peace, while you have the upper hand and Allah is with you and never will He put you in loss for your deeds' [The Holy Koran, 47:35].
"In the beginning, I deem it necessary to welcome all you dear guests, the honorable heads of Islamic organizations, the leaders of various Palestinian groups, the intellectuals, scholars and outstanding personalities of the world of Islam and other personalities who fight for freedom. I welcome you for your presence in this valuable conference.
"The sorrowful story of Palestine and the excruciating sadness felt because of the oppression against this patient, enduring and resistant nation, truly distresses any individual who seeks freedom, truth and justice and it thrusts an agonizing pain and suffering upon one's heart.
"The history of Palestine is full of ups and downs, marked by the cruel occupation of that region, the rendering of millions of individuals homeless, and the courageous resistance of those heroic people. An intelligent quest in history shows that no people in any era of history have ever been subject to such pain, suffering and cruelty. It has never been witnessed that a country is completely occupied in a supra-regional plot, that a people are driven away from their home and their country and that another group of people from remote areas in the world are brought there in order to replace that nation. It has never been witnessed that a real entity is ignored and that a fake entity takes its place.
"But this is another dirty page in history which will be closed with the permission and assistance of Allah the Exalted, just like other dirty pages in history: 'Falsehood is bound to perish' [The Holy Koran, 17:81] and He says: 'My servants the righteous shall inherit the earth' [The Holy Koran, 21:105].
"Your conference is being held under one of the most difficult circumstances in the world and in the region. These days, our region - which has always supported the people of Palestine in their fight against a global plot – is undergoing numerous upheavals and crises. The existing crises in several Islamic countries in the region have caused the support for the issue of Palestine and the holy ideal of Quds' freedom to be undermined. Attention to the result of these crises helps us to understand which powers benefit from the existence of these crises.
"Those who created the Zionist regime in the region with the purpose of hampering the stability, solidity and progress of the region through imposing a long-term conflict are behind the seditions that exist in the present time as well. These are seditions that have culminated in the capabilities of regional nations being used to foil one another because of engagement in futile and meaningless conflicts.
"Those Who Created The Zionist Regime In The Region With The Purpose Of Hampering The Stability, Solidity And Progress Of The Region Through Imposing A Long-Term Conflict Are Behind The Seditions That Exist In The Present Time As Well
"When all these capabilities are ruined, the ground will be prepared for strengthening the usurping Zionist regime on a daily basis. Amid all these, we are witness to the endeavors of well-intentioned and wise personalities in the Islamic Ummah. They are diligently trying to resolve these differences. But unfortunately, the complicated plots of the enemy have managed to impose civil wars on nations by benefiting from the negligence of some governments. These plots have managed to pit nations against one another and to counter the effect of the endeavors that well-intentioned personalities in the Islamic Ummah have made.
"What is significant in this regard is the effort to weaken the position of the issue of Palestine and to give it the lowest priority. Despite the differences that exist among Islamic countries – some of these differences are natural, some originate from the enemy's plot and the rest are because of negligence – the issue of Palestine can and should be the pivot of unity for all Islamic countries. One of the achievements of this valuable conference is announcing the first priority of the world of Islam and freedom fighters all over the world, which is the issue of Palestine and the creation of an atmosphere of harmony and unanimity with the purpose of achieving the lofty goal of supporting the people of Palestine and their truthful and justice-oriented fight.
"The significance of offering political support to the people of Palestine should never be neglected. This issue has a special priority in today's world. Even if Muslim and freedom-seeking nations have different viewpoints and opinions, they can gather together with one goal which is Palestine and the necessity to liberate it. With the emergence of signs of the collapse in the Zionist regime and the weakness that has dominated its main allies – in particular the United States of America – it is witnessed that the global environment is gradually moving towards confronting the hostile, illegal and inhuman activities of the Zionist regime. Of course, the global community and regional countries have not yet managed to carry out their responsibilities towards this humanitarian matter.
"Even If Muslim And Freedom-Seeking Nations Have Different Viewpoints And Opinions, They Can Gather Together With One Goal Which Is Palestine And The Necessity To Liberate It
"Suppressing the people of Palestine in a brutal manner, arresting numerous individuals, looting and murdering people, occupying the lands that belong to the Palestinian nation and building settlements in them, making an effort to change the appearance and identity of the Holy City of Quds, Masjid al-Aqsa and other holy Islamic and Christian places, violating the basic rights of citizens and many other abuses continue to exist. These acts enjoy the all-out support of the United States of America and some other western governments and unfortunately, they do not receive a proper response from the world.
"The people of Palestine are proud that Allah the Exalted has given them a great favor by helping them to shoulder the great responsibility of defending this Holy Land and Masjid al-Aqsa. The people of Palestine have no option other than keeping the flames of fighting alight by relying on Allah the Exalted and by relying on their innate capabilities, as they have genuinely done so until today. The intifada that has begun for the third time in the occupied lands, is subject to more suppression than the previous two, but it is still moving forward in a bright and hopeful manner. And by Allah's permission, we will see that this intifada will begin a very important chapter in the history of fighting and that it will inflict another defeat on that usurping regime.
"From the beginning, this cancerous tumor has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster. The cure for this tumor should be developed in phases as well. Until today, several intifadas and a constant and continuous resistance have managed to achieve very important phased goals. The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine.
"The great people of Palestine – who shoulder the heavy burden of confronting global Zionism and its bullying supporters – have given an opportunity to all claimants to put their claims to the test and they have done so in a patient yet vigorous and solid manner. The day when “compromise proposals” were brought up seriously with the false excuse of realism and the necessity to accept minimum rights in order to prevent those rights from being violated, the people of Palestine and all those orientations which were already aware of the inaccuracy of that viewpoint gave it an opportunity. Of course, from the beginning, the Islamic Republic of Iran insisted on the incorrectness of compromise strategies and warned of their harmful effects and heavy damages. The opportunity that was given to the compromise procedure brought about destructive effects on the path of resistance and the fighting of the Palestinian nation, but the only benefit that it had was to prove the inaccuracy of the so-called 'realism' outlook in practice.
"Fundamentally the Zionist regime was formed in a way that it could not avoid seeking dominance, suppressing others and violating the true rights of the Palestinians. This is because its entity and identity are dependent on the gradual destruction of the identity and entity of Palestine. The illegitimate entity of the Zionist regime will continue to exist only if it is founded on the ruins of Palestine's identity and entity. That is why protecting Palestinian identity and guarding all the symbols of this truthful and natural identity is a necessity and a holy jihad.
"As long as the name and memory of Palestine and the bright flames of the all-out resistance of that nation are preserved, it is not possible for the foundations of that usurping regime to be strengthened. The problem with 'compromise' is not only that it legitimizes a usurping regime by violating the rights of a nation – of course, this is a grave and unforgivable mistake in itself – rather the problem is that it is completely at odds with the current condition of Palestine and that it does not take into account the expansionist, oppressive and greedy characteristics of the Zionists. However, by grasping their opportunities, these people have managed to prove the inaccuracy of those who support compromise. As a result of this, a kind of national consensus has emerged about the correct methods of fighting for asserting the true rights of the Palestinian nation.
"As Long As The Name And Memory Of Palestine And The Bright Flames Of The All-Out Resistance Of That Nation Are Preserved, It Is Not Possible For The Foundations Of That Usurping Regime To Be Strengthened
"Now, the people of Palestine have experienced two different paradigms in the past three decades of their history and they have understood the proportion of those two paradigms in relation to their conditions. The paradigm of heroic and continuous resistance and holy intifada stands against the compromise paradigm. The first paradigm has brought about great achievements for that nation. It is not without reason that these days we witness that the Resistance is being attacked and that intifada is being questioned by notorious centers.
"The enemy is not expected to act otherwise because he is completely aware of the correctness and fruitfulness of this path. However, we sometimes witness that some of those orientations and even countries which seemingly advocate the issue of Palestine but which are trying to divert the true path of those people in reality, attack the Resistance. Their claim is that in its decade-long life, the Resistance has not yet managed to help Palestine achieve its freedom and therefore, this method needs to be reconsidered.
"In response, we say that although the Resistance has not yet managed to achieve its ultimate goal – the complete freedom of Palestine – it has managed to keep the issue of Palestine alive. We should ask in what condition we would be now if the Resistance did not exist. The most important achievement of the Resistance is creating a major barrier in the way of Zionist projects. The Resistance's success lies in imposing a war of attrition on the enemy. In other words, it has managed to defeat the main plan of the Zionist regime, namely dominating the whole region.
"In this process, the essence of the Resistance and the soldiers who engaged in resistance from the beginning against the establishment of the Zionist regime and who held up the flag of resistance and conveyed it to future generations by laying down their lives- should be praised and commemorated.
"The role of the Resistance in post-occupation eras is no secret to anyone and without a doubt, the victory of the Resistance in the 1973 war cannot be ignored although it was a narrow victory. Since 1982, the burden of the Resistance fell practically on the people inside Palestine, but the Islamic Resistance of Lebanon - Hezbollah - turned to help the Palestinians in the path of their fight. If the Resistance had not brought the Zionist regime to its knees, we would now be witness to its transgressions against other regional countries – from Egypt to Jordan, from Iraq, the Persian Gulf region to other areas.
"This achievement is very important, but it is not the only achievement that the Resistance has made. The liberation of southern Lebanon and Gaza is the attainment of two important phased goals in the process of Palestine's liberation. This has helped reverse the process of the geographical expansion of the Zionist regime.
"Since the early 1980, not only has the Zionist regime not been able to transgress against new lands, but it has also begun to retreat. This retreat began with its humiliating withdrawal from southern Lebanon and it continued with another humiliating withdrawal from Gaza. No one can deny the major and determining role of the Resistance in the first intifada. In the second intifada as well, the role of the Resistance was fundamental and outstanding. This was an intifada which eventually forced the Zionist regime to leave Gaza. The 33-day war in Lebanon, and the 22-day, 8-day and 51-day wars in Gaza were all shining pages in the performance sheet of the Resistance. Those wars are a source of pride for all regional nations, for the world of Islam and for all freedom fighters in the world.
"In the 33-day war, all the ways to help the Lebanese nation and the valiant and resistant soldiers of Hezbollah had been blocked, but by Allah's favor and with reliance on a great force comprised of the resistant people of Lebanon, the Zionist regime and its main ally – the United States of America – suffered a humiliating defeat as a result of which they will not dare attack that region anymore. The continuous resistance attempts made by Gaza – which has now turned into an invincible fortress – showed in the course of several wars that this regime is too weak to resist the willpower of a nation.
"The main hero during Gaza wars is the courageous and resistant nation which continues to defend this fortress with reliance on the power of faith despite enduring many years of economic siege. It is necessary to commemorate all groups involved in the Palestinian Resistance – including Sarayah Al-Quds from Islamic Jihad, Kataeb Al-Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam from Hamas, Kataeb Al-Shuhada Al-Aqsa from Fatah and Kataeb Abu Ali Mustafa from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – all of which played valuable roles in these wars.
"The Main Hero During Gaza Wars Is The Courageous And Resistant Nation Which Continues To Defend This Fortress With Reliance On The Power Of Faith Despite Enduring Many Years Of Economic Siege
"Dear guests!
"The dangers originating from the presence of the Zionist regime should never be ignored! Therefore, the Resistance should benefit from all the necessary tools for continuing its duty. On this path, all regional nations and governments and all freedom seekers in the world should meet the main needs of this resistant nation. The main pivot of the Resistance is the steadfastness and endurance of the Palestinian people who have raised courageous and resistant children. Meeting the needs of the Palestinian people and Palestinian resistance is an important and vital responsibility which should be carried out by all of us.
"In doing so, we should not ignore the basic needs of the Resistance in the West Bank because the West Bank shoulders the main burden of the suppressed intifada. By learning from its past, the Palestinian Resistance should pay attention to this important point: the Resistance and Palestine are too lofty and valuable to get involved in the differences between Islamic and Arab countries or the domestic, ethnic and denominational differences that exist in different countries. The Palestinians, particularly Resistance groups, should appreciate the value of their precious positions and they should avoid entering into these differences. Islamic and Arab countries and all Islamic and national orientations should be at the service of the Palestinian ideal.
"Supporting the Resistance is the responsibility of all of us. No one has the right to have special expectations of them in return for assistance. The only condition for assistance is that such assistance is expended on strengthening the people of Palestine and the structure of the Resistance. Commitment to the idea of steadfastness in the face of the enemy and to the Resistance in all its dimensions guarantees the continuation of this assistance.
"Our position on the Resistance is a fundamental position, one which has nothing to do with any particular group. We are with every group that is steadfast on this path and every group that abandons this path has drifted away from us. The depth of our relationship with groups involved in the Islamic Resistance is only dependent on the level of their commitment to the principle of the Resistance.
"We Are With Every Group That Is Steadfast On This Path And Every Group That Abandons This Path Has Drifted Away From Us
"Another point that should be raised is the existence of some differences between various Palestinian groups. The existence of differences of opinion is natural and understandable due to the diversity of tastes among these organizations and as long as these differences are confined to this, they will lead to increasing cooperation and depth in the fight of the Palestinian people. However, the problem begins when these differences culminate in skirmishes and – God forbid – serious conflicts.
"If this happens, these various orientations will practically step into a path that the common enemy of all of them wants. They do so by foiling one another's powers and capabilities. The management of disagreements and differences of opinion is a skill that should be utilized by all main orientations. They should formulate their various fighting plans in a way that those plans only pressure the enemy and help the cause to be strengthened. National unity on the basis of a jihadi plan is a national necessity for Palestine. It is expected that all orientations try to achieve this unity in line with the requests of all the people of Palestine.
"These days, the Resistance is wrestling with another plot as well which is the effort of some so-called friends to divert the resistance and intifada of the people of Palestine from its course and to sell it to the enemies of the Palestinian nation in their secret transactions with them. However, the Resistance is so intelligent that it will not fall into this trap. One of the reasons for this is that the people of Palestine are the true leaders of fighting and of the Resistance, and past experiences show that by gaining an accurate understanding of the conditions, they prevent these deviations. God forbid, if one of the Resistance orientations falls into this trap, they [the people] can reproduce that need as they have done so in the past. If a group puts down the flag of Resistance, another group will undoubtedly emerge from the heart of the people of Palestine to hold it up again.
"Without a doubt, in this conference, you honorable participants will only attend to Palestine which has been subject to lack of proper and necessary attention in the past few years. Undoubtedly, the existing crises in every part of the region and the Islamic Ummah deserve attention, but what has caused this gathering to be held is the issue of Palestine. This conference can be a model for all Muslims and regional nations to gradually harness their differences by relying on their common points and to prepare the ground by resolving each and every one of those differences, for the increasing reinforcement of the Muhammadi (God's greetings be upon him) Ummah.
"Lastly, I deem it necessary to once more thank all you honorable guests for your valuable presence. Also, I would like to thank the esteemed Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Majlis and his colleagues in the tenth Majlis for the efforts that they made to organize this conference.
"I ask God the Benevolent to help all you succeed in serving the issue of Palestine as the most important issue in the world of Islam and as the pivot of unity for all Muslims and all liberated individuals in the world.
"God's greetings and mercy be upon the lofty souls of all martyrs, particularly upon the honorable martyrs of resistance in the face of the Zionist regime, upon all sincere soldiers of the Resistance front and upon the immaculate soul of the founder of the Islamic Republic who paid the upmost attention to the issue of Palestine.
May you be successful and victorious.
"Greetings be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings."
[1], February 21, 2017.