February 25/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? ‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 12/49-59/:"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain"; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat"; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? ‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
First Letter to the Corinthians 15/51-58/:"Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

Question: "Are there angels among us?"
Answer: Throughout Scripture, we see numerous instances in which angels were an integral part of God’s plan. One verse alludes to the possibility of angels walking among us today: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). The obvious reference is to Abraham, whose angelic visitors appeared to him as men (Genesis 18). This verse may or may not confirm that angels are indeed walking among us unawares; “have shown” is past tense, so present-day encounters are not explicitly mentioned.
There are dozens of scriptural examples of angelic encounters, so we know that God can and does use angels to accomplish certain things. What we don’t know for sure is how often angels allow themselves to be seen by people. Here are the basics about angels from the Bible: angels can instruct people (Genesis 16:9), help people (Daniel 6:22), deliver messages to people (Luke 1:35), appear in visions and dreams (Daniel 10:13), protect people (Exodus 23:20), and help carry out God’s plans.
We know that God created angels, and He uses angels in His plan. Angels have a sense of individuality, as some have names (such as Gabriel and Michael) and all have different responsibilities within the angelic hierarchy.
But do they walk among us? If God so chooses to use them in His custom-made plans for us, yes, they absolutely can walk among us doing God’s will. Angels are mentioned in Genesis and in Revelation and witnessed the creation of the world (Job 38:7). God has used His heavenly host from the beginning of time and will still use them at the end of time, according to Scripture. It is quite possible that many people today have met or seen an angel without realizing it.
If angels do walk among us, it is because they are serving a God-ordained purpose. The Bible mentions demons who wander the earth with no purpose other than to destroy (Matthew 12:43–45). Satan and his demonic force can probably appear physically, much like holy angels can. Satan’s purpose is to deceive and kill. Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
An important note: angels are not to be glorified or worshiped (Colossians 2:18). They are entities who carry out God’s will, and they refer to themselves as “fellow servants” with us (Revelation 22:9).
Regardless of whether we actually experience angelic encounters, the most important thing is that we experience salvation through Jesus Christ. He is beyond all angels and all humans, and He alone is worthy of worship. “You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you” (Nehemiah 9:6).

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 24-25/17
Question: "Are there angels among us?/ 24/17
Camp security focus of Abbas visit/Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/February 24/17
Israel must not fall into Lebanese trap again/Giora Eiland/Ynetnews/February 24/17
Pope Francis Tears at History’s Ancient Walls against Islam/Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/February 24/17
Why two new Kurdistans are better than one/Bilal Wahab/The Washington Post/February 24/17
The foundations of dialogue between Iran and the GCC/Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/February 24/17
Why Bill Gates is partially correct about ‘robot tax’/Ehtesham Shahid/Al Arabiya/February 24/17
The case of ‘blind sheikh’ Omar Abdelrahman and links to terror/Mshari Al Thaydi/Al Arabiya/February 24/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 24-25/17
Rai renews support for President Michel Aoun
The Problem of the Lebanese Army
Cabinet Makes 'Very Big Progress' towards Approving State Budget
Al-Rahi Meets Aoun, Urges Electoral Law Allowing 'Accountability'
Report: Bassil Assembles New Electoral Law Format
Mustaqbal Stresses 'Importance of Holding Parliamentary Vote on Time under New Law'
Abbas Meets Berri and Hariri, Says Lebanon's Sacrifices Won't be Forgotten
President Abbas, Siniora hold meeting
Arslan visits Palestinian President
Self-Radicalized Assi Indicted: Costa Chosen for Containing 'Hizbullah Supporters, Christians'
Israel Fortifies Hilltop Post on Shebaa Farms Borderline
Al-Alam News Channel Closes Offices in Beirut
Army Clamps Down on Arms Traffickers in Hermel
Kanaan: Wage Scale Funding Incorporated in Budget
Hariri during ceremony announcing landlines improvement: Regain citizens' confidence and encourage investments
Pharaon relays President keenness on northern Qaa development
Camp security focus of Abbas visit
Israel must not fall into Lebanese trap again
Abbas vows to ensure return home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 24-25/17
Christians flee Egypt's restive Sinai after spate of attacks
Trump Attacks FBI Over ‘National Security Leakers’
4th Round of Syrian Talks in Geneva: Ambiguity Continues
UNICEF Urges Parties in Geneva to Put Syria’s Children First
Dozens Killed in Blast Near Syria’s Al-Bab after ISIS Defeat
French U.N. Ambassador Urges Punitive Measures against Syrian Regime for Usage of Chemical Weapons
Russia to Veto Syria Sanctions over Chemical Weapons
Syria Peace Talks Struggle as Bomb Kills Dozens
Turkey’s Army Chief: Northern Syria Military Advance Achieved Targets
Abadi: Iraq Air Force Struck ISIS Inside Syria
U.N. Rights Office Rails at Excessively Lenient Israeli Sentence
U.S. Resident Held in Iran by IRGC, Is Described by His Lawyer a 'HOSTAGE'
A State-Run Media: Iran Should Accept That the World Order Has Changed
Rising Tensions Between Turkey and Iran
Young Female Engineer Committed Suicide After Being Physically Abused in Prison
Different Classes of Frustrated People Held Rally in Front of the Iranian Parliament
Iran Regime's Contradictory Inflation Rate Figures, a Sign of Deepening Economic Crisis
French Presidential Candidate Fillon to Face Criminal Probe

Links From Jihad Watch Site for February 24-25/17
Bangladesh: Thousands of Muslims march to demand removal of Lady Justice statue as un-Islamic
Muslim Reform Group Reached Out to 3,000 US Mosques, Got Only 40 Responses
Egypt: Thousands screaming “Allahu akbar” mourn Blind Sheikh, mastermind of 1993 WTC jihad bombing
Palestinian” kids at EU-funded festival: “Jihad is needed, pull the trigger”
General McMaster and That “Perverted Interpretation of Religion Used To Justify Violence”
UK: Man who renounced Islam forced to move after harassment from Muslims
Keith Ellison: “Blacks don’t have an obligation” to obey government
Video: Inside a devastated Orthodox Church in Mosul
Trump phones Trinidad PM to stem Islamic State recruitment
Canada: Fredericton, NB aiming to become a “sanctuary city”
Robert Spencer: Champagne Time! It’s a “Bloodbath” at the State Department
Germany: 100 “radical Islamists” in 2013 and 1,600 today

Links From Christian Today Site for February 24-25/17
Conservative Bishop Called To Step Down In Row Over ID Cards For 'Pure' Male Clergy
Inspirational Soul Survivor Leader Mike Pilavachi Is Suffering From Heart Problems
Conservatives Win In Copeland, UKIP Fails in Stoke
Jerry Falwell Jnr Says Steve Bannon Suggested Him For Top Education Role
Leading Gay Cleric Jeffrey John Narrowly Rejected As Bishop In Wales
Christian Youth Charity Near Top Of Sunday Times Best Companies List
Why Building A Stone Factory Near Mosul Was The Way For Open Doors To Help Hundreds Of People
Bishops Urge International Aid For South Sudan As Millions Starve
Pope Francis Condemns Christian Hypocrisy, Says It's 'Better To Be An Atheist'
We Don't Want Franklin Graham In Vancouver, Says City Mayor
Syrian Man 'Tortured' There After US Church Published His Baptism Can't Sue, Court Rules

Latest Lebanese Related News published on February 24-25/17
Rai renews support for President Michel Aoun
The Daily Star/February 24, 2017/BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Friday renewed his support for President Michel Aoun. “We support his approach to reconstructing the country,” Rai was quoted saying in a statement issued by Aoun’s office. He urged all parties to “stand united and support the leadership of President Aoun.”The Maronite patriarch added that Aoun had “returned Lebanon to its place in the Arab World and [the international arena].”“It is extremely important to us in Lebanon,” Rai said. Aoun visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar in January as part of a broader effort to "reconnect" with Arab countries by meeting to discuss bilateral ties and Lebanon's concerns. Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, in addition to other GCC countries, had soured over Lebanon’s perceived position in regional disputes and the role of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria. Aoun also traveled to Cairo and Amman in February, ahead of the March Arab summit in Jordan, calling for a unified Arab stance.

The Problem of the Lebanese Army
Elliott Abrams/Council Foreign Relations/February 23, 2017
Should the United States be giving military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)? According to the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon (speaking last summer), “In this year alone we provided over $221 million in equipment and training to the Lebanese security forces.” That number presumably includes aid to Lebanon’s police and Internal Security Forces, but given the small size of the country it is a hefty sum. Lebanon is a friendly country, an ally against jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, and a sort of democracy. But it is also the home of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which largely dominates its politics and makes its democracy a sometime thing. It’s fair to say that nothing happens in Lebanon without Hezbollah’s approval, no matter how elections turn out. Lebanon’s new president is legitimizing Hezbollah’s military role–which is independent from control by the Lebanese state (despite repeated UN Security Council resolutions demanding that there be no militias in Lebanon outside state control). The collaboration between Hezbollah and the LAF may be growing: a Times of Israel article on February 12 about the Lebanon/Israel border area said “On the Israeli side, officials are following, almost in astonishment, the deepening cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun responded by saying of Hezbollah “As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence.” When Israel’s UN envoy wrote to the UN Security Council about Hezbollah violations of resolutions concerning Lebanon, the response from Aoun’s office was “Any attempt to hurt Lebanese sovereignty or expose the Lebanese to danger will find the appropriate response.”
So, Aoun appears to be defining Hezbollah’s interests as Lebanon’s interests, and defining Hezbollah not as a militia whose existence clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions but rather as a necessary defense against Israel. In fact he said more: that Hezbollah is needed to “battle” Israel.
Such rhetoric may be dismissed as a price the Christian president must pay, if it is only rhetoric. More dangerous is the news that cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army may be increasing. In this context, should U.S. aid to the LAF continue? I find it a difficult question. Stopping the aid might only further weaken the LAF, which is not under Hezbollah command–though it certainly refuses to confront the terrorist group. The commander of the LAF is always a Christian and the chief of staff is always a Druze, and the Global Security web site suggests that Shia Lebanese “comprise 25% of the enlisted ranks. At the same time, the Army was able to bring the Christians to 25% and the Sunni/Druze component to 50% of the enlisted ranks.” It can be argued that weakening the LAF could further weaken non-Hezbollah influence in Lebanon. If it is true that LAF-Hezbollah cooperation is increasing, the United States should demand that that trend be halted and reversed. It is one thing for the LAF to refuse to confront Hezbollah, and quite another to assist it in any way. Our aid should give us the leverage to achieve that much. My own bottom line for now is that we should not end aid to the LAF, but should make it very clear that this aid is in danger. Lebanese officials must come to realize that even if the withholding of aid weakens the LAF, that’s the inevitable outcome unless they keep farther away from Hezbollah than current trends appear to suggest.

Cabinet Makes 'Very Big Progress' towards Approving State Budget
Naharnet/February 24/Prime Minister Saad Hariri presided over a new Cabinet meeting dedicated to discussing the draft state budget on Thursday after which Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil announced that “very big progress” has been made towards approving the budget. “Today we made very big progress and in principle, all the legal articles pertaining to the budget have been finalized,” Khalil said after the session. “We have started discussing the taxing measures and the amendments and the premier has scheduled three sessions for next week that will start on Monday. According to my estimations, it is possible to finalize the budget during these sessions,” the minister added. “As for the issue of seaside properties, there is an inclination to replace the item related to slapping fines on seaside properties with a legal article aimed at reaching settlements over these properties, which had been discussed by the (joint) parliamentary committees and the administration and justice and public works committees,” Khalil went on to say. Due to disputes between the rival political parties, Lebanon has not approved a state budget since 2005.

Al-Rahi Meets Aoun, Urges Electoral Law Allowing 'Accountability'
Naharnet/February 24/17/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held talks Friday with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace. Al-Rahi called for “an electoral law that guarantees the value of each citizen's vote, so that they can hold their MPs accountable,” state-run National News Agency reported. Christian parties in Lebanon have long complained that the electoral laws that were adopted after the civil war did not allow them to choose their MPs with their own votes seeing as they were tailored to fit the interests of the Muslim political forces. 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, 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.

Report: Bassil Assembles New Electoral Law Format
Naharnet/February 24/17/A new three-party panel has emerged after a previous four-party committee failed to find a new electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary elections, amid reports circulating that Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil is preparing a fresh format which he plans to suggest when all endeavors in that regard collapse, al-Akhbar daily reported on Friday. The new panel is comprised of Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Prime Minister Saad Hariri or director of the premier's office Nader Hariri, said the daily. The reports said that discussions are focusing on two formats that have been deliberated previously and include the so-called hybrid law, which met the consent of al-Mustaqbal and the despise of AMAL and Hizbullah, and a second format that al-Mustaqbal has refused while Hizbullah and AMAL approved of. According to sources familiar with the work of the panel, the discussions are not expected to record serious breakthrough. However they assured that the stalemate will not continue. Shall the negotiators fail to reach common ground, Basil is planning to submit a new project for the electoral law which he works on preparing, they said. Prominent sources from the Free Patriotic Movement have however warned that continued failure to agree on a new law will push the FPM to wage a political battle, and to substitute its “calm rhetoric with verbal attacks against all parties it sees involved in obstructing the process.”The political parties are bickering over amending the current election law which divides seats among the different religious sects. 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 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. The political parties are meanwhile discussing several formats of a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Mustaqbal Stresses 'Importance of Holding Parliamentary Vote on Time under New Law'
Naharnet/February 24/17/Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc on Thursday stressed the “importance of holding the parliamentary vote under a new electoral law,” dismissing accusations that al-Mustaqbal Movement is seeking the postponement of the elections. In a statement issued after its weekly meeting, the bloc also underlined its “commitment to the hybrid law format it had agreed on with the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces and a number of independent MPs.”Free Patriotic Movement sources had accused Mustaqbal of “wasting time” in the electoral law deliberations with the aim of delaying the elections. “Mustaqbal does not want an agreement on a new law. The proof is that the premier's movement either opposes the proposed ideas or it requests some time to mull some proposals which it categorically rejects, such as the draft law suggested by Najib Miqati's government, in an attempt to waste time,” the sources told al-Akhbar newspaper. High-ranking Mustaqbal sources meanwhile stressed to al-Akhbar that the movement's stance is clear “on the need to hold the elections on time and according to a new law.” “Our movement has agreed to at least two proposals: the hybrid law that we proposed together with the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party and the 'one-man, multiple-vote' proposal,” the sources clarified. “Other parties have rejected the hybrid law, not us,” the sources added, referring to the PSP.

Abbas Meets Berri and Hariri, Says Lebanon's Sacrifices Won't be Forgotten
Naharnet/February 24/17/Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met at Ain el-Tineh with Speaker Nabih Berri on Friday, where he hailed Lebanon's stance as for the Palestinian cause stressing that its sacrifices will never be forgotten. “Lebanon is a dear country to our hearts. It has endured and sacrificed a lot for the sake of the Palestinian cause. We shall never forget those sacrifices,” said Abbas in a joint conference with Berri after the meeting. “We are among our brothers when we come to visit Lebanon,” he added. For his part, Berri stressed the need for unity between Arabs for the sake of Palestine and said: “the only topic that should unite us is the issue of Palestine.”In the evening, Abbas arrived at the Grand Serail for talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. A statement issued by Hariri's office said the meeting addressed "the situations in the Lebanese and regional arenas, the developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, and Lebanese-Palestinian ties."Hariri later threw a dinner banquet in honor of Abbas and the accompanying delegation, in the presence of ex-PM Fouad Saniora, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari and the ministers Pierre Raffoul, Moein al-Merehbi, Jean Oghassabian and Jamal al-Jarrah. Earlier on Wednesday, Abbas held talks with several Lebanese officials. On Thursday, Abbas held talks with President Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace at the beginning of a three-day visit to Lebanon. Abbas is accompanied by Palestinian Presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, Fatah Movement's Central Committee official Azzam al-Ahmed and Fatah official spokesman Ahmed Assaf.

President Abbas, Siniora hold meeting
Fri 24 Feb 2017/NNA - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a meeting at former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, at the Grand Serail on Friday. The pair reportedly discussed the current situation in Occupied Palestine, in addition to latest developments in Lebanon and the Middle East, as well as the bilateral relations.

Arslan visits Palestinian President
Fri 24 Feb 2017/NNA - Lebanese Democratic Party chief, Minister Talal Arslan, visited on Friday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at Hilton Habtoor Hotel. Both discussed latest developments in Lebanon and the broader Arab regions.

Self-Radicalized Assi Indicted: Costa Chosen for Containing 'Hizbullah Supporters, Christians'
Naharnet/February 24/17/First Military Examining Magistrate Riad Abu Ghida on Friday charged detained Islamic State-linked militant Omar al-Assi with attempting to blow himself up at Hamra's Costa cafe on January 21. The indictment issued by Abu Ghida says Assi has been charged with “belonging to the terrorist IS group and agreeing and pledging to carry out a suicide attack at Hamra Street's Costa cafe with the aim of killing the largest number of innocent citizens.”The indictment reveals that the army's Intelligence Directorate had information that IS was plotting to “stage a suicide operation at a cafe in Beirut's Hamra area, including Costa cafe.”The information prompted the directorate to “intensify its surveillance and monitoring of all cafes and shops in the aforementioned area,” the indictment says. According to the indictment, Assi, a supporter of Islamist cleric Ahmed al-Asir since 2009, was wounded in the 2013 Abra battles that Asir's group fought against the Hizbullah-affiliated Resistance Brigades and the Lebanese army. “In 2014, he joined militant cells led by Shahine Suleiman with the aim of attacking the Resistance Brigades, Hizbullah, the Lebanese army and the places they frequent including the 'Hop Hop Cafe',” the indictment says.
“When these cells were busted, he destroyed the SIM cards he was using and sold his rifle to the Palestinian Mahmoud Abdul Aziz.”Assi then tells interrogators how he self-radicalized on the internet and sought to contact senior officials of the IS group.
“In early 2016, he created a Twitter account under the alias Abu Mohammed al-Lobnani and tweeted, 'We are dying of humiliation and oppression in Lebanon. I cannot take it anymore, because the Lebanese state is for Shiite and Christians', asking for help to travel to Syria or Iraq,” the indictment says. In response to the tweet, he received a message from a person calling himself “Lilo”, who asked him to close his Twitter account and create a Telegram account. Lilo, identified by the indictment as an IS official, later convinced Assi to carry out a suicide attack in Lebanon after telling him that it is “too difficult” to travel to Syria. The indictment then reveals how Lilo asked Assi to head to an area outside the Hariri Mosque in Sidon where he received the explosive belt from a man riding a gray Toyota SUV. “He told me that the target was the Costa restaurant in Hamra, so I asked him why Costa and suggested that a Hizbullah stronghold would be better,” the indictment quotes Assi as saying. “He replied, 'This is the target and the majority of this cafe's customers are Hizbullah supporters and Christians',” Assi adds.
Now wearing the suicide belt, Assi takes a cab to Khalde, another cab to Beirut's Cola area, and another to Hamra Street. Inside Costa, “I started looking at the customers and asking myself whether they were really Shiites and Christians. I then overheard people talking in a Syrian accent at a table near me, so I assumed that they were Sunni Muslims,” Assi tells interrogators, according to the indictment. Assi then decided to “drink the coffee and leave” and blow himself up in “another restaurant,” the indictment quotes him as telling interrogators. “At that moment, I received a strong blow to my head and fell to the ground. My hands were handcuffed and I fainted and I only woke up in hospital with doctors around me,” Assi adds. Costa cafe is on the main street of the bustling Hamra area, and was filled with people socializing on a Saturday evening when the arrest occurred around 2100 GMT. Assi was injured during the arrest, with several soldiers holding him down to ensure he was not able to detonate the explosive belt. According to Costa employees, the man ordered coffee and chocolate and sat down inside the cafe for around ten minutes before going outside to make a phone call. Only then the undercover security agents pounced on him and removed the suicide belt. The Hamra neighborhood, a district known for shopping and nightlife, has not previously been hit by an attack. But in June 2016, the army said it had arrested jihadists from the Islamic State group planning attacks against busy areas, including Hamra.

Israel Fortifies Hilltop Post on Shebaa Farms Borderline
Naharnet/February 24/17/An Israeli military force, equipped with a number of bulldozers and cranes, started fortifying the Ramta hilltop post which is located on the border with the Southern occupied Shebaa farms, the state-run National News Agency reported on Friday. The works include paving of roads in the vicinity, earthworks construction, installation of an iron fence in addiction to the installation of spying and monitoring devices.

Al-Alam News Channel Closes Offices in Beirut
Naharnet/February 24/17/ The Kuwaiti al-Anbaa daily said on Friday that Falak institution that operates Iranian-run, Arabic news channel al-Alam in Beirut has decided to close down the network's offices in Lebanon discharging around 25 to 60 full-time and contractual employees. Media reports said financial difficulties have compelled the network’s closure, adding that the same difficulty has compelled Hizbullah's al-Manar TV to cut down the number of its staff. Al-Alam, an Arabic news channel broadcasting from Iran, is owned by the state-owned media corporation Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Chairman of the Board of Directors of Falak, Mohammed Arandis, has called the employees to attend a meeting at the Labor Ministry on Thursday to liquidate the company due to financial circumstances, according to al-Modon e-newspaper. Al-Modon also reported that al-Alam General Manager, Ahmed al-Sadat, had arrived in Beirut last August to put the final touches on the closing process, which provided more than %90 of production for the channel's programs.

Army Clamps Down on Arms Traffickers in Hermel
Naharnet/February 24/17/The Lebanese Army arrested on Friday three suspects in the outskirts of al-Hermel wanted on charges of arms trafficking, the state-run National News Agency reported. Lebanese Army Airborne Regiment and Army Intelligence agents raided early on Friday several houses in al-Shawagir neighborhood in the outskirts of Hermel, NNA said. Three individuals were arrested on charges of arms trafficking. Large amounts of weapons and ammunition were seized in the raid.
NNA added that several arrest warrants were issued against the detainees. They were transferred to nearby barracks to be referred later to related authorities.

Kanaan: Wage Scale Funding Incorporated in Budget
Naharnet/February 24/17/Head of the Finance and Budget Parliamentary Committee MP Ibrahim Kanaan said on Friday that the cabinet has recorded “serious and positive” progress as for introducing reforms to the draft state budget, pointing out that revenues to fund the wage scale will be incorporated in the budget. “Serious and positive progress was recorded at the level of introducing needed reforms to the budget, which was the focus of a lengthy debate in the finance committee,” Kanaan told VDL (100.5) radio. “There is a (positive) response from the side of the Minister of Finance (Ali Hassan Khalil) and other concerned parties. We expect the implementation to begin next week,” added Kanaan. On Thursday Prime Minister Saad Hariri presided over a cabinet meeting dedicated to discussing the draft state budget after which Khalil announced that “very big progress” has been made towards approving the budget. Lebanon has not approved a state budget since 2005 because of disputes between the rival political parties. Touching on the long-stalled wage scale file, Kanaan said: “Approving the scale will be continued at the parliament. The monetary resources will be incorporated in the budget after the amount was originally allocated in the reserves.”The Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, has been pushing for the approval of the new wage scale for several years now and has organized numerous street protests and strikes to this end. In a recent stance, the SCC has rejected the possible separation of the wage scale from the state budget, threatening to suspend the school year should the government return the wage scale to parliament. The government has weighed the possibility of introducing new taxes to be able to provide needed funds to finance the wage scale. The measure however was highly criticized and the SCC has called on the government to control the squandering of public funds at Beirut's airport and port and to seek means to fund the state budget that do not put a new strain on low-income citizens.

Hariri during ceremony announcing landlines improvement: Regain citizens' confidence and encourage investments
Fri 24 Feb 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that the government is keen to regain the citizens' confidence in the state, adding that part of this trust comes from providing services, especially in the areas of communications and Internet, which have become an essential part of human life.
Hariri sponsored this evening a ceremony to launch the tender "modernization and development of landline centrals in all of Lebanon", that was held at the Grand Serail in the presence of the Minister of Communications Jamal Jarrah, the General Director of "Ogero" Imad Kreidieh and senior employees from the ministry. Minister Jarrah said the existing centrals began with Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 1994, and did not receive any improvement since. Now, under Prime Minister Saad Hariri, we embrace the latest technology in the field of landline services. He said: "This project includes modernizing the Centrals and networks connected to the existing copper network. 500 000 new lines will be available. We will be able to provide a much faster internet. The next stage would be the "Fiber Optics" network so that the citizens can receive a fast and good DSL service. We are also working to provide the so-called "University student package", in order to provide the Lebanese students with all services they need at a low price". for his part, Hariri said: "I would like to emphasize that what we are doing is under the guidance of His Excellency President Michel Aoun, who wants to see a quantum leap in the communications and customer service. I do not think that we can find today a citizen who does not use the mobile or the Internet, which has become a way to work and transfer information, and if Internet improves, some people will be able to work from their homes or small offices, and to grow the size of their business from a simple office. Many companies want to come to Lebanon and invest, and when they find a much better Internet at reasonable prices, they would be encouraged to come. We want to expand the national economy and every investment in this sector will create job opportunities for many Lebanese. I know that you also are working on the development of the DSL, but President Aoun and I would also want these services to reach areas far from the cities. Some might say why do the people of Akkar need the internet. On the contrary, it would improve the schools and students, who will learn with the latest methods and techniques of education, which will ensure a serious education for the Lebanese citizen in all of Lebanon. If we look today at all the world's countries, especially the developed ones, we find that communications, the Internet and technology are the most important sectors in these countries. Some countries built their economy on this sector. I believe that our essential resource is the Lebanese person, which motivates us to invest in him."

Pharaon relays President keenness on northern Qaa development
Fri 24 Feb 2017/NNA - The State Ministry for Plannification Affairs, in collaboration with UNDP and the Higher Greek Catholic Council, inaugurated on Friday a workshop on the challenges and the development plans in northern Qaa region, under the auspices of President Michel Aoun, represented by Minister Michel Pharaon. In a word delivered on the occasion, Minister Pharaon relayed the President's deep interest in activating the work of the state institutions and apparatuses in the border region, in addition to launching a systematic plan to address locals' chronic tribulations. "When we thought that the major challenge the Lebanese state had to face was home security--especially the defense of sovereignty in the border regions on one hand and the displaced Syrians' crisis on the other--the terrorist peril emerged, making victims in Qaa and Arsal, only to confirm that these regions merit special and urgent attention from the state and the government," Pharaon said. "The army is defending territorial sovereignty, and we must all defend the sovereignty of civilization and development before the crisis in Qaa, Fakiha, and Ras Baalback turns into an existentialist one," he warned. "What is needed is the implementation of the projects that have been planned over 20 years ago," he corroborated. Pharaon also highlighted the importance of opening a tourism and industrial duty-free in the coming time, in order to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria, and ensure further openness from Arsal to Hermel. He also stressed on the obligation to back the Lebanese army, and activate the organization of the displaced Syrians' presence. "We salute our sons in the border regions in Ras Baalback, Qaa, Fakiha, Arsal, and Hermel," he said. "The Christian presence in this region has a special aspect and history, and we must sustain its roots."

Camp security focus of Abbas visit
Hasan Lakkis/The Daily Star/February 24/17
BAABDA: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday became the first head of state to visit President Michel Aoun in Baabda Palace since he took office in October. Their subsequent discussions centered on the security situation at Lebanon’s Palestinian camps that are home to some 433,000 refugees. The Palestinian president expressed his keeness that Palestinian refugees stay out of Lebanese issues and regional conflict. Abbas arrived at the Baabda Palace midafternoon and after the official welcoming ceremony sat with Aoun for a half-hour private meeting. Then the leaders were joined by a throng of officials and aides for expanded talks. Ministerial sources told The Daily Star that during their private tete-a-tete, the pair discussed the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship, focusing on the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and mutual efforts to confront terrorism. Both leaders lauded the ongoing cooperation between Palestinian and Lebanese security forces as expressed hope it would help maintain security and stability.
The pair also discussed the upcoming Arab League Conference to be held in Jordan next month. They discussed the details of the schedule and expressed the need to use it as an occasion to demonstrate Arab peoples’ solidarity to the world. They exchanged views on the unfolding developments in Syria and Abbas discussed his diplomatic communications, especially with nations sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. During the extended talks, the two leaders built on the points they had discussed during their private meeting. Abbas explained his stance on Jerusalem, saying that it must remain the capital of the future Palestinian state and confirmed that any solution that doesn’t take into account international law and international decisions does not represent a lasting solution. Abbas’ statements seemed to be a response to United States President Donald Trump’s repeated declarations that he wants to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and his comments regarding alternatives to a two-state solution. Both represented a stark departure from decades of official U.S. policy.
Abbas also categorically rejected the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands and reiterated his commitment to not interfering in internal Arab affairs, as he called for a unified Arab stance to combat terrorism. The Palestinian president expressed thanks to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil regarding the position he took during a recent conference in the French capital. During the conference in Paris Bassil lambasted the international attendants, saying it had ignored the Palestinian refugees’s right of return. Abbas said that Lebanon’s commitment to the cause would not be forgotten.
Aoun confirmed Lebanon’s role alongside Palestine and voiced his belief in the legitimacy of their cause. The discussion then took a turn toward internal, Lebanese issues. They held a detailed conversation about the situation inside the Lebanese camps. Both leaders lauded measures regarding security, while accepting more was required. Abbas praised the ongoing cooperation from both the Lebanese Army and Cabinet with the Higher Palestinian Security Committee and called for deepened ties.
Following the meeting, a decision was made that officials from the Palestinian delegation would meet Lebanese security officials, including General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Head of Army Intelligence Gen. Kamil Daher. Abbas stated his disappointment at security incidents in the camps, stressing that they hurt the Palestinian cause but that they were being orchestrated by outside powers. He gave instruction to officials to comply with Lebanese security establishments. “I take this opportunity to confirm a subject that is highly important to us ... which is that your brothers, the Palestinian refugees, are your guests,” Abbas said during a joint news conference with Aoun. “They are your kin and we are confident that you would continue to shelter them and take care of them ... we are always working so that their stay is positive.”
The Palestinian president said he is keen to isolate his people from the bloody conflict unfolding across the region.
“We are taking the utmost care so that our people remain distant from any of the conflicts in the region and our people in Lebanon have confirmed their discipline and have maintained security and stability in the camps,” Abbas said. “At this point, I laud all the Palestinian factions for their vision in this and I thank all the Lebanese security agencies in that regards as they have contributed to cementing the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship.”Abbas also voiced his support to Lebanon as it battles terrorist forces and Aoun reiterated the need to offer a united front to face it. “We talked about the status of our Arab region that is going through an unprecedented phase of disintegration and bloodshed,” he said. “We were both of the opinion that the terrorism that is striking it cannot emanate from religion, as any religion would disavow it. [Combatting] it requires a unified stance ... which is based on the victory of moderate powers in the face of extremist currents, we should surround our youth with ... education and development so they are not such easy prey.”Aoun thanked Abbas for his role in maintaining security in the camps “so that they would not turn into pockets for those would take advantage of the crisis of the Palestinian people and leverage it in pursuit of terrorism.”Aoun called on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to maintain its support for Palestinians living in Lebanon. He also looked to the upcoming Arab Summit, saying it was an opportunity to remedy the region’s many woes. He said that Abbas was of the same view. “The need is now more than pressing to find a solution to the crises and the continuous bloodshed in some Arab countries, because it alone is capable of ending the suffering,” Aoun said. Later in the day a banquet was held in Abbas’ honor, attended Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri in addition to a host of public officials and politicians.

Israel must not fall into Lebanese trap againيدعوت احرانوت/لا يجب أن تقع إسرائيل في الفخ اللبناني
Giora Eiland/Ynetnews/February 24/17
Op-ed: Alongside Nasrallah’s harsh words, we should also pay attention to the recent comments made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, which make it clear that Hezbollah and the government of Lebanon are one and the same.
In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s threats have become more frequent and more aggressive. Some people say, as implied in IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s comments Wednesday, that the threats reflect distress rather than self-confidence. I am not so sure about that.
After years of rolling in the Syrian swamp, Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria is expected to increasingly diminish. The fact that the organization is identified with the “winning side” will only give it more confidence in its abilities to shift the fighting towards its main enemy—Israel.
Alongside Nasrallah’s harsh words, we should also pay attention to the recent comments made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who reiterated that Hezbollah was part of the power protecting Lebanon from Israel. Although it isn’t new, this statement only strengthens what should have been clear for years—that Hezbollah and the government of Lebanon are one and the same.
Both Western countries and Israel have been erring for years in understanding the reality in Lebanon. According to the common view, the political establishment in that country is divided into two camps. On the one side, the “good guys” camp, which includes the majority of Christians, Druze and Sunnis and represents pragmatism, moderation, a Western culture and reliance on Saudi, American and French aid. On the other side, the “bad boys” camp, which is led by Hezbollah with the support of Syria and Iran.
If this current state of affairs is true, the West should try to bolster the “good guys” by providing economic aid, building infrastructures and strengthening the army. The problem is that this description is naïve and very far from the truth and from reality.
The truth is that while there are indeed two camps in Lebanon, there is an unwritten agreement between them that each camp will use its relative advantage for a joint purpose. The “good guys” camp will present the beautiful face of Lebanon—a country with democratic institutions, a Francophile culture and a free economy—thereby obtaining political, economic and military support for the country. In return, the other camp, led by Hezbollah, will serve as the state’s significant military force, will be defined by the government as Lebanon’s defender against the Israeli aggression and will be the only one to decide if it will be quiet or noisy along the border with Israel.
In the Second Lebanon War, Israel fell into the Lebanese trap and played into the hands of the Lebanese government. Israel fought only against Hezbollah, without getting the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army and the country infrastructures involved in the battle. What will happen if we run the third Lebanon war the same way? The outcome will likely be much worse than the results of the previous war. Israel can only defeat Hezbollah at an unbearable cost to the Israeli home front.
The conclusion, therefore, should be clear. If fire is opened at Israel from Lebanese territory, Israel should declare war on the State of Lebanon. There is no one in the world who wants to see Lebanon destroyed—neither the Syrians and the Iranians on the one side, nor the West and Saudi Arabia on the other side. Hezbollah doesn’t want that either. A war against Lebanon, which will inflict heavy damage on all of the country’s infrastructures, will spark an international outcry for a ceasefire after three days, rather than after 33 days like in the Second Lebanon War. It is only from a really short war that Israel will be able to emerge victorious and without serious damage to its home front.
It’s important to remember, therefore, and to remind the world not of Nasrallah’s statements, but rather of the Lebanese president’s statements. Once the fighting breaks out, it will be too late to explain the new strategy. The diplomatic battle should be waged before, not during, a war.
**Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel's National Security Council.

Abbas vows to ensure return home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
Xinhua/2017/2/24/Visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Thursday to exert all efforts to ensure all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon return to their homeland, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.
Abbas, who arrived in Lebanon on Thursday for a three-day visit, made the remarks at a joint press conference with Lebanese President Michel Aoun. By long-standing convention, the Lebanese army does not enter the twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian factions to handle security. "We were from the beginning against terrorism. We have called from the start for holding constructive dialogues and preserving the unity of the Arab territories," Abbas said. The Palestinian president also thanked Lebanon for hosting the Palestinians.
"Lebanon will remain a beacon of civilization, knowledge and steadfastness in the Arab countries," he said. "Palestinian refugees are guests in Lebanon.""Israel insists on occupying our land and keeping our people in a big prison. This is what we will not accept. We will continue to work through political and diplomatic means to implement Security Council's resolutions," the president noted. For his part, Aoun stressed the important role of the Palestinian factions in preserving stability in Palestinian refugee camps in his country. "The most important challenge is the extent of our ability to impose a just and comprehensive solution to all the aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict according to international resolutions and the articles of Arab summit's resolutions," the Lebanese president said. According to Aoun, unilateralism has collapsed, as no country can be built on a religion that rejects other religions and push people out of their land, identity and culture. "The need has become more urgent to find political solutions to crises and ongoing bloodshed in some Arab countries," Aoun said. "We agreed to coordinate positions and to cooperate to serve the interests of our two countries and issues of justice and peace that we have paid the price to achieve," he concluded.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 24-25/17
Christians flee Egypt's restive Sinai after spate of attacks
Fri 24 Feb 2017/NNA - Dozens of Coptic Christians have left Egypt's Sinai Peninsula after a string of attacks killed three Christians, church officials said on Friday. On Thursday, suspected Islamic State militants killed a member of the minority in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish and set his house on fire, the third such attack this week. About 250 Christians took refuge in the Evangelical Church in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya, said church deacon and administrator Nabil Shukrallah. "They've come running with their children. It's a very difficult situation. We're expecting 50 or 60 more," he told AFP. Christians have been attacked before in the Sinai, where the Islamic State's Egypt affiliate is waging an insurgency. However, there has been an uptick since IS released a video on Sunday calling for violence against the minority. The video included an anti-Christian speech by a militant who later detonated an explosive vest in a Coptic church in Cairo on 11 December, killing 29 people. Other church officials said they have also received Copts fleeing the peninsula. On Wednesday, police officials said two Coptic Christians, a father and son, were shot dead behind a school in el-Arish. Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million population, say they are sidelined in both the education system and state institutions. Islamists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters. Morsi's overthrow, which came after millions of protesters demanded his resignation, was also supported by Egypt's top Muslim institution, al-Azhar. Mobs attacked dozens of churches and Christian properties in August that year after police killed hundreds of Islamist demonstrators while dispersing a Cairo protest camp.------AFP

Trump Attacks FBI Over ‘National Security Leakers’
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/U.S. President Donald Trump has publicly lambasted the FBI on Friday for failing to stop leaks of national security information to the media and directed the agency to find those who pass on classified information.
Trump claimed the FBI has been giving classified information to media that could have a “devastating effect” on the U.S. Trump’s comments, in a pair of Twitter posts, come amid media reports that the White House had asked the FBI to publicly deny there were links between the President’s administration and Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia during the presidential campaign. “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW,” Trump wrote.The news reports by CNN and The Associated Press said White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director, to dispute media reports that said Trump campaign advisers had been in frequent contact with the Russians. Democrats accused Priebus of interfering in a pending investigation. As of Thursday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request. A senior administration official told reporters on Friday that an FBI official had told Priebus a recent New York Times story about Russian contacts was not accurate. Priebus asked if the FBI could set the record straight. The New York Times reported on Feb. 14 that members of Trump’s presidential campaign and other associates had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials, citing intercepted communications and other evidence. Priebus’ contact with the FBI came as the bureau conducts ongoing investigations relating to Russian interference in the Nov. 8 U.S. election.FBI counterintelligence agents are also examining financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates.“There are investigations that are going on and those investigations must find out exactly what Russia was doing in the United States,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN on Friday. “We need a complete investigation and we certainly don’t want the White House at all trying to influence that investigation.”U.S. Representative John Conyers said any White House attempt to influence the FBI was “deeply troubling.”“The White House is simply not permitted to pressure the FBI to make public statements about a pending investigation of the President and his advisors,” Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement late on Thursday.

4th Round of Syrian Talks in Geneva: Ambiguity Continues
Michel Abu Najm/Asharq Al-Awsat/February 24/17/Geneva – U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura successfully prevented on Thursday the failure of the fourth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, after he convinced representatives of the Syrian opposition factions to sit together as a unified delegation at the opening session, which was delayed from 3 till 7 pm.Representatives from the opposition groups sat on the left of the international enjoy, where a large table was dedicated to the main opposition bloc – the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) – and two smaller tables were reserved for the two other groups – the Moscow and the Cairo platforms.Representatives from the U.N. Security Council and the Friends of Syria Group attended the opening session, which saw only a speech by de Mistura.“I ask you to work together. I know it’s not going to be easy to end this horrible conflict and lay the foundation for a country at peace with itself, sovereign and unified,” de Mistura told both pro-regime and opposition delegations, who sat on opposite sides of the stage. “It is your opportunity and solemn responsibility… not to condemn future generations of Syrian children to long years of bitter and bloody conflict,” he added.“The Syrian people desperately all want an end to this conflict and you all know it,” he continued. “You are the first ones to tell us it. They are waiting for a relief from their own suffering and dream of a new road out of this nightmare to a new and normal future in dignity,” the international envoy also said. De Mistura described the negotiations as a difficult task, adding that they would center on U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, which calls for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and transparent and accountable governance. He said the feeble ceasefire brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran had opened a window of opportunity. “The effort has jump-started the process … to see if there is a political road forward and we don’t want to miss this opportunity,” he stressed. An atmosphere of ambiguity surrounded Thursday’s opening session, which was delayed following disputes between the HNC and de Mistura over the structure of the opposition delegation. The dispute was partly due to the international envoy’s inclusion of two other groups – the Moscow and the Cairo platforms – in the talks. The envoy invited the two pro-Russia, regime-tolerated opposition groups to sit separately from the HNC. Western sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that they have “advised” the main opposition group to stay in Geneva “whatever happened” and that they have received “reassurances” in this regard. The sources added that they have urged the opposition to focus on the transitional plan that it has presented last September during the London meetings on Syria. For his part, Russia’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva Alexei Borodavkin underlined to necessity to fully implement Resolution 2254, including the clause pertaining to fighting terrorism. In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, member of the Cairo platform Jamal Suleiman explained that disagreements between the opposition delegations were also due to a dispute over the formation of three committees that would be in charge of studying the “political transition process” as stipulated in Resolution 2254. European sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the current weaknesses in the opposition were mainly due to the ambiguity in the U.S. position towards the Syrian file, awaiting a clear stance by President Donald Trump’s administration on this matter.

UNICEF Urges Parties in Geneva to Put Syria’s Children First
Asharq Al-Awsat/February 24/17/Damascus, Amman- UNICEF’s Regional Director Geert Cappelaere has urged parties at the Geneva talks to join efforts and put children of Syria first, adding that nearly two million children remain largely cut-off from urgently needed humanitarian assistance.Cappelaere’s statement coincided with the launching of Syrian talks in Geneva. He said: “The heart-wrenching image of a young boy screaming for his father just minutes after losing both his legs in an apparent assault in Idlib last week is another brutal reminder that children continue to come under attack in Syria’s conflict.”“Since the start of this year, at least 20 children have reportedly been killed in attacks and many more injured, including a one-day old baby girl injured when her home was shelled in Rural Damascus. In addition, nearly 2 million children remain largely cut-off from urgently needed humanitarian assistance,” he added.The statement also said: “The numbers are a grim indication that the cessation in hostilities announced last December has yet to result in real gains in protection and humanitarian assistance for all children in Syria. So far this year, only three inter-agency missions have reached children in need in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.”“The immeasurable cost in lives and suffering should shame the world into taking immediate action in finding a political solution to the war. Parties to the conflict must provide immediate, unconditional, and sustained access to all children in need across the country. Sieges must end. The removal of life saving supplies from convoys is unacceptable, as is the use of water as a weapon of war,” Cappelaere continued.“The more than 10 million Syrian children suffering directly and daily the consequences of this vicious conflict want only one thing: peace to come and having their childhood back,” he added.

Dozens Killed in Blast Near Syria’s Al-Bab after ISIS Defeat

Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/A suicide bomber attacked rebels backed by Turkey just outside the northwestern Syrian town of Al-Bab Friday, killing more than 40 people in a major blow just hours after they hailed its capture from ISIS.
The bomber blew up a vehicle packed with explosives outside a rebel command center in the village of Susian, eight kilometers northeast of Al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The blast devastated the twin command posts fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner and also seriously wounded a large number of fighters, the Britain-based monitoring group said. A rebel fighter with the Sultan Murad Brigade near Al-Bab said: “It was done on a checkpoint but there were a lot of families there gathered and waiting to get back to Al-Bab. Therefore we have many civilian casualties.”Turkey’s Prime Minister said two Turkish soldiers were among the dead. “There was a suicide attack which killed two of our soldiers and we have injured,” Binali Yildirim said, adding they had been carrying out road checks in the town. The strategic town, just 25 kilometers south of the Turkish border, was the jihadists’ last stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. Turkey sent troops into Syria last August in an operation it said targeted not only ISIS but also U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters whom it regards as terrorists. With its support, the rebels launched an offensive to take Al-Bab last year. On Thursday afternoon, an AFP correspondent heard intermittent gunfire as rebel units continued to clear the heavily damaged town. Also on Thursday, several Turkey-backed rebels were killed by a mine in Al-Bab while clearing the town of unexploded ordnance after ISIS retreated, the Observatory said. The battle against the terrorist organization around the town is just one front line in the fighting in Aleppo province. West of the second city, which regime forces took full control of in December, fighting flared with rebels in its western suburbs.Exchanges of rocket and artillery fire first broke out on Wednesday, centered on the rebel-held district of Rashideen, the Observatory said. The regime responded with intensive air strikes on Thursday that killed at least 32 rebel fighters.“The regime wants to reinforce its positions around Aleppo and is using the rocket fire by the rebels as a pretext to bombard their positions and attempt to drive them out of the suburbs,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

French U.N. Ambassador Urges Punitive Measures against Syrian Regime for Usage of Chemical Weapons

Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/ The level of credence enjoyed by the United Nations Security Council is promptly endangered as it meets to discuss possible sanctions against Syria for the use of chemical weapons against civilians, the head of the French mission to the United Nations said on Friday. “If the Security Council is not able to unite on such a vital, literally, vital question of proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction against civilian population, then what?” said French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre. “What is at stake here frankly is the credibility of the Security Council,” he told reporters. Delattre said that beyond existing “clear evidence” those chemical weapons have been used in Syria against civilians, there are “converging indications that such weapons continue to be used.”“On the scale of the threats to peace and security, we are at 10 here,” Delattre said. “The ‘doing nothing’ attitude or the ‘talking only’ attitude is not an option confronted with such a threat.” The draft resolution seeks to blacklist 11 pro-regime Syrian military commanders and officials and 10 regime and related entities involved in the development and production of chemical weapons. It calls for an asset freeze and travel ban for the individuals and entities across all U.N. member states. Two diplomats told Reuters on Thursday it was likely that Russia, the largest international backer of the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, would veto the text. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said: “We’ve worked with the UK and France to make sure this resolution comes on board and then we’ll find out which countries have an excuse for chemical weapons and which ones are really going to say this is a problem.” The U.N. vote could coincide with talks between representatives of Assad’s regime and his opponents with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura, which started on Thursday in Geneva. Delattre said he saw no contradiction in raising the subject of sanctions on Syria as the Geneva talks were being held. The nearly six-year-long conflict in Syria has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced millions, according to groups that monitor the war.

Russia to Veto Syria Sanctions over Chemical Weapons
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/17/ Russia vowed Friday to use its veto to block a proposed U.N. resolution drafted by the United States, France and Britain that would impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons. The trio are pushing for a vote early next week on the measure that would slap sanctions on 11 Syrians and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in the nearly six-year war. "I just explained our position very clearly to our partners. If it is tabled, we will veto it," Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters following a closed-door meeting of the Security Council. Safronkov rejected the measure as "one-sided," saying it was based on "insufficient proof" and contradicted "the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence until the investigation is over." Russia has used its veto six times to shield its Damascus ally from any punitive action by the Security Council. The draft resolution follows a UN-led investigation which concluded in October that the Syrian military had carried out at least three chlorine attacks on opposition-held villages in 2014 and 2015. The joint panel of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also found that Islamic State jihadists had used mustard gas in an attack in 2015. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said she was not swayed by the Russian arguments. "How much longer is Russia going to continue to babysit and make excuses for the Syrian regime?" she said. "People have died by being suffocated to death. That's barbaric." "You are either for chemical weapons or you are against it," she added. The fresh clash with Russia came as a new round of peace talks in Geneva struggled to get off the ground, with Syrian government and opposition delegations haggling over the format of meetings.
U.S. rejoins France, Britain
The vote expected Monday or Tuesday would mark the first major council action by the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, who took office on January 20 seeking warmer ties with Russia. Britain and France had circulated the draft text weeks ago, but held off on action to give the Trump administration time to study it. The vote would see the Trump administration joining old allies France and Britain to confront Russia over its support for Syria. "We now have clear evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria against civilian populations and converging indications that such weapons continue to be used in this country," said French Ambassador Francois Delattre. "On the scale of threats to peace and security, we are at 10 here," he said. British Deputy Ambassador Peter Wilson added: "We absolutely intend to move forward with this resolution in the coming days."The draft text, seen by AFP, would impose a global travel ban and assets freeze on 11 Syrians, mostly military officials, and 10 entities linked to chemical weapons development. It would also ban the sale, supply or transfer of helicopters and related materiel, including spare parts, to the Syrian armed forces or the government. The U.N.-OPCW panel found that Syrian air force helicopters dropped chlorine barrel-bombs on the villages of Qmenas, Talmenes and Sarmin in 2014 and 2015. Chlorine use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013 under pressure from Russia.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the war that has killed 310,000 people since March 2011.

Syria Peace Talks Struggle as Bomb Kills Dozens
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/17/ The U.N. struggled on Friday to get a new round of Syrian peace talks off the ground, but with few signs of progress as dozens more civilian deaths underlined the scale of the challenge. The U.N.'s Syria envoy, who brought rival regime and opposition delegates symbolically together late Thursday, held separate meetings with them Friday to hammer out the talks' format. But there appeared to be no discussion of substance, either with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura and certainly not between the rival parties themselves. "We discussed issues relating to the format of the talks exclusively," said Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari after meeting de Mistura. The opposition said the same after its talks with the U.N. envoy later. During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the rivals never sat down at the same table, instead leaving de Mistura to shuttle between them. At the end of the day de Mistura's acting chief of staff Michael Contet signaled there was no immediate prospect of direct talks. "Of course he wishes to be able to have all the invitees present in Geneva in the same place to exchange directly and have direct talks," he told reporters. But "at present there are difficulties for some of them to engage in such a format... This is why the special envoy will be continuing his efforts so that things can evolve towards direct engagement," he added.
Over 300,000 dead
Even as the new U.N. talks began, the death toll in a suicide bombing near the Syrian town of Al-Bab rose to 51, the latest atrocity in a six-year war which has killed more than 310,000 people. Most of the dead in the attack -- claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group -- were Turkish-backed rebels, who had only just taken the stronghold town from IS militants. In addition two Turkish soldiers were killed, while separately officials in Baghdad said the Iraqi air force struck IS members in neighboring Syria. The attack has no direct bearing on the U.N. talks, since the IS is not part of the latest ceasefire deal, but it illustrates the lack of any return to normality for war-ravaged Syria. In Geneva, de Mistura -- hosting the first U.N.-sponsored talks since April -- acknowledged the frailty of the latest ceasefire, which was agreed in late December.
'Not expecting miracles'
In his welcome address, the envoy played down hopes of a breakthrough.
"I'm not expecting miracles," he admitted while warning of dire consequences if the talks "fail again". The talks between negotiators for Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition have been clouded by persistent violence and deadlock over the country's political future. The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has said it wants to meet the government face-to-face. But on the ground rebels are in a significantly weaker position since the last U.N.-sponsored round. The army has recaptured the rebel bastion of eastern Aleppo and Washington, once staunchly opposed to Assad, has said it is reassessing every aspect of its Syria policy under President Donald Trump.
Syrian 'transition' disputed
The regime delegation chief said Friday that de Mistura had given them a "paper" -- which according to a source close to the talks covers three areas for discussion: transition in Syria, a constitution and elections. Political "transition", part of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 which managed the Geneva talks, is at the heart of the debate. But it has different meanings for Damascus and its Russian and Iranian allies on side, and the Syrian opposition on the other. "As the Russians and the regime see it, a government of national unity is put in place, Bashar Assad remains president and they bring in opposition who will look after hunting and sports. "For the opposition, it's clear that the Syrian president cannot remain in power," said a western diplomatic source.
In New York on Friday the U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria, as the U.S., France and Britain pushed for sanctions on Damascus. But afterwards Russia's deputy ambassador confirmed -- as expected -- that Moscow will use its veto to block a draft resolution imposing sanctions on the Assad regime.

Turkey’s Army Chief: Northern Syria Military Advance Achieved Targets
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria launched six months ago has achieved its planned targets following the seizure of the Syrian town of al-Bab, the head of Turkey’s chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, said on Friday, according to Reuters. “With al-Bab under control, the targets planned at the start of the operation have been achieved. In the aftermath, support will be provided to normalize life and for the local people to quickly return to their homes,” Akar said. The ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation has been conducted with caution due to the unconventional nature of the conflict, Akar told troops in a speech during a visit to the Turkish border provinces of Gaziantep and Kilis. The fight has often involved car bombs, suicide attacks and snipers. On the other hand, the United States and Russia need to enhance communication to avoid accidents in the skiesover Syria because air space is shrinking as terror group ISIS loses more territory, a top U.S. Air Force general said on Friday. Air Force General Herbert Carlisle called for greater communication, but stopping short of coordination, with Russia over Syria through a channel that Moscow and Washington already have for avoiding each other. In 2015, they agreed to create a ground communication link and outline steps their pilots could take to avoid an inadvertent clash over Syria. “It is going to become more and more complex as time goes on and as we continue to squeeze ISIS and take continually more territory away from them it becomes even more complex,” Carlisle told reporters.

Abadi: Iraq Air Force Struck ISIS Inside Syria
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Friday that the Iraqi air force struck ISIS positions inside neighboring Syria in retaliation to recent bomb attacks in Baghdad. “We ordered the air force command to strike Daesh terrorist sites in Husseibeh and Albu Kamal, in Syrian territory,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist organization. “We are determined to chase terrorism that tries to kill our sons and citizens wherever it is found,” Abadi’s statement said. According to the prime minister, the targets were connected with recent bombings in Baghdad but did not provide further details. “The heroes of the sky executed the operation and responded to the terrorists with amazing success,” said Abadi. A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was the first time Iraq aircraft hunted ISIS targets across the border with Syria. Both locations cited by Abadi are very close to the border and lie in the Euphrates Valley, facing the remote western Iraqi town of Al-Qaim. Jihadists have lost most of their urban strongholds in the vast western province of Anbar since Iraqi forces started mounting a counter-offensive following the capture by ISIS of around a third of the country in 2014. But they continue to move relatively easily in desert areas and have hideouts from which they harass the security forces. On Friday, the jihadists carried out an attack in Anbar on an Iraqi border guard position near Jordan, killing at least 15 guards, officials said. “Daesh launched an attack with a suicide car bomb and gunmen on the 2nd border guard regiment near Trebil,” an officer in the border guard told Agence France Presse. “The attack came from several directions and killed 15 border guards, including two officers,” he said. An official in Rutba, the nearest town, confirmed the attack and the death toll.

U.N. Rights Office Rails at Excessively Lenient Israeli Sentence
Asharq Al-Awsat English/February 24/17/The United Nations’ human rights office decried on Friday the 18-month sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court to an Israeli soldier for killing a badly wounded Palestinian as “excessively lenient” and “unacceptable”.
The soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, was sentenced for manslaughter in the March shooting of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head after he was incapacitated following a knife attack in March 2016 in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and a frequent flashpoint for violence.The show of leniency provoked Palestinian outrage. “We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian in an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man who clearly posed no imminent threat,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva. Manslaughter carries a maximum punishment of 20 years under Israeli law, she said. “This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity,” Shamdasani said. “This is a chronic culture of impunity we are talking about.”More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since the most recent upsurge in violence began in the West Bank in September 2015, she said. Azaria is the only member of the Israeli security forces to have been brought to trial for such a killing, she added. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to address the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday at the start of its main annual session that lasts until March 24. Israel, backed by its main ally the United States, says that the 47-member state forum is biased against it due to its frequent resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and practices in the Gaza Strip. In the meantime, Israel has denied a work permit to a Human Rights Watch researcher after receiving Foreign Ministry advice that HRW works “in the service of Palestinian propaganda under the false banner of human rights,” the immigration authority said. HRW said the move was unexpected, since the organization regularly meets and corresponds with Israeli government officials, including representatives of the military, the police, and the Foreign Ministry. Israel’s decision was criticized by the U.S. State Department, which said, “we strongly disagree with that characterization of HRW … (which is) a credible human rights organization.”Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the decision was taken because of HRW’s “extreme, hostile anti-Israel agenda which was working at the service of Palestinian propaganda … in a totally biased manner.”The group said in a statement that “the decision marks an ominous turn after nearly three decades during which Human Rights Watch staff has had regular access without impediments to Israel and the West Bank.” It added that Israel has refused HRW access to Gaza since 2010, except for one visit in 2016. Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that “even though we do not agree with all of their assertions or conclusions, given the seriousness of their efforts, we support the importance of the work they do. We reference HRW reports in our own reporting, including our annual human rights reports.”HRW’s Iain Levine said that it was “disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”The decision to bar the HRW representative is a latest move by authorities to curb foreign non-governmental organizations who have issued reports critical of Israeli government actions, particularly concerning Palestinians. It was initially unclear whether the decision heralded the start of a new policy by Israel towards foreign citizens working for NGOs.

U.S. Resident Held in Iran by IRGC, Is Described by His Lawyer a 'HOSTAGE'
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/A Washington-based lawyer for a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned in Iran by IRGC has called him as a "hostage." Jason Poblete said in a statement on Thursday that Iranian accusations that Nizar Zakka confessed to authorities are "completely false." AP, reported on February 23, 2017. A semi-official Iranian news agency on Wednesday published comments from a Revolutionary Guard commander saying Zakka confessed to trying to "encourage corruption" in Iranian society. Poblete called for the immediate and unconditional release of Zakka, a Lebanese computer expert whose organization previously did contract work for the U.S. government, and all other Westerners held by Iran.Zakka was detained in September 2015 after speaking at a conference attended by President Hassan Rouhani at the Iranian government's invitation. Zakka is serving a 10-year prison sentence and faces a $4.2 million fine after a closed-door trial. Zakka was charged under Article 508 of Iran's penal code, Poblete said. The code states that anyone found cooperating with a foreign state against the Islamic Republic of Iran faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.Iran's vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, invited Zakka to attend a conference on women's entrepreneurship in September 2015, according to a copy of a signed letter from Molaverdi provided by Poblete.

A State-Run Media: Iran Should Accept That the World Order Has Changed
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/A state-run media affiliated with Rouhani wrote about the changes in the US policy at the end of Obama's presidency as well as the dimensions of isolation and the global exclusion burdened on the Iranian regime as the sponsor of terrorism. The news reads:"Undoubtedly, the Iranian regime has to accept the fact that the order of the world and the region has changed and a new form of alliance has been formed among the enemies of our country. We have solely encountered with a global alliance."The state-run Shargh Newspaper wrote:"the Munich Security Conference unveiled the regional conspiracies against the Iranian regime. Following Erdogan's trip to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the conspiracy has been organized. The regional conspiracy is not a new phenomenon. However, Trump's feud with the Iranian regime has also influenced the enemies of the regime in order to dare reveal their intentions hastily."Shargh Newspaper added:"in fact, Trump has imbalanced the power of the region. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are not restrained by Barack Obama anymore. After 8 years of constraints, they can freely develop their encroachment policy as well as their hostility towards the Iranian regime. The enemies of Iran are now encouraged to plan and unite the enemies of the region against Iran."Shargh also referred to the appeasement policy adopted by Obama:"Undoubtedly, it is not fair to imagine that Obama's policy was a total feud with Iran as George Bush tried to do so. Obama could increase political, economic pressures as well as military intimidations on Iran in order to exhaust them as the two previous US presidents behaved so.The Iranian regime might have not realized what golden opportunities were offered to us in Obama's government and how could they strengthen our bonds to an extent that we could not be vulnerable during Trump's government. We could also be immune from any political invasion. However, inhibiting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey in Obama's presidency was an opportunity for them to form an invisible alliance against our regime. They demonstrated the solidarity as Trump started feud with Iran."In response to "What shall be done now?", Shargh Newspaper writes:"indeed, the Iranian regime has to accept the fact that the order of the region and the world has changed and a new form of alliance has been made among the enemies of our country. We have solely encountered with a global alliance. Trump's remarks suggest that Saudi Arabia has guaranteed financial supports to "hit the head of the snake" and this is the same as Trump's strategy as well as his electoral promises."The state-run website, the Iranian Diplomacy ( on February 21st also wrote:"the similarities of accusations and hostile stances of these countries against Iran signify an alliance that we must weigh to deal with as soon as possible."The state-run Ebtekar Newspaper on February 22nd also wrote:"the situation means that Iran's circle will be tighter in post-Munich events. The difficult days are ahead. This condition causes disruption of equations in the region."

Rising Tensions Between Turkey and Iran
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/Turkey has accused the Iranian regime of destabilizing the region. In response, the Iranian regime summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran. The consecutive remarks made by the Turkish officials in Bahrain and Munich have outraged the Iranian regime. The Turkish officials directly accused the Iranian regime of destabilizing the countries of the region and of trying to develop the sectarian policy in Syria and Iraq. Having summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran, the Iranian regime stated objection against the recent remarks made by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Berlin. On February 22nd, the Turkish political Analyst, Mustafa Özcan in al-Arabiya TV stated in this regard:" the Iranian regime has been provoking the countries of the region for 36 years. As Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim stated, the Iranian regime has been violating the sovereignty of nations. Turkey grinned and bore the Iranian regime in the past. Nevertheless, Turkey's interests have been endangered due to the interference of the Iranian regime in Iraq and Syria. Therefore, they can show no tolerance anymore. The Iranian regime has to alter its approach in the region otherwise the conflict arises among the Iranian regime and the countries of the region such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states since these countries are directly threatened by the Iranian regime or its puppets that are present in countries like Iraq and Syria."In the end, Mustafa Özcan added: “the interference of the Iranian regime in the affairs of Arab countries means meddling in Turkey. This interference has endangered Turkey's national security and its paramount interests in the region."

Young Female Engineer Committed Suicide After Being Physically Abused in Prison
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/The Kurdish news websites reported that a young engineer girl from Kermanshah committed suicide as she got sexually abused in the detention of the Ministry of Intelligence. According to the reports, Mahdis Mir Ghavami ended her life immediately after coming out of the detention of Kermanshah Intelligence Bureau. The news leaked out on Wednesday, February 22nd reporting that Mahdis Mir Ghavami was summoned to the Intelligence Bureau on Tuesday, January 24th and got jailed for two days. She then committed suicide as soon as she got released. This young engineer had attempted suicide by taking Aluminium phosphide poisoning tablet. The report added that the intelligence agents have seriously threatened the family of Mahdis Mir Ghavami as soon as she committed suicide. The news of her suicide was not leaked in the media since the intelligence agents intimidated her family not to publicize the news about the suicide of their daughter. Mirovayeti Website also reported that a girl named Hananeh Shalir Farhadi had been earlier detained for 4 months in the Intelligence Bureau. She also ended her life as soon as she got released from jail. She was an educated girl from Kermanshah holding BA certificate.

Different Classes of Frustrated People Held Rally in Front of the Iranian Parliament
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/Thousands of people held a rally in front of the Iranian Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, February 22nd hundreds of inspectors and experts from the Ministry of Industries and Mines staged a protest in front of the Parliament of Iran demanding permanent employment and the return to work. The protesters said:"we are gathered here for the third time but no one listens to us."Another protester on Tuesday said:"we continuously referred to different departments for further follow-ups but no one bore the responsibility. However, we will not get disappointed. We will rally again in front of the Parliament in order to obtain our rights."Meanwhile, a group of people who have been looted by Kowsar Land Reclamation Company affiliated with the Ministry of Energy also rallied in front of the Parliament demanding their stolen land or money to be returned. About 400 people who have been also looted by Caspian Financial Institution staged a protest in front of the Parliament demanding their stolen money to be returned. The protesters were carrying placards on which was written:"I deposited my money on Caspian Financial Institution which was licensed by the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran." One of the protesters said:"we deposited our money on this institution which obtained its license by the Central Bank of Iran. Does the Central Bank lack validity?" Those who have been plundered by the Caspian Financial Institution lodged protest on February 19th in front of the Parliament. In the morning of Tuesday, February 21st more than 500 employees of Telecommunication Company of Iran rallied in front of the parliament from different parts of Iran protesting against the low salaries as well as blatant discriminations. The protesters said:"we are fed up with Telecommunication Company! Our salary differs significantly from those who are permanently employed. Our gross salary is lower and we are not awarded bonuses as the permanent workers receive." One of the protesters talked about the rallies and said:"we demand signing a direct contract with Telecommunication Company. We call for the implementation of the job evaluation scheme, the removal of discrimination and the establishment of job security. The protestors believe that the mediators shall not take part in any affairs so that the rights of unions will be retained and the job security of employees will be ensured. In the morning of Tuesday 1000 retired nurses from different parts of Iran staged a protest as medical pioneers in front of the parliament demanding their salary and receivables to rise. Most of the protesters were female nurses. In addition to that, 400 retired employees of Razavi Khorasan Province staged a protest in front of the parliament. They were holding placards on which was written:"we, the retired people call for equality in salaries, insurance and efficiency of organizations." About 150 retired teachers of 2016 also protested on Tuesday carrying placards on which was written:"the year 2016 is passed but the bonus payments of the retired teachers have not yet been paid! Why?" The teachers retired in 2016 also protested in front of the Planning and Budget Organization in Tehran.

Iran Regime's Contradictory Inflation Rate Figures, a Sign of Deepening Economic Crisis
NCRI/Friday, 24 February 2017/While Iran’s Statistics Center announced a 0.1% drop in inflation rate in February compared to January, the Central Bank announced that the rate has increased 1.1% compared to previous month. Iran's central bank on Thursday February 23 announced that the inflation rate in February reached 8.7% that compared to the previous month has increased by 1.1%. However Iran’s Statistics Center stated in a report that the inflation rate in February reached 6.8% that compared to the previous month decreased by 0.1%. Big difference between the two centers of Iran’s Statistics between the two inflation rates occurred last month too. According to the Iran’s Statistics Center, the inflation rate in January compared to the previous month had dropped 0.3% and reached 6.9%. However, the Central Bank said that inflation in January was 8.6%, which was unchanged from November to December. The steadiness of the process of changing the average inflation rate in the Central Bank report coincides with point to point inflation rate. This coincidence doubles the worries about the future of inflation rate changes. According to the Central Bank, point to point inflation rate in February reached 10.6% which shows a 1% increase compared to January. According to the bank’s report, point to point inflation rate in January had reached 9.6% which showeda 0.4% increase compared to December. Ali Tayyebnia, Minister of Economy, emphasized a while ago that inflation had reached its hard core and from now on controlling the inflation rate would be more difficult than the past. The International Monetary Fund in its latest report has forecasted that inflation will average 9 percent at the end of this year, and while inflation rate is single digit, it is with a short distance of being double-digit. Reduction in the inflation rate does not mean cheaper price of consumer goods and services, but means slowing momentum of the general level of prices. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, Government spokesman, earlier called the decline in inflation rate in Iran as "very promising" and described reduction of inflation rate as a sign of "the right direction" of the country. But some MPs criticize the Hassan Rouhani government's performance and say the statistics are only on paper and does not reflect the real situation of people's lives. A number of government critics also know one of the factors of reduction of the inflation rate is due to deepening recession and the decline in the purchasing power of people.

French Presidential Candidate Fillon to Face Criminal Probe
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 24/17/Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate in France's presidential election, will face a probe by investigating magistrates into claims he gave his family fake jobs, prosecutors said Friday. Fillon, one of the frontrunners in the presidential race, will be investigated for alleged embezzlement of public funds and misappropriation of corporate assets, prosecutors said in a statement. The 62-year-old former prime minister has not been charged at this point, but under French law investigating magistrates can decide to bring charges. With the first round of the election just two months away, on April 23, the timing of the magistrates' decision could have a crucial bearing on the race. Fillon has been fighting claims first made a month ago by Le Canard Enchaine newspaper that he used allowances to pay his British-born wife Penelope at least 680,000 euros ($720,000) over some 15 years as a parliamentary aide. She is accused of having barely worked for the salary. Two of Fillon's children were also put on the parliamentary payroll for brief periods. The Canard Enchaine alleged that Penelope Fillon was also paid tens of thousands of euros by a literary review, the Revue des Deux Mondes, owned by billionaire Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, a friend of her husband. That allegation refers to the accusation of misappropriating corporate assets. Prosecutors said the three investigating magistrates named to handle the case will also look at whether Fillon failed to declare the necessary information to parliamentary authorities.
Lawyers confident
Lawyers for the couple said they were confident the magistrates would find they were innocent. The Fillons have argued that Penelope was legitimately employed as his parliamentary aide and the lawyers say they given investigators proof of the work she did. But French TV later broadcast an interview that Penelope gave to a British journalist in 2007 in which she said she had never been her husband's assistant. Fillon has dismissed the claims as politically motivated but he acknowledged last weekend that his presidential bid had become "difficult", with hecklers often massing at his campaign stops. He was giving a campaign speech in Maisons-Alfort, to the east of Paris, when it was announced he would face investigation by magistrates. The claims had taken a toll on Fillon's standings in the polls, but this week surveys showed he had regained ground and was neck-and-neck with 39-year-old centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron as they fight for second place. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN), is forecast to win most votes in the first round. But polls currently show she would be beaten by either Fillon or Macron in the all-important runoff on May 7.
Le Pen is facing her own fake jobs scandal. Her personal assistant was charged this week over allegations she was unlawfully paid from funds that 48-year-old Le Pen receives from the European Parliament, where she represents France. Le Pen on Friday refused to attend questioning by anti-corruption investigators over the accusations, saying she would only answer their questions after the election. The race remains highly uncertain, with analysts cautioning against predictions after a series of surprises in France and abroad that have wrong-footed observers. The unstable international background -- from Donald Trump and Brexit to the surge of rightwing nationalism -- is mirrored by an anti-establishment and angry mood in France.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on February 24-25/17
Pope Francis Tears at History’s Ancient Walls against Islam

Raymond Ibrahim/FrontPage Magazine/February 24/17
Pope Francis continues to argue for two interrelated points that, while seemingly humane, compromise Western nations and expose their citizens to danger.
He reiterated his first point earlier this month when he said, “I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges.” Francis has made this appeal frequently, both figuratively (when imploring Western nations not to close their doors against more incoming Muslim migrants) and literally (for instance by characterizing Donald Trump’s proposal to build a U.S.-Mexico wall as “not Christian”).
Francis reiterated his second point a few days ago when he said, “Muslim terrorism does not exist.” His logic is that, because there are Christians who engage in criminal and violent activities—and yet no one blames Christianity for their behavior—so too should Islam not be blamed when Muslims engage in criminal and violent activities.
In this, the Catholic pope appears unable or unwilling to make the pivotal distinction between violence committed in accordance with Islamic teachings, and violence committed in contradiction of Christian teachings.
But there’s another relevant and often overlooked irony: every morning Francis wakes up in the Vatican and looks out his window he sees a very large and concrete reminder that gives the lie to both his argument against walls and his argument in defense of Islam. I speak of the great walls surrounding Vatican City, more specifically the Leonine Walls.
Context: A couple of years after Islamic prophet Muhammad died in 632, his followers erupted out of Arabia and conquered surrounding non-Muslim lands in the name of Islam. In a few decades, they had annexed two-thirds of what was in the 7th century Christendom. They took all of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, until they were finally stopped at Tours in central France (732). By the late 9th century, jihadi incursions had transformed the Mediterranean Sea into a Muslim lake; the major islands—Sicily, Crete, Rhodes, Malta, Cyprus—were conquered, and the European coast was habitually raided for booty and slaves.
According to the most authoritative and contemporary Muslim chroniclers—al-Waqidi, al-Baladhuri, al-Tabari, al-Maqrizi, etc.—all this was done because Islam commands Muslims to subjugate and humiliate non-Muslims.
It was in this context that, in 846, Muslim fleets from North Africa landed near Rome. Unable to breach the walls of the Eternal City, they sacked and despoiled the surrounding countryside, including—to the consternation of Christendom—the venerated and centuries-old basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Muslim invaders desecrated the tombs of the revered apostles and stripped them of all their treasures. Pope Leo IV (847-855) responded by building large walls and fortifications along the right bank of the Tiber to protect the sacred sites from further Muslim raids. Completed by 852, the walls were in places 40 feet high and 12 feet thick.
Further anticipating the crusades against Islam by over two centuries—and thus showing how they were a long time coming—Pope Leo decreed that any Christian who died fighting Muslim invaders would enter heaven. After him and for the same reasons, Pope John VIII offered remission of sins for those who died fighting Islamic invaders. Such was the existential and ongoing danger Muslims caused for Christian Europe—more than two centuries before Pope Urban’s call for the First Crusade in 1095.
Today, many Muslims, not just of the ISIS-variety, continue to boast that Islam will conquer Rome, the only of five apostolic sees—the other four being Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople—never to have been subjugated by jihad. Similarly, Muslims all throughout Europe continue exhibiting the same hostility and contempt for all things and persons non-Islamic, whether by going on church vandalizing sprees and breaking crosses, or by raping “infidel” women as theirs by right.
In short, Pope Leo’s walls prove Pope Francis wrong on both counts: yes, walls are sometimes necessary to preserve civilization; and yes, Islam does promote violence and intolerance for the other—far more than any other religion. This fact is easily discerned by examining the past and present words and deeds of Muslims, all of which evince a remarkable and unwavering continuity of hostility against “infidels.”
Perhaps most ironic of all, had it not been for Pope Leo’s walls—and so many other Christian walls, such as Constantinople’s, which kept Islam out of Europe for centuries, and Vienna’s, which stopped a full-blown jihad as recent as 1683—there might not be a pope today to pontificate about how terrible walls are and how misunderstood Islam is. And when Francis accuses those who build walls of not being Christian, as he did of Trump, he essentially accuses men like Pope Leo IV—who did so much to protect and preserve Christendom at a time when Islam was swallowing up the world—of being no Christians at all.

Why two new Kurdistans are better than one
Bilal Wahab/The Washington Post/February 24/17
For nearly a century now, the question of whether there should be an independent Kurdish state has loomed over the Middle East. The issue achieved new urgency after U.S. forces evicted Saddam Hussein from northern Iraq after the Gulf War in 1991, effectively creating the preconditions for Kurdish autonomy there. The American-led invasion in 2003 and the war that followed have merely accelerated that process.
Today, however, with the collapse of Syria and continuing tumult in Iraq, the question is less whether there will be an autonomous Kurdistan, but how many Kurdistans will emerge from the regional crack-up — and who will run them?
As recently as two years ago, Kurds across the Middle East experienced an unprecedented sense of solidarity due to the existential threat posed by the Islamic State, which simultaneously menaced their communities in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
With the Islamic State at the gates of the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, it was Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria who rushed to the rescue in the summer of 2014. A few months later, it was Kurdish fighters from Iraq, the famed peshmerga, who crossed over to Syria to reinforce their Kurdish brethren in the siege of Kobane. For a brief, dizzying moment, Kurds seemed to be uniting across the post-Ottoman borders that had long separated them.
But if the rise of the Islamic State brought the Kurds together, its impending fall now threatens to tear them apart.
This, sadly, is a familiar story for the Kurds. While statehood has long been the Kurdish dream, Kurdish reality has often been as much about internal rivalries and self-destructive factionalism as divisions imposed from outside. Now that old pattern is playing out again.
The most important dynamic among the Kurds today is a struggle for power between the Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP — led by Masoud Barzani, dominant in Iraq — and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK — led by Abdullah Ocalan, and centered in Turkey, though with a powerful offshoot in Syria, known as the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The rivalry between these groups is long-standing. They differ starkly in ideology. The Kurdish Iraqis are still deeply rooted in traditional tribal structures, while the PKK, despite various reforms, has never managed to shake its roots in revolutionary Marxist-Leninism. Each sees itself as the rightful leader of the Kurdish cause. These differences are now being exacerbated by the rollback of the Islamic State, which raises the question of who will control the territories in western Iraq and northern Syria being freed from the terrorists’ grip.
This can be seen in the Yazidi-majority city of Sinjar in western Iraq, where Syrian PYD militants dug in after beating back the Islamic State. They have since made it clear that they intend to rule this area as their own. The KDP in its turn has imposed a trade and travel ban on PYD-controlled northern Syria.
At the same time that Kurds across the Middle East are splintering, Kurdish factionalism inside Iraq is also intensifying. The collapse in global oil prices — and concomitant budget crisis — is destabilizing what was already a tenuous power-sharing arrangement among Kurdish political parties in Irbil. After more than a decade of moving towards greater political pluralism, the Iraqi Kurdish parliament has been shuttered for more than a year — the consequence of a toxic power struggle that threatens one of the region’s few democratic success stories.
The Kurdish unraveling is also being aggravated by rivalries among surrounding regional powers. As Iran, Turkey and the Arab states maneuver for dominance in Iraq and Syria, divisions among the Kurds are turning them into attractive proxies. Different factions are aligning with different outside sponsors, who in turn further fuel these internal rivalries.
Americans considering the byzantine world of Kurdish politics might understandably ask: How much does this matter to U.S. national security? The answer: a lot.
Kurdish military power — both in Iraq and Syria — has been critical to winning the war against the Islamic State. But it is Kurdish politics that will be critical to winning the post-Islamic State peace. If the Kurds continue to descend towards fragmentation and civil war, the Islamic State will have space to reconstitute. That would also give a stronger hand to Iran, which is already using the conflict with the Islamic State to expand and consolidate its sphere of influence.
The United States is in the unique position of being closer to almost every significant Kurdish faction than any of them are to each other. Washington is therefore also well-placed to moderate, if not resolve, their rivalries and help foster a consensus as to what the post-Islamic State Kurdish arrangement should look like.
Ultimately, a trans-regional Kurdish super-state is not in the cards. Such a prospect is anathema to every regional power, while the political fragmentation of the Kurds themselves makes this virtually impossible.
What is possible to envision — albeit still difficult to achieve — are two secure, successful, self-governing Kurdish enclaves, in Iraq and Syria, with stable borders and peaceful relations not only with their non-Kurdish neighbors, but, just as importantly, with each other. This will also require inclusive politics within the territories governed by the Kurds. Separation of powers, rule of law and democratic accountability are the necessary foundation for true stability and strength.
To assume that Kurds will somehow work out their political problems on their own, or that a solution can be postponed until after the defeat of the Islamic State (when U.S. leverage and influence will diminish accordingly), is a recipe for disaster. No one should doubt America’s military capacity to end the totalitarian regime established by the Islamic State on Iraqi and Syrian soil. But the true measure of American greatness will lie in Washington’s strategic capacity to fashion a decent and sustainable order out of the rubble. Getting Kurdish strategy right will be crucial to achieving success.

The foundations of dialogue between Iran and the GCC
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin/Al Arabiya/February 24/17
The Kuwaiti foreign minister’s visit to Tehran on Jan. 25 came as Kuwait was mandated by the recent Gulf summit held in Bahrain to hold the mediation file between the Gulf States and Iran in order to open up a channel for dialogue. However, there are foundations required to create conditions prior to any dialogue with Iran. These foundations can be summed up in the following main points:
1) Change in the Iranian official narrative through the unification of a political narrative by its executive and legislative governmental institutions that could put an end to the current state of duplicity.
2) Change in the Iranian sectarian rhetoric including an end to all forms of sectarian escalation and war of words, and prioritizing the language of interests.
3) Change in Iranian political behavior and crisis containment with the Gulf States and the countries of the region, and opening up a channel for dialogue which requires Iran to show deeds rather than words of good neighboring, non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for the sovereignty of the countries of the region.
The obstacles facing relations with Iran can be viewed in five main issues:
Firstly, the three Emirati islands occupied by Iran (Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa). This issue dates back to 1971. Ever since the islands were occupied by Iran, the UAE together with a number of Arab countries has continuously demanded that Iran end its occupation.
In 1992, the issue of the occupied islands became a standing item on the agenda of the Supreme Council and the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) demanding Iran either to end the occupation and engage in direct negotiations with the UAE or to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice. However, Iran remains intransigent in its position. I believe that agreement on fundamentals of dialogue, followed by transparent discussion of the divisive issues between Iran and the GCC member states would undoubtedly contribute to regional stability
A step forward
In 1999, the Ministerial Council of the GCC set up a ministerial committee involving Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the Secretary General of the GCC aimed at developing a mechanism to start direct negotiations to resolve the issue. The GCC member states were looking forward to take Iran’s interaction with the committee as a step toward resolving the issue of the islands. However, Iran failed to interact with that committee. Therefore, the occupied islands remain one of the most divisive issues.
Secondly, interference in the internal affairs of GCC member states and other neighboring states. Almost every statement of the Supreme Council and the Ministerial Council of the GCC rejects the continued Iranian interference in the internal affairs of GCC member states and other neighboring states and calls for a full commitment to the fundamentals and principles of good neighboring and the sovereignty of countries and not using force or posing a threat to them. Thirdly, support for terrorism through providing shelter, incitement, training or funding. The United States and many other countries accuse Iran of funding terrorism by providing terrorists with equipment, arms, training and shelter. The US State Department’s annual report on terrorism labels Iran “the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism”.Reports also state that “Iran is unwilling to bring senior members of Al-Qaeda on its territories to justice. It also refuses to declare their names. In addition, Iran allowed Al-Qaeda members to operate pipelines through Iranian territories, which enabled Al-Qaeda to obtain funds and an easy flow of operations to and from South Asia”.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also published a detailed statement documenting evidence of Iran’s support for terrorism in the region and in the world, starting from the outbreak of the revolution in 1979. Therefore, resolving this issue would certainly create conditions for opening up fruitful dialogue with Iran.
The nuclear deal
Fourthly, full implementation of the terms of the nuclear deal. Many leaks point to Iran’s failure to fully implement the terms of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the P5+1. The Institute for Science and International Security refers to some leaks indicating that in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Washington and the P5+1 secretly agreed for Iran to play around some terms of the nuclear deal signed in Vienna last year in order to meet the deadline for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.
The terms include allowing Iran to exceed the prescribed permissible amount of low-enriched uranium stored in its nuclear facilities. The terms also include purification of low-enriched uranium to make it highly-enriched so that it could consequently be used in weapons manufacturing.
Fifthly, the Iranian program for ballistic missiles. Iran still rejects the restrictions imposed on its missile program by the nuclear deal it signed with the world powers. Since the nuclear deal, Iran has carried out six missile tests in flagrant violation of UN Resolution 2231. Iran recently tested a medium-range missile exploded at a distance of 630 miles. Many reports confirm that Iran provides the Houthis of Yemen with different missiles, many of which are fired at Saudi Arabia.
Finally, I believe that agreement on fundamentals of dialogue, followed by transparent discussion of the divisive issues between Iran and the GCC member states would undoubtedly contribute to regional stability.
**This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on February 23.

Why Bill Gates is partially correct about ‘robot tax’
Ehtesham Shahid/Al Arabiya/February 24/17
“In the artificial intelligence revolution (AI) over the next 15 years, 45 percent of the jobs we know are going to disappear”. Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University, delivered this rather stark warning at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this month. Presenting the “Future Model of Higher Education” during the summit, the President of Northeastern University, argued that it is not just muscle jobs that are on the firing line. “Many white collar jobs that we know, involving financial analysis, accounting etc. are bound to disappear”, he said. Aoun hastened to add though that other jobs are indeed being created at the same time but the level of awareness regarding them is not high and that the system of higher education is struggling to cope up with these transitions.In other words, if we do not see the emerging storm, we might soon be engulfed by it. More importantly, a degree or two no longer seems to guarantee a career, leave alone setting people for life as. In the words of Aoun, “the challenge is to prepare students for an ever-changing life”.On the flip side, artificial intelligence can also help reduce some of the base-level functions in our surroundings. From construction to leisure to food production, every operation has a certain number of underlings, trainees, support staff – jobs that require few skills. Unless basic needs of all human beings are fulfilled, no amount of taxation, on robots or otherwise, will make any difference. In other words, AI can also eradicate “donkey” work that we often detest. It is already developing applications across industries and, if experts are to be believed, it is on way to reshaping the way we restructure our approach to labor and workforce. An Accenture report says that automation, machine learning and adaptive intelligence are becoming part of the finance team at lightning speed. In fact, thanks to them, 30-50 percent of traditional shared services roles, including in finance, will disappear over the next five years.
‘Robot tax’
This is where the much talked about Bill Gates “robot tax” becomes relevant. Microsoft’s co-founder recently suggested that robots should be taxed just like human workers, based on the value of their work. While this may be an idea worth considering, it surely doesn’t end the problem. It is more important to focus on what you do with the money generated through taxation. If those funds do not end up where they should be, then no amount of taxation is going to change the circumstances the poor and the needy find themselves in. Unequal distribution of wealth has been the story of our civilization for ages and will continue to remain until we realize its ill effects on the long term. One school of thought has it that robots taking more jobs will give human beings more freedom to choose what we really intend to do with our lives. Well, even if that were to be true, the fact remains that those on the fringe of tax benefits will continue to struggle to eke out a living and wouldn’t be driven by finer tastes of life. The focus should hence be on humans so that we build artificial intelligence the way we want it to work and so that it stays well within our realm of control. Ironically, it is not the machine intelligence but the human apathy that poses the challenge. Northeastern University’s Joseph Aoun hit the bull’s eye when he said that our goal should be to make us robot-proof. “What makes us robot-proof is the ability to create new concepts and ideas, being entrepreneurial, and demonstrating cultural agility”.
These cognitive capacities are indeed essential and our formal higher education may not have focused on them. A dichotomy, in his words, exists between learning to live and learning to earn a living. Unless we learn this lesson in life, and unless basic needs of all human beings are fulfilled, no amount of taxation, on robots or otherwise, will make any difference.

The case of ‘blind sheikh’ Omar Abdelrahman and links to terror
Mshari Al Thaydi/Al Arabiya/February 24/17
Blind Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdelrahman who died last week in his cell in the US is a symbol of Islamized terrorist groups. He was a student at Al-Azhar University, preacher and lecturer who became famous after he was tried for the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat.
The assassination was carried out by soldiers who believe in Qutb’s ideology, in reference to Sayyid Qutb, and they had received a clear fatwa (religious edict) to kill Sadat from Abdelrahman. Abdelrahman immigrated to America but he did not give up his terrorist approach. He incited those there to target America’s security and he was tried on charges of issuing a fatwa to a terrorist cell and inciting it to attack the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. This time Abdelrahman did not escape imprisonment and the American judiciary sentenced him to life in prison and he recently died in jail. Those who want to ignore all these facts about Abdelrahman and insist on presenting him as a mere “blind sheikh” with an opinion truly lack insight. Terrorist groups’ supporters in Egypt tried to employ the chaotic energy of the so-called Arab Spring and organized campaigns to get the Egyptian government to urge the US to extradite Abdelrahman but their attempts failed. Abdelrahman had sent a letter to Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who was a Muslim Brotherhood member, and congratulated him for winning the presidential elections. While delivering his first speech at Tahrir Square on June 29, 2012, Mursi announced he will do his best to release Abdelrahman. In order to understand the gravity of the mistake to which Egypt was heading, let us remind of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest speech when he spoke about Abdelrahman and praised him. Zawahiri denied Abdelrahman has backed down from what’s right, i.e. from his terrorist stance, and what’s meant is of course Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya’s 1997 concept of revision.
The martyr weapon
In his speech entitled “carry the martyr’s weapon”, Zawahiri said Abdelrahman had sent him two letters from prison calling for targeting America and Israel, drowning their ships and downing their planes. Abdelrahman traveled to America after being imprisoned in Egypt for a few years on the Sadat case. He lived in New Jersey where he was arrested in 1993 and he was sentenced to life in prison for targeting the World Trade Center. Omar Abdelrahman is the “sheikh” of terrorists in Egypt. There are other figures just like Abdelrahman who must be studied and examined in order to further delve into the mind of Islamized extremists. What’s good is that the statements, recordings and confessions of these men are all documented and they just await serious research.
Those who want to ignore all these facts about Abdelrahman and insist on presenting him as a mere “blind sheikh” with an opinion truly lack insight.
**The article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.