March 02/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 05/13-17/:'‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

Strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and do not be intimidated by your opponents.
Letter to the Philippians 01/21-30/:"For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published english On March 01-02.17
New election law vital for true representation, Aoun warns/Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/February 01/17
SIS attacks on Sinai Christians pose challenge to Sisi/Ben Lynfield/Jerusalem Post/March 01/2017
To Kurdistan and Back: Iran's Forgotten Front/David Pollock/The Washington Institute/March 01/17
The Enemies Of Donald Trump Are The Enemies Of America/By Dave Merrick /Canada Free Press/March 01/17
Concessions Did not Save Geneva/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed//Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/17
Bab al-Mandab Shipping Chokepoint Under Threat/Cmdr. Jeremy Vaughan, USN and Simon Henderson/The Washington Institute/March 01/2017
The Search for Syria/Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/17
Iraq and Syria, post ISIS/Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
Toward the rising sun/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
The giant wakes up: Saudi Capital Market embraces new reforms/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
Trump and the Russians/Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
Political Operatives Pose as Journalists, Human Rights Groups/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 1, 2017
Saudis Optimistic On Trump Administration's Middle East Policy, Express Hope It Will Act Against Iran/MEMRI/March 01/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 01-02.17
"Trump's goal is to enlarge the support base to the next US national security policies"
Hariri Says Govt. a 'Failure' if It Doesn't Pass Electoral Law, Stresses Mustaqbal 'Wants Elections'
Berri: No to Extension, No to 1960 Law, No to Vacuum
Mashnouq Denies Report on Hariri Swap Plan for Premiership
Jumblat Says Electoral Law Must 'Bolster Partnership', Not 'Create Tensions'
Cabinet Meets after Botched Session as FPM's Energy Minister Hits Out at LF
Israel Returns Ethiopian Woman who Crossed into Shebaa Farms
UNICEF, UNRWA Denounce Child Rights Violations and Injuries Resulting from Camp Clashes
Aoun Meets World Bank Official
Israel Removes Spy Cam Planted on Lebanon Border
Cautious Calm in Ain el-Hilweh, Sidon on Strike Denouncing Fights
Raad Says Tax Hike in Return for Wage Scale Approval Useless
New election law vital for true representation, Aoun warns

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 01-02.17
Cairo Symposium Promotes Muslim-Christian Coexistence
Up to 15,000 IS Fighters Remain in Iraq and Syria, Says U.S. General
Trump Promises 'Renewal of the American Spirit'
US Probing Whether Al-Qaida Number Two Killed in Syria
Sisi defends anti-ISIS fight after Copts flee Sinai
UN: 8,000 flee as Iraqi forces fight ISIS in western Mosul
ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi acknowledges defeat in Iraq
Nasr al-Hariri: Russia pressuring Assad to discuss political transition
UN panel: Evacuation of Syria’s Aleppo was a war crime
Iraqi army controls main roads out of Mosul, trapping ISIS
Pervez Musharraf: I see Donald Trump as an agent of change
France's Fillon Faces Charges but Stays in Campaign

Links From Jihad Watch Site for March 01-02.17

Montreal mosque where imam prayed for Jews to be killed caught preaching more Jew-hatred
Pakistan: Muslims hail UK jihad murderer of “blasphemer” as hero
Germany: Neo-Nazi converts to Islam, plots jihad massacre of police and soldiers
Denver: Muslim who killed security guard says “I did that purely and solely for the pleasure of Allah”
Buffalo: Catholic bishop, whose organization gets millions for refugee resettlement, decries “animosity” toward refugees
Establishment media ignores key facts in trying to discredit Muslim Brotherhood document vowing to destroy US from within
Catholic scholar of Islam: “The average Muslim sees Islam as a religion of peace”
Iraqi officers find Islamic State jihadis hidden among the refugees fleeing Mosul
The Islamic State calls on Muslims to dress like Jews to terrorize and murder them
Trump refuses to back down on jihad fight; Politico has egg on its face
Trump: “We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism”
Head of Swedish ambulance drivers union: No-go zones are reality for us

Links From Christian Today Site for March 01-02.17
Don't Knock Homeless Who Drink A Glass Of Wine – It's Their Only Pleasure, Says Pope Francis
#AshesToGo At Start Of Lent As Clergy Offer Commuters 'Ash n' Dash'
Cambridge College Named After Wartime Leader Forced To Remove Holocaust Denier's Churchill Biography
Fresh Battle Over Abortion Decriminalisation Looms In Parliament
US Muslims Must Have Same Religious Freedoms As Christians, Say Evangelical Leaders
Bishop Opposed To Women Priests Warned Of 'Anxiety And Distress' Over His Promotion To Sheffield
The Things These Celebrities Are Giving Up – Or Not – For Lent
Poll Shows Huge Gap Between Number Of Americans Claiming To Be Christian And Number Living Biblically
Bishop Angaelos: Christians In Egypt Told To 'Leave Or Die', 40 Killed In 3 Months, Prays For ISIS
Theresa May: We Must Stand Up For Persecuted Christians
How Should Christians Respond To Donald Trump? Obama's Faith Advisor Sees A Fresh Opportunity

Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 01-02.17
"Trump's goal is to enlarge the support base to the next US national security policies"
Walid Phares/Mideast Newswire/March 01/17/In his comments on President Donald Trump's state of the Union address in Congress, at an interview on Skynews Arabiya, Dr Walid Phares said "one of the goals of such a speech is to widen the support from the partisan base to a wider national constituency, ahead of the projected changes in US national security and foreign policies. By presenting the issues as based on US popular consensus, President Trump will be shrinking the arguments against the Administration's platform."

Hariri Says Govt. a 'Failure' if It Doesn't Pass Electoral Law, Stresses Mustaqbal 'Wants Elections'
Naharnet/March 01/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced Wednesday that his government would be a “failure” if it does not manage to pass a new electoral law as he denied media reports claiming that his al-Mustaqbal Movement is seeking to postpone the elections. “Several formats are being discussed very positively by all parties, and also with (Druze leader MP) Walid Beik (Jumblat). We want an electoral law and we want the elections to be held soon,” Hariri told reporters after talks with Jumblat at the Grand Serail. “I will frankly say it, as a prime minister I consider that should we fail to approve an electoral law, this government will be a failure. This issue is extremely important and all parties in the government are of this opinion,” Hariri added. Asked how much progress has been made towards approving a new electoral law, Hariri said “70 percent. Commenting on media reports claiming that Mustaqbal is seeking to postpone the parliamentary elections in a bid to strengthen its internal situations, Hariri said he does not “have a problem” if the elections are held “tomorrow.”“Let no one think that al-Mustaqbal Movement is weak. It is a strong movement that has a presence across Lebanon. We might have been affected in some regions but this does not mean that we have weakened,” Hariri added. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own mandate twice. While Hariri's Mustaqbal has rejected that the electoral law be fully based on the proportional representation system, arguing that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds, Jumblat has totally rejected proportional representation warning that it would “marginalize” his minority Druze community. After Wednesday's talks with Hariri, Jumblat however announced that he would accept a so-called hybrid law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Berri: No to Extension, No to 1960 Law, No to Vacuum
Naharnet/March 01/17/Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday stressed his rejection of three possibilities: extending the parliament's term, holding polls under the 1960 law, or plunging the country into parliamentary vacuum. “No to extension, no the 1960 law and no to vacuum,” MPs quoted Berri as saying during his weekly meeting with lawmakers in Ain el-Tineh. “It is required to exert efforts to pass a new law as soon as possible or else we would enter a dangerous phase with the beginning of April,” Berri warned. He reiterated that “the government should discuss and approve this law and refer it to parliament,” noting that the electoral law is the government's “top mission.” The speaker also noted that “the national interest requires reaching an electoral law containing proportional representation.”“Under such a law, we would be getting rid of sectarianism while preserving the sects,” Berri pointed out. 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.

Mashnouq Denies Report on Hariri Swap Plan for Premiership
Naharnet/March 01/17/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq denied on Wednesday media reports claiming that PM Saad Hariri made a deal with President Michel Aoun and Hizbullah that guarantees his endorsement as PM after the parliamentary polls. Mashnouq said the report claimed the alleged swap would see Hariri accept holding the parliamentary elections under a proportional representation system (agreed by Hizbullah and Aoun) in return for the country's premiership after the polls “The report is inaccurate, not serious and worthless to reply to” said Mashnouq in a tweet. “Hariri has his own position because of his parliamentary bloc and the magnitude of his political representation,” added the Minister. Al-Akhbar daily reported on Wednesday that Hariri is seeking Lebanon's premiership after the parliamentary polls are staged during the summer. It said the PM would accept in return, Hizbullah's proposal to stage the elections under a proportional representation system seeing Lebanon as one district. Political parties are bickering over amending the current election law which divides seats among the different religious sects. Al-Mustaqbal Movement of Hariri 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. Meanwhile, 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 country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law and the next vote is scheduled for May.

Jumblat Says Electoral Law Must 'Bolster Partnership', Not 'Create Tensions'

Naharnet/March 01/17/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat stressed Wednesday that any new electoral law should “bolster partnership, reconciliation and openness.”“We discussed several issues and the most important thing is to overcome this dilemma and reach an electoral law that bolsters partnership, reconciliation and openness and does not create tensions, and this is everyone's inclination,” said Jumblat after talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. “In Mount Lebanon, the issue is not about the number of MPs for the Democratic Gathering... The issue is to emphasize on this partnership with the Lebanese Forces, Free Patriotic Movement, Kataeb Party, Hizbullah, AMAL Movement, Jamaa Islamiya and everyone,” added Jumblat. Asked whether he might accept an electoral law fully based on the proportional representation system, Jumblat said his recent call for “an amended version of the 1960 law” was an indication that he would accept a so-called “hybrid” law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own mandate twice. While Hariri's 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, Jumblat had totally rejected proportional representation -- even within a hybrid law -- warning that it would “marginalize” his minority Druze community.

Cabinet Meets after Botched Session as FPM's Energy Minister Hits Out at LF
Naharnet/March 01/17/The Cabinet convened Wednesday at the Grand Serail to continue its discussion of the draft state budget as Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil of the Free Patriotic Movement hit out at the Lebanese Forces over its latest proposal for the electricity sector. The Cabinet had failed to convene on Monday due to a lack of quorum caused by the absence of 11 out of 30 ministers.Describing the absence of the ministers as a “coincidence,” Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi said there are “positive intentions” towards approving the budget and the stalled new wage scale. “There is no need for rush in approving the state budget, because it requires elaborate discussions,” the minister added. Industry Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan of Hizbullah meanwhile reiterated his party's rejection of any new taxes on low-income citizens. “We are convinced of the budget's taxing measures and we have dropped the taxes that harm the people,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said after the session. Information Minister Melhem Riachi announced that discussions have reached Article 82 of the 90-article draft state budget and that he expects the Cabinet to finish its deliberations on Friday, describing the atmosphere as positive.
As for the issue of privatizing the electricity sector, Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh of the Progressive Socialist Party voiced support for the LF's proposal in this regard, as pro-president Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said the state budget and the electricity plan are “two separate things.”
Energy Minister Abi Khalil meanwhile told reporters sarcastically that he is “preparing a health plan,” in an apparent jab at the LF, which holds the health portfolio in the government. Flanked by Abi Khalil after the session, Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani said: "We're both in good health and we always cooperate."LF leader Samir Geagea has recently proposed that private companies build and operate power plants in a partnership with the state in the electricity sector, describing it as a necessary reform that should be included in the state budget.
According to Geagea, such a step would provide a 24/24 power supply across the country and would spare the treasury around $2 billion in yearly losses.
FPM chief and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said such a plan would require five years of preparations.

Israel Returns Ethiopian Woman who Crossed into Shebaa Farms
Naharnet/March 01/17/The Israeli army on Wednesday arrested an Ethiopian domestic worker during her attempt to cross the border into the occupied Shebaa Farms, Lebanon's National News Agency reported. “She was returned to the Lebanese side via the Berket al-Naqqar area west of Shebaa after which she was arrested by the Lebanese army for interrogation,” NNA added. Tensions have been high along the Lebanese-Israeli border in recent days. On Saturday, Israel's army fired tear gas to disperse dozens of Lebanese demonstrators after they crossed the border protesting against the installation of spying equipment in their village, Mays al-Jabal. Lebanon is still officially at war with Israel, and around 1,000 U.N. peacekeepers are deployed in the country's south.

UNICEF, UNRWA Denounce Child Rights Violations and Injuries Resulting from Camp Clashes
Naharnet/March 01/17/UNRWA and UNICEF strongly condemned the armed violence in Ain el-Hilweh Palestine refugee camp in Sidon, southern Lebanon, which directly affects the safety and security of civilians, including children, a statement said on Wednesday. “We deplore reports that at least eight civilians, including a thirteen year old boy and a United Nations (UNRWA) staff member, have been injured over the past days. We are deeply concerned that ongoing violence will result in further civilian casualties, including children,” the statement read. “As a result of the violence, most of the education, health and other services in the camp have been suspended. In addition, three United Nations schools have also been entered and used by armed actors in breach of the inviolability of UN premises and in violation of children's rights under international law.” “UNICEF and UNRWA denounce the violence which again has restricted access to schools and continues to deprive children, including some 5,200 UNRWA students, from enjoying their right to education. Further, civilians residing in the camp have limited access to critical health care. UNICEF and UNRWA call on all those involved to respect the sanctity of human life and to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees and other residents of the camp. We call on all armed actors operating in the camp to cease hostilities and take necessary measures to protect civilians and ensure safe access to schools, clinics and other vital services."

Aoun Meets World Bank Official
Naharnet/February 01/17/President Michel Aoun held talks on Wednesday with World Bank Director for the Middle East Ferid Belhaj where discussions focused on Lebanon's infrastructure improvement, and cooperation to provide the needed funding for reforms, the National News Agency reported.
After the meeting Belhaj said: “We discussed with the President Lebanon's concerns in the financial sector, the development of infrastructure and cooperation to secure the necessary funding and reforms in administrations and projects of interest to Lebanon.”“Lebanon has top priority in the financing of projects, especially after the regularity of the work of constitutional institutions,” added Belhaj. The official also stressed “the World Bank is interested in the reforms introduced in Lebanon's 2017 state budget in accordance with the recommendations of Lebanon's Finance and Budget committee."In February, the World Bank signaled a resumption of international aid months after the election of a president following two and a half years of political vacuum in the country. It earmarked $200 million for repairing Lebanon's unsafe roads. Hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance money from the World Bank was held up as Lebanon's long-feuding parties failed to agree on a president for more than two years. In October, the parliament was finally able to elect Free Patriotic Movement founder Michel Aoun as president.

Israel Removes Spy Cam Planted on Lebanon Border
Naharnet/February 01/17/Israeli forces removed on Wednesday a spy device they planted earlier in an area in the southern neighborhood of Kroum al-Sharqi, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. An Israeli infantry patrol approached the location and removed the device amid heavy military presence in the region, NNA said. Last week, Israeli forces crossed the electronic fence in the outskirts of the southern border town of Mays al-Jabal in Kroum al-Sharqi and planted solar powered spy camera and a transmission instrument. The development comes amid high tensions between Israel and Hizbullah that follow an exchange of threats and amid unconfirmed reports of Israeli airstrikes on Hizbullah posts inside Syria.

Cautious Calm in Ain el-Hilweh, Sidon on Strike Denouncing Fights

Naharnet/February 01/17/Cautious calm prevailed Wednesday night in the densely-packed Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, after one week of deadly clashes between the Fatah Movement and Islamist groups that left one civilian dead and six others injured. The ceasefire agreement, reached at around 7 pm on Tuesday, still stands except for a personal dispute that erupted after midnight in al-Tahtani street leaving one person injured, the National News Agency reported on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the southern port city of Sidon observed a general strike upon the request of MP Bahia Hariri, denouncing the inter-Palestinian fighting and the blood shed in the camp. Schools, social and economic institutions were closed for the day. The fighting in Ain el-Hilweh near Sidon has pitted members of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement against hardline Islamist groups. Even as factions declared a ceasefire from the Palestinian embassy in Beirut, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the camp on Tuesday, AFP's correspondent said. Intermittent fighting broke out on Thursday after Fatah pulled out of a joint committee that maintained security in Ain el-Hilweh, but the violence later intensified, AFP's correspondent said. Palestinian factions meeting at their embassy in Beirut on Tuesday announced that they had agreed on a ceasefire to end the fighting. According to Lebanon's National News Agency, the groups said they would re-establish the joint security apparatus. By long-standing convention, Lebanon's army does not enter Palestinian refugee camps, where security is managed by joint committees of Palestinian factions. In recent years, tensions have risen between Fatah and the Jund al-Sham Islamist group in the camp. The UN's Palestinian refugee agency said on Tuesday it had halted all services in the camp for the second day because of the unrest. Ain al-Hilweh is an impoverished, overcrowded camp near the coastal city of Sidon, and is home to some 61,000 Palestinians, including 6,000 who have fled the war in Syria.

Raad Says Tax Hike in Return for Wage Scale Approval Useless
Naharnet/February 01/17/Hizbullah Loyalty to the Resistance bloc Mohammad Raad stated that government’s approval of the wage scale is an essential matter, but decried imposing taxes in return which he said would diminish the purchasing power, the state-run National News Agency reported on Wednesday. “The pressing issue of the wage scale affects a large segment of our people and our brothers awaiting an increase in their salaries, it is rightfully theirs,” said Raad. “However if you (the government) plan to approve the scale and at the same time impose an increase in taxes, it would take away the gains mainly from the salaries,” said Raad, stressing that the bloc has rejected a tax hike targeting low-income earners. Raad urged the government to “change the approach of budget preparation, and to inspect the sources of squandering and corruption in the country,” instead. The cabinet has been meeting lately to approve Lebanon's state budget plan after a 12-year delay. The cabinet will meet on Wednesday and Friday. Due to political wrangling between the rival political parties, Lebanon has not approved a budget since 2005.

New election law vital for true representation, Aoun warns
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/February 01/17
The Daily StarBEIRUT: With no signs yet of any breakthrough in intensive efforts to agree on an electoral law, President Michel Aoun said Tuesday a new voting system to replace the disputed 1960 majoritarian formula is crucial to achieving true representation in Parliament. He also reaffirmed his support for a vote law based on proportional representation, saying such a law was essential for the country’s political stability. “An agreement on an electoral law is currently our main preoccupation because without it, we will not be able to change the image of representation which we want,” Aoun said during meetings with visitors at Baabda Palace.
“This change cannot be achieved without proportional representation because if we are seeking to attain political stability, all the Lebanese must be represented in Parliament, both the minority and majority regardless of the sects and their sizes,” he said, according to a statement released by the president’s media office.
“My dream is to achieve stability, security and prosperity for our country. I am reassured about Lebanon as long as I am steering the ship,” Aoun added.
Aoun’s remarks come as rival factions remain at opposite poles over what voting system to adopt to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for May 21. They also came on the same day the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said it was searching for a new electoral law to replace the 1960 system.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the FPM leader, Sunday threatened to revive the controversial Orthodox Law, which calls for each sect to elect its own representatives, if its new proposal failed to break the monthslong deadlock over a new vote system.
Behind-the-scene talks involving the FPM, the Future Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah are currently being held, focusing on vote proposals that are essentially based on a hybrid law that blends provisions of the proportional and winner-take-all systems.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea entered the electoral law fray Tuesday by calling on lawmakers to vote on several draft electoral proposals if no agreement was reached by rivals on a new voting system.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Aoun at Baabda Palace, Geagea said the president’s main concern was to reach a new electoral law, adding that the LF was in agreement with Aoun on rejecting parliamentary elections held under the 1960 formula.
Geagea said he discussed with Aoun the ongoing consultations between the opposing sides, in addition to the 2017 draft state budget currently being examined by the Cabinet. “The parliamentary majority agrees on the need to draft a new vote law. But the problem is in the shape of the law to be adopted,” Geagea said. He added that if the current consultations lead to an accord on an electoral law, this would be positive. “But if no agreement is reached, I don’t see any barrier at all to go to Parliament and vote on two, three or more draft laws,” the LF chief said. “I don’t see any other solution. It is unacceptable not to agree [on a vote law], or not to go to Parliament.”
However, Speaker Nabih Berri staunchly opposes putting draft electoral proposals to a vote in Parliament, arguing that such a move would threaten the country with civil war in the absence of consensus among rivals.
“This proposal [putting draft electoral laws to a vote] is entirely out of the question because it will threaten a civil war,” Berri said in remarks published by newspapers Monday. “Lebanon cannot endure an electoral law not based on consensus. This [electoral] law is related to the composition of power. Therefore, the victory of a specific draft law with a majority vote will mean a defeat for another faction.”
The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc underlined the importance of reaching a “consensual” hybrid electoral law.
“The bloc stresses the importance of the political parties reaching a consensual electoral law based on a hybrid system that [blends provisions of] the majoritarian and proportional systems and does not eliminate any party,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.
Referring to the Cabinet discussions on the 2017 draft need to endorse the budget as soon as possible while balancing expenditures and revenues.”
Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc said it was exploring a new vote law after two hybrid proposals presented by Bassil had been spurned by MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and other parties.
“Regarding an electoral law, we have made initiatives on one proposal after the other. The proposals were discussed and they said they had collapsed. What matters is that we are taking an initiative and we will not lose hope of our proposals,” Justice Minister Salim Jreissati told reporters following the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Bassil.
He said the FPM was seeking a voting system that ensures “true and effective political representation” under unified criteria. “We will continue taking initiatives. When the initiatives stop, the head of the bloc and the FPM [Bassil] will announce the next steps,” Jreissati said.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk apologized to Prime Minister Saad Hariri for arriving late to a Cabinet meeting that had been canceled due to a lack of quorum. Machnouk said in a tweet that he contacted Hariri to express regret over his late arrival to the Grand Serail Monday.
The Cabinet is scheduled to hold another session Wednesday to resume discussions on the draft budget.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 01-02.17
Cairo Symposium Promotes Muslim-Christian Coexistence
Waleed Abdul Rahman/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/17/Cairo- Officials, experts and clerics partaking in the international meeting in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday reaffirmed that excommunicating other religions contradicts the principals of forgiveness promoted by faith and international conventions. Extremism was conceded to be the greatest threat to coexistence. The head Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, called on religious institutions in the East and West to act against Islamophobia, telling faith leaders at a Cairo conference that Islam “is not the reason for wars.”“Exonerating religions from terrorism no longer suffices in the face of these barbaric challenges,” Tayyeb said. Tayyeb called for dispelling “the lingering mistrust and tensions between religious leaders that are no longer justified, for if there is no peace between the proponents of religions first, the proponents cannot give it to the people.”Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called for “fighting extremist thought with enlightened thought.”“Egypt and the region have suffered from extremist thought resulting from a mistaken understanding of religion that has led to terrorism,” he said. The “Freedom and Citizenship” conference is hosted by Al-Azhar, one of the leading Muslim authorities based in Cairo.Arab League Secretary-General confirmed that the region is undergoing tragic events as a result of misinterpreting holy scripture and exploiting the misreading to justify bloodshed by extremist groups. Extremism has hindered social values of patriotism and coexistence, he added. The activities of the two-day conference ‘Freedom and Citizenship’ kicked off on Tuesday and are sponsored by Al-Azhar, Council of Elders of Muslims, and under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Representing delegations of over 50 countries are partaking in the event. The conference, including Muslim muftis and Christian clergy such as Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, is to issue a closing statement today. ISIS, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq, views Christians as enemies who should either be killed or subjugated. In Egypt, the group’s affiliate called for war on the Coptic minority after bombing a church in December 2016, killing 29 people.Tayyeb, who represents a more moderate and traditional form of Islam, argues that groups like ISIS have perverted the religion.
Muslim, Christian Clerics Say Don't Link Islam to Terrorism
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/17/Leading Muslim and Christian clerics in the Middle East issued a statement Wednesday urging against linking Islam to terrorism, following a conference in Cairo on co-existence. The conference, hosted by the prestigious Sunni Muslim al-Azhar institute, comes as sectarian conflict continues to ravage the region and after a spate of jihadist attacks on Christians in Egypt. It also comes after U.S. president Donald Trump's administration shifted from the vaguer language of its predecessor by identifying its fight as against "radical Islamic terrorism."Former president Barack Obama, who led an international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, had argued that calling the jihadists "Islamic" gave them legitimacy. A closing statement read by Azhar's Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb demanded Islam not be associated with terrorism. "The conference demands that those who link Islam and other religions with terrorism immediately stop," he said. "Judging Islam by the criminal actions of some who associate with it opens the door to describing all religions as terrorism, which justifies extremist modernists' argument that societies must be rid of religion," he added. The two-day conference was attended by Muslim muftis and Christian clergy such as Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, as well as representatives of U.S. and British churches. The statement urged fostering understanding and equality between religions. IS, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq, views Christians as enemies who should either be killed or subjugated. In Egypt, the group's affiliate called for war on the Coptic minority after bombing a church in December, killing 29 people. The jihadists say they base their views on verses in the Koran and sayings of the prophet Mohamed, which moderates like Tayeb argue have been taken out of context.

Up to 15,000 IS Fighters Remain in Iraq and Syria, Says U.S. General
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/17/Between 12,000 and 15,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, a top U.S. general said Wednesday, an indication of a significant dwindling of the jihadists' forces. The U.S. military only provides periodic updates on estimates of IS fighters but in 2015 and 2016, the Pentagon put the number at between 20,000 and 30,000 in the two countries. Some months saw the jihadists being killed in the thousands, though initially at least they were able to replenish their ranks through a porous border with Turkey that now is effectively sealed.
Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told reporters that among the many fighters killed in recent months are an "extraordinary number" of IS leaders, including many close to the group's elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. "We have a specific campaign to hunt them and kill them," Townsend said in a video call from Baghdad. "Almost all of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's inner circle has been killed in the last six months."Still, he said about 2,000 IS fighters remain in and around western Mosul, defending the last portions of their former Iraqi bastion. When the Mosul campaign began in October, officials estimated there to have been 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters in and around the city. Some of those fighters have fled west to the Tal Afar region and security forces have intercepted others who are trying to mingle with the civilian population "all over Iraq and Syria," Townsend said."We're focused on chasing them out in a sort of sequential campaign," he added. A U.S.-led coalition has since late summer 2014 been bombing IS in Iraq and Syria while at the same time supporting local forces doing the fighting on the ground. Townsend cautioned against predicting when the defeat of IS might come. "I don't expect (IS) to suddenly collapse from a lack of morale," he said. "There's a portion that will break and run. The rest of them will fight as ordered or fight to the death."

Trump Promises 'Renewal of the American Spirit'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 01/17/President Donald Trump pledged a "renewal of the American spirit" Tuesday, as he tempered his most inflammatory rhetoric while fleshing out his nationalist agenda during a landmark speech to Congress. Transposing hardline campaign promises into a presidential key, Trump offered the most restrained and detailed explanation yet of his America-first world view. He criticized threats against Jewish community centers and condemned the seemingly racially-motivated killing of an Indian immigrant, answering calls for him to speak out. And although the 70-year-old president again promised a hard line on illegal immigration, he couched those policies in economic rather than xenophobic terms, winning sustained applause from the Republican dominated Congress. "By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone," he said.Putting some policy meat on the bones, he proposed introducing an Australian-style merit-based system to reduce the flow of unskilled workers -- and held out the prospect of a bipartisan compromise with Democrats on root-and-branch immigration reform.
Trump arrived to deliver his maiden address before a chamber filled with lawmakers, Supreme Court Justices, ambassadors and generals, facing historically low approval ratings and embroiled in multiple crises. Hailing what he called a "new national pride" sweeping the country, he sought to use the pomp of the occasion and the presidential pulpit to reclaim authority and course correct after 40 difficult days.Discussing trade, Trump even enlisted the help of American icon Abraham Lincoln, echoing what the first Republican president described as "protective policy." "Lincoln was right -- and it is time we heeded his words," Trump said. "I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers, be taken advantage of anymore." Looking abroad, Trump softened his criticism of NATO partners and vowed to work with allies in the Muslim world. But he offered no apologies for emphasizing a world order centered on the nation state. "My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America," he said. "But we know that America is better off, when there is less conflict -- not more," he said, promising to "find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align."
- 'Far less dark' -In Trump's longest speech to date as president he remained largely on message, reading his planned address almost verbatim. Some women Democratic lawmakers had dressed in white for the occasion, a nod to the suffragette movement and an echo of the substantial opposition the president's policies face. But Trump struck a compassionate tone at times, embracing family-friendly policies like paid parental leave, and even won cautious praise from Democrats for his attempt at a more optimistic vision for America and his call for unity. "This was far less dark than the inaugural speech. And he has made an attempt to reach out," said Democrat John Larson of Connecticut. "But the devil is in the details." According to a CNN instant poll, 57 percent of Americans who tuned in saying they had a very positive reaction to the speech. Pressing his domestic agenda -- and pleasing mainstream Republicans who reluctantly embraced him -- Trump promised to provide "massive" tax relief for the American middle class and to repeal his predecessor's landmark Obamacare health reform."When you get into a job and you do it for a while you become better at it, and I think he's improving every single day," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
- Balancing act -The billionaire's populist economic message was crucial in his November victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton -- helping him sway voters in crucial Rust Belt states Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Now his challenge is translating that into tangible policy steps and legislative achievements. He outlined plans for rebuilding America's creaking infrastructure and for high-stakes tax and healthcare reform. But on all three issues, Trump faces a difficult balancing act with fellow Republicans, who control both the Senate and House of Representatives.To succeed, Trump -- the consummate political outsider -- may have to embrace Washington deal-making. Conservatives are desperate to pull Obamacare out by its roots, but party pragmatists are wary of dismantling a system that helped some 20 million Americans obtain health insurance. Tensions between the executive branch and the Republican-led Congress are also simmering over Trump's 2018 budget proposal. Trump wants to hike defense spending by $54 billion, offsetting with cuts in foreign assistance and other non-military spending. On all these issues Trump offered little detail about how to meet his promises worsening the country's nearly $20 trillion national debt. "This plan doesn't add up. A third-grade math student can see that you're going to blow a huge hole in the deficit if you do the things the president is talking about," Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told AFP.

US Probing Whether Al-Qaida Number Two Killed in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/February 01/17/The American government is investigating whether Al-Qaeda's number two has been killed in Syria, an official told AFP Tuesday, amid reports of a US strike in or around Idlib. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that agencies were working to confirm whether Abu Khayr al-Masri is dead, in what would be a major counterterrorism coup for Donald Trump early in his presidency. Al-Masri is a son-in-law of Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and is believed to be deputy to the group's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. "Certainly if the reports are true it would be welcome news," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis. Trump has put tackling so-called "radical Islamic extremism" at the top of his political agenda. He is currently considering a review of the fight against the Islamic State group, aiming to intensify the campaign and is poised to revive efforts to ban travels from certain Muslim-majority countries. The revised travel ban could come as early as Wednesday, White House officials said. Egypt-born al-Masri, 59, is one of the most prominent figures in al-Qaida to have roots in the era before the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Soufan Group, a private security and intelligence consultancy. "It was in al-Masri's guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed briefed top al-Qaida leaders about the planning of the September 11, 2001 attacks," the Soufan Group said. His presence in Syria's northwestern Idlib underscores the importance that country has gained in al-Qaida's strategy, analysts said. Al-Masri, also known as Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdulrahman, joined Zawahiri in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group in the 1980s before they enlisted with Bin Laden in the 1990s. US intelligence believe al-Masri was involved in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was detained with several other al-Qaida figures in 2003 in Iran and held until 2015, when they were traded for the release of an Iranian diplomat who had been seized by al-Qaida's Yemen branch. Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute said that if al-Masri's death is confirmed, would be the "biggest blow to al-Qaida since the killing of Nasir al-Wuhayshi in Yemen in June 2015." Wuhayshi was the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Lister described al-Masri as "jihadi royalty," as a longstanding member of al-Qaida's central Shura Council and "one of Ayman al-Zawahiri's closest long-time confidants." His death would "almost certainly necessitate some form of response, whether from Syria or elsewhere in the world," he said. According to Treasury Department sanctions al-Masri was previously responsible for coordinating al-Qaida's work "with other terrorist organizations."He was born in the Nile Delta city of Kafr al-Shaykh in November 1957, in the midst of Gamal Abdel Nasser's rule.

Sisi defends anti-ISIS fight after Copts flee Sinai
By AFP Wednesday, 1 March 2017/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has defended his country's fight against the ISIS group, after dozens of Christian families fled the Sinai Peninsula following a string of jihadist attacks. An ISIS affiliate waging an insurgency in the Sinai last week released a video calling for attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. Dozens of families have left the peninsula after seven Christians were killed in suspected jihadist attacks, including a Copt murdered in the north Sinai city of El-Arish whose house was also burned. “(The attacks aim to) destabilise the fabric of Egypt... to give the impression that one group isn't protected as it should be,” Sisi said in remarks broadcast on television late Tuesday. “(The attacks make) people say that Egyptians are targeted in El-Arish and we are beginning to disunite. Some accuse the state of not helping them.”
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. Jihadists and Islamists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters. The ISIS video last week included an anti-Christian speech by a militant who later detonated an explosive vest in a Coptic church in Cairo last December 11, killing 29 people. “You say 'don't abandon the Sinai'. At a state level, that means the mobilisation of army and police forces,” Sisi said.
He said Egypt was bearing a “huge cost” in battling ISIS, and paid tribute to army and police “martyrs” killed in north Sinai. The former army chief said security services were doing their utmost to protect civilians in the region. “We are like a surgeon who wants to remove the danger without damaging the rest of the patient,” Sisi said.

UN: 8,000 flee as Iraqi forces fight ISIS in western Mosul
The Associated Press, Baghdad Tuesday, 28 February 2017
Since Iraqi government forces launched the push to take the western half of Mosul from ISIS last week, about 8,000 people have fled from that part of the city and surrounding villages, the UN humanitarian aid agency said Tuesday. The agency, known as OCHA, said it is expanding displacement camps to cope with the increasing numbers of those fleeing Mosul. With the support of the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces began the operation to retake western Mosul on Feb. 19, and have so far captured the city’s international airport and a sprawling military base next to it as well some neighborhoods from the southern edge. Iraq declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January, after three months of fierce fighting. The people fleeing western Mosul are “often exhausted and dehydrated,” the OCHA statement said, adding that an estimated 250,000 people could flee the fighting in the coming days. It also noted “high” trauma casualty rates from western Mosul, with at least 75 civilians treated near the front lines over the past week and warned the situation for the estimated 750,000 civilians remaining in western Mosul “is desperate” as supply lines have been cut off, in particular the highway from Mosul into neighboring Syria. Citing eyewitness accounts, OCHA said civilians still in western Mosul are enduing shortages of everything - from food and water to gas, heating oil and medical supplies. The prices of staples such sugar and potatoes have gone up. Associated Press footage from the village of al-Salam southwest of the Mosul airport shows hundreds of civilians trickling to a gathering point in an open and dusty area, carrying a few of their possessions in bags. Security forces separate the men from the women and children before they are taken away in buses and military pickup trucks. Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces moved into western Mosul’s Shuhada neighborhood amid fierce clashes with ISIS militants as federal police units continued clearing up Gawsaq, a neighborhood retaken on Monday from ISIS, according to special forces and police officers. A mortar round landed in one of the streets, killing three civilians and wounding a fourth, another police officer said, as security forces scrambled to try and evacuate civilians to safe areas. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to reporters. The offensive to capture Mosul is the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011. Iraq’s second-largest city has been under ISIS rule for more than two years and remains the ISIS’s last urban stronghold in Iraq.

ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi acknowledges defeat in Iraq
Staff writer, Wednesday, 1 March 2017
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued a statement acknowledging the group’s defeat in Iraq, as he urged supporters to either hide or flee, Iraqi television network, Alsumaria, quoted local sources as saying. According to the sources in the Iraqi governorate of Nineveh, Al-Baghdadi’s statement was titled ‘farewell speech’ and was distributed among ISIS’ preachers and clerics on Tuesday. Al-Baghdadi ordered the closure of the ISIS office regulating their fighters and ordered non-Arab fighters to either return to their countries or detonate themselves, promising them “72 women in heaven.” Many of ISIS’ leaders in Iraq has now fled towards the group’s controlled areas in neighboring Syria, the source added. Iraqi forces backed by international and US aid have been advancing towards ISIS-occupied areas in Iraq over the past weeks, where the terrorist organization suffered one defeat after another in Mosul.

Nasr al-Hariri: Russia pressuring Assad to discuss political transition
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Wednesday, 1 March 2017/The Head of the delegation of the Syrian Opposition to Geneva 4, Nasr al-Hariri , stressed at a news conference after meeting with the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in Geneva on Wednesday that the opposition has not been in any direct negotiations with the Syrian regime. “We have heard from Mr. Stefan that because of the Russian pressure - which could be a good sign –there is a general acceptance in addressing the issues raised in the 2254 decision. Obviously, we are interested in achieving a political transition because it is the only way to accomplish the other issues in this decision.”He added that the regime’s delegation is prioritizing other points in order to avoid dealing with the political matters directly; furthermore, the regime will resort to violence on the fronts to spoil the talks.

UN panel: Evacuation of Syria’s Aleppo was a war crime
The Associated Press, Geneva Wednesday, 1 March 2017/A UN panel said Wednesday the evacuation of eastern Aleppo in December, after months of siege and aerial bombing by Russian and Syrian forces, was one of many war crimes committed by those fighting for control of Syria’s largest city.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria unveiled a report looking at violations by all parties in last year’s battle for Aleppo. It singled out a “particularly egregious attack” in which Syrian warplanes targeted a humanitarian aid convoy. The findings come amid an open-ended stretch of talks aimed at resolving the six-year-long conflict. The capture of Aleppo was a major victory for President Bashar al-Assad and shifted the military balance in his favor. The agreement to evacuate rebel-held eastern Aleppo gave civilians no option to remain at the end of the protracted campaign, in which daily aerial bombings killed hundreds of people and left all the hospitals in the area out of service. The commission said the agreement amounted to “the war crime of forced displacement.”The report looked at violations committed between July 21, when the rebel-held part of Aleppo was besieged, and Dec. 22, when Syrian troops and allied forces assumed full control of the city. It drew on the testimony of 291 eyewitnesses, satellite imagery and an array of material including medical reports, forensic evidence and information provided by UN member states. “For months, the Syrian and Russian air forces relentlessly bombarded eastern Aleppo city as part of a strategy to force surrender,” said the commission’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro. “The deliberate targeting of civilians has resulted in the immense loss of human life, including hundreds of children.”The commission said it was often difficult to know whether specific strikes were carried out by Russia or the Syrian government. But it said it had determined that Syrian warplanes targeted hospitals on at least two occasions, and deliberately attacked a humanitarian aid convoy on Sept. 19. “The munitions employed (against the convoy) were particularly appropriate for attacking unarmored vehicles and individuals,” the report said. It also found evidence that the Syrian government had used prohibited cluster munitions.Both sides were guilty of carrying out indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, it said, adding that rebels had launched imprecise mortar attacks on government-held neighborhoods.

Iraqi army controls main roads out of Mosul, trapping ISIS
Reuters, Baghdad Wednesday, 1 March 2017/US-backed Iraqi army units on Wednesday took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in ISIS’s hands, a general and residents there said, trapping the militants in a dwindling area within the city. The army’s 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul’s “Syria Gate,” the northwestern entrance of the city, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone. “We effectively control the road, it is in our sight,” he said. Mosul residents said they had not been able to travel on the highway that begins at the “Syria Gate” since Tuesday. The road links Mosul to Tal Afar, another ISIS stronghold 60 km (40 miles) to the west, and then to the Syrian border. Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.
If they defeat ISIS in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014.The US commander in Iraq has said he believes US-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’s Syria stronghold in neighboring Syria, within six months.

Pervez Musharraf: I see Donald Trump as an agent of change
In an exclusive interview to Al Arabiya English Musharraf said that the US President has “come in with a clean slate.” (AFP)
By Ehtesham Shahid/Wednesday, 1 March 2017/I generally see things optimistically and, whatever his personal qualities, I see him [Donald Trump] as an agent of change, Former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, has said. In an exclusive interview to Al Arabiya English – conducted on the sidelines of the South Asia Rising Conference in Dubai on Sunday – Musharraf said that the US President has “come in with a clean slate.”“He is quite uninitiated into world disputes, into our region, into India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, all these are new to him so therefore one can influence his mind to the right direction,” he said.
War on terror
Musharraf also said that Pakistan’s plate is already full when it comes to dealing with terror. “We need to look at ourselves and we need to control terrorism within Pakistan,” he said, adding that a very holistic approach is needed to tackle this challenge. “In Pakistan terrorism exists in different forms … and each one of them should be dealt with,” Musharraf said in the interview. According to him, taking this approach will help the Arab world as well as the rest of the world. “Basically what Pakistan is facing, others are also facing”.
Musharraf said that his views are very clear on the issues of terrorism in the Muslim world. “Whenever terrorism also has sectarian overtones it becomes very explosive and dangerous for the Muslim world. This is what needs to be resolved,” he said.
He added that unfortunately whatever is happening in Yemen and in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East, has sectarian overtones. “That needs to be checked and controlled,” he said. Also read: From politics to media, former Pakistan President Musharraf makes career change. During the interview, Musharraf also talked about the political situation in Pakistan, Indo-Pak disputes and the news related to Pakistan’s General Raheel Sharif becoming the head of “Muslim NATO”.General Pervez Musharraf was the President of Pakistan from 2001–2008, and the Chief of Army Staff from 1998–2007. In 1999, President Musharraf came into power with what TIME Magazine quoted as “the most dangerous job in the world” and played a critical role in fighting the war on terrorism during his presidency.

France's Fillon Faces Charges but Stays in Campaign
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 01/17/French presidential candidate Francois Fillon announced Wednesday that judges had summoned him to press charges over an expenses scandal but vowed to continue his campaign. The 62-year-old conservative former premier was favourite at the start of the year to win the French presidency after clinching the nomination for the Republicans party in November. But he has since been hit by a series of allegations that he paid his wife Penelope and his children hundreds of thousands of euros over decades for allegedly fake parliamentary jobs. Fillon said the charges were "entirely calculated to stop me being a candidate for the presidential election." "I won't give in, I won't surrender and I won't withdraw," he told a press conference on Wednesday. French prosecutors launched a full judicial inquiry into the claims last week, increasing pressure on Fillon's campaign which has been in crisis since allegations first surfaced in January. Fillon has been defiant throughout, insisting publicly that the facts would exonerate him and reminding his party that they have few attractive alternatives to him. He has accused the media of trying to "lynch" him and believes Socialist President Francois Hollande has encouraged the investigations to discredit him, which would be illegal. Recent surveys suggest that far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron are the two most likely to progress from the first round of the election on April 23. Macron is currently shown as the winner of a run-off vote scheduled for May 7. - Political assassination -Fillon campaigned as a sleaze-free reformer ready to administer a "radical" economic overhaul and cut public spending. He postponed a visit to a key farm show on Wednesday morning and announced the press conference, sending the rumour mill into overdrive amid speculation he would withdraw. Though employing a family member is not illegal in France, Fillon has not provided evidence publicly of Penelope's work beyond her contracts which show various periods of employment. "From the start, I have not been treated like anyone else facing the justice system," Fillon said in his statement to reporters, claiming he was the victim of a "political assassination". "It's not just me they are killing, but the French presidential election," he said. British-born Penelope, or Penny as she is known, and two of their five children were paid around 900,000 euros ($950,000) from public funds from Fillon's office budget, the Canard Enchaine newspaper has reported.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 01-02.17
ISIS attacks on Sinai Christians pose challenge to Sisiهجمات داعش في سيناء على المسيحيين هي تحدى للرئيس السيسي
Ben Lynfield/Jerusalem Post/March 01/2017
Church in Ismailia becomes haven for displaced children.
At the Mary Jirjis Church in Ismailia Egypt, Mervat Jirjis describes how her family recently fled their home in the northern Sinai town of El Arish after her husband received a threat to leave immediately or be slaughtered.
“The terrorists told him ‘your blood is permissible for us if you don’t leave.’ This caused me to leave immediately carrying only a bottle of water because they attack anyone carrying travel bags or furniture. We have heard a lot about cases of murders and I decided not to wait and see any of my relatives be under such circumstances,” she said in remarks published Tuesday in al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.
Jirjis is one of hundreds of Coptic Christians forced to flee their homes in El Arish due to ISIS attacks. They have become the region’s newest group of displaced persons.
A woman who gave only her first name, Lamia, told the paper that ISIS “drew swords on the walls and doors of our homes as a threat and we left everything behind us.” She said her Muslim neighbors had offered to protect her family but she declined because she did not want to endanger them.
Egypt's Christians, forced to flee homes in north Sinai due to ISIS, receive aid at a church
An estimated eighty families have taken shelter in Ismailia, 115 kilometers northeast of Cairo, where the Mary Jirjis Church provides them with food and psychological support for their children.
ISIS, which is waging an insurgency against the Egyptian government in Sinai, has turned to targeting Christian civilians after suffering setbacks in its confrontation with the army. “It was quite a new out of the box practice of ISIS. They saw they can’t fight properly the security forces so they decided to make a u-turn and hurt the civilians, the Copts,” says Mira Tzoreff, an Egypt specialist at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center. “By doing that they undermine the Sisi regime because from the first day Sisi has tried to rehabilitate relations between Muslims and Copts.”
Sisi’s efforts included visiting Coptic Pope Tawadros II early in his tenure and encouraging passage of a law making it easier for the Coptic community to restore churches. But with the attacks, “suddenly it seems Egypt is not able to protect its Coptic citizens. This is quite a problem for Sisi,” Tzoreff said. Heightened problems for Sisi are cause for concern for Israeli policy makers too, who view him as a crucial regional ally.
ISIS militants have shot and killed seven Christians in separate attacks in El Arish during February, according to Al Jazeera. In one case, they killed a Christian plumber at home in front of his family. In another instance, a man was reportedly killed in front of his pregnant wife.
On February 19, ISIS released a video threatening attacks on Christians as a follow up to its bombing of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo in December, which killed 28 people. The video described Christians as “infidels” and enemies of Islam.
Al-Masry al-Youm described how Mohammed Abdul-Karim, a psychologist who came to the church to help children, joked with them to put them at ease and promised them that there would be a magician, balloons, contests and gifts. “The children don’t know why they were forced to leave their homes [but they know] there is something wrong and they don’t feel safe,” he said. “The aim of these sessions is to provide them with serenity and psychological stability.”
Father Arsinius Ayad, who is in charge of the church, said: “We received children who were traumatized and we have to absorb them and give them the message they are in their country so they don’t feel alienated. They were exhausted and they feel pressured after what they’ve seen and this has been alleviated after officials and concerned people visited them.”
Nadira Samaan, who is volunteering as a cook, added: “I was crying as I offered food for them, especially the kids. They are so hungry that they race to get the food.”
Opposition groups in Egypt are criticizing the government’s handling of the crisis and are saying it should be more active in helping those who fled, facilitating the exit of those who are still in El Arish and want to leave, and safeguarding those who must stay in Sinai. Sisi has ordered the Ministry of Education to transfer displaced students to schools where they have taken refuge so they can resume their studies.
Tzoreff says it is important for the regime to ensure that the displaced get housing in Ismailia, Cairo or Alexandria and are able to get into some kind of routine there because it is impossible to predict whether their displacement will last months or even years. “The authorities need to do their utmost efforts to find them alternatives as soon as possible,” she said. “Otherwise the Copts will turn into an opposition group and Sisi doesn’t need that.”

To Kurdistan and Back: Iran's Forgotten Front
David Pollock/The Washington Institute/March 01/17

At a conference in Dahuk in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to see the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) -- which the Tehran regime considers a subversive, terrorist group -- address the assembled notables. Sitting in the front row were three of the most senior political and security officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The scene made me a bit nervous about possible Iranian reprisals, so I asked if I could report it. "Certainly," I was told, "it's already all over the local media."
But sure enough, a few days later, unknown assailants attacked a KDP-I office inside Iraqi Kurdistan, killing seven people. The attack was all the more egregious as it took place not near the Iranian border, but in the town of Koy Sanjaq, right in the middle of the Kurdistan region. No one has been publicly charged with the killings, nor has the KRG even publicly blamed them on Iranian agents. The incident chillingly illustrates the nature and reach of Iran's influence in Iraqi Kurdistan: if you cross us too much, we will kill you.
Beyond such extreme but isolated events, the specter of Iran looms very large over the much bigger question of Kurdish independence. Iran continues to voice its firm opposition to this option -- most recently this past week, during a visit of Kurdistan's Islamic party leaders to Tehran. In a telling contrast, for at least the past year, KRG president Masoud Barzani has refused a standing invitation to visit the Iranian capital, reportedly in part because Iran has so far refused to fly the Kurdish flag in official welcome.
In fact, during my recent visit, a top KRG official privately revealed an acute insight into how deeply the Iran factor cuts in this context. Kurdistan's leaders lately aver that they prefer, not unilateral steps toward independence, but negotiations with Baghdad over new terms of coexistence, confederation, or separation. But when they say Baghdad, this official told me, they really mean Tehran. That is because the Kurds see the Iraqi government as essentially subservient to Iran. Whatever Baghdad may ultimately be willing to grant the Kurds will reflect Tehran's decision.
On a more mundane level, Iran exercises considerable direct economic leverage in Kurdistan as well. The region's main economic lifeline, oil, literally runs through Turkey rather than Iran. Desultory negotiations over a new oil pipeline to Iran continue, so far to no practical effect. But other trade with Iran, particularly imports of food staples and other basic consumer goods, is also a key stabilizing factor in the day-to-day economic life of the Kurdistan region. Two-way truck trade in oil products remains significant as well. Iran has been known to close the border, or drastically slow down traffic there, as a form of political signaling and pressure.
Conversely, Kurdish friends in the local business community tell me that Iran has offered them free merchandise (otherwise known as bribes) if they agree to promote or at least turn a blind eye to Tehran's activities in the region. On a much larger level, Tehran is trying to tempt the KRG with talk of a hypothetical pipeline from Kurdish oil fields to Iran. At the same time, it threatens the KRG with talk of a different hypothetical pipeline, this time from Kirkuk directly to Iran -- but bypassing Kurdish control.
The extent of Iranian influence is particularly evident in Sulaymaniyah province, which borders Iran and is dominated politically by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its splinter Gorran Party. Both of those parties have closer historical and personal ties to Tehran than does the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), based in the western provinces of Erbil and Dahuk near the Turkish border. In 2011, while visiting Sulaymaniyah, I heard a top Gorran official say that in his province alone, "Iranian agents have 700 safe houses." Momentarily stunned by this huge number, I asked, "What are they doing in all those places?!" His laconic answer was instructive: "Well, if I knew the answer to that question, they wouldn't be safe houses, would they?"
Today, Iran's threatening presence in Sulaymaniyah has, if anything, changed further for the worse. Just this week, to cite but one example, an outspoken anti-Iranian member of the Iraqi parliament, Mithal al-Alusi, told the author that he would not even travel to Sulaymaniyah without a whole convoy of bodyguards. More broadly, Iran is exploiting these intra-Kurdish divisions in order to accomplish two related objectives: increase its own influence, through PUK-affiliated and other factional friends, as far afield as the Turkish border; and decrease the KRG's ability to present a unified front in negotiating on behalf of its legitimate interests, whether for eventual independence or merely for more secure political and economic autonomy.
For U.S. policy, especially now that the Trump administration seems poised to take a tougher line toward Tehran, this close but tense relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran poses an intriguing conundrum. On the one hand, the KRG seems to offer a prime opportunity, with strong local support, to counter and perhaps even roll back Iranian regional influence. Doing so could have ripple effects far beyond the KRG itself, weakening the chain of proxies Tehran has created from Iran through Iraq and on to Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand, such a forward U.S. policy would probably require a larger commitment to protect the Kurds from Iranian threats. And it could raise the issue of Kurdish independence as the next logical step in this sequence, with all of the complications that might entail.
That is why, as one senior KRG official put it on my recent visit, "In some short-term sense, it makes life easier for us if the U.S. and Iran are not in a state of active confrontation." Yet if the United States is indeed now determined to stand up more strongly against Iran's regional challenges, while maintaining a crucial ally and buffer against the Islamic State and other violent extremists, Kurdistan would be an excellent place to start. The first step should be a simple, firm assurance to the friendly KRG leadership that Washington will unequivocally back their indigenous efforts to check Iranian subversion, intimidation, and power projection on Kurdish soil. The second step should be a clear U.S. offer to keep a substantial military presence inside the KRG even after victory against the Islamic State -- and even if Baghdad declines a parallel offer. After that, U.S. partnership with the KRG and others in pushing back against Iranian encroachments, not just in Kurdistan but around the region, will become increasingly effective, and decreasingly risky.
**David Pollock is the Kaufman Fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on regional political dynamics and related issues.

The Enemies Of Donald Trump Are The Enemies Of America
By Dave Merrick /Canada Free Press/March 01/17
After eight years of suffocating under the racist stagnation of B.O. and the House gavel even in the grip of a witch like Nancy Pelosi, President Trump’s address to Congress last night was a breath of fresh air.
Immediately after watching ABC’s live monitoring of the event I put aside my notes, went to YouTube, and watched former president’s Obama’s first address to Congress after he had taken the helm in 2008. The contrast I saw in his audience’s reception was breathtaking.
The generous, gracious optimism of the conservative listeners at our first black president’s pilot congressional address fully illustrated the spirit of a unified America. The right side of the house was warm and welcoming. Acknowledging defeat, they very visibly had chosen to walk forward believing the best of their new president. His words were filled with promise. Eight years later, sadly, most of the promises he made that night were shown to be part of an elaborate sales pitch that has left our country in ruin.
Last night, mirroring the attitude of the crazies they represent - and of course siding with the liberal media that has fully promoted ‘Trump hate’ and the past eight years of America’s division - the liberal left side of the House of Representatives made shameful fools of themselves. They carried their determinedly orchestrated fit into what should have been the kickoff of a cooperative bipartisan effort toward a stronger America, 2017.
Instead, joining Nancy Pelosi and her fellow white-garbed ‘suffragettes’ in remaining silent and seated throughout Trump’s speech, America’s liberal representatives completely put their seal of approval upon the childish behavior of their snowflake constituency. In the face of the clear speech coming from the sane and solidly successful new leader of the free world, the left side of the aisle’s return message was to simply placate and reassure the babies who keep them employed.
Many of the libs wouldn’t even stand with the ovation for the widow of Navy Seal Ryan Owens - the man who gave his life in service to our nation. How would their honoring him have detracted from their Trump hate? And again when Jamile Shaw Sr. received the condolences for the loss of his son Jamile Jr. - KILLED BY ONE OF OBAMA’S ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WHO HAD BEEN TWICE DEPORTED PRIOR TO THAT AVOIDABLE MURDER - many of the left would not stand in that Trump-led show of sorrow and respect.
America would not become a sanctuary for terrorists
When Trump declared that America would not become a sanctuary for terrorists - again, the left side of the house remained silent. I found a pitiful joke in the fact that eight years earlier a cocky Barack Obama had announced at the same ceremony, “I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world!” And in that speech, eight years ago, both sides of the House came out of their seats in thunderous approval.
Yet time has shown that not only did he allow that to happen, but we are now discovering that he and Hillary obviously helped to fund parts of the very core of that that terroristic effort - ISIS. And, after his opening the doors of our nation to a gushing throng of un-vetted Islamists, that same group of extremists is indeed now plotting against us from within the ‘safe haven’ afforded them by our Constitution - and many now receiving $1700 per month to help keep their lights on and their bellies filled until they achieve martyrdom here in our own land.
Nevertheless, our president’s entire speech was devoted to all of America and all Americans. He very carefully took the time to address issues of concern on both sides of the line. And the left side of the House couldn’t find the grace and maturity to, perhaps in a show of good faith, express even a semblance of solidarity. In so doing they might have shown genuine care for our nation.
While Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and a host of other American cities are deteriorating and are desperately in need of all sorts of expensive help, Obama - DOWN TO HIS LAST MINUTES IN OFFICE - sent billions of our much-needed dollars to line the pockets of the hooded/masked thugs who have sworn themselves to the destruction of America and Israel. And those are the chosen priorities of the pouting people who last night demonstrated their selfish rudeness in the face of a wounded and divided America.
My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America!”
As I have said so often recently, the liberal media/entertainment industry are supremely intimidated by our 45th president simply because he does what he says he’s going to do. For decades television and movies have been blurring reality and graying the truth. Facts, just like an approaching train, are not negotiable. And as the Donald begins moving America back toward the course the framers had originally intended, more and more people are waking up. In his walking his talk, he is reminding us of the fact that the best things in life are still available to anyone who determines to pursue and work for that. Last night’s tantrum from the liberal professional politicians showed the shallowness and moral bankruptcy of being enslaved to the deceitful 21st-century Frankenstein of political correctness.
President Donald Trump said this:“My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America!” President Trump is not politically correct, and he is scaring the hell out of the people who are. Unlike the man before him who held the same office, he is not trying to sell us the lie that the world is our friend. And as he is doing precisely the job he was hired for: he is turning on all the lights. And the rats are upset and running scared. We are entering a battle right now in America that is just beginning to heat up. Last night showed me clearly that the enemies of Donald Trump are indeed the enemies of America.
**Dave Merrick, is an internationally known and published artist whose works reach into the greatest diversity of audiences. Known primarily for his astoundingly lifelike portraiture, Merrick’s drawings and paintings grace the walls of an impressive array of well-known corporate and private clientele. Many of his published wildlife pieces have become some of America’s most popular animal imagery.He has more original work in the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame than any other artist. His wildlife and Southwestern-theme work is distributed internationally through Joan Cawley Galleries of Scottsdale AZ

Concessions Did not Save Geneva
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed//Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/17
The US government tried to solve the Syria crisis by suggesting three negotiations based on a balanced political proposal. Yet, the Damascus-Iran-Russia axis ruined the three conferences. Russia has made up two conferences, one in Astana and the other currently held in Geneva. The beginnings confirm the end: a repeated failure.
Although almost everyone cooperated with the Russian project, including Turkey, Gulf countries, and the Trump administration, this wasn’t enough.
In order to satisfy the Russians, and in cooperation with the UN, providing arms to the opposition has been suspended. Moderate opposition factions were pressured to accept solutions that aren’t up to their expectations, while others were barred from participating in the talks. Washington supported the solution and UN Envoy Steffan de Mistura defended Russia’s stance. Geneva 4 conference hasn’t ended yet, but it seems that it is doomed to fail. This reveals that there is no winning or strong team that can be imposed on everyone through international support, that which Iran and Russia tried to do by imposing the collapsing Syrian regime.
Secondly, failure! The suggested solution doesn’t meet the minimum expectations of millions of displaced, frightened Syrians. The project is based on keeping the regime in power, which means enforcing its policies of displacement and cancellation of majority of the remaining residents inside Syria. The idea itself can’t survive even if all factions signed to it. It is a formula that aims to enable the regime to rule most of Syria by force, like the West Bank under Israeli occupation except the fact that Israel has a strong powerful system which allows it to control this anomaly.
Russia tried to convince a number of opposing factions to join the regime, offering them positions in the government in exchange. Yet to these factions and everyone else, this seems like legalizing rape and no one will accept such a solution.
The previously proposed political solution was rejected by both parties, the Syrian regime and the opposition. Still, it is the practical solution and reasonable alternative.
The solution suggests a joint regime and it can now be developed by keeping the president but giving the security and finance to the opposition or by changing the president and keeping sovereign posts for the regime but within a framework of cooperation protected by regional and international authorities.Sharing can be based on a reasonable balance formula which both parties have an interest in maintaining: either the presidency or the presidency’s jurisdictions, but not both. We have a standing model which is the Taif Agreement which ended the Lebanese crisis, a much more complicated one than the Syrian and based on creating a solution in which all parties made concessions.
War calls sought to cancel the Christians’ right to presidency and its jurisdictions demanding it be equally distributed. The dispute ended by redistributing jurisdictions with the president remaining Christian by losing some of his jurisdictions for other parties. Hadn’t it been for the Taif Agreement, the war may have continued and the Christians would have lost their shares.
If the Sunnis and Shi’ites had refused to make concessions, the war would have resulted in more foreign interventions that would have prolonged the war and deepened divisions within sects on the Lebanese arena.
The current political situation in Lebanon is neither perfect nor great, but at least the country is stable. Syria’s crisis is less complicated, especially that the civil opposition accepts to share power and a constitution that protects all minorities. Its system has a good example of that as it involves all Syrians irrelevant of their religious and ethnic differences. As for the armed Islamic opposition, most of its factions are rejected by everyone because it has a religious and internationalist agenda; none of which Syria’s people want. The failure of Astana and Geneva talks will spur fights again even after denying armament for moderate opposition, some of which had to form coalitions with terrorist groups to protect themselves after running out of ammunition.
The repeated failure may lead the uncompromising parties to think reasonably and rationally. Iran must realize that it will not be allowed to take over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran achieved its incursion by benefiting from the weakness of the former US administration. Its dominance over the major crescent threatens the rest of the region’s countries and the world. It is a hazard because Iran uses its agents as a weapon against its rivals, including US and Europeans, or because unrest will continue, thus attracting more extremists and threatening everyone.

Bab al-Mandab Shipping Chokepoint Under Threat
Cmdr. Jeremy Vaughan, USN and Simon Henderson/The Washington Institute/March 01/2017
Reports of Yemeni rebel mining activity are only the latest in a string of threats to international vessels transiting the narrow link between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean.
On February 9, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued an alert warning commercial vessels about the risk of mines in the Bab al-Mandab Strait: "The U.S. Government has reason to believe in late January, mines were laid by Houthi rebels in Yemeni territorial waters in the Red Sea close to the mouth of Mocha harbor." The alert follows a number of other troubling incidents in the strategic waterway over the past few months. Saudi and Emirati naval vessels have been attacked while trying to enforce a blockade on the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels who control large parts of Yemen. And last October, patrolling U.S. Navy ships were targeted as well. Diplomatic efforts to end Yemen's civil war appear to be getting nowhere, and the fighting on land is largely deadlocked, though forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi recently captured Mocha port near the Bab al-Mandab.
Iran's motives for helping the Houthis are unclear but have the effect of challenging Saudi Arabia, which views the fighting as a proxy war. More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene. In terms of capability and tradition, the leadership role in any such effort to safeguard freedom of passage would necessarily be taken by the U.S. Navy.
In a 2014 web post describing heavily transited oil chokepoints in the Middle East and elsewhere, the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that blocking such waterways, even temporarily, "can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and world energy prices." The Bab al-Mandab, which controls access to the Red Sea and the southern end of the Suez Canal, is particularly crucial at present because of Egypt's reliance on imported liquefied natural gas to maintain its electricity supplies. One LNG tanker destined for Egypt transits the strait each week. If passage were impeded, those shipments -- and all other vessels heading to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea -- would have no alternative but to make the long voyage around the southern tip of Africa.
The Bab al-Mandab is around ten miles wide at its narrowest point, where the Yemeni island of Perim protrudes into the waterway toward Eritrea and Djibouti. Under an international traffic separation scheme, northbound international shipping uses a two-mile-wide lane on the Arabian side just west of Perim, while southbound traffic uses a similar lane on the African side. Separated by just over a mile of water, the two lanes work well for international traffic but are ignored by smaller local ships and fishing vessels. More than sixty commercial ships transit the strait every day, and several passenger cruise liners use the route as well.
Houthi rebels have attacked warships in or near the strait on at least four occasions since last fall. On October 1, antishipping cruise missiles fired from the Houthi-controlled coastline severely damaged the Swift, an Emirati-operated troop landing and logistics ship. In the following weeks, the destroyer USS Mason successfully defended itself against three similar attacks. The U.S. Navy launched a Tomahawk missile strike to knock out coastal radar sites that may have provided targeting information for the attacks. No further antishipping missile attacks have been reported since then, but radar sites can be rebuilt, and the Houthis' stores of such missiles have not been destroyed, so the threat remains.
Additional threats have emerged in the past few weeks and may already be affecting international shipping patterns. The recent U.S. government warning about mines in the Bab al-Mandab advised ships to transit the strait only during daylight. Moored mines have a notorious tendency to break free of their tethers and could ramp up the risk to all ships in the area.
Another new threat surfaced when a Saudi frigate was attacked off the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida on January 30. Initially thought to be a suicide speedboat, the attacker is now assumed to have been a remote-controlled drone craft similar to the type Iranian smugglers employ to pick up contraband from Oman's Musandam Peninsula in the Strait of Hormuz, a Persian Gulf chokepoint. The UAE also has such craft (which it uses for target practice), so it is conceivable that the attack was conducted by a lost Emirati boat recovered by Iran. U.S. warships transiting the Strait of Hormuz are routinely harassed by small boats from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), but weaponized speedboat drones, known in the military as unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), change the danger profile into a credible threat. An attacking USV must be disabled at distance from a warship's hull, a task that could prove exceptionally difficult during a swarming attack by multiple boats.
Furthermore, Iran's familiarity with explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) means that such technology may soon be seen at sea. Fortunately, the difficulty in remotely placing such a narrowly focused explosive against a target's hull mitigates some of the risk; this could explain why the January 30 attack seemed to result in such minor damage, assuming an EFP was on board. Even so, an EFP-laden USV that gets through a ship's defenses could sink it.
Any future cruise missile attacks on U.S. vessels should be met with additional strikes on radar control sites and other shore installations. Reconnaissance assets patrolling Yemen's shorelines, ports, and waterways should be ready and able to destroy cruise missiles that actively threaten shipping and maritime forces. Any detected storage sites for mines would also be a worthwhile target.
Meanwhile, the United States should ramp up military training, tactics, and procedure transfer to the Saudi and Emirati navies, drawing on the U.S. Navy's long experience defending against small-boat threats. Improved ship and helicopter weapons systems optimized for medium-range surface engagement would help the Saudi-led coalition increase their ships' resilience to those threats as well, though such transfers and related training would take time.
A cooperative minesweeping mission should be considered as well. Such joint efforts in the area are not new -- in 1984, for example, several ships reported seeing mines between the Suez Canal and the Bab al-Mandab, prompting an international mine countermeasures campaign. After much searching, several mines dating back as far as World War II were found, but British minesweepers also discovered a newly laid, advanced Soviet mine that was later traced to a Libyan ferry.
Since 2012, the U.S. and British navies have spearheaded the annual International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and Red Sea, now the largest such maritime exercise in the world. Thirty nations from six continents participated in 2016. This year's IMCMEX (whose date remains undisclosed for now) is an opportunity to send a strong signal about international commitment to security in the Bab al-Mandab. Now that Mocha harbor is reportedly back in the Hadi government's hands, clearing mines there could be a task to incorporate in this year's exercise, but only if the area is truly secure. Specialized minesweeping ships form part of the American and British naval contingents in the Persian Gulf and could be deployed to the Bab al-Mandab quickly.
In addition, several foreign navies are already stationed close to the strait. Djibouti provides bases for French and American forces as well as Japanese and Chinese military facilities. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is in talks to establish a base there, while the UAE has opted for a base at the port of Berbera in the self-declared Somaliland, notionally part of Somalia. And Israel is widely believed to have patrol boats based on Eritrean islands just north of the strait.
The United States and its allies must be prepared for more incidents in the Bab al-Mandab. Contingency planning should include immediate steps to maintain free passage for commercial shipping, and to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach Yemen's estimated population of seven million, about a quarter of which reportedly faces famine. It is difficult to imagine any such intervention or parallel diplomatic effort succeeding without Washington taking the lead role.
**Cmdr. Jeremy Vaughan, U.S. Navy, is a Federal Executive Fellow at The Washington Institute who has completed multiple deployments to the Persian Gulf. Simon Henderson is the Institute's Baker Fellow and director of its Gulf and Energy Policy Program. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Defense, or U.S. government.

The Search for Syria
Ghassan Charbel/Asharq Al Awsat/March 01/17
Left stranded in the smoke of war, Syrians embark on the ultimate quest of finding a way back to national peace. They have relentlessly hunted down solutions for the six-year civil war in faraway lands such as Kazakhstan’s capital Astana and Switzerland’s Geneva. Syrians did not stop at that, but they also reached out to regional and international forces for materializing a balanced solution. Lost in limbo, they toss around accusations like a hot potato after having had their fill with bullets. Alas feeling that the situation has truly spiraled out of control.
Going to war is a decision taken by the people, or at least by a select few. Ending war is a whole other story, especially after having witnessed loss in tremendousness, unparalleled brutality, and the collapse of establishments nationwide. Syrians look left and right only to find themselves engulfed in frustration and despair. They have arrived at a stage beyond the capacity of containment and resolving powers of the Arab League, a body existing on the sole principal of looking after the welfare of the Arab world. Restoring peace and stability to Syria is a challenge that the Arab league and its Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit are not able to mount.
Referring the case over to more powerful organization, such as the United Nations and its chief Antonio Guterres also proved futile. The international body along with its influence has been compromised by the Russian veto which on several occasions stood to thwart any attempt at salvaging Syria today. Similar to a deteriorating patient awaiting an accurate clinical analysis , the swiftness at which resident physicians concede to a treatment is an imperative control to curb the spread of infection.
The world views Syria as an archipelago entrapped inside a strong ring of fire fueled by sectarian strife, disagreement and internal armed conflict. It is hard to believe that a group of embattled islands are able to independently and promptly restore stability away from the foreign forces entangled in the Syria civil war.
Syria has been ripped apart by foreign influence. The Bashar al-Assad lead regime, backed by Russia and Iran, stretches the borders of its control over 22 percent of the country. Despite Moscow claiming credit on single-handedly preventing the regime from losing its capital Damascus, assuming that Russia is the sole dominant influence over regime territory is short to an exaggeration. Even though President Vladimir Putin’s Russia operates two air bases in Syria, in Hmeimim and Tartus, Iran on the other hand has camp set up across regime terrain, a commanding room in Damascus airport, and proxy militias overrunning the spectrum.
Iran’s elite revolutionary guard strongly clings to Syria as a puzzle piece integral to its regional expansionist agenda. Upon a closer look, it is clear that an island making up for at least 30 percent of Syria land is swarmed by ISIS hardliners. Kurdish units and Syrian rebels have rule over 20 percent of land each. It is worth mentioning that Kurdish-run territory is home to three United States airbases, and that some rebel factions are enlisted for US, Western, and regional support.
Identical intricacy covers Syria’s airspace, the Russian surface to air S-400 missile system reigns over a majority of Syria. Added to the mix pot are the raids staged not only by Israel air forces but by those of the US-led coalition of over 60 countries.
Turkey’s air power also leads Operation Euphrates Shield over Syrian territory. Jordan’s air forces registered an intervention in Syria as well, with the most recent foreign trail left across Syrian skies belonging to Iraqi air forces. Syria’s crisis is not limited to the presence of the terror group ISIS, it stretches beyond that and will likely remain after ISIS is removed from the picture. To be honest, ISIS did indeed reshuffle the cards, deepen the schism and added to the bloodshed, but the Syria crisis is far too complicated to be summed up by the terror group.
Finding a Syria settlement is all the more difficult today. How can Syrian territory be stabilized and broken free from its dismantled shape, when the entire world builds up its policy in light of a disbanded and crumbled Syria. Syria has been spread too thin by the war and become overwhelmed. Where are Russian limits drawn in this divided country? What borders Iran’s role? The American role? The Arab role? And can the Syrians find it in themselves to restore their country?
Each of the abovementioned partakers have costly stakes invested in Syria’s vicious war that can only be paralleled in its callousness to World War II. The Syria battlefield has registered the horrendous accounts of barrel bombs, suicide attackers, and human slaughterhouses. With losses of such grand scale, parties will not concede to a settlement trivial to sacrifices made or that does not guarantee long-lasting peace. Both Syrians and Arabs pursue a settlement for Syria, a country that is central to Arab world’s both history and unwritten future.
The Arab world remains frail so long that Syria is a scene for ongoing transgressions sunk in disarray. Only the people of Syria can decide for their country. More so, Arabs want for Syrians to find a Syria that is home to all its diverse factions.

Iraq and Syria, post ISIS
Sawsan Al Shaer/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
With a new American administration in place an idea has begun to crystallize in the war against ISIS.
This idea is not limited to deploying helicopters and artillery in Raqqa and Mosul and empowering the presence of special forces but also includes forming a US-Gulf front that contributes to fighting ISIS on condition that the areas liberated from ISIS are not occupied by Iran or militias affiliated with it.
This is the major point concluded by the Moscow document and the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ visit to the Gulf and Iraq. So there’s a US-Russian-Turkish-Gulf agreement to end the Iranian expansion in Arab capitals. We must be clear regarding this point if the world wants our cooperation to eliminate ISIS.In exchange for any Gulf or Arab contribution in the war against ISIS, whether in Iraq or Syria, Iran must be outside these areas. This message must be clear to the Iraqi government. Mattis said that the US will continue to support Iraq even after it liberates it from ISIS.
If we link this stance to Mattis’ stance on Iran, as a state that sponsors terrorism, we will realize we are before a united front that does not only insist on the exit of Iranian forces from Iraq and Syria but that also wants to end Iranian influence in them. This message is conveyed by both, Gulf countries and the US.
Establishing a US-Gulf front is the headline of the next phase. It carries the slogan of the Arabism of the lands liberated from ISIS. It is soon that the world will clearly know who supports terrorism and helps ISIS stay and who really wants to get rid of it or use it an excuse to expand.
If Iraq wants Gulf countries to support its security and stability by cooperating with the US, it must act to address the security chaos caused by Iranian militias on its land
The exit of foreign forces and militias supported by Iran from Syria and Iraq is a major helpful goal. The post-ISIS phase is being discussed even before eliminating the group. This is what Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir mentioned when he announced his country’s willingness to send troops to Syria to combat ISIS in cooperation with the US. In an interview with the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Jubeir said: “Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries announced they’re willing to participate with special troops alongside the US. Some countries from the Islamic Alliance to fight terrorism and extremism are also ready to send troops.” He added: “We will coordinate with the US to know what the plan is and what is necessary to execute it.”
ISIS-combat plan
It is worth noting that the US President Donald Trump ordered Mattis to draw up a plan within 30 days to combat ISIS. Jubeir also told the German daily that he expects these plans to be proposed soon, indirectly hinting that liberated zones in Syria may be handed over to the opposition.
“The major idea is to liberate areas from ISIS and to also guarantee that these areas do not fall in the hands of Hezbollah, Iran or the (Syrian) regime,” Jubeir added. On January 4, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the Syrian regime must go back to the table of negotiations to hold direct negotiations with the opposition in order to achieve peaceful political transition in Syria. “We must send a strong message in which we demand that all foreign militias exit Syrian territories immediately,” he said. Turkish FM emphasized the importance of the withdrawal of all militias from Syria in the end of 2016 after what was known as the Russian-Iranian-Turkish document was announced. This document led to calling for the Astana conference in Kazakhstan. Therefore, Russia does not at all oppose Iran’s exit from Syria and Iraq as on the contrary this serves its interest if we take into consideration that Iran’s presence will keep the Syrian front ablaze even if the resistance is forced to give up its weapons.
The post-ISIS phase
Meanwhile in Iraq, talking about the post-ISIS phase has in fact begun. They also began to particularly address the Iranian situation, like the case is in Syria. This is why former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rushed to visit Iran in the beginning of January as he felt the circumstances are accumulating against Iran.He rushed to meet with Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s international affairs advisor, to be reassured over his future. On January 4, reported that according to the Mehr news agency, Maliki said he went to Iran to meet with Khamenei to discuss what he called “possible threats post-ISIS.”
Al-Arabiya’s report added: “This is a new political term in international and regional politics especially that the war against ISIS has not ended yet in Iraq and Syria. The point of Maliki’s statements that he went to Iran to discuss possible threats post-ISIS with Iranian officials are unclear as the extremist organization is not present among the Iranians and ISIS does not have any announced military activity in Iran.”
**This article is also available in Arabic.

Toward the rising sun
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
Asia is the biggest continent where more than one third of the world population lives. The continent’s population has quadrupled during the 20th century. The strange irony is that some geographers only consider Europe – which we always call the European continent – as a “western addition to Asia”. Mr. Barry Cunliffe, an Emeritus Professor of archaeology at Oxford University argues this while explaining his geographic location by saying there is no logical and materialistic separation between the mother continent and its political addition. Aside from this debate, Saudi Arabia has opened a new chapter with East Asia – the massive and calm East with its different directions. Each direction views itself as an important and different center regardless of how much economic or commercial blocs intertwined with the rest of the world. Each step toward the sun is calculated. Malaysian President Najib Abdul Razak made a significant statement when he honored the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, for choosing Malaysia as his first stop in his recent Asian tour. Abdul Razak noted that it is expected for Saudi investments to create thousands of job opportunities in a country, which has been one of the strongest and most stable Asian economies for years. The roles that Asian banks and companies will play will be major in terms of Saudi Arabia’s plans to develop non-oil industries and expand international investments
‘Purest land on earth’
The Malaysian cabinet’s statements suggest that they are very proud that Malaysian companies were picked to execute distinctive projects in “the purest land on earth” as Abdul Razak put it. He added that plans “also include operating and maintaining the South Line to the holy sites’ metro and working on the Jamarat Bridge and the area surrounding it in Mina.”“It’s a source of pride for us that Malaysia is part of the team which designed the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in the Grand Mosque,” the Malaysian president concluded. The Saudi people can sense this pride whenever they meet a Malaysian citizen.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, awarded the Saudi king with the Order of the Crown, the most significant Malaysian decorations, and commended the historical depth between the two countries especially as he addressed Saudi Arabia’s services to pilgrims and visitors of the holy sites. The Saudi king had delivered speech before him and said the kingdom always stands behind what serves Islam and Muslims across the world. The value of trade and investments between the two countries is significant. This is a renewed old Saudi orientation and King Salman defined it through bilateral cooperation and economic relations and investments. The value of commercial trade seems to be capable of steadily increasing in the next years with countries in Asia that the Saudi king’s current tour will include.
Trade and investment
Speaking of Malaysia, the value of trade in the past 10 years was $32 billion between the two countries. This shows the extent of economic and investment relations run between them.King Salman will head to Indonesia and newspapers have begun reporting on this visit ever since it was announced. These newspapers headlines voice great hope in the projects, which will be signed between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia as part of the king’s ambitious plan to reform the country’s economy and diversify investment. The roles that Asian banks and companies will play will be major in terms of Saudi Arabia’s plans to develop non-oil industries and expand international investments. The Saudi intent today seems clear and more serious on the level of economic integration and regional investments, which are distinguished by their historical depth. Indonesia will be the next stop, and then there will be Japan and China, the two more silent and productive giants. This will be followed by Maldives and Brunei. It is a tour toward the East where directions do not end and wonders do not cease.
*This article was first published in Al-Bayan on March 01, 2016.

The giant wakes up: Saudi Capital Market embraces new reforms
Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
The Gulf’s biggest stock exchange, the Saudi Tadawul, has belied the perception of being too slow to act, and has woken up with a roar, with some new reforms that could force the other Gulf bourses to follow suit. The most dramatic new changes are in allowing the listing of small capitalized Saudi firms, the so called SME’s-or Small and Medium sized Enterprises-to list in a parallel Saudi stock exchange to give a boost to this SME sector and expand the number of listed companies, compared to the current primary market which is dominated by larger capitalized and well establishes firms. On Sunday 26 February, the NOMU-Parallel stock market was launched with a debut of seven firms in the retail, food and industrial sectors and reached an initial market capitalization of SR 1.9 B, with all companies gaining 20 per cent on the first trading day, their maximum daily limit, but which admittedly is still a tiny fraction of the formal market with a capitalization of SR 1.512 T ($403 B), and 178 listed companies.
The minimum capitalization in this new parallel market is SR 10 M ($2.7 Mil) or 10 per cent of requirement of main market listing and trading is limited to “qualified investors” such as institutions and government related entities with a fluctuation limit of 20 per cent to avoid undue speculation and erratic share price movements by retail investors which has plagued the formal stock market, given the so called “herd mentality” of small retail investors who seek short term profit as opposed to long term value added investment returns like institutional investors. However retail investors can access these parallel market listings through investment funds, with specified investment strategies to reduce risk of direct investments. The seven new debut companies are a mixture of sizes, with IPO share prices ranging from SR 11 ($2.9) to SR 78 ($20.8), and the new number of shares listed ranging from 230,000 to 6,750,000 shares. “This is a positive move to add breadth and depth to the Saudi market which has been dominated by the larger IPO and capitalized companies and is part of the strategy to diversify the economy and provide new capital access to SME companies away from traditional bank lending”. The Gulf’s biggest stock exchange is seeking to attract more capital from abroad as Saudi Arabia goes through unprecedented economic and social change.
Vision 2030
Foreign investment is a cornerstone of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Saudi Vision 2030,” a blueprint for the post-oil period that includes plans to sell shares in state oil giant Saudi Aramco and expand its sovereign wealth fund into becoming the world’s largest. The private sector, and especially the SME sector, are slated to be the driving force for this new diversified Saudi economy and listing SME’s especially in the tourism, medical, food and IT sectors will assist in raising capital, expanding their base and creating local jobs.This new move has certainly put practical teeth to the longer term transformation plan, and the ordinary Saudi citizen can see the immediate benefit and participate in it. The list of possible new listing from the Saudi Joint Stock Companies (JSC’s) who are potentially eligible is truly staggering, with around 4,500 registered JSC’s, out of 68,000 Saudi private sector companies .
Given regional interest in the large Saudi stock exchange with its large consumer and industrial base, companies from the GCC will be allowed to list in the parallel market as a primary or secondary listing. According to the Saudi Stock Market head, 38 new companies will be listed in 2017, and the Saudi Capital Market Authority’s Vice Chairman Mohammed Al Kuwaiz said that the parallel market will be open to foreign qualified investors by 2Q 2017, and added that a lot of financial advisers are looking at the opening up of the market, as well as the privatization program and feel that the change in the overall market infrastructure is an opportunity, as the regulator has seen “a tremendously increasing amount of interest” from foreign firms seeking licensing to operate in Saudi Arabia.
Given regional interest in the large Saudi stock exchange with its large consumer and industrial base, companies from the Gulf Cooperation Council will be allowed to list in the parallel market as a primary or secondary listing. Separately, there are more reforms in the pipeline concerning the formal market and Saudi Arabia is counting on rules that will extend the settlement cycle on stock trades to attract more foreign investors as currently the Tadawul stock exchange has about fifty qualified foreign investors and expects to draw more after shifting to a T+2 cycle (transaction date plus two days for settlement) by the end of June 2017, a system used across most major exchanges, while the current system requires same-day settlement.
Foreign direct investment
The Saudi stock market started allowing limited foreign direct investment in 2015 and eased restrictions further last year and foreigners currently own about 4 per cent of shares, with regulators arguing for more qualified foreign investors be allowed to participate, as they will ostensibly add a longer term investment, value added approach by assessing economic fundamentals of Saudi listed companies and sectors as opposed to emotion driven intra -day retail sector trading.Another goal for Saudi Arabia is to be included in the prestigious emerging market MSCI or Morgan Stanley Capital International index, and the planned draft regulations for the settlement shift has already received encouraging feedback from most global index providers, including the MSCI. The kingdom is keen in seeking to join MSCI’s emerging market index, which is tracked by some of the world’s biggest fund managers.The “T+2”is an important piece of change for MSCI to move forward to include Saudi Arabia on its emerging-market watch list, as the new settlement cycle would bring the Tadawul in line with international best practices. No longer will foreign qualified investors have to hold large funds in the Kingdom with their local brokers to execute transactions on same day settlement basis, but can do so two days after the transaction allowing them to manage their international liquidity more efficiently. The lion has awakened.

Trump and the Russians
Hussein Shobokshi/Al Arabiya/March 01/17
To many observers of the American affairs, the resignation of US national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, following the revelation of his connection with Russian officials, did not come as a big surprise, rather it was a confirmation of the theory of Russia’s penetration into the administration of President Donald Trump. This also confirms the stories that were intensively circulating during the days of the presidential campaign pointing out “close relationship” between influential leaders in the Donald Trump’s inner circle and important officials in the Russian government. Apart from this, statements repeatedly made by Donald Trump himself during his presidential campaign, also heaped praises for Russian President Vladimir Putin.The issue is of serious concern in the US, especially with the media heavyweights of the likes of the New York Times, which normally represents opinions of the State Department and the Washington Post, which reflects the opinions of the Ministry of Defense, both have adopted a strong line of inquiry with Donald Trump accusing him of his suspicious links with the Russian officials.It is no secret that the veteran Vladimir Putin still feels the intense pain of bitterness suffered by the Soviets during their humiliating defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the Americans. Also there is a strong conviction about America’s involvement in breaking up of the former Soviet Union during the reign of former President Mikhail Gorbachev.America today is divided between those who say that the country has been kidnapped a constitutional coup at the hands of the extremists and those who claim that it has been restored to its owners
Signs of revenge
Today, according to Putin, America continues to threaten the security of Russia by its interference in Georgia and Ukraine — two traditionally former Russian states — and by planting missiles in eastern Europe, an issue which Russia considers as a direct threat to its national strategic security.
And there the signs of revenge gradually began to surface and the image of Trump, as if a Russian candidate, began to appear with increasing talk about the special relationship between Putin and Trump and the latter’s continuous refusal to criticize President Putin or oppose his controversial and dubious human rights record.Today there are very serious calls by the influential members in both the Democratic and Republican members of the Congress in the United States for extensive investigations into alleged breaches of Russian government in the decision-making policies in the White House and being a great threat to the US national security. This important issue came to light after allegations from the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s claims that the Russian intelligence services had managed to infiltrate in the functioning of the Democratic Party and learned the secrets of the private correspondence between its members.
Divided America
Not only this, Democrats also alleged that and also Russians hacked into the automatic electronic devices of the voting system during the US presidential election, which favored the Republican candidate Donald Trump. The fourth estate, a term given to the media system in the West, now functions in the “investigations and detection” for deciphering the mysteries of the relationship between President Donald Trump and the Russians. They believe that they will be able to know the “full truth,” just as they did in the investigation of the Watergate scandal during the era of former President Richard Nixon, which was exposed by a reporter from the Washington Post. America today is divided between those who say that the country has been kidnapped a constitutional coup at the hands of the extremists and those who claim that it has been restored to its owners and is being protected. While others are of the opinion that what is happening today is not presumed innocent and the mysterious and dubious relationship between President Trump and Russia must be revealed.
Excitement and suspense is going on in an unprecedented way, more than a month after the takeover of the US presidency by Donald Trump. It seems very exciting days are yet to come!
*This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on February 27, 2016.

Political Operatives Pose as Journalists, Human Rights Groups
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 1, 2017
The same activists and organizations were silent when the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces arrested al-Qiq and harassed his family. Amnesty International neglected to mention that al-Qiq has also been targeted by PA security forces and that, in addition to his work as a newsman, he is also affiliated with Hamas. This detail, according to Amnesty, is evidently not significant.
When arrested, such political operatives posing as journalists -- and so-called human rights groups, and the mainstream media in the West -- get to scream about Israel assaulting freedom of the media. This dirty little game has been played by Palestinian and Western journalists and highly politicized, biased human rights groups for years.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), which is headed by Nasser Abu Baker, did not come out in support of journalist, Sami al-Sai when he was arrested (and tortured) for 20 days in the PA's notorious Jericho Central Prison. Nor did Amnesty or most human rights organizations come out in defense of al-Sai.
Instead of calling on the PA leadership to release their detained colleague, Abu Baker and the PJS heads issued a statement in which they justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.
Nasser Abu Baker himself is affiliated with the PA's ruling Fatah faction. Recently, the AFP correspondent even ran (and lost) in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
While AFP has been reporting about the detention by Israel of al-Qiq, it has conspicuously failed to report about the plight of al-Sai and his serious charges of torture in PA prison. So a journalist arrested by the PA is not worth a story in an international media outlet, while anyone arrested by Israel gets wide coverage.
Now it is official: double standards, racism, and political activism are an integral part of the modern media.
Two Palestinian journalists are arrested -- one by Israel and the other by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The name of the one arrested by Israel is Muhammad al-Qiq. The name of the one arrested by the PA security forces is Sami al-Sai.
Although he is registered as a journalist, al-Qiq was arrested for security-related offenses completely unrelated to his profession. Israel did not arrest him because of his reporting or his writing, but because of his activities on behalf of Hamas. As a student at Bir Zeit University in 2006, al-Qiq was already known to be affiliated with Hamas. He was a member of the Islamic Bloc -- a student list belonging to Hamas.
Al-Qiq's affiliation with Hamas even got him into trouble with the Palestinian Authority; its forces arrested and interrogated him several times in the past few years. The last time his family received a visit from PA security officers was in 2014. Then, officers in plainclothes seized al-Qiq's laptop and personal documents.
Now, al-Qiq is in Israeli detention, where he has gone on hunger strike in protest against his arrest.
Guess who is campaigning on his behalf and demanding that Israel immediately and unconditionally release him from detention? The same PA that repeatedly arrested and harassed al-Qiq over the past few years.
In addition, human rights organizations and activists have endorsed the case and are now using it to attack Israel. These are the same activists and organizations that were silent when the PA security forces arrested al-Qiq and harassed his family.
One of these organizations is Amnesty International, which issued a statement last week calling on Israel to release the detained "journalist." Amnesty neglected to mention that al-Qiq has also been targeted by the PA security forces and that, in addition to his work as a newsman, he is also affiliated with Hamas. This detail, according to Amnesty, is evidently not significant.
The truth is that most, if not all, Palestinian journalists arrested by Israel are targeted not because of their work in the field of journalism, but because of their activities on behalf of various Palestinian groups, including Hamas. It is an open secret that many Palestinian "journalists" are in fact political activists who are openly affiliated with one terrorist group or another.
When arrested, such political operatives posing as journalists -- and so-called human rights groups, and the mainstream media in the West -- get to scream about Israel assaulting freedom of the media. This dirty little game has been played by Palestinian and Western journalists and highly politicized, biased human rights groups for years. Yet, why discuss it when you can leverage it against Israel?
Here is another missing fact related to the detention of the Hamas activist-turned journalist: The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), which is based in Ramallah, has also joined the campaign to demand the release of al-Qiq from Israeli detention.
Why is this detail important? Because the PJS, which is headed by Nasser Abu Baker (also spelled Abu Bakr), who also serves as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP), did not come out in support of the other journalist, Sami al-Sai, when he was arrested (and tortured) for 20 days in the PA's notorious Jericho Central Prison. Nor did Amnesty or most human rights organizations come out in defense of al-Sai when he was being held by the PA security forces.
Sami al-Sai, who works as a correspondent for a private television station in the Palestinian city of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, was arrested for "fomenting sectarian strife" through Facebook. This is a popular Palestinian Authority charge, one that is used to justify the arrest of anyone who criticizes PA leaders or who takes issue with the policies of Mahmoud Abbas.
The PJS at first refused to take up the case of al-Sai. The PJS rarely defends journalists who are critical of the PA. That is because the head of the PJS, Abu Baker himself, is affiliated with the PA's ruling Fatah faction. Recently, the AFP correspondent even ran (and lost) in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council. Facing criticism, Abu Baker and some of the heads of the PJS agreed to visit al-Sai in his prison cell in Jericho. But instead of calling on the Palestinian Authority leadership to release their detained colleague, Abu Baker and the PJS heads issued a statement in which they justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.
Nasser Abu Baker is a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and heads the Ramallah-based Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS). He is also a political operative who recently ran in (and lost) an election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council. When fellow journalist Sami al-Sai was thrown in jail for criticizing the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Facebook, Abu Baker and the PJS justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.
While AFP has been reporting about the detention by Israel of al-Qiq and other Palestinian "journalists," it has conspicuously failed to report about the plight of al-Sai and his serious charges of torture in PA prison.
So a journalist arrested by the Palestinian Authority is not worth a story in an international media outlet, while anyone arrested by Israel gets wide coverage.
Needless to say, Abu Baker, who covers Palestinian affairs for AFP, did not bother to write a story about his visit to the Jericho prison and the meeting with al-Sai.
As chairman of a Fatah-controlled body, Abu Baker is not going to report to AFP anything that would reflect negatively on the PA leadership.
Even more bizarre is that an AFP correspondent would be allowed to run for political office and continue with his work as if nothing happened. Would Le Monde allow its diplomatic correspondent to cover the French elections if he was also running for office? Apparently, the conflict of interest does not bother Abu Baker's superiors at AFP.
The case of the two journalists -- Muhammad al-Qiq and Sami al-Sai -- provides further evidence of the hypocrisy, double standards, bias and racism that the Palestinian and Western media continue to demonstrate concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any story that could negatively affect the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is not "fit for print." Human rights groups and the media clearly do not care if a Palestinian is detained and tortured by Palestinians.
A story becomes news when it is possible to lay blame on Israel. Western (and some Israeli) journalists covering Palestinian issues justify their double standard by arguing that if they criticized the PA or any of its senior figures, they would be barred from Ramallah or shouted at and denied access to sources. Here is the truth: prejudice works and intimidation works. Journalists and human rights groups would rather distort and practice self-censorship than report accurately about Israel or anger the Palestinian Authority leadership.
In Israel, however, journalists write negative things about the Israeli government and army and police from sunrise to sundown without fearing anything. Now it is official: double standards, racism, and political activism are an integral part of the modern media.
**Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
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Saudis Optimistic On Trump Administration's Middle East Policy, Express Hope It Will Act Against Iran
MEMRI/March 01/17
The beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump in the U.S. generated optimism in Saudi Arabia about the new American administration. This was especially the case in light of the previous presidency, that of Barack Obama, during which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia grew apart, and the Obama administration's measures in the Middle East that were contradictory to Saudi political positions – the apex of which was the JCPOA agreement.
Although during the elections the Saudis expressed no explicit support for Trump, since his inauguration they are expecting the next four years to bring U.S. action aimed at weakening Iran and supporting Saudi policy, and at strengthening U.S.-Saudi ties as well as U.S. ties with other Sunni countries.
These Saudi expectations have been bolstered by some anti-Iran statements made and measures taken by the new U.S. administration. Among other things, President Trump attacked the JCPOA, calling it a bad deal that saved Iran from bankruptcy,[1] and Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that Iran the world's "biggest state sponsor of terrorism."[2]President Trump also tweeted criticism of Iran's takeover of increasingly large parts of Iraq.[3]Additionally, following the January 30, 2017 attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis on a Saudi frigate on the Yemeni border, the U.S. deployed the USS Cole to the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb off the coast of Yemen.[4]Furthermore, according to recent reports, the administration is considering designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.[5]
Saudi expectations of U.S. policy under Donald Trump and praise for the new administration and its perceived policies are being expressed in statements by Saudi officials as well as in numerous articles and cartoons in the Saudi press. Additionally, many of the articles discussing the administration predicted that future American moves in the Middle East would serve Saudi interests, particularly in its rivalry with Iran.
This report will review comments by Saudi officials, as well as excerpts from articles in the Saudi press published since President Trump's inauguration, reflecting this Saudi optimism vis-à-vis the new U.S. administration.
Saudi Officials: Trump's Aggressive Messages To Iran Are A Welcome Change
The compatibility between the political positions of the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia's desire to weaken Iran and consolidate its image as fighting terrorism were clearly expressed in a January 29, 2017 phone conversation between President Trump and Saudi King Salman. According to the White House, the two agreed that the JCPOA must be "rigorously enforced," and that Iranian actions that destabilize the Middle East should be addressed. They also agreed to bolster their joint efforts to combat the spread of radical Islamic terrorism.[6] A Saudi news agency report on the conversation also stated that President Trump and King Salman see eye to eye on the issues of the fight against terrorism and its financing, and that they discussed the U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership and its economic, security, and military aspects.[7] These same topics were raised in another phone call, on January 31, between Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in which the two discussed the implementation of the previous conversation between the two leaders on U.S.-Saudi strategic cooperation, the fight against terrorism, and opposition to Iranian interference in Middle East affairs.[8]
Saudi Arabia's enthusiasm about the new American administration was clearly discernable in comments by Saudi officials, chiefly Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Foreign Minister 'Adel Al-Jubeir, before and after Trump's inauguration, expressing overt support for the U.S. and hostility towards Iran.
Thus, on January 9, 2017, some two weeks before Trump's inauguration, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman told Foreign Affairs magazine in an interview that he was interested in renewing the strategic dialogue between the countries, which under Obama had stopped for reasons that were not clear.[9] Similarly, in a January 15 press conference, Al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia has no fear of Trump, but seeks the same thing he seeks in fighting terrorism and in firmness vis-à-vis Iran.[10] In a separate press conference in Riyadh, on January 24, Al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia supports the vision of President Trump, who seeks to combat ISIS and block Iran, adding that Saudi-U.S. relations are longstanding, as is their ongoing cooperation in security, politics, and economics. He also said that Saudi Arabia yearns for a positive American future worldwide.[11]
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2017, Al-Jubeir praised Trump, calling him "a pragmatic man who seeks to solve crises and lead the world, and who acts to close any loophole that terrorist organizations could exploit." He added: "Just like us, he believes that we must get rid of ISIS, and the officials he appointed to his administration have a lot of experience and are highly capable. Therefore, we expect to see American involvement [in Middle East issues] and rational foreign policy..." Al-Jubeir also echoed the Trump administration's designation of Iran as the country that sponsors terrorism more than any other in the world.[12]
Trump declares Iran "No. 1 Terrorist" ('Okaz, Saudi Arabia, February 8, 2017)
The following day, Al-Jubeir added to his praise for Trump and his policy, in an interview with the German daily Der Spiegel, in which he said that Trump was realistic and not crazy, and that the Saudis share his goals of combatting terrorism and upping the pressure on Iran. As for Trump's ban on entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven Muslim countries, Al-Jubeir said that the decision did not target Saudi Arabia and that in any case the Saudis respect Washington's right to oversee all those who come into the country. He added that Saudi Arabia was optimistic and was expecting more cooperation with the U.S. than in the past, and that Trump's aggressive messages to Iran were a welcome change.[13]
Saudi Press: High Expectations From The Trump Administration's Anti-Iran Policies
Saudi expectations of closer relations with the new American administration and of a stronger regional status for Saudi Arabia were also widely expressed in the Saudi press. News of Saudi-American contacts and anti-Iran moves by the U.S. made the front pages of official Saudi newspapers. Several editorials and op-eds praised the U.S. policy under Trump, and predicted that Iran faced a bitter fate if it continued its attempts to influence political conflicts in the Middle East, and offered other predictions on moves Trump could make in Iraq and Yemen that would also serve Saudi interests. Many cartoons also focused on the substantial American pressure on Iran.
On the other hand, several articles in the Saudi press also called for tempering expectations from the Trump administration, arguing that Saudis must first wait and see what Trump will actually do, beyond his hawkish statements.
Editorials: Trump's Administration "Will Have No Patience With Iran," Is "Not Ruling Out The Possibility Of Military Action Against" It
Editorials in the official Saudi press were openly delighted by Trump's stern messages to Iran, and presented assessments that his U.S. policy would be more aggressive towards Iran than the Obama administration's – particularly with regard to enforcing the JCPOA. Thus, the Saudi daily 'Okaz wrote in an editorial: "It has become clear that the American administration of President Donald Trump will have no patience with Iran. Apparently, [Iran] considered the 'bribes' that it received from the previous president, Barack Obama, in order to arrive at an agreement on its nuclear program to be an American weakness from which Washington would never recover. [But now] it is clear to the American administration that Iran is engaged in activity aimed at destabilizing [the region], that it is seeking to harm U.S. allies, and that it is violating the UN ban on supplying [arms] to revolutionary militias in Yemen. The [January 30, 2017] attempt [by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen] to blow up a Saudi frigate off the coast of Yemen and the [January 29, 2017] test [launching] of a ballistic missile against the Gulf states were a step too far, and Washington could no longer remain silent as it had under Obama.
"Therefore, [then-]National Security advisor Michael Flynn spoke sternly and warned that the U.S. would absolutely not remain silent over Iran's suspicious activities, and President Trump later reminded the Khamenei regime, in a tweet, that Iran would have been on the verge of collapse without the funds sent by Obama on the pretext that these were frozen Iranian funds.
"These developments are coming in the wake of a phone conversation between King Salman and Trump... and also after a follow-up phone conversation between Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Secretary of State Jim Matthews [sic; James Mattis], in which they agreed that Iran's terror activity, which aims to destabilize [certain] countries and interfere in their [internal] affairs, whether directly or via its agents and proxies [in those countries], must be dealt with. Another interesting thing was Trump's tweet from yesterday [February 2, 2017] regarding Iranian hegemony in Iraq, which he said is increasing every day. These are all signs that this will be a critical year for the lies and threats by Iran, which is trapped in delusions of joining the nuclear club and in dreams of gnawing away at the Arabian Peninsula and the Fertile Crescent."[14]
Al-Riyadh made similar arguments in an editorial, even predicting a possible U.S.-Iran military conflict: "The air of escalation in the Washington-Tehran discourse is continuing, and is exacerbated by the tweets by American President, Donald Trump... He accused Iran of 'playing with fire' and added: '[T]hey don't appreciate how 'kind' president Obama was to them. Not me!' This shows that Trump will not continue in his predecessor's footsteps in dealing with the Iranian dossier; rather, he will be stricter about the implementation of the nuclear agreement and will make no concessions on the path to blocking Iran [from attaining nuclear weapons]. This is especially true since Washington considers Tehran a major supporter of terrorism, in both the region and the world.
"The characteristics of Trump's view on dealing with the Iranian regime were clarified by his previous tweets, in which he called the nuclear agreement 'terrible.' This shows that he is completely dissatisfied with this agreement and is searching for a way that will allow him to cancel it. He is also not ruling out the possibility of military action against the Iranian regime. Thus, all signs point to the new American administration sooner or later entering into direct conflict with the Iranian regime, and there is no better evidence for this than the economic sanctions against 13 Iranian individuals and 12 Iranian companies – a first step that will surely be followed by more that are no less aggressive..."[15]
Saudi Columnist: The Trump Administration's Position Towards Iran Is Identical To That Of The Gulf States; Muslim Brotherhood Could Be Designated A Terrorist Organization
High hopes for anti-Iran action by the Trump administration were also expressed in op-eds by many Saudi writers. Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, also argued that the new American administration would be harsher on Iran and would also act decisively against political Islam movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). He wrote: "All signs point to the fact that the Iranians, and the Arabs who follow in their path, have rough years ahead of them. We can also expect the MB to be classified as a terrorist organization, so that its supporters will be persecuted and pressured, just like members of the terrorist organization Hizbullah.
"It is clear to all that the position of President Trump and his administration officials on Iran's ayatollahs is the same as the position that the Gulf [countries] attempted to persuade President Obama [to adopt]. But [Obama] and his administration insisted on disregarding all these Gulf efforts and blatantly ignored Iran's terrorist activity and the expansion it and its militias were carrying out in the region... According to many analysts, a harsh phase of economic sanctions [on Iran] by the Trump administration will strangle its domestic economy once again, particularly because President Trump, unlike President Obama, is a man who 'does what he says he will do'... I do not believe that President Trump will use military force to punish the Persian ayatollahs, but Iran will likely suffocate from a collection of [U.S.] decisions that constitute economic siege, which is like a slow death for countries nowadays...
"Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries suffered greatly during President Obama's two terms, and the Arab world also suffered from what the Americans called 'the Arab Spring.' It seems as though that phase is now a part of history, with Obama's departure and Hillary Clinton's election loss. Based on the fact that Trump and his team took a stand against terrorism and are acting to uproot it and all its elements – as [Trump] promised he would do – I can say that ultimately political Islam, both Sunni and Shi'ite, will become a target for elimination, in order to destroy terrorism..."[16]
Former Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Trump Must Take Steps Against Iran In Order To Protect American Interests
Salman Al-Dosari, a former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, proposed a series of anti-Iran steps for the new American administration that would protect its interests in the region and that are also largely in line with Saudi interests there. He wrote: "Washington has four cards it can use to isolate Iran: The first is to raise the price Iran [pays] for continuing its intransigence, and focusing on meticulously implementing the nuclear agreement, instead of canceling it, at least for now. This will ensure that Iran's ability to produce a nuclear bomb does not increase, and also that the 'biggest state sponsor of terrorism,' as Washington calls it, will be deterred. The second card is to cancel the disaster of handing Iraq over to Iran, since this is what gave the Iranian government, and its militias and proxies, free rein to expand in the region and threaten American interests...
"The third card is to include Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its associate organizations in the list of terrorist organizations. Since they are not so designated, they are sowing terrible destruction and chaos, and harming American interests, under an official umbrella that allows them [to do] what other terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda cannot.
"The fourth card is to tighten the noose on Iran's aid to [Houthi] revolutionaries in Yemen – an element threatening peace and promoting chaos in that country, [which persists] so long as [Iran's] weapons shipments to its allies in Yemen continue in violation of the UN ban on weapons transfers. This [Iranian] activity is also a direct provocation against UN [Security Council] Resolution 2231, which codifies the nuclear agreement, and is a clear example of Iran's lack of serious commitment to the agreement. If Tehran continues to violate the nuclear agreement, the U.S. will have no choice but to distance itself from the agreement.
"It should be mentioned that the U.S.'s new anti-Iran policy does not mean a desire for or encouragement of war, since no side is interested in such a war. However, the new American administration is clearly aware of the serious danger that Iran poses to its interests...
"The future will apparently bring an increase in the level of conflict, so that it is indeed less than a war, but [will be conducted] by means that are sufficient to largely thwart Iran's activity."
Criticism Of High Expectations From Trump: He Is No Different From His Predecessors; There Is No Change On The Ground
Alongside the many articles expressing joy and optimism about Trump's Middle East policy, particularly his intentions regarding Iran, several writers called to temper expectations and wait for the American administration to take actual steps that promote Saudi interests. For example, 'Abd Al-Aziz Al-Sweid, a writer for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, wrote: "The American administration is conducting a media campaign against the ayatollah regime in Iran, but [this campaign] is confined to statements made by the president and by his aides, who repeat his words. As for the sanctions levelled [by the U.S.] on companies tied to Iran – this is nothing new, since the previous American administration did the same thing gradually, but at the same time also gave Iran hundreds of millions of dollars, worked with it in Iraq, and promoted its [Houthi] agent in Yemen.
"In a short time, the Trump administration issued a new batch of dire statements against Iran, to the point that it seemed to anyone following Trump that he was riding his dark horse while drawing his two pistols in Khamenei's face! This new batch [of statements] is nothing but political narcotics, which are different in quality from those used by Kerry and Obama. The reality we face does not herald changes on the ground. American forces still operate side-by-side with the IRGC in Iraq. Two days ago, an IRGC official was killed in Mosul. Was he operating far from the binoculars of American troops? If Trump is so extreme, why does he continue to allow, or not to oppose, the barbaric crimes that the sectarian PMU [in Iraq] and its leaders from Khamenei's IRGC commit against Sunni Iraqi citizens, including children and elderly, under the pretext that they are terrorists?!"[17]
[1], February 2, 2017.
[2] Al-Youm (Saudi Arabia), February 5, 2017.
[3], February 1, 2017.
[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 5, 2017.
[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 7, 2017; Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), February 9, 2017.
[6], January 29, 2017.
[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 30, 2017.
[8] Al-Hayat (London), February 1, 2017.
[9] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 9, 2017.
[10], January 20, 2017.
[11] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 25, 2017.
[12], February 19, 2017.
[13], February 20, 2017. For more on Saudi Arabia's attitude regarding Trump's Executive Order, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1299, Arab World Split Over President Trump's Executive Order Suspending Entry Of Citizens From Arab And Islamic Countries Into The U.S., February 7, 2017.
[14] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 3 2017.
[15] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), February 4, 2017.
[16] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), February 5, 2017.T
[17] Al-Hayat (London), February 7, 2017.