March 14/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 23/01-12/:"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich

Second Letter to the Corinthians 08/01-09/:"We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 13-14/17
Intel Minister: Hezbollah's 'Golan Liberation Brigade' increases Iran risk/Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/March 13/17
Manbij: Syria’s Modern Day “Danzig”/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/17
Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent/DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 13, 2017
From Execution to Medieval Torture: "Iran's Mandela", Ayatollah Boroujerdi/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 13/17
The Dirty Little Secret of Palestinian Journalism - with Agence France-Presse Collusion/Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 13/17
On The Backdrop Of Copts Fleeing Sinai, Egyptian Establishment, Al-Azhar Criticized For Helplessness In Dealing With ISIS, Discrimination Of Copts/C. Meital/MEMRI/March 13/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 13-14/17
Intel Minister: Hezbollah's 'Golan Liberation Brigade' increases Iran risk
Hezbollah, Syrian Army to withdraw from border area if Syrian rebels agree to fight ISIS
Iran Prepared Missile Factory for Lebanese Hezbollah
Saudi Minister Speaks of US-Israel War Against Iran, Hizbullah
STL President Submits Eighth Annual Report
Raad Says Electoral Law Must be Fully Based on Proportional Representation to Achieve 'Change'
Hariri Asks FM to Prepare U.N. Complaint over Israel Threats
Bassil Suggests New Electoral Law Format, Paves Way for Senate Establishment
Parties React to Bassil's Latest Electoral Law Proposal
Armed Bank Robbery in Hazmieh
Kataeb Marks March 14 Anniversary
Gemayel Says State Must Stop Corruption Instead of Imposing Taxes
Geagea, Girard tackle refugee affairs
Health Minister concludes Tripoli visit
Hasbani visits Tripoli Mufti: We brace health sector
Riachy opens door to Tele Liban Chairman Post application

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 13-14/17
320,000 Dead, 4.9 Million Refugees: Syria's War in Numbers
Six Years On, Aleppo Dares to Dream of End to Syria War
Turkey-Netherlands Crisis Deepens after Erdogan's Nazi Jibe
Syria Rebels Will Not Attend Astana Peace Talks
Gunmen Open Gunfire at Cement Factory in Ain Dara
Green Light Given for Egypt's Mubarak to Walk Free
British Boycott Supporter Refused Entry to Israel
Powerful Saudi Prince to Meet Trump
Iraq Forces Advance after Jihadists 'Trapped' in Mosul
Iran FM Says Netanyahu Faking History and Jewish Faith
Egyptian prosecutor allows release of Hosni Mubarak
Kellyanne Conway says she has no evidence to back Trump wiretap claim
President al Assad to European media: Western and European embargo is complimentary with the destruction and attacks of the terrorists in pushing people to leave their country
Iranian Banks' Debts Increase by 173% in 10 Months
Unemployment in Iran Stands at 35 to 40 Percent
Iran Regime's Factional Mistrusts Over Relations With Russia
Ambassador Adam Ereli: Iran Regime's Basic Structures Are Weak and Unstable

Links From Jihad Watch Site for March 13-14/17
Why Canada’s “Prime Minister Dreamboat” will come to regret his embrace of refugees
Tunisia: Imam leads jihad attack against police checkpoint, murdering police officer
UK: Islamic books promoting jihad and killing of gays and adulterers sold openly
King: “we can’t restore our civilisation with someone else’s babies”
Germany spent more than $21,000,000,000 on refugees in 2016 as crisis outstrips state budgets
Sweden paying welfare benefits to multiple jihadis who went from Sweden to fight in Syria and Iraq
Abu Dhabi: Non-Muslim couple imprisoned for sex before marriage
Hugh Fitzgerald: The Once and Future Al-Andalus
North Dakota: Muslim calls 911 47 times to say he supports the Islamic State and hates Trump
UK: Muslims barrage Muslima in hijab with death threats for twerking

Links From Christian Today Site On March 13-14/17
Most US Evangelicals Reject Female Leadership, Research Shows
Nicola Sturgeon Demands New Independence Referendum For Scotland
Bishop Calls For 'Thanksgiving' Prayers For Gay Couples
Bill To Decriminalise Abortions Passes First Stage
Pope Francis May Be 'Backsliding' On Paedophile Crackdown
Dean Of Exeter Retires After Fierce Row With His Bishop
Black Southern Baptist Leader Urges Reconciliation Between Russell Moore And His Critics
Why Religious Freedom Is Vital: British Parliamentarian Speaks Out On Commonwealth Day
Bulgarian Church 'Should Win' Nobel Peace Prize For Protecting Jews During Holocaust
Jordan Soldier Who Shot Israeli Schoolchildren Freed After End Of Sentence
Man Faces 10-year Sentence After Scaling White House Fence

Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 13-14/17
Intel Minister: Hezbollah's 'Golan Liberation Brigade' increases Iran riskلواء تحرير الجولان يزيد من الأخطار الإيرانية
Anna Ahronheim/Jerusalem Post/March 13/17
"We will not permit Arab and Islamic countries in the region to remain in the grasps of the occupiers," the group's spokesperson said at a press conference in Iran.
The formation of a new Hezbollah brigade which aims to liberate the Golan Heights from Israel increases the threat posed by Iran on the northern border, Minister of Intelligence and member of Security Cabinet Israel Katz told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“The so called ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’ sharpens the threat posed by the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria in general and on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in particular,” he said.
“I have been saying for a long time that if Iran is allowed to base itself in Syria it will be a threat to Israel's national security and a constant source of regional instability and tension and friction with the Sunni majority in Syria and with the Sunni countries in the region as well,” Katz added.
The latest Iranian proxy to be formed in Syria is a brigade that was announced last week by the spokesman for the Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Seyed Hashem Moussavi at a press conference in Iran.
“After the latest victories [in Syria and Iraq], we established the ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’. This is a trained army with specific plans. If the government of Syria requests, we and our allies are ready to take action to liberate Golan,” Moussavi was quoted by Iran’s Tasnim news agency as saying.
“We will not permit Arab and Islamic countries in the region to remain in the grasps of the occupiers,” he added.
According to Moussavi, the brigade members are well trained special forces and well-armed, ready to assist the Syrian regime in retaking the Golan Heights, territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
The group also released a 45-second video promoting the newly formed Golan liberation brigade, with dozens of balaclava-wearing fighters marching with a banner reading “Israel will be destroyed.”
An offshoot of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Shiite militia Asaib al-Haq, Harakat al Nujaba, or Movement of the Noble, was formed in 2013 to fight for the Syrian regime.The leader of the group, Akram al-Kaabi has sworn allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, recently meeting with his representative to Iraq, Sayyed Mojtaba Hosseini and the group takes direct orders from Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani, the chief of the IRGC’s Quds Force.
Iran is known to operate in Syrian Golan, deploying senior Iranian military commanders there and even publicizing an inspection of the city of Quneitra near the Israel border by the then-commander of the IRGC Basij paramilitary Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Naghdi in July of last year.
The strategic importance of the Golan and the Iranian presence there has Israel concerned, and Jerusalem has reportedly carried out dozens of strikes inside Syria against senior Iranian commanders as well as Hezbollah convoys to prevent the group from obtaining advanced weaponry.
Hezbollah is increasingly gaining access to the Golan and now has a non-Lebanese front from which to target Israel. But, according to Lt. Col. (res.) Mordechai Kedar, Israel should not look at the northern border as two separate entities, but as one continuous front.
“Today there is no difference between the Lebanese front and the Syrian front because Hezbollah is in control of both. It is one continuous front controlled by Hezbollah from the Mediterranean Sea to Quientra to the Hermon valley. And that is how Israel should see it,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
According to Keder, even if Hezbollah were to attack Israel from Syria, the IDF will attack Lebanon. “Israel has sent a very clear message to Hassan Nasrallah that in the next war Israel will destroy Lebanon in order to get Hezbollah on their knees.”
Phillip Smyth, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Post that numerous pro-Assad/Iranian-backed organizations have pledged to “liberate the Golan” in the past.
“However, right now, these groups are focused on fighting Syrian rebels and Sunni jihadists operating in Syria. That does not mean that these groups don't have the loftier strategic goal of eventually fighting the State of Israel. Though, their actual current capabilities would not currently permit them to pull off those hopes.”Nevertheless, Hezbollah is one of the most prominent terror organizations in the world, and while the group has become bogged down fighting in Syria for President Bashar Assad, they have gained immeasurable fighting experience, as well as new advanced weaponry, including Soviet-made T-72 tanks, Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles armored personnel carriers, rapid response motorcycles and KS-12A anti-aircraft weapons.
But while the terror group may currently be using 40 year old tanks, a senior officer in the IDF’s armored corps said that as Hezbollah is becoming much stronger, Israel is concerned that the terror group might get its hands on more advanced tanks in the future.
The senior IDF officer said that the next war with Hezbollah “will be a real war,” no longer against a militant group, but a full fledged and powerful army. The terror group now has varying levels of fighting capabilities that include both guerrilla and conventional tactics and more effective military capabilities then when Israel last fought a war with the group in 2006.

Hezbollah, Syrian Army to withdraw from border area if Syrian rebels agree to fight ISIS
Chris Tomson/AMN/13/03/2017/DAMASCUS, SYRIA – In a bid to resolve several years of deadlock in the mountainous West Qalamoun region, Moscow offered local rebel factions on the border between Syria and Lebanon a deal which would have the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Hezbollah (Lebanese paramilitary) withdraw from its checkpoints in the area if opposition groups agree to expel ISIS insurgents. However, Islamist militants loyal to newly formed Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (Syrian Al-Qaeda branch) are not part of the agreement but were nevertheless offered an option to evacuate their forces to Idlib province, considered rebel heartland. If local opposition factions comply and kick out ISIS militants, the SAA will allow government institutions in the area to run under rebel control, somewhat similar to the compromise situation in the East Qalamoun. According to an opposition source, the unorthodox deal was offered under the table by the Russian Centre for Reconciliation on Sunday. Rebel commanders are yet to reply to the enquiry. Across the border in Lebanon, ISIS controls most of the northern part of Arsal while Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham controls the southern part. The two jihadist groups often clash with one another, as well as the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah.

Iran Prepared Missile Factory for Lebanese Hezbollah
NCRI/Monday/13 March 2017/Following the destruction of Iran’s missile production factory in Sudan by Israeli warplanes in 2012, Tehran went on to establish a new such factory in Lebanon. A Revolutionary Guards commander has reportedly said Iran launched numerous arms factories in various parts of Lebanon and handed over control to Hezbollah three months ago, according to a report published Saturday in the al-Jarida daily. These factories are able to build various types of missiles with ranges of over 500 kilometers. This includes surface-to-surface, surface-to-sea, and torpedoes designed to be launched from light and fast-attack boats. Armed drones, anti-tank missiles and fast armored boats are also built in these factories. The weapons produced in these factories have been successfully tested in Syria, this IRGC commander added. These factories were handed over to Hezbollah experts through a step-by step process. Anti-tank weapons built by these factories have been used time and again in Syria. Rifles, cannons, anti-air artillery, mortar launchers, various types of missiles and bullets, especially anti-armor are other weapons built and tested by Hezbollah arms experts in these factories. These sites, spread across the country in unknown locations, are located more than 50 meters below ground level and protected by numerous layers of armored cement to prevent Israeli fighter jets from destroying them, sources say. Each factory produces a particular part of the missiles and weaponry, and they are assembled at yet another unknown site.This IRGC commander has reportedly been educated at Tehran’s Imam Hossein University (affiliated to the IRGC). This facility is tasked to train hundreds of foreign, and especially Lebanese, elements and to this day hundreds of experts have received their education at this site. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said last week the Lebanese Hezbollah is now able to build missiles with ranges covering all of Israel. Prior to this he had emphasized on the necessity to “wipe out Israel.”

Saudi Minister Speaks of US-Israel War Against Iran, Hizbullah
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 13/17/Saudi Foreign Minster Adel al-Jubeir has reportedly said that the United States and Israel plan to wage a war against Iran and Hizbullah, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. During a visit to Iraq in February, al-Jubeir spoke of a future war that Washington and Tel Aviv intend to wage against Iran and Hizbullah, the daily quoted unnamed sources on condition of anonymity. They added that the atmospheres of a potential war impacts all the files put for discussion in Lebanon starting with attempts seeking to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections or in the context of new domestic political alignments, said the daily without disclosing further details. The Saudi Minister visited Baghdad in February, the first such visit by a chief diplomat from the kingdom since 2003, where he held talks with Iraq's leadership. Last Week, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks focusing on the situation in Syria and Israeli concerns about the role of Iran and its proxies there, including Hizbullah. Netanyahu's visit to Moscow follows his talks last month with U.S. President Donald Trump. Netanyahu praised Russia's role in fighting the Islamic State group and other radical militants in Syria. At the same time, he raised strong concern about the presence of Iranian and Hizbullah forces in Syria. Russia has sided with Iran and Hizbullah in helping support Syrian President Bashar Assad, but at the same time it has maintained warm ties with Israel. The two nations have coordinated their actions to prevent any possible incidents between their militaries in Syria.

STL President Submits Eighth Annual Report
Naharnet/March 13/17/The President of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Judge Ivana Hrdličková, has submitted the Tribunal's eighth Annual Report to the U.N. Secretary-General and the Government of Lebanon, the STL said in a statement on Monday. “Over the reporting period, the STL remained primarily focused on completing judicial proceedings in the Ayyash et al. case and promoting the effective functioning and the good administration of justice,” stated Judge Hrdličková. “This resulted in the Trial Chamber and parties committing themselves to a schedule that should see the completion of the Prosecution’s case-in-chief in the coming months. The upcoming phase of the proceedings will also present the opportunity for both the Legal Representatives of Victims and the Defense teams to present their case in the courtroom,” she added. The Annual Report describes the activities of the Tribunal from March 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017 and its objectives for the coming year. It also highlights the judicial and non-judicial developments in the STL's Chambers, Office of the Prosecutor, Defense Office and Registry. “On behalf of the Tribunal, I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the enduring support— both financial and nonfinancial —of Lebanon and the international community, without which our work would not be possible. The Tribunal is committed to carrying out its functions as efficiently as possible and minimizing costs in the process,” Judge Hrdličková says in the report's introduction, addressing Prime Minister Saad Hariri and U.N. chief Antonio Guterres.

Raad Says Electoral Law Must be Fully Based on Proportional Representation to Achieve 'Change'
Naharnet/March 13/17/The head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Mohammed Raad stressed Monday that only an electoral law fully based on the proportional representation system can achieve “change” in the country. “Hizbullah rejects any electoral law that doesn't respect the balances stipulated by the constitution and the Document of National Accord and any electoral law that doesn't preserve coexistence and equal power-sharing,” Raad said, underlining that the law should also achieve “correct and effective representation.”“We are before a juncture that could contribute to improving the country's situations... Hizbullah is not obstructing any electoral law format but rather obstructing the formats that do not want an electoral law and that want to turn Lebanon into a farm whose shares are distributed to cronies,” Raad added. “When we insist on an electoral law fully based on proportional representation we do that because we want correct representation and because we're convinced that only an electoral law fully based on proportional representation can achieve correct representation,” the MP stressed. “We can later discuss the issue of expanded electoral districts if you want. This is not out of intransigence but rather because we are fully convinced that there is a chance at this time to achieve the needed change,” Raad went on to say. Noting that change is not a “slogan” but rather a “practice and an equation,” the lawmaker said change cannot be achieved through “preserving the previous sizes” of the parliamentary blocs. “Change also doesn't necessitate curbing the previous sizes or exaggerating some of the future sizes,” Raad added. Earlier in the day, Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil proposed a hybrid electoral law under which 64 MPs would be elected according to the proportional representation system and 64 others would be elected by their respective sects under a winner-takes-all system. Hizbullah has repeatedly called for an electoral law fully based on proportional representation but al-Mustaqbal Movement and Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat have both rejected the proposal. Mustaqbal argues that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds while Jumblat has warned that such an electoral system would “marginalize” the minority Druze community whose presence is concentrated in the Chouf and Aley areas.

Hariri Asks FM to Prepare U.N. Complaint over Israel Threats
Naharnet/March 13/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday asked Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil to prepare a U.N. complaint over Israel's latest threats against Lebanon. “The repeated threats that are being voiced by Israeli government officials and in the media against Lebanon's civilians and their legitimate institutions and infrastructure are aimed at covering up for Israel's constant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, to which Lebanon is committed,” Hariri said at the beginning of a cabinet session. “Lebanon has always called for the implementation of UNSCR 1701 and all its stipulations,” Hariri added. “I call on the foreign minister to document these official Israeli stances that have been declared through the media in order to prepare a detailed letter about them to the U.N. Security Council so that the international community shoulders its responsibility towards this premeditated stirring of tensions and this blatant threat to regional stability,” the PM went on to say.

Bassil Suggests New Electoral Law Format, Paves Way for Senate Establishment
Naharnet/March 13/17/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil suggested a new electoral law format for Lebanon's parliamentary elections after all other formats failed to garner consensus of political parties, stressing that the proposal paves way for establishing a Senate. “The new electoral law divides parliament seats equally,” said Bassil in a press conference announcing the format. “One half of the lawmakers would be elected under a majoritarian system based on 14 districts, while the other half would be elected under a proportional system based on 4 districts. Each sect would elect its own deputies,” stated the Minister. The minister said the proposal in question was a first step toward the establishment of a Senate whose president would be “Christian, non-Maronite, in order to respect parity.”The Free Patriotic Movement plans to find a just law that provides proper representation for everyone, assured Bassil, stressing that “there will be no political stability in the country unless we reach a new law.”“We have weighed what each party refuses in an electoral law format and have therefore suggested a new proposal that divides parliamentary seats equally between proportional and majoritarian.”He announced that he was waiting for the response of Lebanese parties over his proposal, wishing to get the approval of everyone. However, he explained that if the proposal was rejected, the mixed electoral bill still existed.

Parties React to Bassil's Latest Electoral Law Proposal
Naharnet/March 13/17/Progressive Socialist Party sources on Monday lashed out at the latest electoral law format that was proposed by Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil earlier in the day. “It does not lead to correct and fair representation and it rather meets the FPM's ambitions, or specifically Bassil's personal ambitions,” the PSP sources told the Akhbar al-Yawm news agency. “It strengthens sectarianism and complements the current alliance between the FPM and the Lebanese Forces, seeing as it calls for each sect to elect its own MPs, knowing that what's needed is a law that liberates the country from the chains of sectarianism,” the sources added. Asked about Bassil's remarks on the creation of a Christian-chaired senate, the sources noted that should a senate be established, its chairmanship should be allotted to the Druze community. “We are against sectarianism,” State Minister for Human Rights Ayman Shuqair of the PSP told reporters when asked the same question ahead of a cabinet session at the Grand Serail. Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq of al-Mustaqbal Movement meanwhile told reporters that he is yet to examine Bassil's proposal and that he “has not been informed of Mustaqbal's endorsement of the suggestion.”Bassil hit back swiftly at Mashnouq, saying: “It seems that I am faster than Minister Mashnouq.”Sport and Youth Minister Mohammed Fneish of Hizbullah meanwhile told the Central News Agency that a specialized Hizbullah committee is “studying” Bassil's proposal. Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is expected to announce the party's official stance on Bassil's suggestion during a speech on Saturday, the agency said. “We are still clinging to an electoral law fully based on proportional representation in the absence of an alternative that achieves the same fair and correct representation,” Fneish added. Bassil's proposal calls for electing 64 MPs according to the proportional representation system in five electorates whereas the other 64 would be elected by their respective sects under a winner-takes-all system in 14 electorates. Hizbullah has repeatedly called for an electoral law fully based on proportional representation but Mustaqbal and PSP leader MP Walid Jumblat have both rejected the proposal. Mustaqbal argues that Hizbullah's arms would prevent serious competition in the party's strongholds while Jumblat has warned that such an electoral system would “marginalize” the minority Druze community whose presence is concentrated in the Chouf and Aley areas.

Armed Bank Robbery in Hazmieh
Naharnet/March 13/17/An armed gang robbed Bank Audi in the area of Hazmieh near Dar Assayad on Monday and managed to flee, the National News Agency reported. Three masked armed men entered into the bank and were able to steal LL30 million, NNA said. They managed to flee in a black Kia Picanto with tinted glass windows, reports said. Reports said that a fourth man stayed in the vehicle while the three suspects executed the robbery. He had a Kalashnikov weapon in his hand, they said. The security forces are working to preview video footage from cameras deployed in the street, said NNA.

Kataeb Marks March 14 Anniversary
Naharnet/March 13/17/The Kataeb party has invited politicians and activists from the March 14 alliance to participate in a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of March 14, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Monday. The party has invited tens of March 14 political figures and activists to participate in a ceremony held on the occasion in the party's headquarters, it added. The coalition takes its name from the historic demonstration in downtown Beirut's Martyrs Square on March 14, 2005 that ultimately led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in the aftermath of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination. Several political and media figures were also killed or escaped assassination after Hariri's Feb. 2005 murder.

Gemayel Says State Must Stop Corruption Instead of Imposing Taxes
Naharnet/March 13/17/Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel deplored on Monday the cabinet's tendency to impose new tax reforms to fund the long-stalled wage scale and stressed that corruption and squandering of public funds must instead be stopped. “We stand beside the employees' rightful request and we will vote in favor of the wage scale, but we cannot turn a blind eye on the political authority's shameful and disgraceful approach. The problem is not about the pay hike, but rather about the revenues to finance it,” said Gemayel. “It is a pity that they suggested 22 new tax reforms that affect the entire Lebanese without any exception. It is not true (what the political authority claims) that it will only affect a specific segment of the Lebanese,” he stressed. Pointing out to the increased corporate taxes he said: “New taxes will affect all the companies already paying taxes to the State, meanwhile the majority of these corporates are distressed. Taxes on travel tickets will also prevent many Lebanese from visiting their country.”He lamented how the state found it easy to impose new taxes to fund the scale instead of exerting efforts to end corruption and stop squandering. Gemayel stressed that if rectified, tax evasion alone can finance the wage scale and many more, he said: “4.2 billion dollars is the amount wasted by the state as the result of tax evasion. This alone can finance more than one scale. “The state has paid 9.45 billion dollars since 2010 in funding to end the electricity shortage for failure to privatize the sector. It is distressing to see that it has become unacceptable to end corruption and acceptable to burden people with taxes.”Gemayel concluded addressing the political authority, he said: “The Lebanese are aware of your corrupt practices and will eventually hold you accountable. You go ahead and approve the taxes on Wednesday and we will see the reaction of the Lebanese.”

Geagea, Girard tackle refugee affairs
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea met on Monday in Meerab with the Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon Mireille Girard, accompanied by her Lebanese affairs' Advisor, Dominique Tohme, with talks reportedly touching on the current situation of Syrian displaced people in Lebanon and the need to assist them pending their safe return to their homeland. Talks also touched on UNHCR's assistance in support of the infrastructure of Lebanon as a country hosting at home about a million and a half Syrian refugees. On the other hand, Geagea met with a delegation of the Municipality of Majdel Anjar, whereby they raised with him a number of developmental affairs.

Health Minister concludes Tripoli visit
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - Minister of Public Health, Ghassan Hasbani, concluded a tour he effectuated in Tripoli on Monday, whereby he met with heads of hospitals in the north and hundreds of the district's physicians. In his word, the Minister maintained the state capacities to address hospitalization issues were limited. However, he vowed to carry on demands to upsize the Ministry's budget in order to be able to cover hospitalization fees.

Hasbani visits Tripoli Mufti: We brace health sector
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - Deputy Prime Minister, Public Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani continued his tour in the northern capital of Tripoli, whereby he visited Mufti of Tripoli and the North Sheikh Malek Shaar, in the presence of MP Samir Jisr, and local dignitaries. Following the visit, Minister Hasbani hailed the city of Tripoli as an exemplary role model of cultural, intellectual, religious, economic and social coexistence, voicing support to the stringent health needs of the city which form "the backbone of social stability."Sheikh Shaar, for his part, stressed the dire need for the government's delivering health services to citizens in Tripoli and the north, calling for the establishment of a government run hospital in Tripoli and the North.

Riachy opens door to Tele Liban Chairman Post application
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - Information Minister Melhem Riachy on Monday opened doors to filling the vacant post of Board Chairman/Director General of Television of Lebanon S.A.L. Company, calling on Lebanese candidates of specialization and qualification to submit their applications to fill this position. The announcement was posted on the website of the Ministry of State for Administrative development Affairs.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 13-14/17
320,000 Dead, 4.9 Million Refugees: Syria's War in Numbers
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Syria's conflict has killed more than 320,000 people, uprooted more than half the population and left much of the country in ruins since it erupted almost six years ago. Here are some key statistics:
Huge death toll The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has recorded the deaths of 321,358 people since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011. Those killed included 96,000 civilians, of which over 17,000 were children, the monitor said. In a country with a pre-war population of 23 million, the United Nations estimates that 6.6 million people have been internally displaced by the fighting.The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says 4.7 million people live either in besieged cities or hard-to-access areas.
The war has forced 4.9 million people to flee Syria, according to the UNHCR.
Neighboring Turkey, the main host country, has taken in more than 2.9 million Syrian refugees. It is followed by Lebanon, which the U.N. says hosts around one million Syrians -- one in four of the Lebanese population. The Lebanese government says as many as 1.5 million Syrians are in the country. In Jordan, where the UNHCR says it has registered 630,000 Syrians, the government says it is hosting 1.4 million. At least another 225,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Iraq and 137,000 in Egypt, the refugee agency says. It adds that around 90 percent of Syrian refugees are living in poverty and at least 10 percent are considered "extremely vulnerable."
Imprisoned, tortured
In February, Amnesty International said Syrian authorities hanged around 13,000 people between 2011 and 2015 at the infamous Saydnaya prison near Damascus. It said a further 17,700 people had died in custody since the conflict began. The Observatory says at least 60,000 people have died from torture or harsh conditions in regime prisons since 2011. The monitor says half a million people have spent time in regime jails since the start of the conflict. Several thousand have died over the same period in prisons run by rebel groups or jihadists, it says. In February 2016, U.N. investigators accused the regime of "extermination" in its jails and detention centers.
Economy in ruins
Experts say the conflict has set Syria's economy back by three decades and devastated its infrastructure. The education and health systems are in ruins. By 2015, 83 percent of Syria's electric grid was out of service, according to a coalition of 130 non-governmental organizations. More than four-fifths of the population lives in poverty, according to an April 2016 study by the United Nations and Britain's Saint Andrews University. The study also said that Syrian business activity shrank by 55 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Six Years On, Aleppo Dares to Dream of End to Syria War
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/When the army recaptured Aleppo in December, Mohammad Baqdul left Beirut and returned with his family to his native city, convinced the end of Syria's six-year war was near. Baqdul fled Syria's second city when rebels overran its east in 2012, posing one of the most serious threats yet to the government of President Bashar Assad. But four years later, the tables have turned. Assad's forces have recaptured the whole city, shattering rebel dreams of toppling the regime and putting the brutal war on a new trajectory. "When I heard Aleppo had been secured, I thought the war was on the brink of ending, so I brought my family back," says Baqdul, speaking to AFP in the once rebel-held quarter of Shaar. The devastation in Shaar is striking: its dusty streets are flanked by flattened buildings and piles of rubble. Baqdul stands proudly with his young daughter in front of his new brick shop, welcoming residents who are buying materials to fix up their homes.
'People are tired'
Syria's war erupted on March 15, 2011 with peaceful demonstrations that, after a violent crackdown by government security forces, transformed into an armed uprising. In six years, the multi-front war has become one of the most destructive conflicts of the 21st century. Backed by Turkey, the Gulf and some Western nations, Syrian rebels were at their strongest in 2012 and many thought they would march to Damascus. But Assad's powerful allies came to the rescue: Iran sent military advisers and fighters, Lebanon's Hizbullah joined forces and Russia began a deadly bombing campaign in support of Damascus in 2015. That support was key to retaking Aleppo, allowing the government to consolidate its upper hand by seizing other strategic territory, including from Islamic State group jihadists in northern Syria. While swathes of the country remain embroiled in violence, Syria's government has decidedly won the crux of the conflict. Aleppo, meanwhile, has become a symbol of the most destructive streak of the war -- but some have found a silver lining. "I think the war is heading toward an end, because people are tired and they prefer to stay where they are instead of being displaced again," said Ibrahim Amoura, a 35-year-old laborer. He spoke to AFP while working on a ceiling in the formerly rebel-held district of Karm al-Jabal. For years, residents of Karm al-Jabal had only heard the sounds of gunfire and bombardment. Now, the nearly-incessant whirring of generators, cement mixers and pounding hammers fill their days.
'Reconstruction will take time'
A larger-than-life portrait of Assad with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the background looks over what was once Aleppo's front line, teeming with military vehicles and Russian soldiers. The municipality is eager to erase all trace of the former fault line that split the city for years between the government-held west and rebel-controlled east. But the divide is powerful: buildings in the west were indeed damaged by rebel rockets, but the east has been totally ravaged, reduced to rows of crumbling buildings nearly indistinguishable from each other. Water remains a precious commodity in Aleppo, cut off for almost two months by IS jihadists who controlled the main pumping station further east. Government forces recaptured the pump at Khafsah last week and have pledged to repair the lines. For now, residents still queue up at local distributors with tanks to fill up. State electricity is equally rare, and generators are cropping up across the city. For Aleppo's deputy governor Abdulghani Kassab, "reuniting Aleppo is a turning point in the Syrian crisis because it's our second city, the economic and cultural capital." Residents are full of energy and optimism... Reconstruction will take time, but we will work hard," he told AFP.
'Mother of all revolutionaries'
For rebels living just outside the city, Aleppo's fall was indeed a turning point -- but instead of a harbinger of stability, it was a death knell for their dreams of Assad's ouster. "Aleppo was the mother of all revolutionaries. Losing her really was like losing our mother," said Abu Maria, a 30-year-old Islamist rebel. Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at the University of Edinburgh, told AFP that "Aleppo symbolized hope for the opposition that it could position itself as an alternative to the regime.""It's this same hope that was shattered in December, that reduced the uprising to a peripheral insurrection," Pierret said. The opposition "dreamt of building an administration that could compete with Damascus," said Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute. "But the defeat (in Aleppo) shattered their morale. Around Damascus, the surrenders are multiplying," he said. According to Balanche, regime forces now control 36 percent of Syria's territory, with IS in second place at 29 percent, Kurdish forces at 23 percent and rebels with only 12 percent. Back in the devastated northern city, Aleppo's municipal council has planted rows of lemon and orange trees by a bridge. Mohammad Jassem Mohammad, a 43-year-old municipal employee, is watering them patiently. "This is the sign that life is returning," he says.

Turkey-Netherlands Crisis Deepens after Erdogan's Nazi Jibe
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/A diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands deepened Monday as both sides traded bitter accusations after Turkish ministers were blocked from holding rallies to win support for plans to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan at the weekend twice accused the Netherlands of acting like the Nazis, comments that sparked outrage in a country bombed and occupied by German forces in World War II. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who faces a major challenge from the far-right in a key general election Wednesday, said Erdogan's comments were unacceptable and it was Ankara that should apologise. The Dutch authorities had at the weekend prevented the plane of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from landing and blocked Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from holding a rally in Rotterdam. The ministers had been seeking to harness the support of an estimated 400,000 people of Turkish origin living in the country ahead of an April 16 referendum on constitutional changes giving Erdogan greater powers. The Turkish foreign ministry on Monday summoned the Dutch envoy to Ankara for the third day in a row, handing two separate protest notes over The Hague's behaviour. The Netherlands on Monday also issued a new travel warning to Dutch citizens in Turkey, urging them to stay "alert across the whole of Turkey". - 'Totally unacceptable' -Turkey has already responded furiously to Germany's refusal to give permission for ministers to hold rallies there, with Erdogan comparing such action to "Nazi practices". Denmark has also asked Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to postpone a visit planned for later this month. The issue risks spiralling into a crisis with the EU as a whole, which Turkey has sought to join for more than half a century in a so far fruitless membership bid. Erdogan, who has indicated he may attempt to address rallies in EU states in a move that could inflame the situation further, said Sunday that the West was showing its "true face" in the standoff. He has repeatedly accused the Netherlands of acting like "fascists" and "Nazis", saying on Sunday: "I had thought that the era of Nazism was over but I was wrong." Rutte, under pressure to take a hard line against Erdogan as he faces the far-right populist Geert Wilders in Wednesday's poll, said there were no apologies to be made to Turkey. "They (Turkey) should make excuses for what they've done yesterday," he said. He expressed outrage at Erdogan's Nazi jibe, noting: "This country was bombed during the Second World War by the Nazis. It's totally unacceptable to talk in this way."- 'Europe is sick' -Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag warned Monday that Turkey would do "what it is able" under international law against the Netherlands."We will not allow anyone to play with the honour of the Turkish nation and Turkish state," he said. Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli described Europe as a "very sick man", a nod to the moniker used in the mid-19th century of the declining Ottoman Empire as the "sick man of Europe"."From now on we are going to be watching the collapse of Europe," he said. Turkish newspapers also responded with fury to pictures showing a Dutch police dog attacking a pro-Erdogan protester in Rotterdam as he lay on the ground. "Savagery. The world watched the barbarity against Turkish citizens," said the mainstream Hurriyet Mass-circulation Swiss daily Blick waded into the controversy with a provocative headline in Turkish urging Swiss Turks to "vote against the Erdogan dictatorship". - 'Lifeline for Erdogan' -Bringing out the millions-strong expatriate vote could be key in a referendum that is expected to be close and potentially a turning point in Turkey's modern history. Analysts have said Erdogan is using the crisis to show that his strong leadership is needed against a Europe which he presents as being innately hostile to Turkey. "Erdogan is looking for 'imagined' foreign enemies to boost his nationalist base in the run up to the April 16 referendum," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, told AFP. "By blocking (the rallies), they may have given Erdogan a life line to eke out a victory in the referendum," he added.

Syria Rebels Will Not Attend Astana Peace Talks

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Syrian rebel factions will not attend a new round of negotiations with government figures in the Kazakh capital, an opposition delegation spokesman told AFP on Monday. "Rebel groups have decided not to participate in Astana," said Osama Abu Zeid, saying one reason for the boycott was "unfulfilled pledges related to the cessation of hostilities." The third round of talks in Astana, sponsored by government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. The Astana track has aimed to reinforce a fragile ceasefire deal brokered by Moscow and Ankara in December. "We decided not to participate in Astana because the reinforcement of the ceasefire was not implemented," said Ahmad Othman, commander of the Ankara-backed Sultan Murad rebel group. "The regime and the militias are continuing to bomb, displace, and besiege," he told AFP on Monday, saying rebel groups had informed the talks' sponsors of their decision. According to Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the government, the regime's delegation was scheduled to arrive in Astana on Monday. The delegation will be headed once again by Syria's representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari, who has also led the government's representatives in parallel UN-backed talks in Geneva. A fresh round of negotiations in Switzerland is set to begin on March 23 and will focus on governance, constitutional process, elections, counter-terrorism and possibly reconstruction.

Gunmen Open Gunfire at Cement Factory in Ain Dara
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Unidentified gunmen opened gunfire at a cement factory in the Mount Lebanon town of Ain Dara after the town's residents refused the establishment of factories in the area over health issues, the National News Agency reported on Monday. NNA said the assailants, who were not identified, have opened gunfire at an under construction cement factory that belongs to the Fattouch family in Ain Dara in the outskirts of Dahr al-Baydar. Security Forces arrived at the scene and inspected the incident, it added. Residents of the Mount Lebanon town of Ain Dara reject the establishment of a cement plant in the town and have protested the move on several occasions. The municipal council had earlier said that it will be closing down all illegal quarries and banning the establishment of a cement factories. Pierre Fattoush, a brother of MP Nicolas Fattoush, wants to establish a huge project and cement factory in the outskirts of Ain Dara that lies in the geographic scope of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. Residents of Ain Dara in addition to its municipal council have organized environmental, social and political campaigns to counter this step.

Green Light Given for Egypt's Mubarak to Walk Free
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/The release of Egypt's ex-president Hosni Mubarak approved on Monday ends "talk of the Arab Spring" uprising that toppled him in 2011 after 30 years in power, an analyst said. An Egyptian prosecutor approved a request by Mubarak's lawyer for his release after a top court acquitted him of involvement in the killing of protesters during the popular revolt. Mubarak's expected release comes as many leaders of the 2011 protests that ousted him linger in jail but members of his former regime walk free. Six years on, critics say the abuses they fought under Mubarak have returned with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Mubarak's Islamist successor after just a year in power. "Talk of the Arab Spring has completely stopped," said Mai Mogib, a politics professor at Cairo University. But "discussing Mubarak and symbols of his era has become acceptable in the media and in the street," she said. Mubarak's lawyer said Monday the 88-year-old was free to go home after having spent most of his time since his arrest in 2011 detained at a military hospital in Cairo. "He can go home now when the doctors decide he is able to," Farid al-Deeb told AFP, adding that the ex-president is however banned from leaving the country pending an ongoing graft investigation.
'Blood spilled for nothing'
Mubarak's sons have already been released from prison, and most of the charges brought against the ex-president's regime members have been dismissed. "He's in a better position than all other presidents who faced the Arab Spring" uprisings, Mogib said. Mubarak had been accused of inciting the deaths of protesters during the 18-day revolt, in which about 850 people were killed as police clashed with demonstrators. But Egypt's top appeals court on March 2 acquitted him of involvement in the killings. Mubarak was sentenced to life in 2012 in the case, but an appeals court ordered a retrial which dismissed the charges two years later. His acquittal this month, which is final, has angered relatives of those killed in 2011. "Our son's blood was spilled for nothing," said Mostafa Morsi, whose son was shot dead aged 22 on January 28, 2011. "I wish Mohammed had lived to work, marry and have children," his father said. Several key activists in the 2011 uprising are now serving lengthy jail terms, and rights groups say hundreds of others have been forcibly disappeared. The anti-Mubarak revolt ushered in instability that drove away tourists and investors, taking a heavy toll on the economy.
In the street and on television talk shows, Egyptians now mainly discuss the faltering economy and rising prices instead of politics.
'Nostalgia' for Mubarak
"After six years of the so-called Arab Spring, people remember Mubarak's era with nostalgia," said Mahmoud Ibrahim, a former mid-level official at Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party. "The sentence simply says Mubarak is neither corrupt nor a killer," said the 37-year-old. Prosecutors had leveled various charges against Mubarak following his February 2011 resignation. In January 2016, the appeals court upheld a three-year prison sentence for Mubarak and his two sons on corruption charges. But the sentence took into account time served. Both of his sons, Alaa and Gamal, were freed. In another investigation into whether Mubarak had received gifts unlawfully, prosecutors have appealed a decision by an investigating judge to drop a probe against him. A former air force chief and vice president, Mubarak became president after jihadists shot dead president Anwar Sadat at a military parade in 1981, in an attack in which he was himself wounded. Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected civilian leader, served for just one year before the military toppled and detained him in 2013 amid mass protests against his rule.The authorities then launched a deadly crackdown on Morsi's backers. Hundreds including Morsi were sentenced to death after speedy mass trials, although courts have since overturned many of the convictions. Morsi's overthrow sparked a jihadist insurgency, mainly in the province of North Sinai, that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. The insurgency, including attacks that have reached Cairo, have led Sisi to argue that while he supports human rights, the dangers facing Egypt also require a firm hand.

British Boycott Supporter Refused Entry to Israel
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/A British activist who advocates boycotting Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory has been denied entry to the country, authorities said Monday. Hugh Lanning, head of the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was denied entry on Sunday night at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv over his "ongoing actions to promote boycotts against Israel," a statement from the immigration authority said. He flew back to London on Monday morning, authority spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said. "The organization Mr. Lanning heads is one of the leading anti-Israel delegitimization and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) organizations in Britain, and one of the largest in Europe," a joint statement from the immigration authority and the strategic affairs ministry said. It also accused Lanning of maintaining ties to leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip. Lanning's organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Israel has carried out a campaign against calls to boycott it over its 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory. It sees the boycott movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism -- a claim activists deny, saying they only want to see the occupation end. Last week, Israel's parliament adopted a law barring entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country, a move denounced by human rights groups and the opposition as "thought control" harmful to the country's international standing. Lanning was however not stopped due to the new law but instead on the discretion of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who can bar those they see as working to harm Israel, Hadad said. Israeli politicians have become more combative against BDS activists under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current coalition government, seen as the most right-wing in the country's history.

Powerful Saudi Prince to Meet Trump
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Saudi Arabia's powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seeking foreign investment in an economic reform plan, left for the US Monday to meet President Donald Trump, state media said. Prince Mohammed will be the highest-ranking Saudi official to hold talks with Trump since the US leader took office in January. The visit, which officially begins Thursday, focuses on the "strengthening of bilateral relations... and regional issues of mutual interest," the Saudi Press Agency said. Second in line to the throne, Prince Mohammed is the son of King Salman and holds the post of defence minister, although much of his focus is on economic issues. He is the chief proponent of Vision 2030, a wide-ranging social and economic reform plan begun last year to diversify the oil dependent economy. Washington and Riyadh have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil. But ties became increasingly frayed during the eight-year administration of former president Barack Obama. Saudi leaders felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting towards Riyadh's regional rival Iran. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has expressed optimism that the Trump presidency will be more engaged in the region, particularly in containing Iran. Saudi Arabia regularly accuses Iran of interfering in the affairs of its neighbours, particularly in Yemen where Tehran backs rebels fighting the internationally recognised government.The US provides weapons, refuelling and intelligence support for a Saudi-led coalition helping Yemen's government battle the Huthi rebels and their allies. Prince Mohammed's trip comes as King Salman, 81, is on an Asian tour lasting about one month and emphasising economic ties. A foreign diplomat told AFP the king is travelling with a large cross-section of the royal family and the tour is seen by some as a way to help him build loyalty to Prince Mohammed. nalysts have pointed to rivalry between Prince Mohammed and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 56, the first in line to the throne who is also interior minister.

Iraq Forces Advance after Jihadists 'Trapped' in Mosul
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Iraqi forces said Monday they had taken more territory from the Islamic State group as they press an offensive that has seen them recapture a third of west Mosul and trap jihadists inside. A renewed push launched on March 5 has forced IS out of several neighbourhoods and key sites, including the main local government headquarters and the famed Mosul museum, tightening the noose around fighters there. West Mosul is the most-populated urban area still held by the jihadists, followed by Syria's Raqa, which is also a key target in the US-led anti-IS campaign. Iraq's Joint Operations Command announced additional gains on Monday, saying that forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service had recaptured west Mosul's Al-Nafat neighbourhood. Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said that forces from the Rapid Response Division, another special forces unit, and the federal police were working to search and clear territory on the edge of Mosul's Old City. The forces are conducting "combing and search operations in the liberated areas of Bab al-Toub, searching for traps and mines and terrorists hiding among the people," Jawdat said in a statement. Mosul's Old City -- a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced buildings where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still reside -- could see some of the toughest fighting of the campaign to retake Iraq's second city. While CTS and Rapid Response are spearheading the advance inside Mosul, Iraqi army forces and pro-government paramilitaries are fighting IS to the west. Soldiers from the 9th Armoured Division scored a key victory on Saturday night when they cut the last road out of west Mosul, said Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the international anti-IS coalition. "Any of the fighters who are left in Mosul, they're going to die there, because they're trapped," McGurk told journalists in Baghdad. - The fight for Raqa -"We are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape," he said. In practice, IS fighters may still be able to sneak in and out of the city in small numbers, but the lack of access to roads makes larger-scale movement and resupply more difficult, if not impossible. "We now believe that we are killing so many of their fighters that they are not able to replace them. That was not the case even a year ago," said McGurk, putting the toll for IS leaders at 180 dead. In Syria the US-led coalition is backing an Arab-Kurdish alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces that is pushing towards the jihadists' de facto capital Raqa. "Raqa remains their (IS's) administrative capital, it's where we think a lot of their leaders are located, it's where we think they are planning a lot of attacks around the world," said McGurk. IS clashed on Monday with the SDF on the north bank of the Euphrates River in Raqa province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which did not provide a toll. Eight civilians were among 19 people killed Sunday in suspected US-led air strikes four kilometres (2.5 miles) south of Raqa, said the monitor.Turkish-backed rebels are also advancing against IS in northern Syria, as are government troops supported by Russia. The Observatory also reported fighting in eastern Aleppo province where the jihadists forced regime troops to fall back from the outskirts of the Jarrah military airport. The monitor on Monday said that more than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria's six year conflict, including 96,000 civilians. And the United Nations children's agency said Monday that violence against Syrian children was "at its worst" last year, with the number of minors killed, maimed or recruited into armed groups in 2016 the "highest on record".

Iran FM Says Netanyahu Faking History and Jewish Faith
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 13/17/Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu of ignorance about history and the Jewish faith on Monday after he said ancient Persian rulers tried to destroy the Jews. In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Netanyahu said Persia had made "an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed" some 2,500 years ago, an event commemorated by the Jewish holiday of Purim over the weekend. Zarif responded overnight on Twitter, calling Netanyahu's comments "bigoted lies" and saying Iran had saved the Jews on three occasions in history. "Netanyahu resorting to fake history and falsifying Torah. Force of habit," he tweeted. He linked to longer comments in which he said the Israeli premier "distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past –- including Jewish scripture". "The Book of Esther tells how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day. "Again, during the time of Cyrus the Great, an Iranian king saved the Jews -- this time from captivity in Babylon; and during the Second World War, when Jews were being slaughtered in Europe, Iran gladly took them in," Zarif wrote. Netanyahu had sought to link ancient history to the present day, saying Iran was again seeking "to destroy the state of the Jews". Putin tried to return the conversation to the present day, saying the events described took place "in the fifth century B.C. We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now."Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has been implacable in its opposition to Israel and has provided extensive support to Palestinian militant groups. Iranian officials say they oppose the state not the people, and underline that Iran has its own Jewish community.

Egyptian prosecutor allows release of Hosni Mubarak
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - An Egyptian prosecutor allowed Monday for Hosni Mubarak to be released, his lawyer said, after an appeals court acquitted the ex-president of involvement in the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising. "He can go home now when the doctors decide he is able to," Farid al-Deeb said, adding that Mubarak is banned from leaving Egypt pending an ongoing graft investigation. Mubarak has been in detention at a military hospital in Cairo.--AFP

Kellyanne Conway says she has no evidence to back Trump wiretap claim
Mon 13 Mar 2017/The Associated Press/NNA - Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway says she doesn’t have any evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower phone lines during the election. Instead, Conway is pointing to recent revelations about other government surveillance to suggest it was possible Obama used a different technique. Her response was unlikely to tamp down criticism of Trump’s tweets earlier this month. The House intelligence committee has asked the administration to provide evidence of the allegation by Monday. "The answer is I don’t have any evidence and I’m very happy that the House intelligence committee (is) investigating," Conway told ABC’s "Good Morning America." She later tweeted that the administration is "pleased" with the ongoing congressional investigation and "will comment after."
Trump’s critics have slammed the president for making the explosive wiretapping claim on his Twitter account without evidence. Wiretapping a U.S. citizen would require special permission from a court, and Trump as president would have the ability to declassify that information.
James Clapper, who was Obama’s director of national intelligence, has said that nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place. Also this month, WikiLeaks released nearly 8,000 documents that purportedly reveal secrets about the CIA’s tools for breaking into targeted computers, cellphones and even smart TVs. Conway noted that development to justify Trump’s claims. "What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately," including "microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera," Conway told New Jersey’s The Record newspaper in an interview Sunday. "So we know that that is just a fact of modern life."Conway told "Good Morning America" that "I wasn’t making a suggestion about Trump Tower." She said she was answering a question about surveillance "generally," and without specific reference to the current controversy. FBI director James Comey has privately urged the Justice Department to dispute Trump’s claim but has not come forward to do so himself. Sen. John McCain, an influential Republican, said Sunday: "I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because, if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here, to say the least," the Arizona senator said. The House Intelligence Committee’s request for evidence by Monday was made in a letter sent to the Justice Department by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., according to a congressional official. The aide wasn’t authorized to discuss the request by name and requested anonymity.

President al Assad to European media: Western and European embargo is complimentary with the destruction and attacks of the terrorists in pushing people to leave their country
Mon 13 Mar 2017/NNA - President Bashar al-Assad asserted that the embargo of the West and Europe is complimentary with the destruction and killing attacks of the terrorists in pushing those people to leave their country to other places, like Europe. In a statement to Western media outlets, President al-Assad said that the priority of the Syrian people now is to fight terrorism, adding "it's a luxury now to talk about politics while you're going to be killed maybe in a few minutes, you have terrorist attacks. So, this is the priority, getting rid of the extremists, the political reconciliation in the different areas, this is another priority. When you achieve these two, you can talk about every discussion you want to regarding any issue."

Iranian Banks' Debts Increase by 173% in 10 Months
NCRI/Monday/13 March 2017/Non-governmental banks and credit unions in Iran have seen their debts to the Central Bank increase in the past 10 months by $5.7 billion. Numbers published on banks’ debts in the period of January 2017 show the debts of non-government banks and credit unions to Iran’s Central Bank have increased by 173.7% and reached $8.9 billion. In the span of one month alone, this debt increased from $6.9 billion to $8.9 billion. The total debt of all banks to the Central Bank is valued at $28.7 billion, showing a 30.6% increase in comparison to March 2016.
The debt owed by state and specialized banks from March 2016 to January 2017 reached $1.03 billion. Considering the rising debts, banks in Iran are in deteriorating conditions. The Tehran Stock Market witnessed Mellat Bank shares lose 45% of their value on Wednesday. There is also a possibility of Sarmaye Bank going bankrupt.

Unemployment in Iran Stands at 35 to 40 Percent
NCRI/Monday/13 March 2017/The truth in Iran today is far from the official 12% unemployment rate. Statistical evidence does not support the claim of 700,000 jobs created from March 2015 to March 2016. Each year an average of 1 million people enter Iran’s work force, according to the state-run Quds Online news agency. When we place these statistics alongside those who have lost their jobs due to deep economic recession and production units closing down in Iran, without a doubt we all think about one subject: the unemployment crisis! “In the past few years the increasing number of universities and their capacity is amongst the elements behind the slow entrance of new workers into the market. However, the number of students entering universities has decreased. This year 1.2 million seats are empty in our universities. The government’s policies to create jobs have been wrong during the past four years,” said Hossein Raghfar, an economist in Iran. “The [12%] unemployment rate is related to individuals who are completely unemployed and don’t even work one hour a day. For example, people working 15 hours a week are considered to have a part-time job. However, if we add their numbers to the number of people who are completely unemployed, the all-out figure would increase to 35 to 40%,” he added. The statistics provided by state institutions is a type of pain killer for government officials so they can claim the country’s unemployment is not high at all, Raghfar explained. Otherwise, the truth in Iran today is far from the official 12% unemployment rate. “One of the most important challenges we face today is unemployment, which is becoming a super-challenge,” said Iranian Vice President Es’hagh Jahangiri. “Unemployment has reached above 30% in some place, and it is even doubled for women in some areas,” he continued.

Iran Regime's Factional Mistrusts Over Relations With Russia
NCRI/Monday/13 March 2017/The Secretary and Former Spokesman of Mohammad Khatami's government, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, affiliated with Hassan Rouhani, expressed concern over the regional and international isolation of the regime.In an interview with the Iranian Diplomacy Website on March 10th, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh stated: “I am afraid of Russians. I don’t trust what they proclaim about their stance. First, the Russians do not have a long-term policy in the region, and since their economic situation is not stable, they change direction constantly to wherever they find some short term economic interests.
Secondly, according to the history of Turkey's relations with Russia, the Russians will not maintain their stance, I don’t foresee any coalition building policy by Russians. The recently published news, that Russians announced, on one hand they intend to sell the S400 systems to Turks and on the other hand selling fighter jets to the UAE. Is contradictory and if true, it is difficult to be analyzed. Thirdly the Russian economy is extremely fragile, Russians greatly need to stabilize the oil price in OPEC, and since they need to have a fixed income, their interest relies on the OPEC agreement."In response to the question that how much the Russians could be trustworthy in this regional conflicts, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said: “the Russians totally eliminated Iran in the Security Council resolution. What kind of alliance is that? Iran is not mentioned in the resolution while Turkey that opposes the Russians has been listed."Ramezanzadeh added: “according to my information, the Russians did not support us in Aleppo. They evacuated Aleppo as they signed a deal with other parties. They did not easily fulfill our demands in the two Syrian cities, till the besieged Shiite forces left. Consequently, for the moment Russians need us if we meet their needs, but they are currently forming other coalitions in order to become self-sufficient from Iran and I am positive that Russians will stab us in the back in Syria too. Ramezanzadeh spoke of the no-fly zone in Syria and said: “We do not actually see any air operation in Syria. The Turks and Russians in an unwritten deal have agreed with each other that they won't carry out any air operation against the positions of their allies. Therefore, I believe that the no-fly zone has been set up despite the objections lodged by Tehran." At the same time Turks are solidifying their positions in certain areas of Syria, which could not have happened without Russian’s consent, so again as I mentioned before I am sure the Russian dagger is ready to stab us, when? I don’t know.

Ambassador Adam Ereli: Iran Regime's Basic Structures Are Weak and Unstable
NCRI/Monday/13 March 2017/In an interview with the Iranian Resistance Satellite TV channel on the press conference held by the National Council of Resistance’s representative office in Washington to introduce the newly published book ‘The Rise of Revolutionary Guards’ Financial Empire’, former Spokesman of the U.S. Department of State, ‘Ambassador Adam Ereli’ said: “the book shows that 50 percent of Iran’s GDP is in the hands of regime’s leader and the organizations under his control, primarily the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), which uses the government assets for financing of terrorism abroad and repression at home.”Former Spokesman of the U.S. Department of State, added that “the importance of this book might be stated in three points, with the first one being that the book documents the details and the degree by which the economy is being controlled by regime’s organizations, according to which 50 percent of the GDP is in the hands of regime’s supreme leader and the bodies under his control, primarily the Revolutionary Guards. The second point which has been discussed, is the relation between controlling the economy by these groups and using state-owned assets for financing of terrorism abroad and repression at home. Controlling levers of economic power is a necessity for the regime in order to maintain its political power. And that’s why the third important point (of the book) is raised, showing that who the regime’s organizations or their so-called NGOs really are, and what structure or influence they really have, as that’s the way the relation between economy and the power is formed.”“A house can hardly survive on rotten foundations”, he added, “the book shows us how corrupt the Iranian regime’s economic structure really is, like a wood that is rotten by water, so that it won’t be able to maintain the Mullahs or their power.”In response to the question ‘why the Iranian regime’s corrupt structure won’t be able to hold the regime?’ Adam Early said that “Why? Because their economy is strictly controlled by state banks that are financing their state-run organizations. You can’t create jobs this way, or resolve issues like inflation, recession and reduced per capita income, for that matter. The Iranian regime is afflicted with an incurable disease, namely the regime’s control over the economy. The book also shows that quite contrary to what’s being seen from the outside, regime’s basic structures are weak and unstable, being too vulnerable to unrests.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 13-14/17
Manbij: Syria’s Modern Day “Danzig”

Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/March 13/17
Establishing safe zones and no-fly zones was among the very first critical demands made with respect to the Syria crisis, yet the then United States administration led by former President Barrack Obama– keen on rehabilitating its rival Iran and turning it into a reliable West ally in the regional game of politics– turned down those requests time and time again.
Despite the atrocities of war and displacement being loud and blatant, justifications on US idleness were plainly obstinate.
The US claimed that safe zones were a costly scenario, both in terms of policy, funding and military. More so, it could have entailed the deployment of troops to Syria at a time they were quite busy pulling troops out of Iraq.
At that time, none reflected on the very short distance separating Turkey’s Incirlik air base and the proposed safe zone. Located in the Incirlik quarter of the city of Adana, and controlled by the Turkish and US air forces, the base is nestled right by Syria borders.
None questioned the perpetual US refusal since Ankara (despite its opinion about the invasion of Iraq) was still ready to put Incirlik air base under international forces assigned to the maintenance and protection of the safe zones.
In 2015, it was confirmed that the Turkish Government would allow USAF UAVs and USAF combat planes to fly combat sorties against ISIS in Syria out of Incirlik Air base.
Afterwards, both Russian and Iranian interferences in Syria escalated. Tehran and Moscow did not consider the expenses of maintaining these safe zones to be too high, despite the US doing so.
Anyways, let bygones be bygones. It was made clearer as idleness persevered against the prohibited usage of chemical weapons and barrel bombs by the Syrian regime that forced the brutal displacement of masses and demographic sorting.
Yet with the interference of Russia, the Syrian regime stood to gain much from that, for example:
-Firstly, reclaiming strategic Aleppo.
-Secondly–after the downing of the Russian Sukhoi aircraft near the Syria-Turkey border in November 2015 – Turkey was successfully convinced that the West would not rush to their aid should any confrontation arise with Russia.
Moreover, Ankara has discovered (although untimely) that Washington does not really take into consideration “the sovereignty and unity of Turkish lands”. Seeing that US military support was presented to Kurdish forces in Syria—which Turkey considers a threat. US aid was reasoned as a counterterrorism effort against ISIS.
The US rashly praised efforts of the Kurdish militias labeling them, and I quote, “phenomenal accomplishments,” especially in the Ein Al-Arab battles against ISIS. Even though extensive air support covered Kurdish-led operations in Syria.
Had US air support been provided to Syrian rebels, who only received ridicule from the Obama administration, Syria might have not become the tragedy it is today.
A few months ago, the city of Al-bab located in Aleppo could have turned into the Syrian rebels’ modern day “Stalingrad”.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel forces, backed by Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield military operation, made substantial advances towards the strategic town of al-Bab, driving ISIS militants out of their stronghold.
Before that, the terrorist group had also lost substantial territory to FSA and Turkish combined efforts, such as the border city of Jarablus. Notably, ISIS suffered the loss of Manbij to the Kurdish militias supported by the US.
It is worth mentioning that the battle of al-Bab stretched on for quite some time, as the contentious arena was a crossway for several operations staged by multilateral forces and each based on different agendas.
As developments unfolded, Turkish forces and their Syrian allies won over al-Bab. However, the second stage of Operation Euphrates Shield is far from accomplished, particularly amidst regional and international disarray.
Ankara, naturally, announced its plans on not only establishing a “safe zone” between the western city of Aazaz and Euphrates-neighboring Jarablus, but also advancing further to include Manbij. Thereon Turkish forces will continue pushing southeast towards Raqqa. Yet this stance translates into a direct confrontation with US-backed Kurdish forces.
On the other hand, Kurdish militias had their image ‘reinvented’ by the US and given an attractive name, “the Syrian Democratic Forces.”
More so, many Arab tribes with different religious and racial backgrounds had joined the embellished SDF. These forces later carried their own self-styled “nationalist” agenda, at which they will stop at nothing to fulfill.
When zooming in on Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital to their self-proclaimed caliphate, many serious altercations surface, outlining the future fallout of any entity (or entities) able to survive on Syrian lands.
The city of Manbij is today a crossroad for these fallouts, and from it comes the greater contradictions involved in determining future events. Possibly, even beyond Syria itself.
Manbij has turned into what seems like semi-autonomous city-state , Danzig (or the polish city Gdansk) whose strategic location, situated by the Baltic Sea, was a key reason behind it becoming a German base in World War I.
Danzig had an early history of independence. It was a leading player in the Prussian Confederation directed against the Teutonic Monastic State of Prussia.This city sparked many wars and battles.
Moreover, out of this city came Lich Walesa and the Work Solidarity Union that rose up against the communist rule which almost caused a 3rd world war before the fall of the soviet union. Danzig was a meeting point and a place of severe conflict between Belarus, Poland and Russia, and until now, it is still a part of eastern Belarus.
Similarly, Manbij finds at a crossroad of conflicts emerging between Kurds, Arabs, and Turks.
Manbij today pays the steep price of US ambiguity and Russian aggression in Syria. It also accounts for the opportunistic greed of some Kurdish groups exploiting a dismantled Syria. Manbij also stands to be affected by the fluctuating foreign policy adopted by Iran and Turkey.
As Ankara defends the ongoing expansion its military offensive in Syria– involving Raqqa (a Kurd-free zone)– Washington also stands idle against escalating demographic tensions. The matter of the fact is that the Kurdish agenda in northern Syria is now on pause.
Evidently, and with US say, Manbij is “Syria’s Danzig”…
**Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

Before US whacks ISIS-Syria, Al Qaeda is resurgent
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report March 13, 2017
The main thrust of the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria ordered by the Trump administration is still ahead, but ISIS forces did not wait in their Raqqa stronghold for the axe to fall. They moved southeast into the Deir ez-Zour region, where they are beating back Hizballah’s elite Radwan Battalion, which has just been deployed there. But meanwhile a new-old menace has raised its head: Al Qaeda and its Syrian affiliates which are seizing upon the mounting upheaval in the Syria for a fresh wave of terror. Saturday, March 11, two bomb explosions killed 74 pilgrims, most of them Iraqi Shiites, on a visit to an ancient cemetery in the Old City of Damascus. The second explosion was delayed so as to hit full on the Syrian police and rescuers rushing to the scene.
The same Al Qaeda branch planned and perpetrated the large-scale terrorist attack on Syrian government military facilities in the town of Homs on Feb. 25. Two generals were among the scores of dead troops.
Counterterrorism experts are warning US President Donald Trump to tread very carefully in the offensive he is preparing to launch against ISIS in Syria, since this organization’s defeat may well open the door to an Al Qaeda comeback in full and deadly spate to the Syrian arena.
This is what happened in the wake of the Russian-led Syrian victory in Aleppo in January, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources note. After the breakup of defeated Syrian rebel groups, who were forced to leave the northern town and head for neighboring Idlib, hundreds of rebels remained and refused to lay down arms. Instead, they joined Al Qaeda and have made the Islamist terrorist group the most powerful independent rebel force still fighting in northern Syria as well as in the surrounding areas of the main towns, including Damascus, Homs and Hama.
On Jan. 26, Al Qaeda announced its merger with four smaller factions under another new brand name, Ahrar al-Sham. The new outfit attracted many new recruits who had never before been attached to Al Qaeda.
Hashim al-Sheikh aka Abu Jabir, who fought the Americans in the Iraq war under Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, was named leader of the new Islamist terror alliance. Reputed to be a skilled war tactician who never gives up, his appointment attracted another wave of Syrian rebel fighters.
Al Nusra’s first commander, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, has meanwhile reappeared as head of a group calling itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization). Joulani has tried claiming he operates independently of Al Qaeda, although in fact he follows the orders of Ayman Al-Zawahiri to the letter and, according to some sources, is secretly working hand in glove with Hashim al-Sheikh.
An additional source of Al Qaeda’s renewed strength comes from the success of the combined Russian-Iranian-Hizballah forces to smash all the Syrian rebel groups who once fought the jihadist organization. Their disintegration has left Zawahiri’s following in Syria without effective adversaries. But it has Its Achilles heel too in the turf wars among the Syrian branch’s component groups – especially in the northern Idlib Province.
According to our military sources, the Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah commanders are together weighing an operation for taking control of Idlib. However, there too, if the Syrian rebels, who are fugitive from other fronts, are driven east or the south, Al Qaeda may again turn out to be the winner..
Therefore, even if President Trump and his generals are resolved to focus fully on a military operation to capture the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa – which has meanwhile emptied out of fighter - it is essential to detach enough fighting strength for dealing with the resurgent Al Qaeda. Failing to do so would leave the US forces at the Raqqa front vulnerable to attack from the rear by Al Qaeda, as the Russians and Iranians have found since they conquered Aleppo.

From Execution to Medieval Torture: "Iran's Mandela", Ayatollah Boroujerdi
Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/March 13/17
Ayatollah Boroujerdi has long advocated for the abolishing of "execution, and cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishments; such as torture, stoning and whipping. He rejected anti-Semitism and advocated religious freedom. He established charities and welfare centers to help the poor and assist victims of natural disasters. He condemned personal financial gain from religious activities.
His prison sentence was recently completed. It is critical to point out that Boroujerdi is still nowhere near free.
"He is said to have been beaten, thrown against a wall, and had cold water thrown on him when he was sleeping. He suffers from a heart condition, pulmonary issues, diabetes, severe problems with his eyes including untreated cataracts, and kidney stones. His legs are swollen which makes it very difficult for him to walk. His hands also shake as a result of his Parkinson's disease. While in detention, he has not been receiving necessary medical treatment..." – Amnesty International.
Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi is a high-ranking prominent dissident clergyman in Iran. He has strongly called for separation of religion and state, and he condemns Islamic radicalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism. He is opposed to political Islam and the rule of Velayet-e-Faqih (Islamic custodianship over people), the theocratic system that governs Iran. Boroujerdi has many supporters and is known as Iran's Mandela.
"He has long advocated for the abolishment of execution, and cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishments; such as torture, stoning and whipping. He rejected anti-Semitism and advocated religious freedom. He established charities and welfare centers to help the poor and assist victims of natural disasters. He condemned personal financial gain from religious activities. His call has been welcomed by an increasing number of followers to the point that, until his arrest, his gatherings surpassed the theocracy's organized ceremonies, by their sheer size and numbers."
For these humanitarian endeavors, he was sentenced to execution by the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, due to international pressure, in 2006, the Iranian regime changed the judgment to 11 years in Iran's most notorious prison, Evin.
He spent 11 years enduring heinous conditions with no medical care or access to a lawyer. There was no fair and due process.
He was convicted of ambiguous charges such as "waging war against God". As Amnesty International wrote in a report:
"He [Boroujerdi] was arrested at his home in Tehran on October 8, 2006, along with more than 300 of his followers. He and some of his followers were initially sentenced to death after an unfair trial in Branch 3 of the Special Court for the Clergy in June 2007. His sentence was commuted in August 2007 to eleven years in prison. In addition to this, Ayatollah Boroujerdi was defrocked (banned from wearing his clerical robes and thereby from practicing his clerical duties), and his house and all of his belongings were confiscated. He had reportedly been found guilty of at least 30 charges, including "waging war against God" (moharebeh); acts against national security; publicly calling political leadership by the clergy (velayat-e faqih) unlawful."
He was frequently tortured. Several attempts to kill him in prison led the Human Rights Watch to pressure Iran into conducting an investigation. According to Amnesty International:
"Ayatollah Boroujerdi has reportedly been tortured and otherwise ill-treated on numerous occasions since his arrest. He is said to have been beaten, thrown against a wall, and had cold water thrown on him when he was sleeping. He suffers from a heart condition, pulmonary issues, diabetes, severe problems with his eyes including untreated cataracts, and kidney stones. His legs are swollen which makes it very difficult for him to walk. His hands also shake as a result of his Parkinson's disease. While in detention, he has not been receiving necessary medical treatment and has lost a considerable amount of weight. He was reportedly attacked and beaten in prison on November 17, 2013, perhaps in retaliation for letters he wrote that have been published on various web sites."
In a letter to then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, titled "I Implore You to Sympathize with Our Plight," Ayatollah Boroujerdi revealed the Iranian regime's atrocities, oppression, and support of terrorism:
"Greetings to the respected United Nations General Assembly. I am writing you as a political prisoner from the dreaded Evin Prison. I have been imprisoned and tortured for the past eight years for simply speaking out against political Islam and the cruel crimes committed by the government of Iran against its citizens due to implementation of religious laws. I would like to bring to your attention that Iran's natural resources along with its national wealth are being spent -- as a matter of priority -- on funding Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq by the authorities while Iran's own citizens are enduring widespread poverty, unprecedented unemployment along with high rates of depression and physical ailments. People in Iran have therefore lost hope."
Boroujerdi's prison sentence was recently completed, but it is critical to point out that he is still nowhere near free. He is still deprived of basic needs, he is under house arrest with heavy conditions and bail has been imposed on him.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi released a message recently, according to his representative:
"Our teacher of monotheism, Seyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi in his new position, just like in the past, demands for fulfillment of the rights of the innocent Iranian nation. The approaches and manners which the opposition groups in exile have adopted with regards to defending the rights of our deprived people have proven to be devoid of faithfulness and sincerity in fulfilling their promises. The shady dealings and political tampering which have become common practices these days have resulted in increased injustice, unfairness, and lack of freedom. This political-ideological prisoner is crying out and protesting against prejudices and against those who by adopting inhumane policies tend to ignore his tireless efforts and self-sacrifices in fighting oppression and tyranny, and those following their own personal interests, factions and cliques in campaign against this regime."
The International community, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Iran's opposition groups need to pressure the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Ayatollah Boroujerdi.
Finally, as Ayatollah Boroujerdi articulately stated:
"It shall be noted by future generations that I have made the world aware of the dire situation in Iran numerous times. Those of you, who are well aware of our desperate plight, hear our cries and remain indifferent shall be remembered for generations to come. I implore you to sympathize with our plight and understand that we are being silenced. We are asking for help once again."
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, political scientists and Harvard University scholar is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He can be reached at
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

The Dirty Little Secret of Palestinian Journalism - with Agence France-Presse Collusion
Bassam Tawil/Gatestone Institute/March 13/17
Nasser Abu Baker, Chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), who also works as a correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP), also lashed out at Al-Quds for publishing the Israeli advertisement. "We are determined to combat normalization and those who promote it," he vowed.
Abu Baker, who recently ran in the election for the Fatah Revolutionary Council, is the architect of the PJS campaign to boycott Israeli journalists and media outlets. His political activism constitutes a flagrant violation of the regulations and principles of AFP, and a conflict of interest. However, this does not seem to bother his employers at the French news agency, who apparently do not see a problem with one of their employees running in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
Abu Baker and his colleagues have one mission: to "combat normalization" with Israel. For them, this task far exceeds in importance exposing financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA) or reporting about assaults on freedom of expression. It is also evidently more important than protesting the arbitrary arrest and torture of their colleagues at the hands of the PA and Hamas.
One can only imagine the response of the Western mainstream media if the chairman of the Israeli Journalists Union or the Government Press Office called for a boycott of Palestinian journalists.
Palestinian journalists are up in arms. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are arresting and torturing them, and imposing severe restrictions on their work and freedom of expression. But that is not what is upsetting them.
No, the journalists are angry because a Palestinian daily newspaper dared to publish a paid advertisement by the Israeli authorities. The journalists are now demanding that the newspaper, Al-Quds, apologize for running the advertisement by the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank.
Last week, dozens of angry journalists staged a protest outside the offices of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) in Ramallah, where they threatened to boycott the newspaper for "promoting normalization" with Israel by publishing the advertisement.
Murad Sudani, chairman of the Palestinian Writers Union, strongly condemned Al-Quds for running the advertisement and accused its editors of "promoting the Israeli narrative and settlements." He also accused the newspaper of encouraging normalization with Israel, pointing out that Palestinian professional unions were in agreement over the need to oppose all forms of normalization with Israel.
Nasser Abu Baker, chairman of the PJS, who also works as a correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP), lashed out at Al-Quds for publishing the advertisement. He told the protesters that Al-Quds should not "serve the policies" of Israel.
"We insist that Al-Quds remain a national institution of the Palestinian people," he said. Abu Baker repeated his syndicate's opposition to normalization with Israel and praised his colleagues for raising their voice against Al-Quds. Abu Baker demanded that the newspaper apologize to Palestinians in general and journalists in particular for allegedly promoting normalization with Israel. "We are determined to combat normalization and those who promote it," he vowed.
Abu Baker, who recently ran in the election for the Fatah Revolutionary Council, is the architect of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate's campaign to boycott Israeli journalists and media outlets. His political activism constitutes a flagrant violation of the regulations and principles of AFP and a conflict of interests. However, this does not seem to bother his employers at the French news agency, who do not see a problem with one of their employees running in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
Last year, Abu Baker and his syndicate called on Palestinian journalists and officials to boycott Israeli media outlets. In a statement, the syndicate claimed that Israeli journalists "enter the territories of the occupied State of Palestine and work there together with the occupation army and under its protection." The statement accused Israeli journalists of being "unprofessional" and serving as a "mouthpiece for the occupation to justify its crimes against the Palestinian people."
Still, AFP does not seem to see this call by one of its senior journalists as problematic. By accusing the Israeli journalists of serving as a "mouthpiece" for the Israeli authorities and working "under the protection" of the Israel Defense Forces, Abu Baker and his syndicate are actually endangering the lives of the Israeli journalists and turning them into supposedly legitimate targets. This is the case: a journalist working for a respected international news organization perpetrates incitement against Israeli reporters, and the AFP takes it in stride.
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.
Abu Baker is not the only journalist working for an international media outlet who is involved in political activism. Several other Palestinian journalists who participated in the protest against Al-Quds and who openly advocate boycotts of Israel have long been serving as producers and reporters for Western media outlets. This is the "dirty little secret" that Western media outlets do not wish to reveal for various reasons. One of them is because they are afraid of losing access to sources in the Palestinian Authority. Another is because these media outlets sympathize with their Palestinian producers and reporters and see them as "victims" of Israel. Yet, hell would freeze over before they would employ an Israeli political activist as a reporter or producer.
The case of AFP's Abu Baker spotlights the bias of the mainstream media against Israel. Journalists like Abu Baker are silent about anything that reflects negatively on the Palestinian Authority in general or Palestinians in particular. These journalists regard themselves as "soldiers" serving their leaders and cause. They are interested exclusively in the wrongdoings of Israel, and they are obsessed with news that paints Israel black.
This trend has even found its way to some Israeli news organizations, whose reporters actually avoid stories that could turn their Palestinian colleagues against them. Asked why he was not reporting about the conflict of interest of some Palestinian journalists who double as activists, one Israeli journalist explained that he does not want to "lose access" to Palestinian sources and he does not want to upset Palestinians he works with and seeks to interview.
Abu Baker and his colleagues have one mission: to "combat normalization" with Israel. For them, this task far exceeds in importance exposing financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority or reporting about assaults on freedom of expression. It is also evidently more important than protesting the arbitrary arrest and torture of their colleagues at the hands of the PA and Hamas.
The latest campaign against Al-Quds is not the first of its kind. In October 2016, the newspaper came under fire for interviewing Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Again, the condemnations were spearheaded by Palestinian journalists who accused the newspaper of promoting "normalization" with Israel. The Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Information accused Al-Quds of providing a "killer" with a platform.
Here it is worth noting that no such ban exists on Palestinian officials in the Israeli media. Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, Jibril Rajoub and Saeb Erekat are regularly interviewed by Israeli newspapers, television channels and radio stations. One can only imagine the response of the Western mainstream media if the chairman of the Israeli Journalists Union or the Government Press Office called for a boycott of Palestinian journalists.
The campaign against Al-Quds is in the context of the Palestinians' war against "normalization" with Israel. The goal of the campaign is out-and-out intimidation -- of any Palestinian who wishes to meet with an Israeli. As such, it is a campaign that severely damages peace prospects between Palestinians and Israelis.
Such a campaign of intimidation becomes even more dangerous when it is fueled by journalists, some of whom work for major Western media organizations. The Palestinian journalists' "anti-normalization" onslaught shows that they have managed to infiltrate and influence Western news organizations, which almost always submit to the dictates of their Palestinian employees. No great wonder, then, that Israel is anathema in the Western media.
**Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
© 2017 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

On The Backdrop Of Copts Fleeing Sinai, Egyptian Establishment, Al-Azhar Criticized For Helplessness In Dealing With ISIS, Discrimination Of Copts
By: C. Meital/MEMRI/March 13/17
In recent weeks, there has been an escalation of ISIS attacks against Coptic residents of northern Sinai, which included the murders of at least seven Copts.[1] These attacks were preceded by an ISIS video on February 19, 2017, that included threats of attacks on Egyptian Christians, as well as numerous threats made by ISIS on social media.[2] As a result, over 200 Coptic families fled from Al-'Arish to Al-Ismailia and other governorates in Egypt proper.[3]
President Al-Sisi and Egyptian regime officials were quick to stress that they were working to handle the crisis and assist the Copts. Al-Sisi said that the state is able to eliminate terrorism in northern Sinai and uproot it, adding: "The attacks on civilians in Al-'Arish are a cowardly plot by evil men [meant] to destabilize the country, harm national unity, and create hostility. [It] reflects the desperation they have reached, after all their previous attempts to destroy Egypt have failed."
Al-Sisi revealed that several months ago, he had opposed a plan to evacuate the residents of Al-'Arish in order to deal with terrorist organizations there, saying: "Evacuating villages and towns is not easy. We have not and will not do it."[4] He also stressed that the state is providing aid to Al-'Arish residents who receive threats from terrorist organizations.[5]
Prime Minister Sherif Isma'il instructed all relevant elements to care for Coptic families that had left northern Sinai for Al-Ismailia Governorate.[6] Concurrently, a church in Al-Ismailia Governorate announced on February 24 that it had received all the families that had arrived in the area and was continuing efforts to assist them in coordination with state institutions.[7]
A statement by the Coptic Church said: "The Church condemns the ongoing acts of terror in northern Sinai against the Christian people of Egypt, [terror] that deliberately undermines our national unity and attempts to rupture our solid joint position opposing the criminal terrorism that originates outside Egypt... We believe that the [victims'] blood is precious to God and will cry out to Him in demand of justice. [God] will observe and pass judgment."[8]
The Muslim religious establishment also issued condemnations of injustices done to the Copts. Al-Azhar condemned terrorism against them,[9] while Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said at a conference on citizenship at the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs that Islam instructs to defend Christians by force of arms.[10]
However, despite efforts by authorities, Coptic citizens complained that military and police forces are helpless to defend them and that these forces defend only themselves.[11]
The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in northern Sinai, Gibril Ibrahim, stressed that the Copts demand to reinforce the Al-'Arish police with increased army presence, adding that what is happening in the region is nothing less than war, with all this entails. He expressed confidence that joint action by the police and the military can restore security to the region.[12]
Additionally, the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, headed by Coptic lawyer Naguib Gabriel, held a conference on February 26, whose closing statement placed responsibility for the situation on the state and its institutions, arguing that extremist discourse dominates not only terrorist organizations but state institutions as well. The statement reads: "Copts still feel discriminated against by the political leadership [in Egypt], even though it spares no efforts to state that Copts are Egyptians and partners in the homeland, and that they share all rights and duties." The organization also claimed that Al-Azhar was not working to reform the religious discourse, and that fatwas issued by its clerics still accuse Christians of heresy.[13] MPs likewise harshly criticized the government for its ineffective response to the crisis. In a February 26 parliamentary session, Coptic MP Emad Gad said: "Sinai is burning and the [helplessness of the] government paints the picture that this region lies outside state control and is instead controlled by ISIS." He stressed that families left northern Sinai with no protection and with no government or governorate representatives present, and had to turn to the churches for help.[14] Other MPs demanded that President Al-Sisi don his military uniform and personally manage the crisis in Al-'Arish. MP Mortada Mansour demanded that Al-Sisi, ministers, and MPs arrive in the area to alleviate Coptic fears.[15]
Similar criticism of Al-Sisi and the government was expressed on social media as well. Thus, for example, social media users launched the hashtag "Sinai Outside [Security] Coverage" to criticize the government for not taking care of Sinai like the rest of Egypt. Facebook users changed their profile images to ones with a yellow background symbolizing the Sinai sands and with a small map of Sinai in solidarity with its residents.[16]
Criticism of the president, government, Al-Azhar, and the military was also voiced in dozens of articles in the Egyptian press, which attacked the state's handling of the crisis, on both the security and civilian levels. The articles claimed that the military's actions in the Sinai were ineffective, some calling on Al-Sisi to don a military uniform and personally manage the crisis. Writers also blamed state institutions in general, and Al-Azhar in particular, for the state of the Copts, due to their disregard of the anti-Copt discrimination ingrained in Egyptian society and of Salafi incitement against them.[17] According to them, ignoring the Coptic disaster would worsen the security situation in all of Egypt.
The following are excerpts from several Egyptian articles on this crisis:
Fear Of Lax Response By Authorities And Criticism Of Al-Sisi's Helplessness In Addressing The Crisis
The reports that Copts were fleeing Sinai led to several articles warning the country to not take this crisis lightly or be lax in addressing it. They also criticized the way the country's leadership, headed by President Al-Sisi, was dealing with the crisis, and called on the president to come to Al-'Arish and personally supervise the military's anti-ISIS operations there.
Coptic Bishop Warns: The State Taking ISIS Attacks On Copts Lightly Will Harm All Of Egypt
Coptic Bishop Angelos Gerges, a columnist for the official Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, warned in a February 26 article that Copts feel oppressed and deprived, and called on the state to act fiercely and decisively against those who harm them, for failing to do so would jeopardize all of Egypt. He wrote: "The events in Al-'Arish are extremely serious and deal a death blow to national unity. Staying silent and ignoring them could cement a situation that would leave rifts [in the national unity] that will be very hard to mend in the future... The [terrorists'] goal here is not to harm Christians per se, but rather to harm the country's prestige and create an atmosphere of sectarian [tension]... In the army's and the people's war against these armed terrorist groups, we have grown used to them appearing suddenly in order to murder [people] or blow [things] up. However, the danger lies in them entering the city, threatening Copts, and imposing their own law in Al-'Arish that forbids Christians from living there. If they succeed in this, it will repeat itself elsewhere, and thus they will attain supremacy over the Egyptian state in other cities.
"I hope that the state deals with this situation with the necessary firmness in order to protect the unarmed civilians and break the image of control and power that these extremists wish to project to the outside world in order to redraft the equation of the war on terrorism – since the state's power is embodied in defending its citizens... The greater danger is that Copts often feel oppressed and deprived in [this] homeland, [although] they have done everything and have suffered greatly throughout history for the sake of its security and exaltation and are still suffering... Failing to fiercely combat these extremists will harm not only the Copts, but all of Egypt. We must fight these destructive, racist, and sectarian ideas that create schism and division in the homeland. Building the homeland is not [measured] only by projects and cities, despite their importance, but also by kindling light in the darkness where the benighted bats hide who wish to declare a state of permanent darkness... I am warning here of the danger of staying silent or taking these events lightly."[18]
Board Chairman Of Egyptian Daily: President Al-Sisi Should Lead Efforts To Solve Copt Crisis In Sinai Muhammad Amin, chairman of the board of trustees for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, claimed in an article that it would be a crime to remain silent in the face of these events, and even implicitly criticized President Al-Sisi for failing to immediately don his military uniform and personally manage this important campaign. He wrote: "... Where is the prestige of the state that the president discussed two days ago when speaking to cadets at the police academy?! ... Where is the state? Why did [the Copts have to] migrate in the first place? Why do the state security apparatuses and the local authorities put up with this sort of thing? How could the president accept the [Coptic] exodus?... Does he have a plan [of action]?... Has he taken a decision to manage the war himself? In truth, many of those outraged [at the events] assumed that the president would personally come to Al-Ismailia to manage the campaign [against ISIS] from the Second Army headquarters, if not from Al-'Arish itself – for this is the moment when the state's prestige is revealed...
"This is the moment for Field Marshal Al-Sisi to don his military uniform; this is the moment [for him] to lead the forces in his military attire. This is exactly the essence of the power we gave him. Mr. President, do you remember the day that we empowered you to combat terrorism? That empowerment was not just in order to hunt the terrorists in their lairs, but also to guarantee [the safety] of Egyptians from terrorist plots, racist discrimination, and ethnic cleansing. [It would be] a great crime if we remain silent over what happened, since it has grave implications! ...
"We cannot accept the idea of emigration or think that the Copts in Al-Ismailia are guests. The Copts are not guests – they have rights in their homeland... We cannot remain silent in light of [the attempts] to terrorize them... I wonder – who guarantees that this won't happen [again] in Al-'Arish and later elsewhere as well, from Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid to Bir Al-'Abd? Who guarantees that this is not the start of a calamity here or there? ... We must not allow the [Coptic] Egyptians to feel like strangers in their homeland, for any reason! We must not take what happened in Al-'Arish lightly. The intimidation [of Copts] by ISIS is reason to declare war [on ISIS]..."[19]
Conversely, Makram Muhammad Ahmad, former head of Egypt's journalists' union and a leading columnist at the daily Al-Ahram, claimed that the problem of terrorism could not be solved by having the president personally command the campaign against it, but rather by returning the Copts to Sinai in defiance of the terrorist groups. He wrote: "I don't think our problem with the terrorist can be solved by having President Al-Sisi don his military uniform in place of a civilian suit, or having him come to Al-'Arish to personally command the assault against the remnants of these organizations... I believe that the return of these families to Al-'Arish as soon as possible, after fortifying their homes, is a real [act of] defying the remnants of these terrorist organizations and clear proof of restoring Egypt's prestige..."[20]
Egyptian Writers: Military Activity In Sinai Is Ineffective; ISIS Operates Freely There
Several writers criticized the fact that ISIS has gained a foothold in Sinai despite security forces activity there in recent years. They argued that the functioning of state apparatuses in Sinai and the military's methods of combating ISIS there are ineffective, and called to revise them.
Editor Of Egyptian Daily: The Conduct Of The State And Its Apparatuses In Sinai Encourages Local Support For ISIS
In a February 28, 2017 article, 'Imad Al-Din Hussein, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq, argued that despite efforts by Egyptian security forces to target terrorists, ISIS still operates freely in Sinai. According to him, the state's disregard for Sinai residents' complaints causes some of them to grow close to ISIS, and in order to solve this problem, the state must act to restore the trust of Sinai residents. He wrote: "For many days, weeks, and months, we heard over and over again that Sinai would be declared free of terrorists. Now, after nearly four years, we are shocked to discover that ISIS was the one establishing its physical and ideological presence [in Sinai, as opposed to security forces]... We know that the security forces, the military, and the police invest immense efforts in defeating the terrorists, and we also know that they sacrifice their lives so that we can live in safety... All these efforts are appreciated... but it begs the question of how did the organization attain this level of lawlessness and thuggery? And how did we allow it to attain this level of barbarism?! Clearly, there is a real problem of lack of basic and specific intelligence regarding this organization among security forces, and it is also clear that the government has lost a substantial part of its popular support [in Sinai]...
"When some tribesmen in Sinai complain about the conduct of certain police officers and convene a large meeting... and no one cares, the result is another meeting in which they announce a rebellion involving not paying taxes, water and electric bills, and [bills for] other services.[21] In this case... It is vital for state [representatives] to sit down with them, listen to them, and solve their problems, and if there was an error, to apologize to them [as well]. [The state's] refusal to acknowledge this mistake is what causes some of these people [in Sinai] to grow close to and sympathize with ISIS... The ultimate result is that the government loses popular support. [Furthermore,] ISIS is waging a guerilla war, yet we fight it using standard military methods. Have we considered changing our patterns [of action] and thought?! Have we pondered nonconventional methods that will send these terrorists and their supporters the clear message that they will pay a heavy toll [for their actions]? We need solutions that will restore the trust of Sinai residents [in the state], or at least the trust of most of them."[22]
Egyptian Human Rights Activist: ISIS Is Establishing Itself In Sinai Because Lessons Were Not Learned From Middle East Tragedies
Similar remarks were made by human rights activist 'Azza Kamel in an article in Al-Masri Al-Yawm. According to her, ISIS has managed to gain a foothold in Sinai because Egypt has not learned lessons from the tragedies afflicting the Middle East. She wrote: "Seeing the images of women, children, and men being banished, their faces full of fear and terror, I wondered: has the phrase 'we will not become Syria and Iraq' [which is often repeated by President Al-Sisi] become hollow and false? For [it seems that] no one learned [a lesson] from the tragedies of others or from near and distant history, and ISIS [continues] to entrench itself [in Sinai] by force, using the same methods it has used to harm Christians, Yazidis, and others in Mosul and other Iraqi cities...
"We want someone to tell us the truth about what is happening and why it is happening. Who is responsible for ISIS entering Sinai and taking it over? Is there a solution for this great disaster?"[23]
The State, Al-Azhar, And The Salafis Are Party To ISIS Incitement Against Copts
Some writers attacked the state institutions, including Al-Azhar, arguing that they not only fail to sufficiently combat anti-Coptic incitement by Salafi-jihadi elements but actually enable this incitement.
Egyptian Columnist: The State's Silence Over Salafi Incitement Against Copts Empowers ISIS
Khaled Montaser, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, wrote on February 25 that the state's silence over the incitement against and discrimination of Copts by Egyptian parties, or the fact that they are excluded from Al-Azhar university, empower ISIS. He wrote: "We must speak openly – the problem is not just the ISIS terrorist, but the people on the street or in the tribe who seem neutral, but many of whom are of a Salafi-Wahhabi character, [namely espousing views that] permit the blood, honor, and money of the Christian. [Thus, they] could conspire with the terrorist, guide him, and help him, or [alternatively just] ignore him and not alert authorities to his hiding place.
"The state's silence in light of those who fan these flames and increase hostility [by means of] fatwas, which Muslims see as an important foundation of the religion, helps them to do so. The state is silent over [statements by Salafi preacher Sheikh Yasser] Borhamy, who openly says that Copts are infidels and must not be greeted [on their holidays] and that even a Muslim man who marries a Christian woman must not love her or express his feelings towards her.[24] The Egyptian Political Parties Commission views the [Salafi] Al-Nour Party as a civil party, and does not demand to dismantle it. The Interior [Ministry] still promotes traditional reconciliation meetings as a solution for barbaric crimes such as the torching of churches and the murder of worshippers there.[25] The government gives swift authorization for conversions to Islam, as though it is its duty to carry us to Paradise. The state still has a university [meaning Al-Azhar] that accepts only Muslims, not just to the Islamic studies [faculty] but to medicine and engineering studies [as well]. All these phenomena serve as a bridge for ISIS to pass over safely and even in ecstasy, with the help of their conspirator supporters..."[26]
Egyptian Poet: Al-Azhar Refuses To Proclaim ISIS Heretical, Thus Helping The Organization
Fatma Naout, an Egyptian poet and columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, wrote on February 26 that the Al-Azhar institute, which refuses to proclaim ISIS heretical, leads some Sinai residents to sympathize with and assist the organization.[27] She wrote: "Where do the ISIS monsters hide, and why is it so difficult for our security personnel to discover them in the groves of Al-'Arish and the mountain caves? Rocks are not their shield – unfortunately, people are.
"This is one of the most difficult moments in the history of Egypt – the mind cannot grasp what the ugly ISIS monster is doing to the Christian Copts in Al-'Arish right now. This lowly, satanic monster wants to cement its barbaric image in the global collective consciousness, [because] this is the only thing it has with which to proclaim its existence... However, [despite this,] the honorable Al-Azhar does not proclaim them heretics or exclude them from the fold of Islam [i.e., proclaim them apostates]. How and why is this the case? Because Al-Azhar does not level accusations of heresy at someone who has recited the two testimonies,[28] God forbid, no matter how much they have murdered, burned, raped, usurped, stole, or harmed Allah's image... Therefore, the ISIS monsters find [people from among] the residents, families, and tribes in Sinai to help them, give them shelter, and hide them from the eyes of our soldiers and policemen. How can residents and families in Sinai help them hide and provide them with shelter in their homes? [Apparently] they see the ISIS monsters as Muslims according to an official ruling by Al-Azhar, which has the sole final say regarding the faith of Muslims, or their heresy or apostasy. Is it not time for Al-Azhar to realize that the magical staff that will bury terrorism in Egypt, defeat ISIS around the world, and defend the lives of Christians in Al-'Arish is solely in its own hands? Issuing one clear and decisive fatwa proclaiming ISIS heretical will remove this human shield that provides shelter for the ISIS monsters...
"Oh, honorable Al-Azhar... By refusing to proclaim ISIS heretical, you make it the 'brother' of every Muslim in Sinai, the protégé of every tribal sheikh, and the son of every woman in her home. You, honorable Al-Azhar, without meaning to, have turned the ISIS [fighter] into a Muslim brother that it is one's duty to assist, [even if he] sins, without condition or reservation, so long as he is a Muslim..."[29]
Cause Of Current Situation Is Discrimination Of Copts, Which Is Ingrained In Egyptian Society
In an attempt to trace the roots of the current crisis, Egyptian writers also discussed the sectarian discrimination ingrained in Egyptian society, which begins in childhood, with Christian kids being called names at school, but is also manifested in legal and institutional discrimination against Christians, such as discriminatory laws and the exclusion of Christians from certain government positions.
Egyptian Columnist: Discrimination Against Egyptian Copts Starts At School; Egyptian Society Needs To Be Reeducated
Al-Masri Al-Yawm columnist Fathia Al-Dakhakhni wrote in a February 26, 2017 article that Egyptians, who imbibe fanatical ideas and notions of discrimination from an early age, need to be reeducated. She wrote: "Luckily for me, or perhaps unluckily, I went to school outside Egypt and therefore never heard the question 'Are you Muslim or Christian?' or the [derogative names applied to Copts in Egypt, such as] 'udhma zarqa ["blue bone"],[30] arba'a risha ["four feathers"][31] or Kufts [a distortion of "Copts"] until I came back to Egypt to complete my university studies. Although both my parents are Egyptian, neither of them spoke of these things at home, [so I never heard] these expressions until one day I happened to hear one of my younger brothers use them. He refused to eat the sweets that a Christian neighbor had sent us because she was a 'blue-bone' 'four-feathers.'
"I pondered long, trying to understand how my little brother's behavior could change this way although we had grown up in the same home. I realized that my parents' closest friends were Christians, although this had never occurred to me before. I knew that I had grown up among Christian friends, and could not understand what had made my brother talk this way.
"The answer [turned out to be]: school. That's where my brother heard these terms and learned that Christians are infidels destined for Hell. Worse than that, [he heard that] their food is disgusting and Muslims must not eat it. From that moment I started noticing the hidden signs of the fanaticism and sectarianism that exist in our society, whose leaders are always brandishing the slogan of unity and repeating the mantra 'the Crescent lives alongside the Cross'...
"The problem will not be solved by laws, declarations or presidential decrees. Fanaticism in Egypt is a matter of education, so there is need to reform the education received by [the members of our] society, who are raised on the concept of discrimination against the other. [The change] must start in school – because fanaticism begins with religion classes that separate Muslims from Christians, so that the child discovers in his earliest formative years that there is an 'other' who is different and who must be shunned.
"The next stage arrives when some teachers secretly poison the children's minds, [spreading] the racism and discrimination they [themselves] were raised on and treating the other as an infidel destined for Hell. The inculcation of racism continues in the mosque and [in interaction] with friends, until we arrive at the current situation...
"We must reconsider the proposals to abolish religion studies in schools and remove the religion clause from identity cards, change the culture of [our] teachers and punish those of them who teach our kids to be fanatics. We must also act to make [the principle of] citizenship, enshrined in the constitution, a reality and not just words on paper."[32]
Copt Affairs Researcher: Copts Are Discriminated Against In Egypt; We Must Continue Struggling For Them
Criticism of discrimination against Copts in Egypt could be heard in the Egyptian media prior to the current crisis. Thus, for example, on February 19, the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' published an article by journalist and Copt affairs researcher Suleiman Shafiq, in which he wrote: "...Copts face discrimination in three fields: The first – from the state – meaning legal discrimination. There are several laws that distinguish among citizens [solely] based on their religion. For instance, the law [concerning] Al-Azhar University, which is funded by all Egyptians, [but] only admits Muslims... [and also] the personal status law, as well as several bizarre [court] rulings that contradicted the civil law on child custody in cases of divorce or separation. [The latter law] grants custody [of the children] based on their age, but in cases where one of the sides converted to Islam, [courts have granted] custody of the children to the Muslim parent, regardless of their age.
"The second field where Copts face discrimination is... in appointments for top positions such as government offices, universities, and embassies, where Copts constitute no more than 2%. And there is no better proof [of discrimination] than the fact that there is not a single Coptic governor.
"The third field of discrimination is [harm] to [Copts'] public safety on the part of radical Muslim groups. From April 2011 to June 2012, and after Islamists won most seats in the People's Assembly and Parliament and the ousted president [Muhammad Mursi] rose to power, 62 Copts were murdered, 914 were injured, and 30 churches were attacked... During Mursi's term in office, 12 Copts were murdered, 613 were injured, and 12 churches were attacked, most notably the cathedral,[33] which was the first such attack in the modern history of the state. Since the ouster of the spy president Mursi on July 3, 2013 and until today, 14 Copts were murdered, 214 were injured, and 82 churches were looted or either partially or fully burned down. This is without even discussing [damage to private] property. If we examine the reasons for this, we will find that the cause is the spread of the culture of incitement to hatred and disregard, such as a fatwa banning church construction that was published in the Muslim Brotherhood magazine in 1980, as well as 14 fatwas by Dr. Yasser Borhamy that show contempt towards Christianity..."[34]
***C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI.
[1] It should be mentioned that tension between Muslims and Copts in Egypt is not new, and there have been many interreligious clashes in the country over the years. For more, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 646, Rising Tensions between Muslims, Christians in Egypt, November 15, 2010; and Inquiry & Analysis No. 693, In Egypt, Muslims' Attacks on Copts Increase, June 1, 2011. In order to alleviate these tensions, a law was passed in August 2016 that regulates the activity of Churches in Egypt as part of the efforts to cement Christian religious rights in the country. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1273, Egyptian Regime Approves Church Construction Law, Satisfying Coptic Church; Interfaith Conflict Continues, October 6, 2016.
[2] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1301, Copts Flee Sinai Amid ISIS Campaign Of Murder, Threats, February 27, 2017; and MEMRI JTTM report In New Video, ISIS Threatens To Increase Attacks On Copts, February 20, 2017.
[3] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 26, 2017; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 27, 2017; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 1, 2017; Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), March 5, 2017.
[4] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 28, 2017.
[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 27, 2017.
[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 27, 2017.
[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[8], February 24, 2017.
[9] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[10] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), March 5, 2017.
[11], February 26, 2017.
[12] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 25, 2017.
[13] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 28, 2017.
[14] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[15], February 28, 2017.
[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 2, 2017.
[17] It should be mentioned that this criticism of Al-Azhar is not new, and that several articles in recent months criticized the institute's conduct with regard to terrorist organizations. For more, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6585 'Al-Ahram' Columnist: Despite Al-Sisi's Call For Revolution In Religious Discourse, Al-Azhar Scholars Continue On Their Extremist Path, August 24, 2016.
[18] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 25, 2017.
[20] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 1, 2017.
[21] On January 13, the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that security forces had killed ten youths from Al-'Arish who were suspected members of ISIS. See, January 13, 2017. The announcement sparked fury and outrage among local residents, who held protest meetings and decided on a civil rebellion that included refusal to pay taxes and other utility bills., January 15, 2017; Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), February 9, 2017.
[22] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), February 28, 2017.
[23] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 27, 2017.
[24] There have been several reports on anti-Coptic incitement by Salafi Sheikh Yasser Borhamy, vice president of the Salafist Call movement in Egypt. For example, following the deadly December 2016 attack on a Church in Cairo, Borhamy claimed that the Copts murdered in the attack were not martyrs. Al-Watan (Egypt), December 18, 2016. Borhamy has also been sued for incitement against Christians. Al-Watan (Egypt), December 17, 2016. After he issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims to greet Christians on their holidays, Dar Al-Iftaa, Egypt's institution for religious rulings, ruled that greeting them was in fact permissible, and the Deputy Sheikh of Al-Azhar, 'Abbas Shuman, published an article with a similar argument., December 27, 2016; Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), December 30, 2016. For more on fatwas issued by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Front forbidding to greet Christians on their holidays, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.5293, In Advance Of Orthodox Easter In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood And Salafis Issue Fatwas Forbidding Greeting Copts On Their Holidays, May 2, 2013.
[25] The reference is to reconciliation committees comprising representatives of the Muslim and Coptic communities that meet to resolve conflicts between these communities in Egyptian villages, as an alternative to resolving them in court. This practice has come under fire from Egyptian Copts and others, who stated that these meetings are aimed at dropping the charges against Muslim aggressors while persuading the Coptic victims to give up their rights and even to leave their villages. For a 2015 incident in Beni Suef in which Coptic families were evicted from their village, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6097, Expulsion Of Coptic Families From Their Homes Sparks Uproar In Egypt, July 8, 2015.
[26] Al-Watan (Egypt), February 25, 2017.
[27] For more, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5910 Al-Azhar: The Islamic State (ISIS) Is A Terrorist Organization, But It Must Not Be Accused Of Heresy, December 21, 2014.
[28] Meaning the two testimonies of faith a person recites upon accepting Islam: "There is no God but Allah" and "Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."
[29] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[30] According to some, this epithet dates from the time of the sixth Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim (985-1021), who required Christians to wear a heavy cross around their necks. The chain, rubbing against the nape of their necks, painted it blue, hence the epithet.
[31] Apparently a reference to the cross that consists of four lines.
[32] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 26, 2017.
[33] This refers to the deadly attack on St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in April 2013.
[34] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 19, 2017.