March 22/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
The Miracle Of Curing the Centurion Slave

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 07/01-10/:"After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, "Go", and he goes, and to another, "Come", and he comes, and to my slave, "Do this", and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health."

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord
Each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another

Letter to the Romans 14/01-13/:"Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’So then, each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another."

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 21-22/17
Israel claims leading Hizballah official, Mustafa Badreddine killed in Iran-linked feud/The New Arab/March 21/17
Taxation without Representation/Ahmad El-Assaad/ March 21/17
Six Years of War: Is Assad Still Relevant? /FREDERIC C. HOF /Atlantic Council/March 21/17
The Media's Cheery Ignorance about Islam's Hostile Ideology/A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/March 21/17
French Elections: Populist Revolution or Status Quo/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 21/17
Prospects of political transition in Yemen/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
On those angry at the Trump-Mohammed bin Salman meeting/Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
Strength of the Arab world lies in its mothers/Yara al-Wazir/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
What next after acts of violence in Qatif/Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
Manbij: Syria’s modern day ‘Danzig’/Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/March 21/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 21-22/17
Turkey arrests 3 Lebanese-German citizens with ‘links’ to Berlin attacker
Israel sets to annex disputed maritime border area
Israeli Army Chief: Badreddine Killed by His Own Men
Hariri Arrives in Cairo on Two-Day Official Visit
Berri's Bloc Says Legislative Session Witnessed a 'Plot', Calls for 'Anti-Corruption Commission'
Hariri: Circumstances Not Suitable for Meeting Nasrallah
Aoun: Technical Postponement of Elections Must not Exceed Five Months
Judge Charges Five Palestinians for IS Links
Syrian Troops Counter-Attack after Damascus Rebel Incursion, Hizbullah Says
Israel claims leading Hizballah official, Mustafa Badreddine killed in Iran-linked feud
Aoun briefed from Tweini on work of his office in fight against corruption in state institutions
Siniora receives UAE Ambassador
Hariri arrives in Cairo on official visit
Future bloc hails Hariri's initiative at Riad Solh
Israeli Army fires flare bombs over Mount Hermon
Palestinian Security Forces warn to chase perpetrators in Rashidieh Camp
Hezbollah's number 2, Akkar Archbishop discuss current situation
Khatib receives Shorter
NNA Conference: 'Media Spreading Civilizations and Connecting Dialogues' Conference concludes work sessions at Hilton Habtour
Taxation without Representation

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published On March 21-22/17
Syria Rebels Launch Fresh Assault on East Damascus
U.S. Bans Laptops, Tablets on Flights from Turkey and Arab World
French Interior Minister Quits over Probe into Jobs for Daughters
Car bomb near presidential palace kills four in Somali capital
UK seeks to protect airplane passangers with new restrictions
Iraqi forces try to bring civilians out of west Mosul
Trump daughter Ivanka to get West Wing office
UN says all Syrian sides confirm to attend peace talks
Syrian rebels launch second Damascus attack in three days
New program allows Saudi prisoners on path to rehabilitation
UN rejects coalition call to supervise Yemen port
Britain follows US in electronics ban on flights from Middle East
Abadi says Trump ‘more engaged’ in terror fight
French candidate Macron seen winning TV debate with Le Pen
Assad: Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria
CCTV footage shows moment Orly Airport attacker grabs soldier’s gun

Links From Jihad Watch Site for 
March 21-22/17
Canada: Man charged with threatening to shoot people inside mosque is…Muslim
Kuwait: Muslim brandishing knife disrupts Catholic mass
Trump Justice Department: Muslim convicted in Brooklyn Bridge jihad terror plot should lose U.S. citizenship
Khizr Khan now admits that Trump administration did not block him from attending Toronto event
Forbes mag names Islamic Republic of Iran “cool” travel destination for 2017, says visitors must obey Sharia
Hungary opens military base at border to stop migrants
UK: Cops drag anti-mass migration activist off streets for asking anti- “Islamophobia” protestors questions
Fatah says US embassy lobbied Facebook to restore its account, State Department denies
lectronics banned on flights to US from Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, UAE
Glazov Gang: Can I Criticize Islam Without Fearing For My Life?
Minnesota: Muslim student leader threatens Jews, is exposed, rails against “Islamophobic smear campaign”
51 jihad terror-linked groups operating in Muslim neighborhood of Brussels

Links From Christian Today Site For March 21-22/17
Martin McGuinness: A 'courageous' and 'complex' peacemaker who turned away from his violent IRA past
'I believe in Jesus Christ': The 'broad' Irish Catholicism of terrorist-turned-peacemaker Martin McGuinness
See where Jesus died and was buried - Tomb now restored in Jerusalem
Queen sends private message of condolence to widow of Martin McGuinness as sources tell of strong rapport over faith
Trump critic Russell Moore wins backing of ERLC committee for his 'integrity and boldness'
Does the Bible condone the death penalty? Philippines bishops blast President Duterte
Conservative vicar calls on bishop to 'repent' over thanksgiving for gay couples
At almost 90, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is 'in good shape' and following the news
More calls for Welsh church to make Jeffrey John a bishop
Priest terrorises child in North Korean anti-Christian propaganda

Latest Lebanese Related News published On March 20-21/17
Turkey arrests 3 Lebanese-German citizens with ‘links’ to Berlin attacker
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Turkey arrested three German citizens of Lebanese origins, suspected of having links to the slain perpetrator of an ISIS attack on a Christmas market in Berlin last year, the Interior Ministry said on Monday. Police detained the three men identified as Mohammad Ali Khan, Youssef Darwiche and Bilal Yosef Mahmoud, at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport upon intelligence that they would try to go to Europe, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet. The three are believed to have been involved in the attack that took place on December 19, when Tunisian national Anis Ameri plowed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and wounding 49. ISIS claimed the attack a day later, and 24-year-old Ameri fled to Milan, where he was shot by police.

Israel sets to annex disputed maritime border area
Amir Ben-David/Ynertnews/March 20/17
The dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the maritime border between them has been going on for years, with both countries claiming a specific area as part of their territory; Now, Israel plans to propose a bill that includes the aforementioned area as part of its own territory—and as such, under its sovereignty.It was recently decided to bring a bill to define the maritime economic border with Lebanon to be read and voted on by the government and the Knesset. The move comes after years of delaying the ruling on Israel’s maritime border, partially due to efforts by the United States and the United Nations to mediate between Israel and Lebanon. The proposed bill includes a large territory still under dispute with Lebanon. The bill is aimed to claim Israel’s sovereignty over the area, mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural recourses like oil and gas. According to international law, dividing territory between states that reside near the same maritime area is done through their mutual agreement and is largely based on the “mid-point” between the two. Though Israel and Lebanon have been in dispute over what the mid-point between their maritime borders is, both countries are fighting over an 800 square kilometer trianglular maritime area (seen in the picture as areas 1-3), with both claiming they have the right to extract oil and gas from the area. After Lebanon recently broke the status quo, advertising a tender to search for natural resources in the disputed area, Israel began promoting a bill that aims to define the area within the Israel’s maritime territory. Minister of Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin and Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz (Likud) consolidated other agreements regarding what government body would have the authority over the area, eventually giving it to the Ministry of Energy. The Ministery of Environmental Protection agreed to stay as a non-authority advisory agency. The Ministry of Environmental Protection responded that “the bill has many positive aspects regarding the environment, as it promises certainty of the application of environmental laws in the area. However, the ministry is not satisfied with the current arrangement which does not clarify what agency will be the one overseeing the impact on the environment.”

Israeli Army Chief: Badreddine Killed by His Own Men
Associated /Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 21/17/Israel has concluded that Hizbullah's top military commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed in Syria last year by rivals within the Iran-backed Lebanese group, Israel's military chief said Tuesday. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, speaking to a security conference, said intelligence gathered had led Israel to the conclusion and matched previous reports. Badreddine's death last May illustrated "the depth of the internal crisis within Hizbullah," said Eisenkot. Eisenkot added that Israel "believes that he was killed by his own officers." He also said it reflected "the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hizbullah and its patron Iran."But the head of Hizbullah's media relations department, Mohammed Afif, told LBCI television that Eisenkot's accusations are "false and baseless and do not deserve a response."An Israeli military official said Israel believes the order to kill Badreddine was given by Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Israeli intelligence believes Badreddine had been feuding with Iranian military commanders in Syria over the heavy losses his group had suffered on the battlefield. Both Iran and Hizbullah are backing Syrian government forces.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential intelligence assessment. At the time of his death last year, Hizbullah said Badreddine had been killed by insurgent shelling in Syria. He was considered Hizbullah's top military official and was among five members on trial in absentia at a court in the Netherlands over the bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others in Beirut in 2005. Badreddine was a student of Imad Mughniyeh, Hizbullah's previous military chief, who was considered one of the world's "most-wanted terrorists" by Israel and the United States. Mughniyeh, who was Badreddine's brother-in-law, was killed in a 2008 car bombing in Damascus that Hizbullah blamed on Israel. Israel and Hizbullah fought a monthlong war in 2006 that ended in a stalemate. Israeli officials say that Hizbullah is far stronger than it was back then and battle-tested after years of fighting in neighboring Syria. They frequently warn that it is only a matter of time before another war breaks out. But Israeli officials also say the group does not want a confrontation with Israel right now. Hizbullah has gotten bogged down in the Syrian fighting and is believed to have lost hundreds of fighters. Israel is not actively involved in the Syrian fighting. But it keeps close tabs on the battlefield actions of its enemies, Iran and Hizbullah. Israel is believed to have carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria aimed at suspected weapons shipments destined for Hizbullah.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military confirmed that a "Skylark" surveillance drone crashed in Syria earlier this week. It gave no cause for the crash and said the incident was being investigated, but said there was "no risk of a breach of information."Last week, Israel shot down a Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli aircraft carrying out an airstrike on a suspected Hizbullah weapons convoy in

Hariri Arrives in Cairo on Two-Day Official Visit
Naharnet/March 21/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived Tuesday in Cairo on a two-day official visit during which he is scheduled to meet with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sharif Ismail, his press office said. Hariri, who arrived at 5:00 pm, will also meet with a number of senior Egyptian officials and will chair the Lebanese delegation in a meeting for the Higher Lebanese-Egyptian Committee, the office added. The premier was welcomed at the airport by Egyptian PM Ismail, Egypt's Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr, Commerce and Industry Minister Tareq Qabil, Egypt's ambassador to Lebanon Nazih Naggari, Lebanon's charge d'affaires in Cairo Antoine Azzam and a number of top officials. According to Lebanon's al-Joumhouria newspaper, Hariri will also meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar. Hariri is accompanied by an official delegation comprising Deputy PM and Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani and the ministers Marwan Hamadeh (Education), Ghazi Zoaiter (Agriculture), Ali Hassan Khalil (Finance), Nouhad al-Mashnouq (Interior), Ghattas Khoury (Culture), Youssef Fenianos (Public Works and Transport), Cesar Abi Khalil (Energy and Water, Raed Khoury (Economy and Trade), his chief of staff Nader Hariri and the heads of press and editors syndicates Aouni Kaaki and Elias Aoun.

Berri's Bloc Says Legislative Session Witnessed a 'Plot', Calls for 'Anti-Corruption Commission'
Naharnet/March 21/17/Thursday's legislative session that was adjourned due to a lack of quorum witnessed a “conspiracy” aimed at “torpedoing the new wage scale” and “settling political scores related to the electoral law,” the Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc led by Speaker Nabih Berri said on Tuesday. The bloc discussed “the circumstances of the latest parliamentary session, the protests of the various sectors, and the contacts and meetings pertaining to drafting a new electoral law,” said a statement issued by the bloc after a meeting that was chaired by Berri. It said Thursday's session witnessed a conspiracy “targeted against the parliamentary, democratic system, especially the legislative institution, which is the mother of all legislative and supervisory authorities.” “The loss of quorum plot was aimed at torpedoing the new wage scale to serve the greed of banks and those benefiting from encroachment on seaside properties, and settling political scores related to the electoral law,” Development and Liberation added. “In this regard, the bloc is confident that the parliament is committed to approving the wage scale, which is a legitimate right for its beneficiaries,” the bloc went on to say. “Securing the revenues (needed to fund it) is the responsibility of the government, which must not impose any burdens on the poor and middle classes,” it added. As for the calls for combating corruption, Development and Liberation called on the government to form “the National Commission for Combating Corruption that was stipulated by the right to information law that was passed by parliament on February 10, 2017.” Turning to the issue of the electoral law, the bloc warned that failure to approve a new electoral law would be “suicide.”“There is a need to agree on a new electoral law within a few weeks or else we would enter a dangerous phase,” the bloc added.

Hariri: Circumstances Not Suitable for Meeting Nasrallah
Naharnet/March 21/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated rejection of any illegal arms outside the State's control and pointed out that circumstances are not appropriate to hold a meeting with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. “Our position as a political party is well-known. We constantly emphasize that we are against any weapons other than the army's and the Lebanese State,” Hariri said in an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on Tuesday. “This issue remains a subject of disagreement among the Lebanese. Unfortunately, it is an essential component of national division and a state weakness,” he added. He pointed out that the aspiration to address the issue of Hizbullah's weapons should be “under the roof of the national dialogue, and the call for exclusivity of arms in the hands of the state and its legitimate military and security institutions.” “There is no legitimacy for any weapon except for the Lebanese army and our security institutions. Any other weapons are subject to disagreement,” added the Premier. Hariri remarked: “Dialogue continues with Hizbullah, although the (national dialogue) sessions are not being held in the same momentum as before because we are sitting for meetings constantly now during the cabinet meetings.”“We are still on our position from the weapons of Hizbullah rejecting the existence of any arms outside the State institutions. They (Hizbullah) are continuing with their policy by intervening militarily in the Syrian crisis and their refusal to resolve the issue of weapons. What brings us now is the participation within the one government and consensus to reject sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites and the search for solutions to other issues and problems.”To a question on whether a meeting between him and Nasrallah is currently possible, Hariri said: “I believe that the circumstances are inappropriate for such a meeting.” On his relations with Saudi Arabia, Hariri assured that his good ties with the Kingdom were not in doubt “everybody knows how firm this relation is,” he said, adding that vising Riyadh is strictly linked to the agendas of the Lebanese and Saudi governments.

Aoun: Technical Postponement of Elections Must not Exceed Five Months
Naharnet/March 21/17/In light of the political parties failure to agree on a new electoral law before the due date, President Michel Aoun said that a compulsory technical postponement of the parliamentary elections must not exceed a period of five months. Aoun stressed, during separate meetings he held earlier with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, the need to abide by the time period of not more than five months shall the technical extension of the parliamentary elections be necessary, An Nahar daily reported on Tuesday. “A technical extension of the parliament's mandate must not exceed five months,” said Aoun, stressing the need to agree on a new electoral law to govern the upcoming polls. Latest reports have indicated that a proportional representation system has become the basis for any new format that will be devised by political parties. Mashnouq had announced on Monday after meeting Aoun, that Lebanon will have a new electoral law within a month, noting that it will inevitably contain a proportional representation component. For his part, Hariri said from Baabda that there is “a very positive dialogue among the various political parties” regarding the electoral law.

Judge Charges Five Palestinians for IS Links
Naharnet/March 21/17/State Commissioner to the Military Court judge Saqr Saqr pressed charges against five Palestinian nationals for having links to the Islamic State group, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday.
The suspects are accused of carrying out terror acts and targeting positions of the Lebanese army, and of having plans to attack political figures in the country, NNA said. Saqr referred the case to First Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida.

Syrian Troops Counter-Attack after Damascus Rebel Incursion, Hizbullah Says
Associated Press/Naharnet/March 21/17/Syrian government forces launched a counter-attack against rebels in Damascus on Tuesday, following a rebel suicide car bombing and another insurgent assault earlier in the day in the country's capital, media reports said. It was the second attempt by rebels in three days to penetrate Damascus' defenses. Rebels have been trying for years to break into the heart of Damascus, at times in conjunction with al-Qaida-linked militants. Al-Qaida-affiliated suicide bombers have been targeting government security installations since the early days of the conflict.
Early on Tuesday, Syrian rebels detonated a car bomb in an eastern neighborhood of Damascus and launched a renewed attack from the city's opposition-held Jobar neighborhood, according to the Hizbullah group. There were no immediate reports on casualty numbers in those attacks.
Hizbullah is heavily invested in defending Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's civil war. Its military media arm said fighting was underway Tuesday in Jobar, which Syrian government forces had held under siege since 2013. Syrian state media later said the military responded with airstrikes and artillery fire and that government forces repelled the attack. Sounds of blasts and artillery fire shook Damascus, and smoke clouded the skies over the eastern Jobar and Qaboun neighborhoods, where fighting had also broken out on Sunday. Syria's SANA news agency said government forces encircled the "terrorist groups." It said 15 people were wounded in shelling across the capital. A rebel blitz spearheaded by Syria's al-Qaida branch shook the eastern parts of Damascus on Sunday, with fighters managing to seize a neighborhood before pro-government forces pushed them back on Monday. It was the most serious insurgent incursion into Damascus since 2012. The insurgent gains in Damascus, though short-lived, come against the backdrop of months of steady rebel losses to government forces across Syria. It appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida's affiliate to mount sophisticated attacks against high-value targets to portray itself as the main force capable of fighting the government.

الصراع الإيراني_الإيراني انهى حياة مصطفى بدر الدين
Israel claims leading Hizballah official, Mustafa Badreddine killed in Iran-linked feud
The New Arab/March 21/17
Hezbollah say that Badreddine was killed last year by rebel shelling near Damascus [AFP]
Hizballah has denied Israeli claims that its leader ordered the killing of military commander Mustafa Badreddine after he objected to the Lebanese Shia paramilitary group's huge losses in Syria. Israel has claimed a high-ranking Hizballah official was killed in Syria by rivals within the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia paramilitary group. The announcement marks the latest escalation in a growing feud between Israel and Hizballah over its activities in the Syrian Golan Heights bordering the Israeli state. This has resulted in at least one deadly Israeli air strike in the area in the last week. Speaking at an academic conference on Tuesday Israel's military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said that the death of Mustafa Badreddine was a sign of "the depth of the internal crisis within Hizballah". He added that the alleged killing further demonstrated "the extent of cruelty, complexity, and tension between Hizballah and its patron Iran".
Badreddine was considered Hizballah's top military official and one of five members of the group being tried in absentia in The Hague in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He was killed in 2016 after arguing with Iranian military officials in Syria, Israeli intelligence claimed. Badreddine is said to have been angered by the heavy losses sustained by the Lebanese Shia group in Syria, according to an Israeli military official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Hizballah is believed to have lost hundreds - possibly thousands - of fighters in Syria, where militants are supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Badreddine's killing, according to Israel, was ordered by Hizballah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Hizballah has since denied the claims in comment to Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper. In May 2016, Hizballah said that Badreddine had been killed by "takfiri" groups (a term used by the group to describe all combatant forces fighting against the Assad regime) in shelling close to Damascus' International Airport. Thousands consequently gathered in funeral processions held in the group's Dahieh stronghold in Beirut. On Tuesday an Israeli drone was downed over Syria's Golan Heights, only a matter of days after a member of a Hezbollah-affiliated group was killed in a reported drone attack in the flashpoint border area on Sunday. This follows on from an Israeli airstrike targeting an alleged Hizballah weapons convoy near Palmyra. That attack also led the Syrian regime to fire retaliatory anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli aircraft. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman has threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems "without the slightest hesitation" if Israel's aircraft were targeted again.
(Agencies contributed to this report)

Aoun briefed from Tweini on work of his office in fight against corruption in state institutions
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, met on Tuesday afternoon at Baabda Presidential Palace with Minister of State for Combating Corruption, Nicolas Tweini. The latter briefed Aoun on the work of his office in the fight against corruption in the state's institutions. Tweini said that he presented to Aoun "the project he had prepared in order to adopt a unified mechanism for the tenders being conducted by the Lebanese State in accordance with the directions announced recently by President Aoun." Separately, Aoun met with Deputy Walid Khoury and the Municipality head of Amchit, Antoine Isa, with talks featuring high on developmental projects in Jbeil and Amchit.

Siniora receives UAE Ambassador
Tue 21 Mar 2017 at 19:37 Politics/NNA - President of Future Bloc, MP Fouad Siniora, met on Tuesday afternoon at his bliss office with the Ambassador of UAE, Hamad Bin Saeed al -Shamsi. Discussions touched on the general situation in Lebanon and the region, in addition to bilateral ties between both countries.

Hariri arrives in Cairo on official visit
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, arrived on Tuesday at 5.p.m. in Cairo on a two-day official visit to meet with Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah Sisi, Prime Minister, Sharif Ismail and senior Egyptian officials.Hariri will chair the Lebanese delegation in a meeting for the Higher Lebanese-Egyptian Committee. The premier was welcomed at the airport by Egyptian PM Ismail, Egypt's Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr, Commerce and Industry Minister Tareq Qabil, Egypt's ambassador to Lebanon, Nazih Naggari, Lebanon's charge d'affaires in Cairo, Antoine Azzam and a number of top officials. Hariri is accompanied by an official delegation including Deputy PM and Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani and the ministers Marwan Hamadeh, Ghazi Zoaiter, Ali Hassan Khalil, Nouhad Mashnouk, Ghattas Khoury, Youssef Fenianos, Cesar Abi Khalil, Raed Khoury, his chief of staff Nader Hariri.

Future bloc hails Hariri's initiative at Riad Solh
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - "Future" bloc held on Tuesday its weekly meeting at the Center House and tackled the current situation in the country at several aspects. The bloc appreciated the unprecedented step taken by Prime Minister, Saad Hariri when he went on Sunday to Riad El Solh Square to meet with the protesters and to hold talks with them in order to listen to their demands and try to find rational solutions that guarantee the rights of the people and the state. "The bloc asked PM Hariri to confront corruption and to stop squander through setting reform programs in all the state's administrations," Deputy Khaled Zahraman said following the meeting. On the other hand, the bloc called on all the political factions to commit to national constants and coexistence between Muslims and Christians and also to commit to the free parliamentary system.

Israeli Army fires flare bombs over Mount Hermon
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - The Israeli Army threw on Tuesday night flare bombs over Mount Hermon observatory amid the flight of a reconnaissance warplane over Mount Hermon in the space of the occupied Shebaa Farms, NNA field reporter said.

Palestinian Security Forces warn to chase perpetrators in Rashidieh Camp
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - The Palestinian Security Forces in Rashidieh Camp said in a statement on Tuesday: "Following the scuffle that broke out on Monday and resulted in the injury of a person, the security forces deployed in the camp, contained the situation and apprehended the perpetrator. The perpetrator has been handed over to the Lebanese Army Intelligence in the south. The security forces in the camp promised to hit with an iron fist any perpetrator in a bid to protect the people of the camp."

Hezbollah's number 2, Akkar Archbishop discuss current situation
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - Vice Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naeem Qassem, met on Tuesday with Akkar Orthodox Archbishop Basilios Mansour, with whom he discussed the current general situation. The pair reportedly maintained during the meeting the importance of preserving coexistence as well as of facing threats, especially those made by Israel and takfiri terrorists.

Khatib receives Shorter
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - Environment Minister, Tarek Khatib, on Tuesday received at his office British Ambassador, Hugo Shorter.Minister Khatib informed Ambassador Shorter of the priorities of his ministry and its challenges.

NNA Conference: 'Media Spreading Civilizations and Connecting Dialogues' Conference concludes work sessions at Hilton Habtour

Tue 21 Mar 2017 /NNA - The National News Agency "NNA" winded up on Tuesday afternoon its international Conference "Media Spreading Civilizations and Connecting Dialogues" at the Hilton Habtour, Beirut, under the patronage of Information Minister, Melhem Riachy. The Conference's last work sessions was held under the headline "The Importance of Media in promoting Economic Communication" moderated by our colleague, Journalist Rana Hajj, with guest Speakers notably President of the Lebanese Businessmen Association (RDCL) Dr Fouad Zmokhol, Economic Journalist and University Professor, Michel Morcos, and Arab Economic News Editor-in-Chief, Violette Balaa. In his delivered word, Morcos dwelt on the importance of media in the economic sphere, considering economic media as an outlet which keeps pace with the development of securing needs, while maintaining integrity, truthfulness and reason. Morcos also pointed out that "economic media aims to achieve the prosperity of the individual and society, as well as to set right the lame paths and erroneous directions. "Economic media is a responsible, rational and realistic media. Yet, it is at the same time a visionary one with a message aimed at building the happiness of society," he said. Balaa, for her part, tackled in her word the role of economic media which should be based on serving the economy of the public sector as the private sector as well as the macroeconomic and individual economy, i.e. the economy of society and the state. "Such a role requires a strong, specialized and effective economic media which knows how to deal with information, studies, reports and data, in order to form the guiding levers of the national economy," she said, noting the lack of specialized editing in the economic media sphere.
Balaa concluded by pointing out the existence of a profound gap between economic media and development. In his delivered word, Zmokhol branded media as the prime gateway for the investment of information and to attract investors, entrepreneurs and international and regional companies to our country.
"Media is the primary source of public, economic, financial and digital information," Zmokhol said, adding that media provides the link between the leading investors from within the same country and across the border. "In this sense, media is the main engine of any country's economy and the constructive and productive weapon for investment and economic development," noted Zmokhol, adding that media plays the role of a liaison between ideas, innovation and pioneers. Zmokhol concluded by saying "We rely on the Lebanese media to relay the positive image of our country and attract investment and investors," expressing utter belief in full complementarity among economy, business and media.

Taxation without Representation
Ahmad El-Assaad/ March 21/17
Every Lebanese citizen wishes that the political forces would finally agree after a long period of battles and conflicts, and that they all would fight in the same trench… as long as they wouldn’t be fighting the people!
Every Lebanese will take a sigh of relief once all the politicians will agree on the same thing… provided that their consensus wouldn’t be about ways to make their people starve!
“I hope it’s for the best” will everyone say, when two leaders finally reconcile… as long as they’re not doing so at the expense of the people!
The taxes that the Lebanese people are paying are the result of their political leaders’ disagreements. They have now finally agreed, but their agreement was to make the struggling people pay more taxes.
The taxes invented by the ones in power, across the board, are not the solution to save the country’s treasury, settle the debt, or fund the public servants’ and the teachers’ salary scale, which we have been impatiently waiting for, because it is their legitimate right.
These taxes come to add more burdens on the shoulders of the citizens, already struggling to make ends meet due to low incomes – that’s if they even had an income, what with most companies declaring bankruptcy, because of the economic paralysis caused by… political discords!
These taxes cripple the people’s purchase power even more, leading to a deadly economic lull that will soon suffocate any signs of growth.
These taxes are fueling the fire of the hardships suffered by all economic sectors, adding to the losses, decimating any chance of revival.
To the decision makers in this country, we simply say, no, that’s not how problems are solved. The solution would be to stop the waste, be it due to corruption, mismanagement or wrong policies. The solution would be through economic reforms, which would stimulate growth and lower unproductive public expenditures. The first step would be to include the private sector in the administration of fund-siphoning facilities that are breaking the treasury’s back, the electricity company being at the forefront since it is costing the government around 2 billion dollars per year, without even providing 24-hour electricity!
The political forces strike again.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published 
On March 21-22/17
Syria Rebels Launch Fresh Assault on East Damascus
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 21/17/Rebels and jihadists on Tuesday launched a fresh assault on east Damascus, two days after Syrian government forces repelled an initial attack just a few kilometers from the center of the capital. An AFP journalist in east Damascus and a monitor both reported a large explosion at dawn followed by fierce clashes, shelling and government air strikes on opposition positions. The renewed fighting in the capital, which saw rebels and jihadists make their largest incursions in east Damascus in years, came just two days before another round of UN-backed peace talks were set to get underway in Switzerland. "There was a big blast at dawn, most likely due to a car bomb attack by the rebels against a regime position between the districts of Jobar and Qabun," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP. Syria's air force responded with raids on opposition positions while rebels shelled the Abbasids and Tijara neighborhoods near Jobar, a few kilometers (miles) from the city center, said Abdel Rahman. The official SANA news agency said 12 people were wounded in rebel shelling. "The Syrian army is facing attempts to advance by terrorist groups... north of Jobar and is surrounding them," it reported. An AFP journalist in Damascus reported hearing a large explosion at dawn in the city's east followed by non-stop shelling and gunfire.
Plumes of dark smoke could be seen rising from eastern neighborhoods. "Our windows and doors rattle with each bombardment," Damascus resident Lamis, 28, told AFP. "I'm frightened that these armed groups will advance further and I hope they will be stopped soon." It was the second wave of an assault that began at the weekend and saw rebels and allied jihadists initially score gains in Jobar, even briefly advancing into Abbasid Square -- two kilometers (1.2 miles) from Damascus' Old City -- for the first time in two years.But forces loyal to President Bashar Assad drove them back by nightfall and began a fierce bombing campaign, the Observatory said, before calm was restored on Monday afternoon in eastern Damascus where shops reopened and cars returned to the roads. Clashes on Sunday and Monday killed at least 72 people, including 38 government force members and 34 rebels and jihadists, according to the Observatory. Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule but has evolved over the years into a complex civil war. More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more have been displaced by the conflict. Repeated peace talks over the years have failed to bring about a political solution, but another round of negotiations is due to begin in Geneva on Thursday.

U.S. Bans Laptops, Tablets on Flights from Turkey and Arab World
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 21/17/The United States and Britain on Tuesday banned larger electronic devices from the passenger cabin on flights from some airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. American officials warned that extremists are seeking "innovative" ways to attack airliners with smaller explosive devices hidden in consumer electronics bigger than smartphones. The U.S. has given nine airlines from eight countries until the weekend to tell all travelers to America to pack laptops, tablets and portable game consoles in their hold luggage. No U.S. carriers are affected, but passengers on approximately 50 flights per day from some of the busiest hubs in the Muslim world will be obliged to follow the new emergency ruling. Britain issued a similar order, applied to direct flights from a shorter list of countries. Other countries are expected to follow suit, but Germany said it would not. "The restrictions are in place due to evaluated intelligence and we think it's the right thing to do and the right places to do it to secure the safety of the traveling public," a senior U.S. official said. .S. officials would not say how long the ban would last, but the Dubai-based Emirates airline told AFP that it had been instructed to enforce it until at least October 14. The U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to discuss the "intelligence information" that led the Transportation Security Administration to issue the order. But one said concerns had been "heightened by several successful events and attacks on passenger lanes and airports over the last years."Reaction from the affected airports' host governments was generally low-key, but one, Turkey, denounced the order and demanded that it be rescinded or scaled back. "We particularly emphasize how this will not benefit the passenger and that reverse steps or a softening should be adopted," Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan told reporters. "We already take all kinds of security measures," he said.
Innovative methods
The U.S. official would not go into detail about which attacks had raised fears, but did cite an incident from February of last year in which suspected Somali Islamists blew a hole in the side of a Daallo Airlines passenger jet with a small device. Only the bomber was killed and the plane landed safely.
CNN quoted a U.S. official as saying the ban was believed to be related to a threat posed by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. "Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items," an official said. The airports touched by the ban are Queen Alia International in Amman, Jordan; Cairo International in Egypt; Ataturk in Istanbul, Turkey; King Abdulaziz International in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Khalid International in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International; Mohammed V International in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International in Doha, Qatar; and the Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports in the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. ban will hit flights operated by Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways. The British ban only involves six countries, two of which -- Lebanon and Tunisia -- do not feature on the U.S. list. The change affects six British airlines, including British Airways and EasyJet, and eight foreign carriers.
U.S. lawmakers said they had been briefed over the weekend on the classified intelligence behind the ban, and the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said he backed it. "These steps are both necessary and proportional to the threat," Adam Schiff said. "We know that terrorist organizations want to bring down aircraft and have continued to employ creative ways to try and outsmart detection methods." Tom Blank, a former head of security at the Transportation Security Administration, told AFP: "This bears the mark of a response to some specific set of the intelligence data that has come to the attention of U.S. authorities."Airlines will be responsible for policing the cabin ban, and if they fail to do so, they could lose their rights to operate U.S. routes.

French Interior Minister Quits over Probe into Jobs for Daughters
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 21/17/French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux resigned on Tuesday after revelations that he hired his two teenage daughters as parliamentary aides. Le Roux denied wrongdoing but said he did not want the investigation into the contracts -- for which his daughters earned a total of 55,000 euros ($59,500) as parliamentary aides -- to "undermine the work of the government."The allegations prompted comparisons with scandal-hit rightwing presidential hopeful Francois Fillon, who has been charged over claims he gave his wife and children parliamentary jobs paying hundreds of thousands of euros. Le Roux, 51, had been in the Socialist government just 106 days, having taken over the weighty portfolio when Bernard Cazeneuve was elevated to prime minister. The TMC channel reported late Monday that Le Roux's daughters were still in school when he first hired them, and they continued doing work for him -- paid with taxpayers' money -- when they were in university. Le Roux told TMC his daughters had worked for him during their summer holidays.Earlier Tuesday he was placed under preliminary investigation.
- 'Must be irreproachable' -
Having entered the cabinet in December, he had faced his most serious crisis at the weekend when a man was shot dead at Paris's Orly airport after attacking a soldier.The writing was on the wall for Le Roux when Cazeneuve, without naming him, said earlier Tuesday that government officials must be "irreproachable.""Otherwise the authority of the state is weakened," Cazeneuve said at a Paris event. Le Roux was conspicuously absent from the event after initially being scheduled to attend. French lawmakers are allowed to hire family members as assistants, as long as they do real work.
The issue has been brought into sharp focus with the scandal dubbed "Penelopegate" that has hit Fillon's presidential bid. Penelope Fillon and two of the couple's children are suspected of holding fake jobs as parliamentary aides for which they were paid around 900,000 euros in total.
The conservative presidential candidate also insists he did no wrong, presenting the affair as an attempted "political assassination" and questioning the justice system's impartiality. In a clear reference to Fillon, Cazeneuve said Tuesday that public figures should not challenge the independence of the judiciary.
The expenses scandal, and later revelations about lavish gifts from the rich, have dealt a severe blow to Fillon's campaign. The former prime minister sought to shift the focus to his cost-cutting platform in a debate on Monday among the top five presidential candidates.
With one month to go before the first round of elections for a successor to the deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande -- who decided in December not to seek re-election -- the electorate is especially disillusioned. Only 17 percent of those questioned in an Ipsos poll last month gave high marks to France's democratic system. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are the two leading candidates in the election, according to opinion polls, with the first round due on April 23 and the run-off on May 7.

Car bomb near presidential palace kills four in Somali capital
Reuters, Abdi Sheikh Tuesday, 21 March 2017/At least four people were killed on Tuesday when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint less than a kilometre away from the presidential compound in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, police said. Security officials at the scene told Reuters the checkpoint was rammed by a car bomb driven by a suicide attacker, causing a blast outside a theatre. “At least four people, including government soldiers and civilians, died in the blast. Several others were injured,” said Mohamed Hussein, a police officer. “Casualty numbers may rise. There were pedestrians along the street at the time of the explosion,” he told Reuters. The theatre is about 300 metres away from the heavily fortified compound known as Villa Somalia, which also houses other government agencies. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the explosion. In the past, al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab has taken responsibility for blasts and gun attacks in the capital. Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government. The group’s insurgency aims to drive out the peacekeepers, topple Somalia’s western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state. Somalia swore in a new leader last month. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has promised al Shabaab’s fighters “a good life” if they surrender.

UK seeks to protect airplane passangers with new restrictions
Tue 21 Mar 2017/NNA - The British Embassy in Beirut issued the following statement following the press release issued earlier today by the Department for Transport. UK seeks to protect airplane passengers with new restrictions on electronic devices regarding the new safety measures which will be enacted from [25 March], a British Embassy spokesperson said: "We are in close contact with the Lebanese authorities, the airport and affected airlines to help ensure that the implementation of the new measures is as smooth as possible for passengers. Our aim is to protect the safety of British nationals and travellers to the UK, while also ensuring that the links between the UK and Lebanon remain open: these new measures ensure both of these goals can be achieved. We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimise any Passengers are advised to check with their airline before travelling and to arrive at the airport early. Additional airline security measures on some routes travelling to the UK
Phones, laptops and tablets larger than 16.0cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm not allowed in the cabin on flights to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tunisia. Today the government announced there will be changes to aviation security measures for selected inbound flights to the United Kingdom. The House will be aware that the United States government made a similar announcement earlier today regarding flights to the United States and we have been in close contact with them to fully understand their position. In conjunction with our international partners and the aviation industry, the UK government keeps aviation security under constant review. The UK has some of the most robust aviation security measures in the world and at all times the safety and security of the public is our primary concern. We will not hesitate to put in place measures we believe are necessary, effective and proportionate.
Under the new arrangements, phones, laptops and tablets larger than:
" length: 16.0cm
" width: 9.3cm
" depth: 1.5cm
will not be allowed in the cabin on selected flights to the UK from the countries affected. Most smart phones fall within these limits and will continue to be allowed on board. However, devices larger than these dimensions may not be carried in the cabin. This is in addition to other existing security arrangements. This will apply to inbound flights to the UK from the following locations:
" Turkey
" Lebanon
" Egypt
" Saudi Arabia
" Jordan
" Tunisia
Passengers are therefore advised to check online with their airline for further details.
We understand the frustration that these measures may cause and we are working with the aviation industry to minimise any impact. Our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals. These new measures apply to flights into the UK and we are not currently advising against flying to and from those countries. Those with imminent travel plans should contact their airline for further information. More information can be found on the Department for Transport website and the travelling public should consult the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's travel advice pages on GOV.UK.
I know the House will recognise that we face a constantly evolving threat from terrorism and must respond accordingly to ensure the protection of the public against those who would do us harm. The update we are making to our security measures is an important part of that process.
We remain open for business. People should continue to fly and comply with security procedures.

Iraqi forces try to bring civilians out of west Mosul
Reuters, Mosul, Iraq Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Iraqi government forces attempted to evacuate civilians from Mosul’s ISIS-held Old City on Tuesday so that troops could clear the area, but militant snipers hampered the effort, Iraqi officers said. They said the insurgents were also using civilians as human shields as government units edged towards the al-Nuri Mosque, the focus of recent fighting in the five-month-long campaign to crush ISIS in the city that was once the de facto capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate. As many as 600,000 civilians remain in the western sector of Mosul, complicating a battle being fought with artillery and air strikes as well as ground combat. Thousands have escaped in recent days. “Our forces control around 60 percent of the west now,” Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told a news conference in eastern Mosul. “It’s the Old City now with small streets and it’s a hard fight with civilians inside. We are trying to evacuate them. “We are a few hundred meters from the mosque now, we are advancing on al-Nuri. We know it means a lot to Daesh,” he said, using an Arab acronym for ISIS. The capture of the mosque would be a huge symbolic prize as well as strategic gain for the government as it was there where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in July 2014 after the militants had captured large areas of Iraq and Syria. Government forces backed by a US-led international coalition retook several cities last year, liberated eastern Mosul in December, and are now closing in on the west, but the militants are putting up fierce resistance from the close-packed houses and narrow streets. Baghdadi and other leaders have fled the city for the hinterlands, where ISIS remnants may regroup and wage a new phase of insurgency. At the same time, ISIS forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa are under attack in a parallel conflict. Brigadier General Saad Maan said soldiers had killed nine ISIS snipers on Tuesday and destroyed a bomb factory. “There are lots of snipers on top of the buildings in the Old City around the al-Nuri Mosque. We need to evacuate the families from inside as they using them as a shield when we are advancing on the mosque,” he told the news conference. No precise toll of civilian casualties has been given but a prominent Iraqi politician said last week that the number could be as high as 3,500 dead since the attack on western Mosul started in mid-February.
An emergency field hospital set up by the US medical charity Samaritan’s Purse says it has treated more than 1,000 patients, many of them women and children, since January. They suffered wounds from gunfire, land mines, mortar rounds, car bombings and booby-traps.
Reporters at the frontline on Tuesday said clashes took place around the railway station in some areas troops had held a few days earlier. Troops fired rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machineguns at militants around the station as families ran across streets to avoid snipers
“We sitting inside our house and bullets were coming through our door,” said one woman fleeing to government lines.

Trump daughter Ivanka to get West Wing office
Reuters, Washington Tuesday, 21 March 2017/President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is getting an office in the White House West Wing, stepping up her highly visible role in helping advise her father. A White House official on Monday confirmed reports that Trump’s 35-year-old daughter would be getting her own West Wing space, as well as access to classified information and a government-issued phone. She is not expected to have an official title and will not be paid a salary. Ivanka Trump will be joining her husband, Jared Kushner, who is a chief adviser to the president and is a regular presence at his father-in-law’s side. When Kushner’s job was announced earlier this year, aides said Ivanka would not take on a role in her father’s White House but would focus on settling her family in Washington. Since then, she has been a frequent behind-the-scenes adviser. Last Friday, she sat next to visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel when Merkel visited the White House.

UN says all Syrian sides confirm to attend peace talks

AFP, Geneva Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Syrian government and rebel delegations have confirmed their attendance at peace talks set to resume in Geneva this week, the United Nations said on Tuesday, despite renewed fighting around Damascus. “All invitees who had already attended the previous round of talks in February 2017 have confirmed their participation”, UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters. She said UN mediator Staffan de Mistura was currently visiting key powers shaping the conflict – including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey – before returning to Geneva to lead the talks.
As de Mistura “completes these consultations, Deputy Special Envoy Ramzy (Ezzeldin Ramzy) will engage the parties bilaterally on 23 March in Geneva to prepare the round ahead,” Vellucci said. The participation of all rebel groups could bolster the UN peace process, after some opposition camps refused to attend separate negotiations in Kazakhstan last week to protest violations of a shaky ceasefire by the Syrian regime. The parallel series of talks in Astana is aimed at bolstering the truce, in view of supporting the UN negotiations. Damascus has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days, with rebels and jihadists making large incursions into the east of the Syrian capital. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has responded with air strikes on rebel positions.

Syrian rebels launch second Damascus attack in three days
Reuters Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Syrian rebels stormed a government-held area in northeastern Damascus on Tuesday for the second time in three days, sources on both sides said, pressing the boldest assault on the capital by opposition fighters in several years. The spokesman for one of the main insurgent groups involved in the attack told Reuters the new offensive began at 5.00 a.m., targeting an area rebel fighters had seized from government control on Sunday before being forced to retreat. A Syrian military source told Reuters rebel fighters had entered the area, setting off a car bomb at the start of the attack. The source said a group of rebels that had entered the area had been encircled and were “being dealt with.”The rebel groups have launched the assault from their Eastern Ghouta stronghold to the east of the capital. Government forces have escalated military operations against Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks, seeking to tighten a siege on the area. The rebel assault aims partly to relieve that pressure. The fighting has focused around the Abassiyin area of the northeastern Jobar district, some 2 km east of the Old City walls, at a major road junction leading into the capital. A witness near the area heard explosions from around 5.00 a.m., followed by clashes and the sound of warplanes overhead. Wael Alwan, the spokesman of rebel group Failaq al Rahman, told Reuters: “We launched the new offensive and we restored all the points we withdrew from on Monday. We have fire control over the Abassiyin garages and began storming it.”The Syrian military source said: “They entered a narrow pocket - the same area of the (previous) breach - and now this group is being dealt with.”
The government says the attack is being carried out by fighters of the Nusra Front, a jihadist group that was al Qaeda’s official affiliate in the Syrian war until it declared they had broken off ties last year. The Nusra Front is now part of an extremist alliance called Tahrir al-Sham. The intensity of the Syrian army’s counterattack had forced the rebels to retreat from most of the areas they captured in the first attack. The rebels have lost ground in the nearby areas of Qaboun and Barza. A rebel commander said the Syrian army was intensifying its shelling on areas they had advanced in Jobar and towns across Eastern Ghouta.
“The bombardment is on all fronts ... there is no place that has not been hit ... the regime has burnt the area by planes and missiles,” said Abu Abdo a field commander from Failaq al Rahman brigade. The Syrian government appears to be employing the same strategy it has used to force effective surrender deals on rebels elsewhere around the capital through escalated bombardment and siege tactics. Rebel fighters have been granted safe passage to insurgent-held areas of northern Syria under such agreements. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, said at least 143 air raids were conducted by the Syrian army on rebel held eastern parts of Damascus, mostly targeting Jobar, since the rebels launched their offensive. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian army, along with allied Russian, Iranian and Shi’ite militia forces, have the upper hand in the war for western Syria, with a steady succession of military victories over the past 18 months. For rebels, however, their first such large scale foray in over four years inside the capital has shown they are still able to wage offensive actions despite their string of defeats.

New program allows Saudi prisoners on path to rehabilitation
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 March 2017/A joint program between Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry with Imam Muhammad ibn Saud university celebrated its first batch of student-prisoners. The majority of the students were former extremists but who have rehabilitated themselves while studying under the new program. Eighty-two of them graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sharia and Islamic studies, 25 in business administration, four in economics while three finished their degrees in the Arabic language. “I was given the chance to read a learn a lot through the ‘Time Management’ program. I also learned to differentiate between right and wrong. There are more people like me here in prison who have benefited from these types of programs,” one prisoner told Al Arabiya.

UN rejects coalition call to supervise Yemen port
AFP, United Nations Tuesday, 21 March 2017/The United Nations on Monday rejected a call by the Arab coalition for the key port of Hudaydah to be placed under its supervision. The coalition made the appeal following an attack on a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen that killed 42 people, and as the country faced famine. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said the warring sides in Yemen have a responsibility to protect civilian infrastructure and civilians. “These are not obligations they can shift to others,” Haq said. Houthi militias fighting the Yemeni government control Hodeida, which is a key transit point for desperately needed imports. The coalition said in a statement Sunday that it was not responsible for the attack on the refugee boat in the area of Hudaydah and called for the port to be “placed immediately under United Nations supervision.”Hudaydah serves 70 percent of the country’s population affected by a severe food crisis in Yemen, which is almost entirely dependent on imports of food and other commodities. “The humanitarian community delivers assistance in Yemen solely based on needs and not on political considerations, and will continue to do so through all available means,” added Haq. About 7.3 million people in Yemen are in dire need of food aid in the largest food insecurity emergency in the world, according to the United Nations. However, Arab coalition spokesperson Ahmed Asiri said the UN must supervise the management of ports so they are not exploited to carry out attacks. Placing Hudaydah under UN supervision would “facilitate the flow of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people, while at the same time ending the use of the port for weapons smuggling and people trafficking,” said the coalition statement. The Hudaydah port is one of the most important ports in Yemen and it is the second biggest port after the Aden port. It is distinguished for its strategic position as it is close to global navigational passages, in addition to being close to Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Its area is 315,000 square meters and its maximum capacity is 9 million tons. It has ten berths to load and unload oil tankers and other petroleum derivatives. There are 12 warehouses in the port with a total area of 37,000 square meters.

Britain follows US in electronics ban on flights from Middle East

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Britain will follow the United States in banning carry-on electronic goods from passanger cabins on inbound flghts from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey. “Our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals,” a spokesman said after the US imposed a similar ban, warning that extremists plan to target planes with bombs in electronic devices. The United States warned on Tuesday that extremists plan to target passenger jets with bombs hidden in electronic devices, and banned carrying them onto flights from 10 Middle East airports. Senior US officials told reporters that nine airlines from eight countries had been given 96 hours, beginning at 3:00 am, to ban devices bigger than a cellphone or smartphone from the cabin. The new rule is expected to be announced as early as Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, the officials said, adding that it had been under consideration since the US government learned of a threat several weeks ago. A source said the rule would cover nearly a dozen foreign airlines. A separate government official confirmed an Associated Press report that the ban will impact 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Reuters reported earlier the ban would include airlines based in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The officials did not name the other countries. The officials said no American carriers were affected by the ban, which would apply to devices larger than a cell phone, and none travel directly to the airports impacted from US cities Passengers would be allowed to carry larger devices in their checked luggage like tablets, portable DVD players, laptops and cameras. Royal Jordanian Airlines said in a tweet on Monday that US-bound passengers would be barred from carrying most electronic devices aboard aircraft starting Tuesday at the request of US officials, including those that transit through Canada. Passengers can still carry cell phones and approved medical devices. Al Riyadh newspaper, which is close to the Saudi government, reported that the civil aviation authority had informed “airlines flying from the kingdom’s (Saudi) airports to US airports of the latest measures from US security agencies in which passengers must store laptops and tablets” in checked in baggage. Al Riyadh quoted a civil aviation authority source as saying that these measures from senior US authorities were relayed to the Saudi interior ministry. Saudi Airlines confirmed in a tweet that US transportation authorities had barred carrying larger electronic devices in cabin luggage. The White House declined to comment. A spokesman for the US Department of Homeland Security, David Lapan, said the agency has “no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide an update when appropriate. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called congressional lawmakers this weekend to notify them of the plan, congressional aides said In July 2014, the Homeland Security Department stepped up security of US-bound flights, requiring tougher screening of mobile phones and other electronic devices and requiring them to be powered up before passengers could board flights to the United States. (With Reuters and AFP)

Abadi says Trump ‘more engaged’ in terror fight
AFP, Washington Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Monday after talks with President Donald Trump that the new US administration appears more focused on the fight against terrorism than its predecessor. Abadi met Trump at the White House on the 14th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and two days before a major Washington ministerial meeting on the way ahead in the war against ISIS. Afterward, Abadi said he expected US assistance to the Iraqi forces fighting to drive ISIS fighters from the northern city of Mosul to “accelerate” under Trump more quickly than would have happened under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. “I think this administration wants to be more engaged in fighting terrorism. I sense a difference in terms of being head-to-head with terrorism,” Abadi told an audience at the United States Institute for Peace. US President Donald Trump listens while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi speaks during their meeting in the Cabinet Room in the White House on March 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (AFP). Earlier, Trump said the operation against the ISIS group in Mosul was “moving along” and he questioned whether the United States under Obama should have pulled US combat troops out of the country. “We should never, ever have left,” he said. Previously Trump had supported the 2009 withdrawal, and he ran for office last year arguing that the United States should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. “We will figure something out. I mean we have to get rid of ISIS,” he said, “we’re going to get rid of ISIS.”The Iraqi authorities launched an offensive in October to retake Mosul from the ISIS group with the support of US-led coalition air strikes. Government forces retook the eastern part of Mosul in January before setting their sights on the more densely populated west of the city, the last major urban center the ISIS group holds in Iraq. Trump shied away from any substantive discussion in public, but the presence of his top economic aide at a meeting in the cabinet office indicated that energy and economic ties were also on the agenda. Meanwhile, amid the combat against ISIS, Iraq’s government has been going through a partial reshuffle. The Iraqi prime minister said he has a series of urgent reforms his government is seeking to achieve, primarily confronting corruption, making Iraq a democratic country, and removing obstacles to the return of displaced people to their homes.
His Government has been working on judicial reforms to prosecute those involved in terrorism and to pursue those involved in terrorist activities.

French candidate Macron seen winning TV debate with Le Pen
Reuters, Paris Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Centrist Emmanuel Macron solidified his status as frontrunner in France’s presidential election on Monday in a televised debate during which he clashed on immigration and Europe with his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen. A snap opinion poll showed Macron, a former economy minister who has never run for public office before, was seen as the most convincing among the top five contenders in a marathon debate of nearly three and a half hours that delivered no knock-outs. The debate, and the two others that will follow ahead of the April 23 first round, are seen as key in an election in which nearly 40 percent of voters say they are not sure who to back. “You are failing (voters) by twisting the truth,” Macron told Le Pen when she talked about a rise of radicalism in France and said he was in favour of the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women that stirred much controversy in France last summer. Later in the debate, National Front leader Le Pen mocked Macron, saying, of his comments: “It’s completely empty. I want to attract the French people’s attention to the fact that every time you talk, you say a bit of this, a bit of that, and never decide.”
Opinion polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron, an independent centrist who used to be Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economy minister, pulling away from the pack in an election full of twists and turns which is taking place against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish growth.
Twenty-nine percent of viewers thought Macron was the most convincing, ahead of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon with 20 percent, while Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon were tied in third place, a snap survey conducted online by Elabe pollsters towards the end of the debate showed. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon came in last. After the surprise of Britain’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, markets are nervous about the possibility of a Le Pen victory. She is pledging to take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership. Only the top two candidates go through to the runoff, where polls show Macron easily beating Le Pen. But with so many voters undecided and polls showing the abstention rate could be higher than ever in France, the level of uncertainty remains high. A high abstention rate could benefit Le Pen as polls consistently show that her supporters are the most certain of their vote.
Fillon, a one-time front-runner who has fallen back over by a scandal surrounding the employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant, has been put under formal investigation, a first for a French presidential candidate. But the scandal, which has dominated the campaign for weeks, occupied relatively little time in the debate. Fillon, a former prime minister, himself alluded to the scandal, saying: “I may have committed some errors, I have faults, who doesn’t, but I am experienced.” Macron, a former investment banker, came under criticism for private donations made to his campaign when Hamon suggested he could fall under the influence of lobbies in the pharmaceutical, banking or oil industry. Macron retorted that he was the only candidate who was not funded by public money, since his party is new and had not yet benefited from public subsidies. “I pledge to be controlled by no one,” he said. “The traditional parties, those that have for decades failed to solve yesterday’s problems, won’t be able to do it tomorrow either,” said Macron, who made a name for himself by criticizing sacred cows of the French “social model” such as the 35-hour workweek. Le Pen repeatedly stressed her opposition to the European Union, saying she did not want to see France become a “vague region” of the bloc. “I don’t want to be the vice chancellor of Angela Merkel,” she said, referring to the German leader. The TV debate was the top trending topic on Twitter in France on Monday before it even started. Television debates were key to Fillon’s victory in the Centre-right primaries in November and to Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primaries in January.

Assad: Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria
AFP, Moscow Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday said Russia can play an important role in the crisis following Syria’s firing missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes in the conflict-torn country. “Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria,” Assad told Russian journalists. “I think Russia can play an important role in this regard.” Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned Israel’s ambassador over air strikes close to Moscow’s forces near the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. The air strikes on Friday prompted retaliatory Syrian missile launches, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the war began six years ago. Israel’s military said it had been targeting weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which backs the Damascus regime in Syria. Assad was quoted in comments translated into Russian that “any military operation in Syria that does not have the consent of the Syrian government is illegal”. “If there are some troops on Syrian soil, it is an invasion,” he said, adding that the “protection of our borders is a right and a duty”. Syria’s military said it had downed an Israeli plane and hit another as they were carrying out pre-dawn strikes near Palmyra, but the Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit. On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria’s air defense systems “without the slightest hesitation” if it happened again. Russia and Israel had already set up a “hotline” aimed at avoiding air clashes over Syria, which Moscow said it would like to see work more effectively. Israel has said that it does not usually inform Moscow ahead of time when it will carry out an air strike.

CCTV footage shows moment Orly Airport attacker grabs soldier’s gun

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Tuesday, 21 March 2017/Footage has emerged of the moment a man was shot dead on Saturday by French police after seizing a soldier’s gun at Paris Orly airport in France. The recording, which was made available on Monday, shows 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem approaching a French soldier from behind and the consequent struggle over the weapon. The busy Orly airport south of Paris was evacuated and security forces swept the area for bombs to make sure the dead man was not wearing an explosive belt, but nothing had been found.
Around 3,000 passengers were evacuated from the airport at the time of the attack, the second busiest in the country.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published On March 21-22/17
Six Years of War: Is Assad Still Relevant? 0
BY FREDERIC C. HOF /Atlantic Council/20 MARCH 2017
Six years ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad betrayed his country by authorizing lethal fire on peaceful protesters. As war in Syria enters its seventh year, the price for the political preservation of one man, one family, and one entourage has been staggering, in Syria and far beyond. Observers numbed by the enormity of a humanitarian catastrophe are periodically jolted by new revelations, such as the regime bombing spree that deprived 5.5 million people in Damascus of running water: a likely war crime, per the United Nations Commission of Inquiry. Just how relevant is this murderous crew to the future of Syria?
The view here is that Syria has no future if Team Assad remains positioned to do its worst. This is not to say that the regime lacks accomplices in Syria’s march to failed statehood. The Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, Daesh) is an obscenity whose erasure is long overdue. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – Al Qaeda’s former Nusra Front – fights Assad even as it seeks to eliminate nationalist alternatives to Syria’s main destroyer. Suicide bombers in Damascus are as contemptible as they are cowardly. But a regime that emptied its jails of violent Islamist extremists to pollute its opposition while pursuing a political survival strategy of mass homicide has been in a class of its own.
Some Syrians who oppose Assad no longer expect or demand his immediate departure from Syria. They are acutely aware that Russia and Iran, for independent but compatible reasons, have saved Assad militarily and secured him diplomatically. As they survey the forces unleashed on Syrians by a regime willing to do literally anything to survive, their thoughts transcend the status of an illegitimate president and focus instead on saving Syria itself. The conclusion some of them reach is that ways must be found to dine with Syria’s principal destroyer while preventing him from eating everything and killing his fellow diners.
Opposition figures in this camp are speaking with Russia. They have, as yet, no idea of how the Trump administration will approach Syria. They watched in amazement as the Obama administration accomplished a self-destructive diplomatic tour-de-force that left Syrian civilians undefended, bad actors empowered, and the United States sidelined. They, like Turkey, concluded two things: Russia in Syria is a potentially treatable illness; Iran in Syria is sure death. Both chose to work with Russia to see if the patient might be saved.
For Moscow, Bashar al-Assad served an important domestic political purpose. He was the face of a ‘state’ that Russia succeeded in ‘saving’ from an alleged Barack Obama regime change campaign. In an era of ‘fake news,’ accusing Mr. Obama of trying violently to unseat Assad is particularly inventive. Indeed, it was Moscow’s sure knowledge of the oceanic gap between administration rhetoric and action that enabled it to intervene militarily without fear of negative consequences.
For Tehran, Assad is more than a poster boy for a state preservation. He is the lifeline to what truly matters to the Islamic Republic: Hezbollah in Lebanon. Like Russia, Iran has no illusions about Team Assad: its corruption, incompetence, and brutality are well-known. But Tehran knows something else: beyond Assad there is no Syrian appetite for subordinating the country to Iran’s Supreme Leader and to Hezbollah’s Secretary-General.
Russia would love to see Assad transformed into a unifying healer capable of spearheading the country’s reconciliation and reconstruction. But it too knows its client. It knows that for Syria to survive as a unitary state, to dig out of massive destruction, and to be a useful regional platform for the projection of Russian influence, others – including many who have opposed the regime – must get on board and pull on the oars. Moscow realizes this cannot happen with Team Assad free to kill, torture, starve, and terrorize.
Iran, however, has no interest in Assad’s methodology being challenged. If its man rules supreme in ‘useful Syria’ – that part of the country containing the major cities, fronting on the Mediterranean Sea, and bordering Lebanon – Syria can remain a smoking pit as far as Tehran is concerned. Knowing that its client will not live forever, Iran is building Hezbollah-like militia structures to dominate what is left of Syria, as it does in Lebanon. Indeed, Iranian-led foreign fighters from as far away as Afghanistan directly challenge all attempts at a comprehensive ceasefire.
Six years ago, Bashar al-Assad set in motion a process that thoroughly undermined his ability to rule Syria as he and has father had for the previous 40 years. Yet he, his family, and his entourage remain relevant. As Iran’s client, he is the main obstacle to Syria’s resurrection. Moscow knows this to be the case. Will it act? Can it act? These are questions to which patriotic, nationalistic Syrians urgently seek answers. That they do so is the inevitable result of America’s self-imposed absence.
***Frederic C. Hof is the director of the Atlantic Council‘s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The Media's Cheery Ignorance about Islam's Hostile Ideology
A. Z. Mohamed/Gatestone Institute/March 21/17
It is not the president who is spreading the idea that "Islam is an inherently hostile ideology," that "Muslims are enemies of Christians and Jews" and that "Muslims have always had a comprehensive, actionable, and jihadist plan to take over" -- but rather the Quran itself.
In other words:
Islam does not recognize Judaism or Christianity as religions.
Muslims are enemies of, and must fight, Jews and Christians.
Muslims will never be satisfied until all people submit to the beliefs of Islam and the laws of sharia.
US President Donald Trump repeatedly rebukes the media for "dishonest" coverage and "fake news."
Despite its fury over the accusations, however, the press continues to prove him right -- albeit inadvertently.
Take a recent New York Times piece as an example. In their article, titled "Trump Pushes Dark View of Islam to Center of U.S. Policy-Making" (Feb. 1), authors Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Lipton cite a questionable source -- Prof. Asma Afsaruddin of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University -- to prove their point that the president is promoting a "master narrative that pits the Muslim world against the West." This, they claim, appeals to Trump supporters, "who know nothing of Muslims or Islam beyond news reports of terrorist attacks."
Although Americans may be more familiar with Islamist attacks in Europe, North America, North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent than with the perpetrators or the religion, it is the Quran's content, the Prophet Muhammad's sayings and conduct and current fatwas that, regardless of Trump's rhetoric, have driven a wedge between the Muslim world and the West.
Saudi Arabia's grand mufti has called for the demolition of churches in the Arabian Peninsula, in accordance with Islamic law (Image source: PressTV video screenshot)
Indeed, contrary to what The New York Times piece asserts, it is not the president who is spreading the idea that "Islam is an inherently hostile ideology," that "Muslims are enemies of Christians and Jews" and that "Muslims have always had a comprehensive, actionable, and jihadist plan to take over" -- but rather the Quran itself.
The following Quranic verses, still in wide use today, serve to illustrate:
"O you who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya' (friends, protectors, helpers), they are but Auliya' of each other. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya', then surely he is one of them." (5: 51)
"And the Jews say: 'Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allah... Allah's Curse be on them, how they are deluded away from the truth!" (9:30).
"Among those who are Jews, there are some who displace words from (their) right places... Allah has cursed them for their disbelief..." (4:47).
The Jews say: "Allah's Hand is tied up (i.e. He does not give and spend of His Bounty)." Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for what they uttered...Every time they kindled the fire of war, Allah extinguished it; and they (ever) strive to make mischief on earth." (5: 64).
In other words:
Islam does not recognize Judaism or Christianity as religions.
Muslims are enemies of, and must fight, Jews and Christians.
Muslims will never be satisfied until all people submit to the beliefs of Islam and the laws of Sharia.
Muslim apologists always cite the Quranic verse below to highlight a different side of Islam:
"Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes." (60: 8).
Here is the problem, however. According to a strict interpretation of the verse, anyone or anything perceived as "fighting against you" is fair game for violence. Thus, even the slightest criticism or satirical portrayal of Islam, the Quran, Muhammad or Muslims – whether in books, movies, newspaper articles, cartoons or speeches -- can be construed not only as legitimate targets for attack, but as religiously mandated ones.
Indeed, the Quran orders Muslims to fight against "those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah (taxes) with willing submission..." (9:29); not to take the Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims as friends; and deal justly and kindly only with those who have not fought them, driven them out of their lands or made a mockery of Islam [emphasis added].
Shane, Rosenberg and Lipton attempt to paint those who hold Trump's view of radical Muslims with the kind of ignorance that they themselves possess and display. Unfortunately, their position appeals to many non-Muslims uneducated in the ways of Islam. Worse, it facilitates jihadist machinations.
No wonder Trump has been calling out the media for false reporting.
A. Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised 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.

French Elections: Populist Revolution or Status Quo?
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 21/17
"If the Macron bubble doesn't pop, this may portend the realignment, not just of French politics, but Western politics in general, away from the left-right division that has defined Western politics since the French Revolution, towards a division between the people and the elites." — Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, French political analyst."This divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between patriots and globalists." — Marine Le Pen, French presidential candidate.
The presidential election in France officially got underway on March 18, when the Constitutional Council announced that a total of eleven candidates will be facing off for the country's top political job.
The election is being closely followed in France and elsewhere as an indicator of popular discontent with traditional parties and the European Union, as well as with multiculturalism and continued mass migration from the Muslim world.
The first round of voting will be held on April 23. If no single candidate wins an absolute majority, the top two winners in the first round will compete in a run-off on May 7.
If the election were held today, independent "progressive" candidate Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, would become the next president of France, according to several opinion polls.
A BVA market research poll for Orange released on March 18 showed that Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-establishment National Front party, would win the first round with 26% of the votes, followed by Macron with 25%. Conservative François Fillon is third (19.5%), followed by radical Socialist Benoît Hamon (12.5%) and Leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon (12%).
For the first time, the two established parties, the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans, would be eliminated in the first round.
In the second round, Macron, a 39-year-old pro-EU, pro-Islam globalist (platform here), would defeat Le Pen, a 48-year-old anti-EU, anti-Islam French nationalist (platform here), by a wide margin (62% to 38%), according to the poll.
Macron, a former investment banker, was an adviser to incumbent Socialist President François Hollande, one of the most unpopular presidents in modern French history. A long-time member of the Socialist Party, Macron served in Hollande's cabinet for two years as economy minister until August 2016, when he resigned to launch his rival presidential bid to "transform France."
Macron, whose core base of support consists of young, urban progressives, has tried to position himself in the political center, between the Socialists and the conservatives. His meteoric rise has been propelled by a scandal involving Fillon — who is the subject of a criminal investigation over allegations that he used government money to pay his wife and children more than €1 million ($1.1 million) for jobs they never did — and because the Socialists fielded Hamon, a nonviable candidate who has promised to pay every French citizen over 18, regardless of whether or not they are employed, a government-guaranteed monthly income of €750 ($800). The annual cost to taxpayers would be €400 billion ($430 billion). By comparison, France's 2017 defense budget is €32.7 billion ($40 billion).
Macron's ascendancy comes amid heightened worries over security. More than 230 people have been killed in attacks in France by Islamic radicals during the past two years. The latest attack, on March 18, involved a 39-year-old French-Tunisian jihadist who proclaimed that he wanted to "die for Allah," and was shot dead after he tried to seize a soldier's weapon at Orly Airport in Paris.
Shortly after the attack, Le Pen accused Macron and the rest of France's political establishment of "cowardice in the face of Islamic fundamentalism."
In an apparent effort to bolster his national security credentials, Macron on March 18 announced a surprise proposal to restore compulsory military service. He said he would require men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 to serve one month in the armed forces.
"I want each young French person to be able to experience military life, however brief," Macron said. "This is a major project of society, a real republican project, which should allow our democracy to be more united and the resilience of our society to be increased." Macron, if elected, would become the first president in modern French history not to have performed military service.
Observers say that Macron's national service proposal — which copies Le Pen's proposal to reintroduce compulsory military service for a period of at least three months — is an attempt to siphon votes away from Le Pen and Fillon, both of whose campaign platforms call for a strong national defense.
Macron's proposal, which will require an estimated €15 billion ($16 billion) upfront, and another €3 billion ($3.2 billion) each year to maintain, has been met with derision because of its exorbitant cost and dubious contribution to national security. Le Monde reminded its readers that France spends a similar amount (€3 billion annually) on nuclear deterrence.
Fillon's spokesman, Luc Chantel, said the proposal was "absurd and unrealistic" and added:
"Either it is a measure designed to discourage students from quitting school, and this is not the mission of the army, or it is training for the defense of France, and one month is a joke, it is a discovery camp."
Some of Macron's other policy positions include:
European Federalism: Macron has repeatedly called for a stronger European Union. At a January 14 political rally in Lille, he said: "We are Europe, we are Brussels, we wanted it and we need it. We need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger."
Single European Currency: In a January 10 speech at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Macron, speaking impeccable English, said: "The truth is that we must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms. It has not provided Europe with full international sovereignty against the dollar on its rules. It has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member states. The euro is a weak Deutsche mark, the status quo is synonymous, in 10 years' time, with the dismantling of the euro."
Migration Crisis: Macron has repeatedly praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy, which has allowed more than two million mostly Muslim migrants into Germany since January 2015.
In a January 1, 2017 interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Macron accused critics of Merkel's open-door migration policy of "disgraceful oversimplification." He said: "Merkel and German society as a whole exemplified our common European values. They saved our collective dignity by accepting, accommodating and educating distressed refugees."
In a February 4 rally in Lyon, Macron mocked U.S. President Donald Trump's pledge to build a wall with Mexico: "I do not want to build a wall. I can assure you there is no wall in my program. Can you remember the Maginot Line?" he said, referring to a failed row of fortifications that France built in the 1930s to deter an invasion by Germany.
Islamic Terrorism: Macron has said he believes the solution to jihadist terrorism is more European federalism: "Terrorism wants to destroy Europe. We must quickly create a sovereign Europe that is capable of protecting us against external dangers in order to better ensure internal security. We also need to overcome national unwillingness and create a common European intelligence system that will allow the effective hunting of criminals and terrorists."
Islam: Macron has said he believes that French security policy has unfairly targeted Muslims and that "secularism should not be brandished to as a weapon to fight Islam." At an October 2016 rally in Montpellier, he rejected President Hollande's assertion that "France has a problem with Islam." Instead, Macron said: "No religion is a problem in France today. If the state should be neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity." He also insisted that the Islamic State is not Islamic: "What poses a problem is not Islam, but certain behaviors that are said to be religious and then imposed on persons who practice that religion."
National Defense: Macron supports NATO, and has pledged to increase French defense spending to reach 2% of GDP by 2025 — a level to which all NATO members agreed in 2006. At the same time, Macron believes in the need to create an "autonomous" European defense capability, also known as a European Army, which would duplicate military capabilities which already exist within NATO.
An Ifop poll for the Journal du Dimanche published on March 18 found that French voters are divided into "two quasi-equal blocks" about Macron's honesty and his ability to govern. According to the survey, only 46% of French people believe he will be "able to guarantee the safety of the French people." More than half (52%) of respondents said they were "worried" about Macron, while 52% said they doubted his honesty.
In an interview with BMFTV, Laurence Haïm, a Canal+ reporter who was accredited to the White House and who recently joined Macron's team, described Macron as the "French Obama." She added: "I think that in today's world we need renewal, from someone young, who is not a politician. He wants to make the democratic revolution."
So what is driving Macron's political ascendancy? French analyst Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry explains:
"The best way to look at Macron is as a kind of anti-Le Pen, or, to stretch the bounds of logic even further, a 'populist from the top.' If Le Pen is anti-establishment, Macron is the incarnation of the French establishment, a graduate of ENA, the top civil service school that trains the country's elites, and a member of the Inspection des Finances, the most elite civil service track. His only experience in the private sector is through the revolving door as an investment banker. And yet, Macron sounds off populist rhetoric: His candidacy, he says, is about sweeping out a corrupt system (even as he is supported by the vast majority of the French establishment).
"It would be only slightly churlish to say that the parts of the system Macron wants to do away with are the democratic ones; witness his full-throated support for the EU in a country that has rejected it at the polls. Macron supports various liberalizing reforms, and Angela Merkel's welcoming policy towards migrants. He is, of course, a social liberal. In a country that takes culture very seriously, he has argued that there is 'no such thing' as French culture; rather, there are many cultures with which the French perform a kind of synthesis. His biggest donors seem to be French tax exiles residing in London and Brussels.
"In other words, he is the mirror image of the political realignment that is transforming Western politics. If the familiar motley crew of populists — Trump, Le Pen — are the candidates for those who lost out from globalization, then Macron is the candidate of the winners. In both cases, they seem to make old left-right divisions obsolete. If the Macron bubble doesn't pop, this may portend the realignment, not just of French politics, but Western politics in general, away from the left-right division that has defined Western politics since the French Revolution, towards a division between the people and the elites.
Le Pen agrees. At a rally in Lyon on February 5, she said:
"The old left-right debates have outlived their usefulness. Primaries have shown that debates about secularism or immigration, as well as globalization or generalized deregulation, constitute a fundamental and transversal divide. This divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between patriots and globalists.
"The collapse of traditional parties and the systematic disappearance of almost all of their leaders shows that a great political re-composition has begun."
At that same rally, Le Pen launched a two-pronged attack on globalization and radical Islam. She also promised French voters a referendum on remaining in the European Union in order "to allow us to recover our four sovereignties: monetary, economic, legislative and territorial."
She went on to articulate exactly what is at stake for France in this election:
In all respects, this presidential election is unlike previous ones. Its outcome will determine the future of France as a free nation and our existence as a people.
After decades of errors and cowardice, we are at a crossroads. I say it with gravity: the choice we will have to make in this election is a choice of civilization.
The question is simple and cruel: will our children live in a free, independent, democratic country? Will they still be able to refer to our system of values? Will they have the same way of life as we did and our parents before us?
Will our children, and the children of our children, still have a job, a decent wage, the possibility of building up a patrimony, becoming an owner, starting a family in a safe environment, being properly cared for, to grow old with dignity?
Will our children have the same rights as us?
Will they live according to our cultural references, our values ​​of civilization, our style of living, and will they even speak our French language, which is disintegrating under the blows of political leaders who squander this national treasure — for example, by choosing a slogan in English to promote the candidacy of Paris to host the 2024 Olympic Games?
Will they have the right to claim French culture when certain candidates for the presidential election, puffed up by their own empty-headedness, explain that it does not exist?
I ask this important question because, unlike our adversaries, I am interested not only in the material heritage of the French, but I also want to defend our immaterial capital. This immaterial capital is priceless because this heritage is irreplaceable. In fact, I am defending the load-bearing walls of our society.
The choice for French voters is clear: Le Pen is the anti-establishment change candidate and Macron is the pro-establishment status quo candidate.
In the current French presidential election campaign, Marin Le Pen (right) is the anti-establishment change candidate and Emmanuel Macron (left) is the pro-establishment status quo candidate. (Image source: LCI video screenshot)
Le Pen is offering voters an historic opportunity to reassess relations with the European Union, reassert national sovereignty and stanch the flow of mass migration from the Muslim world. By contrast, Macron is offering voters increased European federalism, the transference of yet more national sovereignty to the European Union, and the further multiculturalization of French society.
If polls are any indication, French voters appear to be more comfortable with the status quo. The populist revolution that began in June 2016 when British voters decided to leave the European Union, and cross the Atlantic in November when Americans elected U.S. President Donald J. Trump, will not be spreading to France in 2017.
***Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.
© 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.

Prospects of political transition in Yemen
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
The Arab coalition has recently heightened the intensity of its operations in Yemen and this signifies that the war there has greatly shifted in their favor. Coordination between the coalition forces, led by Saudi Arabia, and the US has been restored, after it was halted during the last year of Barack Obama’s presidential term. Several raids have targeted camps training Houthi militias in Saada. Houthi posts in the Nahm front, east of Sanaa, were also targeted and the Houthis were thus defeated in that rugged directorate as the national army seized control. According to statements recently issued by the army, the latter’s forces aided by the coalition air force moved on to Arhab, which is close to the capital Sanaa. Naval cooperation also thwarted three Houthi naval attacks in front of the Midi port. The next attack will be decisive in this war as there are reports that this attack will target the strategic Hodeida port, which Iranian ships use to smuggle arms to rebels. New gains, following Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington, have enhanced the position of the coalition. Following agreements with the US, supplies of ammunition and exchange of military intelligence information on enemy’s posts and activities on the ground has resumed. Successful military operations, which have put pressure on the Houthi militias affiliated with Iran, and the march against forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, will help the international envoy execute his plan
The political message
This has yielded military results and sends an equally important political message which stipulates that when it comes to Yemen – unlike Syria – there is an international agreement to eliminate rebels and isolate their Iranian ally which is present in Yemen through its militias fighting alongside the Houthis.
Following these new military shifts, the international envoy is back in the picture in an attempt to market the peace initiative, which is still valid as he’s recently amended it in hopes of narrowing the distance between the different parties. He amended the initiative based on three references: UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the Gulf initiative and the national dialogue decisions. Successful military operations, which have pressured the Houthi militias affiliated with Iran and the national army’s march against the forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh by moving into Arhab on the way to Sanaa, will help the international envoy execute his plan. This does not undermine the conflict in Yemen where legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is being accused of obstructing efforts toward a political solution and of preferring for the conflict to continue, since he is an interim leader, and will lose his post as president if the war ends. It is certain that military developments will contribute to a better understanding on how Yemen will be governed.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on March 21, 2017.

On those angry at the Trump-Mohammed bin Salman meeting
Turki Aldakhil/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
United States was the destination for Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s this time around. This was a first meeting of historic proportions between an Arab Muslim leader and US President Donald Trump.
As a result of this meeting Saudi-American relations stand restored to their right path. The lean years have now ended and a different phase has begun with a new administration that is well aware of the US’ historic relations. This has been the case with consecutive administrations – except for that of Barack Obama, which was an anomaly and we cannot measure anything by it.A Russian media outlet said that Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman charmed Trump while many American dailies – described as “anti-Saudi Arabia” in journalistic circles – admitted there was chemistry between the two. It is clear that a different phase is being built and a new set of relations is being established. They share the same vision and this was evident in their agreement over several issues, most importantly on Iran being the two countries’ mutual enemy. They also agreed on the need to intensify coordination to combat and eliminate terrorism. But who are those angry at this meeting?
Expansion of terror
Radical groups affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and ISIS launched attacks against Trump, either mocking or warning him. If we take a simple look at the entire scene, we notice that terror has not revived, expanded and felt reassured like the case was during the Obama regime. There is no doubt that Obama’s approach of ignoring complicated matters contributed to the expansion of terrorism and emergence of ISIS. Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States has led to stability in the region and eliminated chaos. There is evidence to suggest this. In the late 1990s, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wanted to target the World Trade Center twin towers. He discussed the plan with those around him but decided that the attack must be carried out at several targets at the same time. He planned to attack the US for the sole purpose of harming its alliance with Saudi Arabia. He was hoping that the then-US President George Bush will attack Riyadh like he attacked Baghdad. Bin Laden thought the best way to achieve this was to choose the largest number of Saudis to carry out the operation. The plan was thus postponed to September 11, 2001, and it was successfully executed.
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s meeting with Trump is a historic landmark that takes forward the traditional legacy between two countries with mutual and intertwined interests. However not everything worked according to plan as instead, Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration launched the most significant security, ideological and political campaign against al-Qaeda and defeated it in many places across the world. These terrorist designs confirm there are extremist plans against the two countries’ relations.
During the first phone call between Saudi King Salman and Trump, the former reiterated that Bin Laden was from Muslim Brotherhood. The King added that Muslim Brotherhood provides a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and its aim is to cause rift in the alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia.
When US Secretary of Defense James Mattis entered the conference room for talks with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the accompanying delegation, he told Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir: “Hello... always good to see you alive... The Iranians tried to murder you.”
Angry at rapprochement
The Iranians understood this message well. They were angry at this meeting and this rapprochement and felt disappointed because years of truce have come to an end. Trump had addressed Khamenei saying he was not Obama and that he was different. The prince’s successful visit came as a heavy blow to terrorists and to Iranian regime and its wings across the world. Iran contributed to nurturing sectarianism and hostility between Sunnis and Shiites. During the 300 years of Saudi history, no Saudi Shiite was subjected to insults or violation of his rights. During the second Saudi state, Imam Faisal bin Turki (1788-1865) sent forces to protect the Shiite people of Ahsa and Qatif and defended them against Sunni violators of the law. Late King Abdulaziz met with the people from cities with high Shiite population, discussed their affairs and met their demands. Saudi Arabia is a civil state and not an ideological state like Iran. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s meeting with Trump is a historic landmark that takes forward the traditional legacy between two countries with mutual and intertwined interests. This is the normal course of action.
This is the beginning of a new diplomatic era between the two countries and the days to come will reflect some of its manifestations. Trump will now be more capable of understanding the challenges confronting Gulf countries and primarily Saudi Arabia. The major challenge is confronting terrorism and Iran’s interferences and violations.
**The article was first published in Al Sharq al-Awsat on March 21, 2016.

Strength of the Arab world lies in its mothers
Yara al-Wazir/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
The strength of women in the Middle East cannot be directly measured using international indices and metrics. It can be exemplified in the strength of the mothers in the region who have pulled through despite the numerous challenges and revolutions that they have experienced.
The mothers who raised today’s young adults have gone through a complete overhaul that the Arab region saw in the 1960s and 1970s. Arab mothers of today have seen independence in the Gulf states, the founding of oil, wars in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait. They have successfully put aside the hardship that they have faced in order to empower their children. The same mothers who have had their lives changed time and time again are the ones who have managed to raise a generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and political revolutionaries. It is the values instilled by Arab mothers that the region is expected to close the gender gap in 129 years – 29 years faster than North America’s projection of 158 years.
The heart of family businesses
It is somewhat contentious to claim the success of Generation-Y to their mothers as their fathers have undoubtedly also been involved. However, the fact remains that if the employment trends of women in the 1980’s are considered, there is a clear high academic attainment but poor participation in the labor market. This leads to highly educated women being pushed into stay-at-home positions, either by personal choice or social pressures. Home is where mothers run the real family business. In the western world, a stay-at-home mother’s salary has been valued at $143,000 per year, according to This takes into account the contributions to childcare, tutoring for homework, grocery shopping and more. In the Middle East, a mother’s worth cannot be equated to a salary. On top of the “chores” that mother do, they often carry with them a heavy burden that society forces them to carry. This is the burden that forces them to smile while they flawlessly execute their job, despite what hardships they may have faced. The same mothers who have had their lives changed time and time again are the ones who have managed to raise a generation of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and political revolutionaries
Mothers seeking refuge
This Mothers Day should be dedicated to the women who have been forced into single-handedly providing for their children without a male presence in their life. This Mother’s Day should be dedicated to those forced to become refugees. To the mothers who do not quite belong here, there, or anywhere but somehow make their children feel like they are worth every inch of this planet. My mother taught me that when life beats you down seven times, the only thing you have the power to do is to stand up eight times. Looking back, sometimes I feel that my mother has spent her life dodging curveballs.
From living through wars, travelling for education, and continuously being forced to adapt to new locations, my mother taught me that there is no time for self-pity; there is only time for self-development.
True inspiration
It is her very strength that inspires me to get through whatever curveball life throws at me. My mother is special to me, but the truth is that there are thousands in the region who share her hardship and still get through. While the strength of women in the region is exemplified by the strength of Arab mothers, it is important to focus on strengthening the community even further. There is no recipe or standardized metric for success; however there are learning’s that the community can take further. To the mothers of the region, I say thank you for unconsciously sharing the same key attributes as world-class business leaders: determination in the face of adversity, maintenance of high standards, and compassion. In the case of the Middle East, a region that is still developing, the community must steward these attributes as much as it stewards the international metrics of success. As long as the region does not lose sight of these attributes, it will continue to flourish.

What next after acts of violence in Qatif?
Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
The bullets which aimed at the former member of the municipal council in Qatif, Engineer Nabih al-Barahim, were not stray bullets. They were intended to terrorize and were aimed at a specific victim who was targeted because of his social and political views. The person holding the weapon sees the “other” as an aggressor against his lifestyle and belief system and hence tries to assert his views through violence and coercion. Acts of violence by outlawed groups in Qatif, and its suburbs, were not aimed only at physically eliminating their nemesis but also to prevent those from criticizing the reign of terror that they seek to impose on society. In a way, it is aimed “to rape the other of his personality, and identity,” as asserted by John Miller. The armed assault on engineer al-Barahim was followed by threat against an active religious figure, Sheikh Jaafar al-Rebh. He is known for his public views in support of civil peace and prohibiting the use of arms. Yet, this is not the first time such an incident has happened and it won’t be the last. I discussed with friends the seriousness of the security situation and the critical stage we find ourselves in. I also expressed fear for the fate of al-Barahim especially considering the fact that he and his relatives have been subjected to physical assaults in the past. Acts of violence by outlawed groups in Qatif were not aimed only at physically eliminating their nemesis but also to prevent those from criticizing the reign of terror that they seek to impose on society
State of chaos
Weapons pointed at citizens and security personnel in Qatif will not lead to any political change, social development or human rights accomplishments. It will rather threaten civil peace, and create a state of chaos. This will, in turn, be exploited by “terrorist” cells to undermine any reforms or modernization efforts.
To borrow the words of the Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt, we ask violent groups: armed assaults, where to? I do not think these outlaws have a clear or appropriate answer. They have become a burden on the community in Qatif. They are indulging in acts of terrorism, just like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Violence is not a menace facing Qatif alone. This is a challenge in some Saudi cities in which extremists of different persuasions and backgrounds, share one goal, to undermine the authority of the state and threaten its existence. The problem of violence in the province of Qatif, specifically in the village of Al-Awamiyah, is not impossible to resolve.
However, it needs serious persuasion and cooperation between the people and civil society organizations and official bodies to develop an action plan to address the problem in all its dimensions.
**This article was first published in Al Riyadh.

Manbij: Syria’s modern day ‘Danzig’
Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/March 21/17
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.
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
Strategic Aleppo
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.
ISIS’ de facto capital
When zooming in on Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital, 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”…
**This article was first published on Asharq Al-Awsat.